For more than half a century, Katherine Hepburn was a successful film and theatre actress, who encaptured the heart of the audience with her grace, energy and determination.
Hepburn was born on May 12, 1907 in Connecticut, United States of America. She was born to a socially prominent and wealthy family. Her mother was a famous suffragette and her father was a pioneer in the field of hygiene. She developed a social conscience at a young age. Along with her siblings she formed a neighborhood performing group, sending the proceeds from the productions to benefit Navajo children in New Mexico.
Educated by private tutors and at exclusive schools, Hepburn entered Bryn Mawr College in Pennsylvania in 1924. As soon as she graduated, Katherine embarked on a successful career in theatre. Her role as Amazon queen in The Warrior’s Husband led her to sign a contract with the film studio RKO. In 1932, she made her Hollywood debut opposite John Barrymore in A Bill of Divorcement for which she won critical and commercial acclaim. With just one movie in her kitty, Katherine Hepburn achieved super stardom overnight.
Hepburn’s acting persona was based on her personality traits of energy, grace, determination, looks and obvious upper-class breeding. This persona in turn delighted the audiences and led her to win four Academy Awards as “Best Actress” in the movies, Morning Glory (1933); Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner (1967); The Lion in Winter (1968); and On Golden Pond (1981). Hepburn also received an additional eight Oscar nominations over the years for the films: Alice Adams (1935); The Philadelphia Story (1940); Woman of the Year (1942); The African Queen (1951); Summertime (1955); The Rainmaker (1956); Suddenly Last Summer (1959); and Long Day’s Journey Into Night (1962). Her role in the 1975 made-for-television film Love Among the Ruins won her an Emmy award.
Hepburn’s acting journey, however, was not all smooth sailing. A flop play on the Broadway stage in 1934 led critics to label her as “box office poison.” Shortly thereafter she was rejected for the role of Scarlett O’Hara in the film version of Gone with the Wind. (1939).
Hepburn was not particularly lucky in her choice of work after the beginning of the 1970s. Except for a few notable exceptions, such as On Golden Pond (1981), the roles did not make good use of her considerable talents. She only had some success playing the noted French designer Coco Chanel in a Broadway musical that opened in 1969. Several later Broadway undertakings proved to be failures.
Although Hepburn suffered some significant injuries in a 1985 automobile accident, and illnesses in her later years, she golfed, cycled, and swam in the sea well into her nineties. She passed away from a cardiac arrest in 2003.
Katharine Hepburn never conformed to the traditional star image, but there is no doubt that she was a super star as an actress in movies, on stage, and on television. A strong-minded, independent woman, she lived her life and her career to suit herself. In the process she entertained, delighted, and aroused millions, and did so without compromising her beliefs.