Katherine Hepburn

Katharine Houghton Hepburn was born on May 12, 1907, in Hartford, Connecticut. Hepburn came from a very interesting background. Her father was a urologist who helped establish the New England Social Hygiene Association.[1] Her mother was a feminist campaigner who headed the Connecticut Woman Suffrage Association.[2] As a child the future star joined her mother at many “Votes for Women” events. Interestingly enough she also took daily golf lessons, kept her hair cropped short, and preferred that people call her Jimmy.[3]

Hepburn’s passion for the arts started as a young child. She would see movies weekly. She also put on plays for her family and friends. Each ticket would cost fifty cents and all of her proceeds always went to support the Navajo people. Although she was kind and thoughtful, another (darker) side of her developed when she was fourteen years old.[4]

On March 30, 1921, Hepburn entered the room of her beloved brother Tom to find that he had committed suicide.[5] It is no surprise that this event left the young girl deeply scarred. It is said that she became nervous, moody, and suspicious of people. She even dropped out of school and began to be tutored in the safety of her home.[6] After she became famous, she would always tell people that her birthday was on November 8, it was her way of keeping that day special and remembered. For, in reality, it was the birthday of her dear brother Tom.[7]

Hepburn only returned to school when she entered college. She attended Bryn Mawr College.[8] She did not develop great relationships with other students and was once suspended for smoking in her room. On the other hand, she did get good grades, although this is mostly because she wanted to participate in school plays. Participation required good grades.[9] She would graduate in June of 1928 with a degree in history and philosophy.[10] Upon graduation, she immediately moved to Baltimore and was cast in Edwin H. Knopf’s production of The Czarina.[11]

Within a period of two weeks in Baltimore, Hepburn decided to leave. She had received mixed reviews and decided it would be best to move to New York and study with a voice tutor.[12] This ended up being a great idea because Knopf soon decided to produce a play, The Big Pond, in New York. He cast Hepburn as the understudy of the leading lady. But, before the play ever opened, the leading lady was fired. Thusly, with less than a month of professional experience, Hepburn became a star. Well… she was a star for one night. On opening night she came to work late, mixed up her lines, tripped on stage, and spoke too quickly to be understood. It is safe to say that she was immediately fired and the woman she replaced was rehired.[13]

Hepburn had a rough start to her career. She was fired often, and even once quit acting to get married and settle down. She “settled down” for only a few weeks before missing her work and rejoining the theater. Finally, in 1932, she would receive her break-out role. She was cast as the leading lady in The Warrior’s Husband. A Hollywood scout, Leland Hayward, was mesmerized by her performance and asked her to audition for an RKO Pictures production.[14] She almost immediately got the job.

Katharine Hepburn soon became a Hollywood legend. The small, shy, Connecticut girl became one of the most famous actresses in history. She would star alongside some of the most famous Hollywood actors; Cary Grant, Humphrey Bogart, and Spencer Tracy (just to name a few). She would be married once, to Ludlow Ogden Smith. She would later go on to say that one of the worst sides of her was brought out through that marriage. With this she did not mean that he was abusive or uncaring. Instead, she would say that she had married him for his money, so that he might help her get her career off the ground. In her final years she would also say that she was happy they never had children for she was too selfish of a person to ever have given them the full-time commitment they would have deserved.[15]

Hepburn’s most famous affair lasted for twenty-six years. For twenty-six years she devoted herself “blindingly,” as he close friend Lauren Bacall would say, to the married Spencer Tracy.[16] Although Tracy and his wife had lived in separate homes since that 1930’s they never got divorced. When Tracy’s health began to decline in the 1960’s she took a five year break from acting to take care of him. Tracy passed on June 10, 1967, Hepburn did not attend the funeral out of respect for his family. In fact, she did not speak publicly about their affair until after his wife died in 1983.[17]

In 1993, Hepburn would retire from acting for good. After this point her health began to deteriorate. In May of 2003 a tumor was found on her neck but she decided that she did not want any further medical treatment.[18] On June 29, 2003, the actress passed away at ninety-six years old. She wanted no memorial service and was buried quietly in Cedar Hill Cemetery in Hartford, Connecticut.

Katherine Hepburn will forever be remembered as one of the greatest Hollywood stars to ever exist. From The African Queen and Morning Glory to Little Women and On the Golden Pond, and to every other production she ever took part in. Katherine Hepburn shall always be an original star in the sky.

[1] Andrew Britton, Katharine Hepburn: Star as Feminist (New York City, NY: Columbia University Press, 1984), 41.
[2] Scott A. Berg, Kate Remembered: Katharine Hepburn, a Personal Biography (London, England: Pocket, 2003), 40.
[3] Charlotte Chandler, I Know Where I’m Going: Katharine Hepburn, a Personal Biography (Milwaukee, WI: Applause, 2010), 30-37.
[4] Charles Higham, Kate: The Life of Katharine Hepburn (New York City, NY: W. W. Norton., 1975), 4.
[5] Katharine Hepburn, Me: Stories of My Life (New York City, NY: Alfred A. Knopf., 1991), 44.
[6] Katharine Hepburn, Me: Stories of My Life, 49.
[7] Charlotte Chandler, I Know Where I’m Going: Katharine Hepburn, a Personal Biography, 7.
[8] Garson Kanin, Tracy and Hepburn: An Intimate Memoir, 1971st ed. (New York, NY: Viking Press, n.d.), 285.
[9] Dickens, Homer (1990) [1971]. The Films of Katharine Hepburn. New York City, NY: Carol Publishing Group. p.4
[10] Horton, Ros; Simmons, Sally (2007). Women Who Changed the World. London: Quercus Publishing Plc. p.119
[11] Charles Higham, Kate: The Life of Katharine Hepburn, 8.
[12] Charles Higham, Kate: The Life of Katharine Hepburn, 9.
[13] Ibid.
[14] Katharine Hepburn, Me: Stories of My Life, 128.
[15] Scott A. Berg, Kate Remembered: Katharine Hepburn, a Personal Biography, 50.
[16] Lauren Bacall, By Myself and Then Some (London: Headline, 2005), 488.
[17] Katharine Hepburn, Me: Stories of My Life, 396.
[18] Scott A. Berg, Kate Remembered: Katharine Hepburn, a Personal Biography, 323.

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