The Kennedy Center

Katharine Hepburn


Katharine Hepburn
(actress, born May 12, 1907, Hartford, Connecticut; died June 29, 2003)

With a luminous face that has mesmerized audiences around the world for six decades and an incomparable voice that must surely be one of the most easily identifiable of any film actress, Katharine Hepburn has proven to be the most monumental and enduring star of the silver screen.

Known and admired for her independence, courage, outspoken views, and fierce determination, she is first and foremost an actress who has made more than 40 feature films and numerous television movies and has appeared in more than 30 stage productions ranging from sparking comedies, to Elizabethan drama, to Broadway musicals.

The second of six children, Hepburn was reared by rather unorthodox parents who granted their children complete freedom and whom Hepburn credits with all her astonishing success. "The great thing my parents gave me was not to have fear, " she says. "I was taught not to be afraid of anything."

As a child, Hepburn was an expert wrestler, tumbler, and trapeze performer. When she was eight, she made her first public appearance at a votes-for-women rally. Her early teens were spent producing elaborate puppet shows for her family and friends. By the time she entered Bryn Mawr in 1924, she was determined to be an actress. Four years later she made her Broadway debut it the Cort Theatre in These Days. The play closed after eight performances, but she was immediately cast as the star's understudy in Phillip Barry's Holiday, thus began one of the great writer-actress partnerships that would culminate a decade later in the smash stage and screen hit, The Philadelphia Story.

In 1932, she was picked by producer David O. Selznick and director George Cukor to make her screen debut in A Bill of Divorcement. One film later she won her first Oscar for Morning Glory. She has since become the all-time Oscar champion, having been nominated a record-breaking 12 times. Furthermore, she's the only four-time winner in an acting category: Morning Glory, Guess Who's Coming to Dinner, The Lion in Winter, and On Golden Pond. (Significantly, considering the brevity of most film careers, the latter three were earned after she turned 58!)

With a filmography too lengthy to list in detail, highlights include Little Women, Alice Adams , Stage Door, Bringing up Baby, The African Queen, Summertime, Long Day's Journey into Night, and her celebrated nine-film collaboration with Spencer Tracy that began in 1942 with Woman of the Year peaked with Adam's Rib (1949) and Pat and Mike (1952), and ended with Tracy's death in 1967 with Guess Who's Coming to Dinner.

Hepburn's was a career filled with incredible highs and more than a few flops. An early Hepburn stage performance in The Lake was, after all, the target of Dorothy Parker's infamous "She ran the gamut of emotions from A to B." She was officially labeled "Box Office Poison" in 1938, but her influence over the American public remained unshakable--wooing audiences with her charismatic blend of down-to-earth sass and sophisticated glamour. While working together in On Golden Pond, Henry Fonda offered his own explanation for Hepburn's phenomenal career: "Kate is unique--in her looks, in the way she plays, most of all herself."

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