Turner Classic Movies
Hepburn, Katharine
Written by Diana Saenger   
 Katharine Hepburn Profile  

katharinehepburn200.jpgDate of Birth: May 12, 1907

Date of Death: June 29, 2003

Place of Death: Old Saybrook, Connecticut

Cause of Death: Natural Causes


"You cannot change the music of your soul," is a quote Katharine Hepburn once said and perhaps is the truest statement about the famous "true" redhead. Holding faithful to her own soul, she gained an early reputation in Hollywood as a woman who spoke her mind, often lashing out against those whom she disliked, and she never attempted to hide her sometimes caustic personality. Yet Hepburn became one of the most popular and exceptional actresses of the last two centuries.

It's no surprise that Hepburn marched to her own beat; her parents were strong influences in her life. Her father, Thomas, was a doctor, her mother, Katharine, a suffragette. Hepburn avoided girly things growing up and hung out with her brother Tom, and going for the more athletic adventures.

His accidental death (some speculate it was a suicide) from a hanging while trying a trick, devastated Hepburn, only 14 at the time.

Hepburn was home schooled until she attended Bryn Mawr College in Pennsylvania, where she decided to pursue acting as career even though she graduated in 1928 with a degree in history and philosophy.


She started in theater with her role in the 1931 Art and Mrs. Bottle. She had a small part as an Amazon princess in A Warrior's Husband in 1932, but it was her next role in A Bill of Divorcement, directed by George Cukor, that spun her in the right direction. The film did not garner  very favorable reviews but John Barrymore, as Hilary Fairfield, a man returning home after fifteen years in a mental asylum; and Hepburn as Sydney, an outspoken daughter, both drew accolades that kept the proverbial movie fan waiting for more.

Fans got a taste of a true icon emerging when Hepburn earned her first Oscar in only her third movie, Morning Glory. Many film roles followed, and through her amazing portrayals of definable characters, Hepburn set herself apart as an atypical actress. As Jo, one of the sisters in Little Women (1933), her courage to lead the others was a courage that Hepburn herself exhibited in her own somewhat unconventional life.

Right off the bat she acquired a reputation for being difficult behind the scenes, namely her refusal to wear make-up and dresses, and to do PR - interviews or pose for pictures - for her movies. IMDB's rumor mill states she once, "Walked around the studio in her underwear in the early 1930s when the costume department stole her slacks from her dressing room. She refused to put anything else on until they were returned."

While this attitude might be revered today, back in the days when fans were consumed by Hollywood starlets, it did not set well with admirers or the studios. Hepburn's next stage role in The Lake (1934), and her film roles over the next few years suffered from lack of support.

The Academy of Arts and Sciences took none of her attitude into consideration when they awarded Hepburn an Oscar for her role as Eva in "Morning Glory" (1933). She won three more Oscars for Guess Who's Coming To Dinner (1967), The Lion in Winter (1968) and On Golden Pond (1981), and was nominated for eight more.

Hepburn's success in the Broadway show, The Philadelphia Story in 1938, prompted her to buy the film rights. Not only did the film do well, but Hepburn revealed she could play comedy as well as she could serious roles. As Tracy Samantha Lord, she does get a bit feisty when she's about to marry respectable George Kittredge (John Howard) and her playboy ex-husband C.K. (Cary Grant) shows up.

Hepburn in Morning Glory
Some say Hepburn was not "a beauty," but indeed many of her films reveal just the opposite. She was beautiful in Morning Glory (1933), or take her role in the 1934 The Little Minister. She plays Babbie, a gypsy girl in rural 1840's Scotland, who works her magic on the new minister. You can see in the photo pictured here with young Billy Watson, that Hepburn's flawless complexion, wide set and expressive eyes, easily convey her loveliness.
Billy Watson and Hepburn in The Little Minister

Not much is written about Hepburn's short marriage to Ludlow Ogden Smith in 1928. The couple divorced in 1934, and Hepburn never had any children. However, scores of pages were written and reported about her love affairs with George Stevens, Cary Grant, Howard Hughes, Leland Hayward, and her true love, Spencer Tracy.

Hepburn's good friend, Scott Berg, reveals lots of the juicy details of her relationships in his book, Kate Remembered. And Hepburn herself talks about her life in her autobiography, Me.

By the late 1980s Hepburn had a remarkable filmography of more than 50 films, and two she wrote, and it's no wonder Entertainment Weekly's on-line poll named Hepburn the "Best Classic Actress of the 20th Century."

But by now her problems with a shaking head - which she denied was from Parkinson's - had become more prominent. About her head shaking, in Katharine Hepburn: All About Me, a 1993 TV documentary, Hepburn said, "Now to squash a rumor. No, I don't have Parkinson's. I inherited my shaking head from my grandfather Hepburn. I discovered that whisky helps stop the shaking. Problem is, if you're not careful, it stops the rest of you too"

Hepburn outlasted the death of Spencer Tracy by 36 years. She was 96 years old when she died June 29, 2003, in Old Saybrook, Connecticut. One year later furnishings and memorabilia from her home went up for auction at Sotheby's. Among the endless list of art, home furnishings and collectible showbiz memorabilia included a bronze bust of Spencer Tracy that Hepburn made herself. It was featured in "Guess Who's Coming To Dinner" and sold for $316,000, compared to an estimate of $3,000-$5,000.

Anyone interested in some real dirt about Hepburn can check out the feature film The Aviator, the story of Hepburn's affair with Howard Hughes starring Cate Blanchett and Leonardo Dicaprio.




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