Katharine Hepburn Overview:

Legendary actress, Katharine Hepburn, was born Katharine Houghton Hepburn on May 12, 1907 in Hartford, CT. Hepburn appeared in over 50 film and TV roles. Her best known films include Stage Door, Morning Glory, The African Queen, The Lion in Winter, Rooster Cogburn, On Golden Pond; plus four films with Cary Grant: Sylvia Scarlett, The Philadelphia Story, Holiday, Bringing Up Baby; and eight films with Spencer Tracy: Woman of the Year, Without Love, Adam?s Rib, Pat and Mike, Desk Set, Keeper of the Flame, The Sea of Grass, State of the Union and Guess Who?s Coming to Dinner. Hepburn died at the age of 96 on Jun 29, 2003 in Old Saybrook, CT and was laid to rest in Cedar Hill Cemetery in Hartford, CT.

The Legend:

Born to doctor and a suffragette in New England, Katharine Hepburn learned three main lessons as a child: exercise the mind, exercise the body, and exercise your voice. With those three lessons in mind, would eventually conquer Broadway, Hollywood, and the hearts of the American people. The journey, however, was not an easy one.

Early Life

Katharine Hepburn was born May 12th, 1907 in Hartford, Connecticut. She came from a wealthy, progressive family. Her father was a urologist who spearheaded the New England Social Hygiene Association in order to educate the public about venereal diseases and her mother was feminist activist, campaigning both for birth control and woman's right to vote. From a very early Hepburn demonstrated her fierce and independent spirit. Ever the tomboy, the young Hepburn spent some time in her childhood as "Jimmy,"  cutting her hair short to resemble a boy. She also showed an early talent for performance; often putting on plays her neighbors then sending any proceeds to benefit Navajo Children living in New Mexico. Although most of childhood seems truly idyllic, April 3rd, 1921 when Hepburn found the dead body of older brother, Tom. He had apparently hung himself but the family remained in denial most Hepburn's life. The loss deeply affected the young Hepburn, causing her to withdraw from school and be taught at home. She would even use Tom's birthday (November 8th) as her own until 1991.

Early Career and Hollywood

In 1924, Hepburn attended her mother's Alma Mater of Bryn Mawr studying history and philosophy. It seems Hammurabi and Spinoza just weren't interesting enough because rather than apply herself in class, she would instead appear in many of the college's stage productions. Upon graduating in 1928, Hepburn took the plunge into professional world of acting. Although her distinct New England accent, ungodly high cheekbones, and athletic fame got her noticed, she toiled with only bit parts during those first, formative years. Apparently the outspoken nature, for which she is now know and beloved, actually cost her more roles than she received.  It was not until 1932 that she would receive a lead role on Broadway, starring in The Warrior's Husband.  Soon after, she would receive an offer from RKO studios. Unhappy with the contract offered, Hepburn demanded 1,500 a week (an amount unheard of for an unknown actress) and control over her choice of scripts, a bold move for a relative unknown in the acting world. Her boldness, of course, would pay off and in 1932 RKO released her film debut A Bill of Divorcement, starring opposite John Barrymore.

The film was a hit and it seemed Hollywood had found it's new star. Hepburn's second film, Christopher Strong, solidified her strong but stubborn on-screen persona and her third film, Morning Glory, garnered her first of four Academy Awards. Although Hollywood may have been quick to embrace the young actress, Hepburn was not as eager to embrace Hollywood or play it's rules. She wore pants before it was the norm, perused the studio lot without make-up, and scoffed at the posing for pin ups. She also refused to give autographs, interviews, and took a vested disinterest in the Hollywood lifestyle. Despite being a consummate professional, her seemingly haughty behavior didn't do her any favors as far as public opinion was concerned. As rumors of her self-centered arrogance became greatly exaggerated and stories of her difficult antics spread, audiences across America decided they'd rather stay home than see another Hepburn film.

Box Office Poison:

Because her unconventional behavior, Hepburn's career suffered through the mid and late thirties. Her return to Broadway, in a play called The Lake, was greeted with critical pans and an absent audience. In Hollywood things weren't much better. Of the seven films she released between 1935 and 1938, only two, Alice Adams and Stage Door, were hits. The rest, Break of Hearts, Sylvia Scarlett, Mary of Scotland, Quality Street, and the now beloved Bring Up Baby, took resident in Flop-land. With so many financially unsuccessful films released in such a short period, Hepburn was labeled the dreaded "box-office poison."  Rather than allow said poison to kill her career, Hepburn would return to Broadway.

Triumphant return:

In 1938, Hepburn would star as Tracy Lord, a role was written especially for her, in Philip Barry's The Philadelphia Story. Hepburn would acquired the film rights to the play, sure as sugar the play would be a success. The play, of course, was hit and it wasn't long before Tinsel Town came a-knock, knock, knockin on Hepburn'd door. Armed with the film rights, she was able to haggle her way back into Hollywood on her own terms, choosing her own director, her own co-stars - having it just the way she wanted it. Good thing, too, because The Philadelphia Story was a hit. Audiences flocked to see it, the Academy awarded her efforts with a third Oscar nomination, and Hepburn once again proved herself as bankable.

Her next movie, Woman of the Year, would mark the beginning of a twenty-five yearlong partnership with Spencer Tracy; romance spark both on and off screen. The duo would go on to star in eight films together; the most successful include Adam's Rib, Pat and Mike, and Desk Set. After a few years of career stagnation, Hepburn landed a huge success with 1951's, The African Queen. The film marked her success without Tracy since The Philadelphia Story and a transition from playing madcap young, socialites to dignified middle-aged leads. One of her most endearing works of that era remains the David Lean romance Summertime. Filmed in Venice, Hepburn played a vacationing Spinster, Jane Hudson, who embarks on a passionate but ultimately doomed love affair. The role won her yet another Academy Award nomination and David Lean has often cited the film as his personal favorite. In 1962, after completing Long Day's Journey into Night, Hepburn would take five-year hiatus from performing to aid her ailing partner, Spencer Tracy. The two would film their final film together, Guess Who's Coming to Dinner, in 1967. Tracy passed away less than three weeks after the film wrapped shooting. The movie, dealing with the then hot-button issue of interracial marriage, proved a triumphant return for Hepburn. Not only was it her most commercially successful movie to date, she also was award her second Oscar, a mere 34 years after winning her first. Her third Oscar, for the film A Lion in Winter, would come one year later.

Later Years

In 1969, Hepburn returned to Broadway for the Musical Coco. She played the title character of Coco Chanel in a story that chronicled her life.  Although having no experience in musical theatre, she took voice lessons six days a week in preparation.  Despite mediocre reviews for the show, Hepburn was praised by both the critics and public alike. The show received two extensions and Hepburn earned a Tony Award nomination.

Not willing to let a little thing like "old age" mellow her out, Hepburn remained busy through the 70's and 80's, appearing on screen, stage, and television. In 1975 she appeared in the TV movie Love Among the Ruins with Laurence Olivier. Directed by her old friend George Cukor, the film received high ratings, positive reviews and won Hepburn her first and only Emmy. In 1981, Hepburn starred with Henry and Jane Fonda in On Golden Pond, a story that captures an elderly married couples difficulty coping with old age. The movie turned a hefty profit and was the second highest grossing film of the year. Hepburn, the elder Fonda and screenwriter Ernest Thompson were all awarded Oscars for their efforts. After being coaxed out of retirement by Warren Beatty, 1994's Love Affair would be the time Hepburn would grace the silver screen. On June 29, 2003 Katharine Hepburn died of natural causes in Old Saybrook, Connecticut. She was 96  years old.

(Source: article by Minoo Allen for Classic Movie Hub).


Hepburn's autobiography Me : Stories of My Life was published in 1991, and is available in print and digitally.


Katharine Hepburn and Cary Grant starred in four films together: Sylvia Scarlett (1935), Bringing Up Baby (1938), Holiday (1938), and The Philadelphia Story (1940).


Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy starred in nine films together: Woman of the Year (1942), Without Love (1945), Adam?s Rib (1949), Pat and Mike (1952), Desk Set (1957), Keeper of the Flame (1942), The Sea of Grass (1947), State of the Union (1948) and Guess Who?s Coming to Dinner (1967).



Katharine Hepburn was nominated for 12 Academy Awards, winning four for Best Actress for Morning Glory (as Eva Lovelace), Guess Who's Coming to Dinner (as Christina Drayton), The Lion in Winter (as Queen Eleanor of Aquitaine) and On Golden Pond (as Ethel Thayer) in 1932/33, 1967, 1968 and 1981 respectively.

Academy Awards

YearAwardFilm nameRoleResult
1932/33Best ActressMorning Glory (1933)Eva LovelaceWon
1935Best ActressAlice Adams (1935)Alice AdamsNominated
1940Best ActressThe Philadelphia Story (1940)Tracy LordNominated
1942Best ActressWoman of the Year (1942)Tess HardingNominated
1951Best ActressThe African Queen (1951)Rose SayerNominated
1955Best ActressSummertime (1955)Jane HudsonNominated
1956Best ActressThe Rainmaker (1956)Lizzie CurryNominated
1959Best ActressSuddenly, Last Summer (1959)Mrs. VenableNominated
1962Best ActressLong Day's Journey into Night (1962)Mary TyroneNominated
1967Best ActressGuess Who's Coming to Dinner (1967)Christina DraytonWon
1968Best ActressThe Lion in Winter (1968)Queen Eleanor of AquitaineWon
1981Best ActressOn Golden Pond (1981)Ethel ThayerWon

She was honored with one star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in the category of Motion Pictures. In addition, Hepburn was inducted into the Theater Hall of Fame and was immortalized on a US postal stamp in 2010.

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Katharine Hepburn Quotes:

[Susan is stealing David's car from the golf course]
Susan Vance: Now, don't lose your temper.
David Huxley: My dear young lady, I'm not losing my temper. I'm merely trying to play some golf!
Susan Vance: You choose the funniest places; this is a parking lot.

[reading letter about new leopard]
Susan Vance: "He's three years old, gentle as a kitten, and likes dogs." I wonder whether Mark means that he eats dogs or is fond of them?

David Huxley: Besides that, tomorrow afternoon I'm going to get married!
Susan Vance: (laughs) What for?

read more quotes from Katharine Hepburn...

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Katharine Hepburn Facts
Was with Spencer Tracy the night he died. According to her, he had gotten up in the middle of the night to get a glass of milk. She followed the sickly Tracy to the kitchen but before she got there she heard a glass shatter and then a loud thud. She found Tracy dead on the floor; he had suffered a massive heart attack.

Ranked #68 in Empire (UK) magazine's "The Top 100 Movie Stars of All Time" list. [October 1997]

Thanked by Natalie Merchant in the liner notes of her album "Motherland".

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