Katharine Houghton Hepburn (1907 – 2003)

Katharine Hepburn in "Stage Door Canteen" (1943)

Katharine Hepburn was born and raised in Hartford and West Hartford, Connecticut.  She was the daughter of Katharine Martha Houghton, a member of the socially prominent family that founded the Corning Glass Works and an active supporter of women’s rights, and Dr. Thomas Hepburn, Connecticut’s first urologist.

The second of six children, Katharine was bright, independent and an excellent athlete.  She became interested in the theater at an early age, and at 8, she dramatized Uncle Tom’s Cabin, including casting neighborhood children as characters and presenting it in the tiny theater that her father had built for her in the backyard. 

In 1918, Katharine enrolled at Oxford School.  In 1924, she followed her mother’s footsteps and began attending Bryn Mawr College where she was known as a strange, aloof young woman with few friends.  During her first two years at Bryn Mawr, she did not do well scholastically nor did she participate in any college activities, however, sometime during this period she decided that she would become an actress.

Two days after her graduation from college and over the strenuous objections of her father, she followed her dream of becoming an actress.  Hepburn did not hit it big overnight, however.  Her reputation of haughty behavior off-screen and her refusal to play the “Hollywood Game,” such as always wearing slacks, not wearing makeup and not posing for pictures or giving interviews, led to criticism from several critics and, thus, resulted in several flops.  In 1938, she was given the opportunity to star on Broadway in The Philadelphia Story for which she received critical acclaim.  She then bought the film rights and moved back to Hollywood where she chose her director and co-stars for the film version of The Philadelphia Story.  The movie was a box office hit, and Katharine found herself on top in the Hollywood scene. 

Her next film was Woman of the Year in 1942 in which she was paired with Spencer Tracy.  This movie sparked the beginning of their chemistry, which was evident in their nine films and a relationship that spanned 25 years.  Though they loved each other and he was estranged from his wife Louise, Spencer was a practicing Roman Catholic and would never divorce his wife. Katharine admitted that she never watched Guess Who’s Coming Dinner because it was Tracy’s last film.

Katharine holds the record for most Best Actress Oscar wins with four, and she received a total of 12 nominations.  Meryl Streep holds the record for most nominations with 16.  Her last feature film was Love Affair in 1994 and her last TV film was One Christmas that same year.   In 1999, Katharine Hepburn was recognized by the American Film Institute as the greatest female star in the history of American cinema.

Katharine died in 2003 at the age of 96 at her home in Old Saybrook, Connecticut.  In total, Hepburn was in more than 50 movies, was in more than 10 Broadway productions, and in 1991 published her autobiography Me: Stories of My Life.

References:
Bryn Mawr. Katharine Houghton Hepburn, Class of 1928. Accessed at
http://www.brynmawr.edu/hepburn/about_1928.shtml on August 16, 2010.
Connecticut Women’s Council. Katharine Hepburn. Accessed at
http://www.cwhf.org/browse_hall/hall/people/Hepburn-Kate.php on August 16, 2010.
Internet Movie Database. Katharine Hepburn. Accessed at
http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0000031/ on August 16, 2010.
Wikipedia. Katharine Hepburn. Accessed at
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Katharine_Hepburn on August 16, 2010.

Photo Credit: Katharine Hepburn, Public Domain