Katharine Hepburn (1907 - 2003)

Katharine Houghton Hepburn
1907 - 2003
updated May 14, 2020
Katharine Hepburn was born on May 12, 1907 in Connecticut. She died on June 29, 2003 in New York, New York at age 96.
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Katharine Houghton Hepburn Biography

Vital facts & highlights of Katharine's life to share with the world.

Katharine Hepburn
Most commonly known name
Female
Gender
Katharine
First name
Houghton
Middle name
Unknown
Maiden name
Hepburn
Last name(s)
Katherine Houghton Hepburn
Nickname(s) or aliases
New York, New York County, New York 10048
Last known residence
Katharine Hepburn was born on in Connecticut United States
Birth
Katharine Hepburn died on in New York, New York United States
Death
Katharine Hepburn was born on in Connecticut United States
Katharine Hepburn died on in New York, New York United States
Birth
Death
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Cause of death
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Ethnicity & Lineage

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Nationality & Locations Lived

Unknown

Religion

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Education

Hepburn was educated at the elite women's college Bryn Mawr, in Pennsylvania, and graduated with a major in history and philosophy. She went straight into the theatre, where she earned a reputation for being headstrong and undirectable. She was smart, and she mixed profound reticence with abrupt surges of outspokenness. Fighting her own reserve made her impulsive and perilous. She seemed mannered sometimes, but rather more in a social than a theatrical sense.

Professions

By the time she went to Hollywood in 1932, Hepburn was regarded as difficult and lofty. Her first employer, David O Selznick, was horrified: she wasn't beautiful, she wasn't sexy, she talked back, she didn't flatter fools. How could she survive?
Years later, Selznick denied her one role she longed for - that of Scarlett in Gone With The Wind. But in her first film, A Bill Of Divorcement (1932), she had George Cukor as her director and John Barrymore playing her father - and she was extraordinary.
Cukor saw a young woman anxious to seem sophisticated, yet often making a fool of herself, and then recovering. She was like a heroine from Jane Austen: she had a moral being, a mind and a conscience, and she was trying - in the words of The Philadelphia Story - "to behave naturally", with grace.
She was perfectly cast as Jo in Cukor's Little Women (1933), and she won her first Oscar as the young actor in Morning Glory (1933). But she was not an established figure in the 1930s. She made several flops; she went for adventurous but misbegotten roles; she was under contract to a small studio, RKO; and she never let herself be cute or adorable. She played an aviatrix in Dorothy Arzner's Christopher Strong (1933) - so often she wore slacks. She was a strange tomboy in Spitfire (1934), and not too credible at genteel romance in The Little Minister (1934), Break Of Hearts (1936) or Quality Street (1937). She was an early feminist in A Woman Rebels (1936).
None of those films did well, and Hepburn sometimes seemed stilted or querulous. But beginning with the pretentious show-off who learns better sense in Alice Adams (1935), she had an extraordinary run. She was dressed as a boy in parts of Cukor's risky Sylvia Scarlett (1936). For John Ford, she gave perhaps her most romantic performance, as Mary Of Scotland (1936). In Stage Door (1937), she had wonderful battles of repartee with Ginger Rogers.
Then she did three films with Cary Grant - as the spirit of liberating disruption in Howard Hawks's Bringing Up Baby (1938); as the rebellious rich girl who wants a more decent life in Cukor's Holiday (1938); and as Tracy Lord in The Philadelphia Story (1940), in which emotional pride and coldness give way to a deeper understanding.
That last film was of her own choosing. Aware that she was not easily cast, Hepburn encouraged the playwright Philip Barry to write the play for her (Howard Hughes loaned her money to buy the rights). She played it on Broadway, and then sold it - and herself - to Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. If she had only ever made The Philadelphia Story, Holiday and Bringing Up Baby, her place in the comedy of manners and feeling would have been secure. The wary, very clever and teasing Grant was the greatest screen partner she ever had - more stimulating and testing than Spencer Tracy to come.

Personal Life & Organizations

As she neared 50, and stayed resolute about acting her age, Hepburn was the schoolteacher plunged into late love in Venice, in David Lean's Summer Madness (1955), a spinster refreshed by Burt Lancaster in The Rainmaker (1956), and a very creepy monster mother in Suddenly, Last Summer (1959).
She did not overwork in those years, and when one considers the number of poor films she accumulated, her stature is all the more remarkable. It owed something to the 1971 publication of Tracy And Hepburn, by Garson Kanin (the scriptwriter on so many of their films). That book romanced the Tracy relationship and sweetened up its tough spots (including the moods and affairs of Tracy, and Hepburn's dogged independence) enough to be a bestseller. But she spent a lot of time looking after the ailing Tracy, even on screen in the woeful Guess Who's Coming To Dinner? (1967), for which she won her second Oscar.
That statuette should have melted like wax next to the exposed pain of Long Day's Journey Into Night (1962) - her best late film by far, and a rare but complete adoption of tragedy. There was another Oscar for The Lion In Winter (1968), and by then she was playing old ladies - sometimes in abject ventures - from The Madwoman Of Chaillot (1969) through a fourth Oscar in On Golden Pond (1981) all the way to her aunt in Love Affair (1994), smiling on Warren Beatty and Annette Bening, and trying to restrain her palsy.
It is a life we may never plumb - just because she did not intend us to find out everything. Her own book, and Barbara Leaming's, leave so much out, and so much that we do know does not fit our image of a movie star. It surely helped her reputation as much as her life that she was brave, robust, loyal, edgy, and a survivor. She had been Hollywood in her time - and she was one of the few stars who liked Louis B Mayer, her boss at MGM - but she never went Hollywood, or gave up New England habits.
To the end, her bright eyes and her large mind were filled with thoughts of other things to do besides having her picture taken. Maybe that is why, in enough movies, she looks like a newborn creature and one of the great American ladies. On The African Queen, John Huston had a brainwave - "Do it like Eleanor Roosevelt," he said. And she grinned and advanced. There was always a lot more there than just Me.

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Katharine Hepburn Obituary

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Katharine Hepburn
An actor of substance whose intelligence and rootedness in true American values set her apart from other Hollywood icons. David Thomson.
Mon 30 Jun 2003
Long before the end of her rich and irrepressible life, Katharine Hepburn, who has died aged 96, had gone beyond the level of mere movie star, and won a public affection granted to few people. She would sometimes marvel at the warmth with which strangers wrote to her, and she could discuss the phenomenon of herself in ways that left no doubt about her steely, serene ego, but which never jeopardized her charm. Though "charm" is not quite the word. She had an authority, a natural eccentricity and the spunky good sense of a magnificent aunt. So many who never met her must feel her loss in those terms.
From start to finish, Hepburn was a family person. The years of fame and Hollywood never matched her loyalty to Fenwick, the family property at Old Saybrook, on the Connecticut coast, where she was raised. She was not just a fond daughter; she was deeply influenced by the life and work of her parents - the father a doctor, the mother a leader in the drive for women's suffrage and family planning. She took it for granted that one grew up striving for "character", shouldering responsibility and finding strength in family ties and good work.
Kate Hepburn was very New England. She swam in the cold Atlantic ocean; she was a fanatic for exercise; and she enjoyed the long, severe winters and short, stunning summers, to say nothing of muddy spring and flaming fall. The US constitution came from her corner of the country, along with granite humor and equal respect for morality and privacy.
So she was vigorous and independent in thought and action, while part of an informed and opinionated family that talked about everything except feelings. With that, there was a pervasive mystery. There was some history of mental illness in her family, and suicide. At the age of 13, it was Hepburn who found the body of her older brother, who had hanged himself. This left her tomboyish, feisty, scornful of fuss, yet always curious about emotions and their secrecy.
Her character and her intelligence were never simple or superficial, and that prickly edge kept her from being a popular favorite for many years. Indeed, in the late 1930s - her finest years - she was sometimes called box-office poison, a wounding badge that she wore with defiance.
If acting had not worked out, Hepburn would never have moped. She would have played golf and tennis, traveled, driven and flown, perhaps; and she would have devoted herself to feminist causes long before they became fashionable. She would have had enduring friendships with women, and a string of bantering relationships with strong, tough men of the world.

Of course, she did most of those things anyway, while making some 50 films that got her 12 Oscar nominations and four of the statuettes - both records. She acted on the stage, too, but without either the assurance or the vulnerability she had on screen. She wrote a couple of books, including an enormously successful, blithely selective, autobiography, which she titled - simply, boldly, yet reasonably - Me (1991). Who else?
It was in line with her kind of American classiness that, in 1928, she married Ludlow "Luddy" Ogden Smith, a Philadelphia stockbroker. The union did not last (they divorced in 1934), but she never lost her fondness for him. But she would not marry again; she had learned that she was too much "me" for that.


Hepburn met Tracy on the set of Woman Of The Year (1942), a very effective comedy until its end, when the woman meekly adopts the man's demeaning rules. On screen and off, she deferred to Tracy. Still, it was the beginning of a partnership that made her a sentimental favourite.

Though she revered health, in life Hepburn accommodated herself to all of Tracy's neuroses - he was an alcoholic and depressive, unhappily married, guilt-ridden over a son's deafness, and not in her class as a mind or a talker. But tough, bitter men gave her a thrill. There had been a romance with Howard Hughes, and a near marriage to her agent Leland Hayward. According to Barbara Leaming's 1995 biography (though this was disputed by family members), John Ford had been the love of her life.
At the same time, there were rumors - and evidence - that Hepburn preferred the company of women, especially Irene Mayer Selznick and the American Express heiress Laura Harding, her friend for more than 60 years. The truth may be that she always enjoyed friendship more than sex; she never quite lived with anyone, though she was a heartfelt care-giver to so many.
The Tracy films were often very good, even if they were not as piercing as the late 30s movies - Keeper Of The Flame (1942), Frank Capra's State Of The Union (1948), the excellent Adam's Rib (1949) and Pat And Mike (1952) were the best, and three were by George Cukor.
But if one film was the pivot of Hepburn's popularity, it was The African Queen (1951), where she and Humphrey Bogart made a salty, romantic coupling, like kids let out to play. On that dangerous African location, she won the love and admiration of director John Huston, by hunting with him and generally roughing it. In return, years later, in her book about the film, she described him as a pagan god.
There were also bad and inane films - playing Chinese in Dragon Seed (1944); helpless in Without Love (1945) and The Sea Of Grass (1947), both with Tracy; trying to be Clara Schumann in Song Of Love (1947); and in Vincente Minnelli's neurotic Undercurrent (1946).
The mere wondering about who could take her place is enough to establish her rarity, and our final removal from the golden age of Hollywood. Golly, is she really gone?
Katharine Houghton Hepburn, actor, born May 12 1907; died June 29 2003

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1907 - 2003 World Events

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In 1907, in the year that Katharine Hepburn was born, the showman Florenz Ziegfeld introduced his Ziegfeld Follies. Ziegfeld was inspired by the Folies Bergère of Paris and the show was a step up from the then current vaudeville shows. The top entertainers of the time played in the Follies but the stars were the Ziegfeld girls - beautiful chorus girls in elaborate costumes. For almost a quarter of a century, the Ziegfeld follies were the toast of Broadway.

In 1924, she was 17 years old when in May, wealthy college students Nathan Leopold and Richard Loeb kidnapped and killed 14 year old Robert Franks "in the interest of science". Leopold and Loeb thought that they were intellectually superior and that they could commit the perfect crime and not be caught. They were brought in for questioning within 8 days and quickly confessed. Clarence Darrow was hired as their defense lawyer, getting them life imprisonment instead of a death sentence. Loeb was eventually killed in prison - Leopold was released after 33 years, dying of a heart attack at age 66.

In 1949, at the age of 42 years old, Katharine was alive when comedian Milton Berle hosted the first telethon show. It raised $1,100,000 for cancer research and lasted 16 hours. The next day, newspapers, in writing about the event, first used the word "telethon."

In 1968, by the time she was 61 years old, on January 31st, the North Vietnamese launched the Tet Offensive, a turning point in the Vietnam War. 70,000 North Vietnamese and Viet Cong forces swarmed into South Vietnam. The South Vietnamese and US troops held off the offensive but it was such fierce fighting that the U.S. public began to turn against the war.

In 1986, Katharine was 79 years old when on January 28th, the space shuttle Challenger exploded 73 seconds after launch. All seven crew members died. The cause of the explosion was later found to be a failed O-ring. The O-ring failure was due to the unusually cold conditions at Cape Canaveral.

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