Katherine Hepburn: R.I.P.

Mere weeks after the passing of the great Gregory Peck, we are fed another bitter fruit, as news came last night of the death of the Grand Dame of American Cinema, Katherine Hepburn.Passing away at the age of 96 in her home in Old Saybrook, Connecticut, Hepburn leaves behind an unparalleled legacy of much-loved performances.I’m sure anyone who has ever seen her unconventional beauty and statuesque refinement grace a screen is taking a moment today, but I hope some of you will read this little eulogy to a remarkable woman, and seek out some of her extraordinary work.Read on, and feel free to leave your thoughts, remarks and remembrances by commenting to this article, or in the forums. Katherine Hepburn was born May 12, 1907 in Hartford, Connecticut. She was the daughter of a Doctor and an outspoken and liberal suffragette mother. She was encouraged from an early age to be intelligent, worldly and opinionated. As something of a tomboy, Hepburn was very close with her brother, Tom. A 14 year-old Katherine was destroyed to discover her brothers body, after he died trying to practice a dangerous stunt. This tragedy led to Katherine withdrawing from children her own age, and was home schooled, without much contact with others, until she attended Bryn Mawr College in the late 1920’s. After graduating in 1928 with a BA in Drama, Katherine Hepburn began an acting career, picking up small parts in productions on and off Broadway, eventually wowing the New York theatre world with her bravura performance as an Amazonian princess in A WARRIOR’S HUSBAND in 1932. Shortly after, Hepburn began receiving numerous offers to move to Hollywood to screen test for the Studios. That same year she made her screen debut opposite the legendary John Barrymore in A BILL OF DIVORCEMENT. In 1933 Hepburn won her first Oscar for MORNING GLORY, and starred as Jo in the incredibly successful adaptation of LITTLE WOMEN. Hepburn’s refined charm and slender, graceful 5’8” frame made her a sought after commodity and she was immediately thrust into film after film.Kate had no patience for the glad-handing and pretensions of Hollywood life, and was soon being roasted by the press for being unconventional. They attacked the “manly” way she dressed, her refusals to be made up as a glamour queen for photo shoots, and her distaste for interviews. These were cardinal sins in Hollywood, where stars were expected to be thankful and ever eager to kowtow to the fans. In one particularly memorable instance, she cruised the halls of a studio in her undies, when someone stole her pants from the dressing room. She refused to redress until they were returned. The film exhibitors actually described her as “Box Office Poison”, and began to refuse to show her films.Hepburn returned to Broadway in 1938, where she starred in a new play named THE PHILADELPHIA STORY. The play became a smash hit and, ever the shrewd intellectual, Hepburn purchased the film rights and used them to return to Hollywood on her own terms, without bowing to the ridiculous expectations of the Studios and fan magazines. The 1940 film version of THE PHILADELPHIA STORY, which costarred Cary Grant and James Stewart, was a major hit and is now considered a classic. It also garnered Hepburn her third Oscar nomination. She returned in such a big way that she was the original choice to play Scarlett O’ Hara in GONE WITH THE WIND, a part she refused.In 1942, Hepburn was paired with amiable star Spencer Tracy for the film WOMAN OF THE YEAR. The two costars fell madly in love, went on to team up in eight more films, and stayed a devoted and unmarried couple for 25 years. By 1951, Hepburn was getting too old to play ingénue parts, and graduated to playing more mature middle-aged characters, starting with the legendary THE AFRICAN QUEEN, in which she was paired with immortal tough-guy Humphrey Bogart. The film cemented Hepburn as Hollywood royalty and gave her a fifth Oscar nomination.By 1967, Hepburn had received 9 Oscar nominations and appeared in over 32 films. She appeared with Spencer Tracy in GUESS WHO’S COMING TO DINNER a seminal film dealing with issues of race and bigotry, as Tracy and Hepburn play parents surprised by their daughters black boyfriend (memorably played by the great Sidney Poitier). This would prove to be the last of the great Hepburn-Tracy films, as Spencer Tracy passed away shortly after filming. It was a very bittersweet experience for Hepburn, as she picked up a tenth nomination and her second Oscar for the film. She never watched the film herself.The following year, Hepburn appeared opposite the late Richard Harris in THE LION IN WINTER which brought her a third Oscar statuette. She began to slow down her workload after 1967, appearing in TV movies like THE GLASS MENAGERIE and the occasional film. In 1975 she was paired with an ailing John Wayne in ROOSTER COGBURN and in 1985 she appeared opposite the great Henry Fonda, and his daughter Jane, in the touching film ON GOLDEN POND. This would nab Kate her twelfth Oscar nomination and fourth Oscar win. Hepburn’s twelve nominations were an unsurpassed record until this past year when Meryl Streep received her thirteenth. The four wins still stands as the most Oscars awarded to any actress.By 1994, Hepburn had all but retired, and finished out her career with appearances in LOVE AFFAIR with Warren Beatty and Annette Bening, and in the TV Movie ONE CHRISTMAS. Hepburn officially retired from the public eye at that point, and returned to her native Connecticut to peace and tranquility.Hepburn published her winning autobiography ME in 1991, and explained her shaky voice and twitchy mannerisms, often thought to be symptoms of Parkinsons Disease. “I inherited my head shaking from my grandfather Hepburn. My head just shakes, but I promise you, it ain’t gonna fall off!”.Consistently ranked highly in various critic’s lists of all-time great performers, Hepburn was named the #1 female Movie legend by the AFI, who also placed an unmatched six of her films in their 100 LOVE STORIES list. She also topped their lists of 100 Comedies. An ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY poll named her Best Classic Actress of the 20th Century, while EMPIRE MAGAZINE named her #68 on their list of TOP MOVIE STARS OF ALL TIME, which put her up against actors and actresses from all over the world and from every era of Film.Katherine Hepburn was a phenomenal actress, quite likely the greatest actress to ever grace the screen. She was also a well-rounded, thoughtful, intelligent and independent woman in an era that frowned upon such things. Her strength and her charm will live on forever through her films, yet she will be sorely missed.With all the respect that is due,R.I.P.KATHERINE HEPBURN: 1907 – 2003

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