Katharine Hepburn: The Madam of Movies
Author's Forward: With 20 biographical books, her own autobiography, six movies about her life, 16 movie portrayals, and 21 published articles in various magazines and periodicals around the world, including two pictorial presentations and 80 cover photos from 1933-2003, a span of 70 years, I have nothing new to add to the information about this lady, except, perhaps, my own perception of her.
The book is written in personal, conversational tone, Katharine's own voice. When reading it, you'll feel as if Katharine is speaking to you personally, sharing her life's story. A delightful read.
Childhood: Opportunistic Parenting
Katharine "Kate," was the second of six children--Thomas, (Kate), Richard, Robert, Marion, and Margaret--to Thomas Norval Hepburn, a urologist, and Katharine Martha Houghton, a women's civil rights activist. The well-to-do family resided in Hartford, Connecticut. Dr. Hepburn fought for the prevention of sexually transmitted diseases, and Mrs. Hepburn actively participated in the women's suffrage movement.
The children were encouraged to express their opinions, regardless of whether Mom and Dad agreed with a particular point of view or not. Expression of opinion became a dinnertime ritual, and in spite of (or because of) the lack of the parents' religious persuasion, such expression was all important, almost sacred.
Kate had a close relationship with her father and brother Tom, who was nearly two years her elder. When the 15-year-old boy died, Kate felt a deep chasm in her psyche. Dr. Hepburn had shown the boy a hanging trick, which, presumably, had been successfully performed at least once. The boy probably had challenged himself to see how far he could go with the trick that resulted in his untimely death. Kate was the one who discovered her dead brother in his bedroom. So deeply had Tom's hanging affected the adolescent, she attempted to take Tom's responsibilities in the family and adopted the boy's birthday, November 8th, as her own. (She finally confirmed her true birthdate, May 12th, to the public in her autobiography.) Recalling Tom's death, Kate explained her parents' practical detachment. Grieving was viewed as useless, so work was always resumed quickly as an antidote to catastrophic events. Consequently, the incident was only discussed once by Mrs. Hepburn, who instructed the children never to mention it again.
Kate, following the footsteps of her mother and aunts, attended Bryn Mawr College in Pennsylvania, where she majored in history and philosophy. Her scholastic performance in her early years was less than stellar, and was even put on probation for "smoking" in her dormitory room. Kate mentioned this incident in her autobiography. She had been sent a gift of flavored cigarettes, lit one, took a puff, and put it out--that was all. Her parents appealed the suspension because, after all, they were both smokers, and Kate was allowed to resume her studies.
She developed an interest in acting and performed in several college theatrical productions, her last and best being the part of Pandora in The Woman in the Moon, written by John Lyly. Kate's performance was part of the college's celebration of their "Grand May Day" celebrations, and she graduated that same year, 1928.
Later, when asked about her college years, she said, "Bryn Mawr isn’t plastic, it isn’t nylon, it’s pure gold. ... I came here by the skin of my teeth; I got in and by the skin of my teeth I stayed. It was the best thing I ever did. Bryn Mawr was my springboard into adult life. I discovered that you can do anything if you work hard enough. I feel that I was enormously lucky to come here. I am very proud when I see the name, very proud.”
"I discovered that you can do anything if you work hard enough." --Katherine Hepburn
Kate in RKO Radio Pictures 1931-1938
- 1932 "A Bill of Divorcement" with John Barrymore
- 1933 "Little Women" with Paul Lukas
- 1933 "Morning Glory" with Douglas Fairbanks, Jr.
- 1935 "Alice Adams" with Fred MacMurray
- 1935 "Break of Hearts" with Charles Boyer
- 1935 "Sylvia Scarlett" with Cary Grant
- 1936 "Mary of Scotland" with Fredric March
- 1937 "Stage Door" with Ginger Rogers and Adolphe Menjou
- 1937 "Quality Street" with Franchot Tone
- 1938 "Bringing Up Baby" with Cary Grant
Kate's First Break and RKO
Actually, when Kate first announced she was going to be an actress to her family, they were quite taken by surprise. She had set her mind, however, and there was no turning back; in fact, she had her heights set on stardom, nothing less.
She made her New York stage debut in 1928 in a production of These Days. The 1932 Broadway hit The Warrior’s Husband, however, really kick-started her career when she portrayed Antiope, an Amazon princess, who made her entrance bounding down a flight of stairs with a stag over her shoulders and knocking down her prince. No woman had ever played such an aggressive role on stage, and the audience loved it.
She turned down a contract with Paramount Pictures, but went onto RKO Radio Pictures, where she got her first film role in 1932. Her career took fire after that with a series of great performances and awards.
Kate's Movies 1938-1959
- 1938 "Holiday" with Cary Grant (Columbia)
- 1940 "The Philadelphia Story" with Jimmy Stewart (MGM)
- 1942 "Woman of the Year" with Spencer Tracy (MGM)
- 1949 "Adam's Rib" with Spencer Tracy (MGM)
- 1951 "The African Queen" with Humphrey Bogart (United Artist)
- 1952 "Pat and Mike" with Spencer Tracy (MGM)
- 1955 "Summertime" with Rossano Brazzi (London Film Productions)
- 1956 "Rainmaker" with Burt Lancaster (Hal Wallis Productions)
- 1957 "Desk Set" with Spencer Tracy (20th Century Fox)
- 1959 "Suddenly Last Summer" with Elizabeth Taylor and Montgomery Clift (Columbia)
Kate and Spencer Tracy
One cannot read very deeply about Kate's life without learning something about her relationship with Spencer Tracy, whom she had known and worked with for 25 years (1942-1967).
In addition to the five movies in Kate's listings, they appeared together in Keeper of the Flame (1943), Without Love (1945), Sea of Grass (1947), and State of the Union (1948). Perhaps the most dynamic of their performances was Adam's Rib, directed by George Cukor, who directed the pair in two other films. The movie was touted as the best battle-of-the-sexes comedy of its time. The most celebrated, however, was Kate's and Spencer's final film together Guess Who's Coming to Dinner about the awkward situation of a racially-mixed marriage proposal. The movie received an Academy Award for "Best Actress" (Kate) and "Best Writing, Story and Screenplay - Written Directly for the Screen" (William Rose). Guess Who's Coming to Dinner was also recognized and honored b Golden Globes, BAFTA, American Cinema Editors, Director's Gild of America, Fotogramas de Plata of Spain, Laurel Awards, and Writers Guild of America. With all the awards and recognition, however, Kate never watched a presentation of her performance with Spencer because it was their last movie together.
What made the relationship of the pair so interesting were their opposite qualities. When anyone gets behind the movie hoopla, the differences in private experiences and preferences became evident, mainly their beliefs being so opposite, with Spencer being Catholic and Kate essentially being atheist. The Directors Cukor, Stevens, Bucquet, Kazan, Lang, and Kramer undoubtedly picked up on the intrinsic differences.
With that said, no one could explain their relationship better than Kate herself with her letter to Spencer in the following video.
If you're a fan of Katharine Hepburn, you'll love this collectible.
Kate's Later Movies 1962-1994
- 1962 "Long Day's Journey Into Night" with Ralph Richardson (Embassy Pictures)
- 1967 "Guess Who's Coming to Dinner" with Spencer Tracy and Sidney Poitier (Columbia)
- 1968 "The Lion in Winter" with Peter O'Toole (AVCO Embassy)
- 1973 "The Glass Menagerie" with Sam Waterston (Norton Simon Inc./Talent Associates)
- 1975 "Love Among the Ruins" with Laurence Olivier (ABC Circle Films)
- 1975 "Rooster Cogburn" with John Wayne (Universal Pictures/Hal Wallis Productions)
- 1979 "The Corn is Green" with Ian Saynor (Warner Brothers)
- 1981 "On Golden Pond" with Henry and Jane Fonda (ITC/IPC Films)
- 1994 "Love Affair" with Warren Beatty and Annette Bening (Mulholland Productions)
- 1994 "One Christmas" with Henry Winkler (Karpf-Davis Entertainment)
A Few Social Tidbits and Extras
ATHLETICISM: Kate was very athletic as a young girl, encouraged by her father, who taught her to do a back somersault.
CHILDHOOD FAMILY HOME: The family home was destroyed by the hurricane storm of 1938. Dr. Hepburn had the home rebuilt three feet higher than its previous construction. According to Elizabeth Mulholland, brick replaced wood in the refurbished home.
MARRIAGE: Kate was married on December 12, 1928, to Ludlow Ogden "Luddy" Smith, a prominent Philadelphia businessman and president of Ogden Ludlow Inc. The "Ludlow Formula" was a harbinger of computerized financial systems.
The couple met during Kate's senior year at Bryn Mawr College. Luddy was eight years Kate's senior. They separated in 1934, and Kate went to Mexico for a divorce. Some time after she filed, Luddy changed his name to Ogden Smith Ludlow in an effort to purge social records and start anew. Kate, at some point, had requested Ludlow to legally change his name during their marriage so that she would not be confused with "Kate Smith," a popular singer. Questioning the legality of a Mexican divorce, Ludlow filed officially in Connecticut on September 18, 1941. The couple had experienced a singular marriage, due to Katherine's career, for over 13 years.
In spite of distances the two never completely lost touch, however. Ludlow jump-started Kate's career after her series of box-office flops. After Spencer Tracy's death and that of Ludlow's second wife, Kate and Luddy resumed their relationship, remaining close until Ludlow's death in July 1979.
CLOSE CALLS AND HEALTH: On one occasion (between1930 and 1939), Kate was nearly decapitated by an airplane propeller while trying to avoid the media.
She suffered a life-long eye infection from filming Summertime (1955) when she forgot to close her eyes and jumped into a Venice canal for a required movie stunt.
Later, she also experienced some metal shards in one eye and had a prosthetic shoulder.
KATE'S DEATH AND BURIAL: Kate died naturally on June 29, 2003, at the age of 96, in her home located in Old Saybrook, Connecticut, and was buried at the family plot in Cedar Hill Cemetery in Hartford, Connecticut.
KATHARINE HEPBURN CENTER: Today Bryn Mawr College offers internships, fellowships and awards to women leading publicly engaged lives to make a meaningful impact on the world.
KATHARINE HEPBURN CULTURAL ARTS CENTER: Located at 300 Main Street in Old Saybrook, Connecticut, the Center was originally built by Joseph Cone, a printer, performer, and musician, in 1911. The building was refurbished, renamed in Kate's honor, and reopened in 2005.
1979 Interview by Morley Safer of CBS's "60 Minutes"
The interview shows Kate as she was, practical, down-to-earth, honest, and possessing a self-denying, blunt humor, elements that intrinsically created her charm.
Your Movie Opinion
Of Kate's four Academy-Award-winning movies, which is your favorite?
Credits and Resources
http://classicfilm.about.com/od/actorsanddirectors/tp/Katharine_Hepburn_Movies_List.htm (Kate's Movies, partial list)
http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0000031/bio?ref_=nm_ov_bio_sm (Additional Movie Information and Trivia)
http://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GRid=7871154 (Information on Kate's Father)
http://www.brynmawr.edu/hepburn/about_1928.shtml (Quote on Bryn Mawr College and Info on Role of Antiope)
http://www.katharinehepburntheater.org/blog/katharine-hepburn/kate-picks-up-the-pieces-of-the-1938-hurricane/ (Info on Destruction of Family Home)
http://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GRid=38963203 (About Kate's Husband)
http://themave.com/Tracy/Tracy.htm (Spencer and Tracy Movies)