1907 - 2003
Katharine Houghton Hepburn was born May 12, 1907 in Hartford, Connecticut. She was the daughter of a doctor and a suffragette. Her parents both encouraged her to exercise her body and mind to their full potential. Katharine was an athletic tomboy as a child, and therefore was very close to her bother Thomas. At age fourteen Katharine was devastated to find her brother dead, the apparent result seemed to be an accidental hanging while trying to practice a hanging trick which their father had taught them. After this Katharine started to use her brother's birth date as her own, November 8. She also became very shy around girls her own age and was largely home schooled from then on. Later on she decided to attend Bryn Mawr College, where she became an actress, appearing in many of the school's productions.
After graduation, she began getting small roles in plays on Broadway and elsewhere. However, it was not until 1932 that she broke into stardom with her role as the Amazon princess, Antiope, in "A Warrior's Husband". Film offers soon followed, and she made her first screen debut in "A Bill of Divorcement" in 1932, in which she starred opposite John Barrymore. Her first film was a hit. She soon signed a contract with RKO and she made five films between 1932 and 1934. Her third film, "Morning Glory" (1933), won her and Academy Award; her fourth, "Little Women" (1933), was the most successful picture of its day.
Unfortunately, stories were beginning to leak about Katharine. Stories of the haughty off-screen behavior, her refusal to play the Hollywood Game, always wearing slacks and no make-up, and her unwillingness to give an interview or pose for pictures, began to hit the mainstream soon after her success. Her unconventional behavior shocked audiences. Instead of applauding her differences, they criticized them. This misfortune cause her to only have two hits between 1935 and 1938, "Alice Adams", in 1935, which brought her a second Oscar nomination, and "Stage Door", in 1937. Her many flops included "Break of Hearts" (1935), "Sylvia Scarlett" (1935), "Mary of Scotland" (1936), "Quality Street" (1937), and the later to-be classic, "Bringin Up Baby" (1938).
She soon became labeled the "box-office poison". She left Hollywood to return to Broadway to star in "The Philadelphia Story" in 1938. The play was rewarded with a smash. After buying the film rights, Katharine was able to negotiate her way back into Hollywood on her own terms, as well as her own choice of director and co-stars. The film version of "The Philadelphia Story" hit the screen in 1940, and was a box-office hit. Hepburn was awarded her third Oscar nomination for the film and was bankable once again. Her fourth Oscar nomination was credited to "Woman of the Year" (1942), in which she starred with Spencer Tracy. The chemistry between the two was so amazing that it lasted for another eight films, spanning over a time period of twenty-five years. Their romance also lasted that long off-screen as well. A few of Hepburn's and Tracy's other films included "Adam's Rib" in 1949, "Pat and Mike" in 1952, and "Desk Set in 1957.
Hepburn moved into middle-aged spinster role with "The African Queen" in 1951, which received her a fifth Oscar nomination. During the 1950's Hepburn played more 'spinster' type roles, which won her many more Oscar nominations for them, such as her roles in "Summertime" (1955), "The Rainmaker" (1956), and "Suddenly Last Summer" (1959). Sadly, her film roles became fewer and farther between during the 1960's as she devoted her time to her ailing partner Spencer Tracy. However, her role in "Long Day's Journey Into Night" (1962) won her a ninth Oscar nomination. Katharine then took a five year break from films. Her return to the screen was in "Guess Who's Coming to Dinner" in 1967, which was her last film with Tracy, and the last Tracy ever made; he died just a few weeks after finishing the film. The movie allowed Hepburn her tenth Oscar nomination and her second win. The following year she starred in "The Lion in Winter", which brought her an eleventh Oscar nomination and a third win.
Katharine turned to making made-for-TV films in the 1970's and 1980's. The likes of these included "The Glass Menagerie" (1973), "Love Among the Ruins" (1975), and "The corn is Green" (1979). However, Hepburn still continued to make occasional appearances in feature films, such as "Rooster Cogburn" in 1975 with John Wayne, and "On Golden Pond" in 1981 with Henry Fonda. "On Golden Pond" brought her a twelfth Oscar nomination and fourth win, which is still currently a record for an actress.
Hepburn made more TV-films in the 1980's and eventually wrote her biography in 1991. She starred in her last feature film, "Love Affair" in 1994 with Warren Beatty and Annette Bening; her last TV-film was "one Christmas" in 1994. With her declining health during the 1990's she retired from the screen to her home in Old Saybrook, Connecticut where she died at the age of ninety-six.