Considered by the American Film Institute as the Top Female Hollywood Legend, Katharine Hepburn was the ultimate modern woman. She was a role model for the intellectual and free-thinking woman, someone whom wasn't afraid to show a bit of masculinity and someone whom was above all else was strong and not just in character. Four-time Academy Award Winner her range of work was as vast and versatile as light hearted comedies to literary drama.
Katharine Houghton Hepburn was born on the 12th May 1907 in Hartford, Connecticut. She was the daughter of a urologist and a feminist campaigner. Her parents encouraged her to always be open about her opinions and speak her mind. Katharine would often accompany her mother on several "votes for women" demonstrations. She was an active child whom cut her hair short and liked to call herself Jimmy. She swam, ran, played sports and climbed trees. Someone who was very close to her brother Tom Hepburn, it was no surprise that his sudden death would cause such grief. It was Katharine herself whom would discover his lifeless body. Her brother had died of apparent suicide in 1921. As a result, Katharine became introverted and would spend less time with the other children. She dropped out of Oxford School and began receiving private tutoring. For many years Katharine would use November 8th as her birthday - the date of her brother's...it wasn't until the release of her autobiography in 1991 where she openly stated that her real birthday was in fact 12th May.
Katharine attended Bryn Mawr College, an institution that her mother once attended and whilst her mother had once praised and loved the school, Katharine did not share this sentiment. She did not enjoy her experiences at the university after spending many years in private tutoring, but it was here that she discovered a love for acting and drama and she managed to land a role in the school production "The Woman in the Moon". In June 1928 Katharine Hepburn graduated with a degree in history and philosophy.
Following completion of her university studies, Katharine went on to appear in several Broadway productions, however it was in "The Warriors Husband" that became her break-out role. The play ran for three months and Katharine received many glowing reviews. It was this play that led to her being spotted by Leland Hayward whom was a Hollywood agent's scout. She was encouraged to screen test for the film "A Bill of Divorcement"(1932). She was offered the role and at the age of 25 appeared opposite John Barrymore in her debut film. It was a success and Katharine received rave reviews. Katharine signed on to RKO and from there made five additional films where the third, "Morning Glory"(1933) earned her, her first Academy Award.
Despite the surge of sudden success, stories began to filter around the Hollywood scene of what was considered bizarre behaviour for a star actress. Katharine would often wear slacks and refuse to wear make-up or participate in photoshoots or interviews. When she appeared on Broadway in "The Lake" in 1934, audiences and critics alike deserted her - instead of applauding her they panned her. Katharine's career took a slight nose dive between 1935-1938 where she churned out a few flops and only had two successful films "Alice Adams"(1935) and "Stage Door"(1937). Unfortunately, Katharine was labelled "box-office poison". She returned to Broadway instead. Luckily, she was rewarded with a smash hit - "The Philadelphia Story" in 1938, so much so, that she bought the rights to the film and was able to return to Hollywood on her own terms, selecting the director for the screen version of the Broadway hit. In 1940 Katharine Hepburn starred in the screen version of "The Philadelphia Story". From there she starred opposite Spencer Tracy in "Woman of the Year"(1942). This film would ultimately commence an affair with Spencer Tracy that resulted in several collaborations onscreen later. The pair were lovers for 25 years.
|With Spencer Tracy in "Woman of the Year"(1942)|
In 1951, Katharine starred in "The African Queen" which led to her fifth Oscar nomination. Other films during the 1950s included, "Summertime"(1955), "The Rainmaker" (1956) and "Suddenly, last summer" (1959). The 1960s saw less of Katharine onscreen as she devoted more of her time to her lover Spencer Tracy who by this stage was declining in health. Their last film together was "Guess who's coming to dinner"(1967), merely weeks after they concluded shooting did Spencer Tracy pass away. For her role in her last Spencer Tracy collaboration she won her second Oscar. The consecutive year she won again for her role in "The Lion in Winter"(1968).
During the 1970s Katharine made the move to television appearing in made-for-television-films such as "The Glass Menagerie"(1973) and "Love among the ruins"(1975). Her fourth Best Actress Academy Award win came from her appearance in "On Golden Pond"(1981) opposite Henry Fonda. She holds the record for the most wins for a female in that category. Throughout the 1980s Katharine appeared on television and penned her autobiography in 1991. Her last feature film was in "Love Affair"(1994) with Warren Beatty and Annette Benning.
Shortly after her final screen appearance, Katharine Hepburn's health began to decline. Bouts of pneumonia weakened her and she began to suffer from dementia. In 2003 an aggressive tumour was found in her neck and it was decided not to operate. She died at her family home on the 29th June 2003, age 96.
Katharine Hepburn will forever be considered a cultural icon, a fashion icon and a woman whom greatly influenced society and helped shaped the world during her time. She held her own in Hollywood and never succumbed to the pressures of depicting a standard "Hollywood Image" - she was her own woman and paved the way for other independent and strong women to do the same. A pioneer, she will always be considered a True Silver Screen Legend.
"Who is Katharine Hepburn? It took me a long time to create that creature."