Photo: Cinema Legacy Collection / The Hollywood Archive / PAP / Photoshot
Raised in the shadow of tragedy
She was the daughter of urologist Thomas Norval Hepburn and women’s rights activist Kathryn Martha Houghton. She had four younger siblings and an older brother, Tom, who hanged himself when he was only fifteen. Perhaps it was an unfortunate accident, not a planned suicide.
Hepburn was deeply affected by the death of a brother she admired and who was her best friend. In subsequent years, she often claimed that she was born on November 8, not May 12. Journalists believe that he has been doing this to rejuvenate for a few months. In fact, the actress wanted to honor the memory of Tom in this way – the boy was born on November 8, 1905.
Kathy – as her relatives called her – has been going to the movies regularly with her father and siblings since she was a child. Perhaps it was these trips that awakened her great love for cinematography.
In 1924, Hepburn entered Bryn Mawr College, a women’s college, from which she graduated four years later with degrees in philosophy and history. After graduation, she decided to try her hand at acting – she played her first major role in “The Big Pond” at the Great Neck Theater on Long Island. True, the performance was a failure, but Hepburn’s acting appealed to producer and director Arthur Hopkins, who included her in his play These Days. In the following years, the American appeared regularly on stage.
In December 1928, Hepburn married Ludlow Ogden Smith. The bride and groom were married by Cathy’s grandfather who was a priest. The marriage ended in divorce in 1934.
‘Little Women’ and ‘Baby Predator’
Katharine Hepburn played a role in the theater until the early 1930s, and in 1931 she got a role in George Cukor’s film “The Law of Divorce” (1932). The production turned out to be a wow, and Kathy immediately became a huge star. As a result, she received more and more offers of roles, and the following years were very busy for her.
In 1933, Hepburn starred in George Cukor’s The Little Women. The production script was based on a novel from the 19th century Louise May Alcott has the same name.
The film tells the story of four sisters – Jo (Katherine Hepburn), Amy (Joan Bennett), Beth (Jean Parker) and Meg (Francis D) – who grow up during the tough times of the American Civil War. Girls have to face many adversities in order to find happiness and true love.
The production attracted the audience – it grossed more than 2 million tickets – and received good reviews from critics. The film won an Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay.
In the same year, Hepburn starred in Will Sherman’s “Morning Glory”, playing a country girl who comes to New York to be a Broadway star. For her role, the actress received her first Oscar.
In 1938, she appeared in “Little Prey” by Howard Hanks. The production was completely ignored by viewers, although it received good reviews from critics. In addition to Hepburn, the second main role was played by Cary Grant – an actor who was very popular at that time. Although the film was not recognized when it was shown in theaters, it is now considered a cult film.
Love happens once in a lifetime
Hepburn’s most famous painting is The Tale of Philadelphia in 1940. This time the production director was also George Cukor.
The film showed the hilarious emotional adventures of Tracy Lord (Catherine Capeburn). The woman was about to marry wealthy industrialist Lord Kittridge (John Howard), but her plans were disrupted. The ex-husband of the enterprising girl Dexter (Carrie Grant) is against marriage. Another problem was the appearance of the journalist – Macaulay Connor (James Stewart) – who has been searching for a sensation to write an article that endangers the Tracy family.
The Philadelphia Tale was remarkably successful – the production hit three times its budget. Critics have also repeatedly praised him. It was nominated for an Academy Award in six categories. In the end, she won two statues – for “Best Screenplay” and “Best Actor in a Leading Role” (James Stewart).
Another major Hepburn film from the 1940s was Woman of the Year. While working on it she met actress Spencer Tracy.
He was one of the greatest couples in the history of cinema. Moreover, they were a couple, not only on screen, but also in life. Katharine Hepburn – a very brave, intelligent woman with a very strong personality and a star but also a feminist who does not submit to the dictates of Hollywood – has decided to spend the rest of her life according to what her heart has to say. She entered into a relationship with Spencer Tracey, although she knew that she would never be her husband – as film critic Tomas Raczyk said on Polish Radio.
4:08 Summer Comedy Academy – Romantic Comedies___v2011000803_tr_0-0_10182123acb7ce95.mp3 Film critic Tomasz Raczyk talks about romantic comedies. “Summer Academy of Film Comedy – Romantic Comedy” was broadcast by Anna Stempnyak from the series Summer Evening with Jedynka. (PR, August 18, 2011).
The actors lived in an informal relationship because the man did not want to divorce his wife, Louise, with whom they had two children. Hepburn and Tracy did not hold back from their romance with other movie stars at the time. The artists were only fired after Tracy’s death in 1967.
During the more than ninety years of her life, Hepburn was linked not only to Tracy and Smith, but also to many other men – including agent Leland Hayward and billionaire Howard Hughes. Both men proposed to the actress several times, which she refused each time. She believed that she was unfit for the role of wife and mother, and valued her independence. Because of Katharine Hepburn’s close friendship with Laura Harding, rumors have been circulating in Hollywood since the 1930s that the actress was a lesbian. The stakeholder herself denied these rumours.
Film, theater and television
In 1949, Hepburn starred in George Cook’s “Adam’s Rib” – as she would affectionately call her partner. It’s one of those movies that perfectly shows the chemistry between the actors. The production tells the story of two lawyers who are engaged to work on the case of a young woman suspected of murdering her husband. The problem is that Adam Bonner (Spencer Tracy) is supposed to be the prosecutor at the trial and his attorney wife Amanda (Katherine Hepburn) is supposed to be the attorney.
In 1952, the actress starred in the comedy “Pat and Mike” directed by George Cukor, Spencer Tracy. In the following years, Cathy appeared in David Lane’s “Holiday in Venice” (1955), “The Iron Crinoline” by Ralph Thomas (1956), “The Office on Transistors” by Walter Lang (1957), “Suddenly, Last Summer” by Joseph L. Mankevich (1959) and “At the End of the Day” by Sidney Lumet (1962).
During the 1960s and 1970s, Katharine Hepburn was a frequent actress in theater as well as in television films, such as Anthony Harvey’s The Glass Menagerie (1973). Her love of the big screen also found an outlet. In 1968 and 1969, she won two Academy Awards, for her performances in Stanley Kramer’s “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner” and in Anthony Harvey’s The Lion in Winter.
Despite her advanced age, she was still acting – in the eighties she appeared in four films. In 1982, she won an Academy Award for her leading role in Mark Riddle’s “At the Golden Pond”. She ended her acting career only in 1994.
In the 90s, the actress’s health deteriorated significantly and she was often hospitalized. She also suffered from dementia. She died on June 29, 2003 in Old Saybrook, Connecticut. She is buried in the cemetery in her hometown of Hartford.
1. Charlotte Chandler, Katharine HepburnWarsaw 2015.