Theme Times – Katharine Hepburn

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Katherine Hepburn By Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer studio (work for hire)

Katharine Houghton Hepburn (May 12, 1907 – June 29, 2003) was an American actress who was a leading lady in Hollywood for more than 60 years. She appeared in a range of genres, from screwball comedy to literary drama, and she received a record (for any gender) four Academy Awards for Lead Acting Performances, plus eight further nominations. In 1999, Hepburn was named by the American Film Institute the greatest female star of Classic Hollywood Cinema. She was known for her fierce independence and spirited personality.

Raised in Connecticut by wealthy, progressive parents, Hepburn began to act while studying at Bryn Mawr College. Favorable reviews of her work on Broadway brought her to the attention of Hollywood. Her early years in film were marked with success, including an Academy Award for Best Actress for her third picture, Morning Glory (1933), but this was followed by a series of commercial failures culminating in the critically lauded but commercially unsuccessful comedy Bringing Up Baby (1938), a pairing with Cary Grant. Hepburn masterminded her own comeback, buying out her contract with RKO Radio Pictures and acquiring the film rights to The Philadelphia Story, which she sold on the condition that she be the star. That comedy film, again co-starring Grant, was a box office success and landed her a third Academy Award nomination, plus won her other co-star, James Stewart, his only Academy Award. Both movies are now considered among the greatest comedy films.

In the 1940s, she began focusing on a screen and romantic partnership with Spencer Tracy, which spanned 26 years and nine movies, although the romance with the married Tracy was hidden from the public. The partnership began with Woman of the Year (1942), continued with Adam’s Rib (1949), both being “battle of the sexes” romantic comedies, and concluded with the race-issue drama Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner (1967), also starring Sidney Poitier; Tracy died shortly after the movie’s filming.

Hepburn challenged herself in the latter half of her life, as she tackled Shakespearean stage productions and a range of literary roles. She found a niche playing middle-aged spinsters, such as in The African Queen (1951), which landed her another Academy Award nomination. Suddenly, Last Summer (1959) was another commercial and critical success and landed her another Oscar nomination. Hepburn earned three more Oscars for her work in Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner (1967), The Lion in Winter (1968), and On Golden Pond (1981), co-starring Henry Fonda, who won his only Academy Award for the movie. In the 1970s, she began appearing in television films, which later became the focus of her career. She made her final screen appearance at the age of 87. After a period of inactivity and ill health, Hepburn died in 2003 at the age of 96.

Hepburn famously shunned the Hollywood publicity machine, and refused to conform to society’s expectations of women. She was outspoken, assertive, and athletic, and wore trousers before they were fashionable for women. She was briefly married as a young woman, but thereafter lived independently. With her unconventional lifestyle and the independent characters she brought to the screen, Hepburn epitomized the “modern woman” in the 20th-century United States, and is remembered as an important cultural figure.

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Katherine Hepburn By Stage Publishing Company, Inc., photograph by Vandamm – Self scan from Stage magazine from March 15, 1939, Volume 16, Number 6 (front cover)

This episode is dedicated to Grace of Broadway Matron and Angie of King Ben’s Grandma  who both expressed an interest in Katherine’s bio for Theme Times.

I was a big fan of Katherine Hepburns – l liked her style, l loved her voice and her accent and l just liked her  for her – l haven’t seen all of her films, but l had seen a great many from the time she began to the last few years of her acting life. The first film l caught her in properly was when l was in my teens and back then l had a real passion for old black and white movies and fell in love with some of the actresses of those time s – like Katherine, Gardener, Leigh, Ball, Turner, Stanwyck, West, Day,  Davis and the list goes on and this year we will see these lovely ladies in this series. I think the first actual film with Hepburn l saw was … “Morning Glory’ 1933. I feel sure that Grace will appreciate the inclusion of this film.

Morning Glory is a 1933 American Pre-Code drama film which tells the story of an eager would-be actress and her journey to stardom, and what she loses as a result.

Here we go Grace – especially for you 🙂

Here are my top 10 favourites. Now tell me? Fan or not?

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1 – The Philadelphia Story – 1940

This classic romantic comedy focuses on Tracy Lord (Katharine Hepburn), a Philadelphia socialite who has split from her husband, C.K. Dexter Haven (Cary Grant), due both to his drinking and to her overly demanding nature. As Tracy prepares to wed the wealthy George Kittredge (John Howard), she crosses paths with both Dexter and prying reporter Macaulay Connor (James Stewart). Unclear about her feelings for all three men, Tracy must decide whom she truly loves.

2 – Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner– 1967

Joanna, a young woman raised with liberal values, brings home her fiance John, a widowed, black physician. Over dinner, Joanna’s parents’ apprehensions become evident causing trouble for the couple.

3 – The African Queen – 1951

After religious spinster’s (Katharine Hepburn) missionary brother is killed in WWI Africa, dissolute steamer captain (Humphrey Bogart) offers her safe passage. She’s not satisfied so she persuades him to destroy a German gunboat. The two spend most of their time fighting with each other rather than the Germans. Time alone on the river leads to love.

4 – On Golden Pond– 1981

Cantankerous retiree Norman Thayer (Henry Fonda) and his conciliatory wife, Ethel (Katharine Hepburn), spend summers at their New England vacation home on the shores of idyllic Golden Pond. This year, their adult daughter, Chelsea (Jane Fonda), visits with her new fiancée and his teenage son, Billy (Doug McKeon) on their way to Europe. After leaving Billy behind to bond with Norman, Chelsea returns, attempting to repair the long-strained relationship with her aging father before it’s too late.

5 – Little Women – 1933

The endearing saga of the March sisters — Meg (Frances Dee), Jo (Katharine Hepburn), Amy and Beth — who come of age in New England during the Civil War, is based on the classic Louisa May Alcott novel. With Mr. March away fighting for the Union cause, the girls and their beloved mother, Marmee (Spring Byington), manage to keep their spirits up through dire economic and emotional crises, until Jo’s literary aspirations and Meg’s romance with a teacher threaten to pull the sisters apart.

6 – Holiday – 1938

A young man falls in love with a girl from a rich family. His unorthodox plan to go on holiday for the early years of his life is met with skepticism by everyone except for his fiance’s sister.

7 – Rooster Cogburn – 1975

Sequel to the Oscar-winning “True Grit” finds the trigger-happy Rooster trying to win back his law badge by hunting a gang of bandits and a stolen shipment of explosives. His job is not made any easier by the daughter of one of the gang’s victims, who insists on coming along for the ride.

8 – Summertime – 1955

Middle-aged Ohio secretary Jane Hudson (Katharine Hepburn) has never found love and has nearly resigned herself to spending the rest of her life alone. But before she does, she uses her savings to finance a summer in romantic Venice, where she finally meets the man of her dreams, the elegant Renato Di Rossi (Rossano Brazzi). But when she learns that her new paramour is leading a double life, she must decide whether her happiness can come at the expense of others.

9 – Desk Set – 1957

Bunny, a young woman, works at a library and is stuck in a boring relationship with an executive. When a tech expert is hired to automate her department, she falls in love with him.

10 – Bringing Up Baby – 1938

A madcap heiress Susan Vance, upsets the staid existence of a straitlaced scientist Dr. David Huxley.

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Theme Times is a once a week feature – who would you like to see for the remainder of the month of May, check the options below and let me know in the comments section. Figures represent votes

Cheers Rory

Jim Croce [1]

Gary Cooper [3]

Lana Turner

Marlon Brando [1]

Bette Davis [3]

The Fonda’s
Henry [1], Jane [1], Peter

Christopher Walken [1]

Spencer Tracy [1]

Ben Kingsley

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13 thoughts on “Theme Times – Katharine Hepburn

  1. Oh my lord, ‘Morning Glory” has got to be one of the all time horrors! I laughed myself silly at that one, and that’s coming from an insane Hepburn fan. I see you included “Holiday” – one of my favorites but hokey as hell with some of that “Morning Glory” bad acting. Hepburn & Grant, Hepburn & Tracy – fabulous. But Hepburn and O’Toole? – OMG! I’ve got a couple of Hepburn stories but they’re better recounted over a beer.

  2. Oh yeah, do Bette Davis (yeah, yeah, yeah! ) And if you want another larf from the 1930’s – catch Greta Garbo in ‘Anna Christie’ (1930)

      1. YAY! 🙂 Can I put in a word for “Hush, Hush, Sweet Charlotte”, it was also Mary Astor’s last film and BD asked for her and Olivia De Havilland to be in it with her as they were her friends.

  3. Your first 5 Katherine picks match mine! Have you read her autobiography? It’s good.
    Gotta do Bette! Baby Jane is freaky! And Brando of course. And I love Chistopher Walken! All good on that list.

  4. I enjoyed this post very much! Thank you for sharing!
    I enjoyed her various roles, but think my favorite film of hers was The African Queen.
    I like all of the stars on your list, but as a child had a crush on Gary Cooper. (Don’t remember why now. 😊) Therefore, I will cast my vote for Gary Cooper.

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