Kate: The Woman Who Was Katharine Hepburn by William Mann
The sparkling biography of one of the most fascinating, enduring and popular of Hollywood icons.
William Mann charts the journey by which Kathy Hepburn of Hartford, Connecticut, became the star who dazzled audiences for decades in the company of such luminaries of Cary Grant, Jimmy Stewart, and most memorably, Spencer Tracy, with whom she made nine movies and conducted a long off-screen romance.
Hepburn won her fourth Oscar aged 74 and across seventy years in the public eye, she was a cut above the usual screen queen. Now William Mann looks beyond the legend to consider apart the life and the persona of Katharine Hepburn, from her movies, her loves, her bisexuality and her extraordinary life in the golden age of film-making.
Dimensions:198 x 129mm x 45mm
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Katharine Hepburn was her own creation--an ambitious, vulnerable woman who charmed the public with the image of an East Coast aristocrat, wearing pants and freely speaking her mind. But that show didn't come easily to her, or without tremendous effort and concealment. None of her success did.
With this biography, William J. Mann challenges much of what we think we know about the Great Kate, and shows how a woman originally considered too controversial for Hollywood stardom learned the fine art of image making and transformed herself into an icon as all-American as the Statue of Liberty. With new material drawn from Hepburn's private papers, William J. Mann's Kate is "not just the best on Hepburn--it's a book that sets new standards in movie biography" (David Thomson, The New York Observer).
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From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Studio publicity photograph, ca. 1941BornKatharine Houghton Hepburn
May 12, 1907
Hartford, Connecticut, U.S.DiedJune 29, 2003 (aged 96)
Fenwick, Connecticut, U.S.Alma materBryn Mawr CollegeOccupationActressYears active1928–94SpouseLudlow Ogden Smith
(m.1928–34; divorced)PartnerSpencer Tracy
(1941–67; his death)ParentsKatharine Martha Houghton Hepburn
Thomas Norval HepburnAwards4 Academy Awards, 2 BAFTAs, 1Emmy (full list)
Katharine Houghton Hepburn (May 12, 1907 – June 29, 2003) was an American actress of film, stage, and television. Known for her headstrong independence and spirited personality, Hepburn's career as a Hollywood leading lady spanned more than 60 years. Her work came in a range of genres, from screwball comedyto literary drama, and she received four Academy Awards for Best Actress—a record for any performer. Hepburn's characters were often strong, sophisticated women with a hidden vulnerability.
Raised in Connecticut by wealthy, progressive parents, Hepburn began to act while studying at Bryn Mawr College. After four years in the theatre, favorable reviews of her work on Broadway brought her to the attention of Hollywood. Her early years in the film industry were marked with success, including an Academy Award for her third picture, Morning Glory (1933), but this was followed by a series of commercial failures. In 1938 she was labeled "box office poison". 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. In the 1940s she was contracted to Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, where her career focused on an alliance with Spencer Tracy. The screen-partnership spanned 25 years, and produced nine movies.
Hepburn challenged herself in the latter half of her life, as she regularly appeared in Shakespeare stage productions and tackled a range of literary roles. She found a niche playing middle-aged spinsters, such as in The African Queen (1951), a persona the public embraced. Three more Oscars came for her work in Guess Who's Coming to Dinner (1967), The Lion in Winter (1968), and On Golden Pond (1981). In the 1970s she began appearing in television movies, which became the focus of her career in later life. She remained active into old age, making her final screen appearance in 1994 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 societal expectations of women. She was outspoken, assertive, athletic, and wore pants before it was fashionable. She married once, as a young woman, but thereafter lived independently. A 26-year affair with her co-star Spencer Tracy was hidden from the public. With her unconventional lifestyle and the independent characters she brought to the screen, Hepburn came to epitomize the "modern woman" in 20th-century America and helped change perceptions of women. In 1999, she was named by the American Film Institute as the top female Hollywood legend.
- 1 Early life
- 2.1 Breaking into theatre (1928–1932)
- 2.2 Hollywood success (1932–1934)
- 2.3 Career struggles, "box office poison" (1934–1938)
- 2.4 Revival (1939–1942)
- 2.5 Slowing in the 1940s (1942–1949)
- 2.6 Professional expansion (1950–1952)
- 2.7 Spinsters and Shakespeare (1953–1962)
- 2.8 Success in later years (1963–1970)
- 2.9 Film, television, and theatre (1971–1983)
- 2.10 Focus on television (1984–1994)
- 3 Personal life
- 4 Performances: technique and analysis
- 5 Legacy
- 6 Awards and nominations
- 7 Filmography and theatre credits
- 8 References
- 9 External links
Hepburn was born in Hartford, Connecticut, on May 12, 1907, the second of six children. Her parents were Thomas Norval Hepburn (1879–1962), a urologist at Hartford Hospital, and Katharine Martha Houghton (1878–1951), a feminist campaigner. Both fought for social change in America: Thomas Hepburn helped establish the New England Social Hygiene Association, which educated the public about venereal disease, while Katharine Martha headed the Connecticut Woman Suffrage Association and later campaigned for birth control with Margaret Sanger. As a child, Hepburn joined her mother on several "Votes For Women" demonstrations. The Hepburn children were raised to exercise freedom of speech and encouraged to think and debate on any topic they wished. Her parents were criticized by the community for their progressive views, which stimulated Hepburn to fight against barriers she encountered. Hepburn said she realized from a young age that she was the product of "two very remarkable parents", and credited her "enormously lucky" upbringing with providing the foundation for her success. She remained close to her family throughout her life.
Hepburn's college yearbook photo, 1928. It was while studying at Bryn Mawr College that she chose acting as a career.
The young Hepburn was a tomboy who liked to call herself Jimmy and cut her hair short like a boy's. Thomas Hepburn was eager for his children to use their minds and bodies to the limit, and taught them to swim, run, dive, ride, wrestle, and play golf and tennis. Golf became a passion for his oldest daughter: she took daily lessons and became very good, reaching the semi-final of the Connecticut Young Women's Golf Championship. She loved swimming in Long Island Sound, and took ice-cold baths every morning in the belief that "the bitterer the medicine, the better it was for you." Hepburn was a fan of movies from a young age, and went to see one every Saturday night. With her friends and siblings, she would put on plays and perform to her neighbors for 50 cents a ticket to raise money for the Navajo people.
On April 3, 1921, while visiting friends in Greenwich Village, Hepburn discovered the body of her older brother Tom, whom she adored, dead from an apparent suicide. He had tied a sheet around a beam and hanged himself. The Hepburn family denied it was suicide and maintained that Tom's death must have been an experiment that had gone wrong. The incident made the teenage Hepburn nervous, moody, and suspicious of people. She shied away from other children, dropped out of Oxford School, and began receiving private tutoring. For many years, she used Tom's birthday (November 8) as her own. It was not until her 1991 autobiography, Me: Stories of My Life, that Hepburn revealed her true birth date.
In 1924, Hepburn gained a place at Bryn Mawr College. She attended the institution primarily to satisfy her mother, who had studied there, and recalled disliking the experience.It was the first time she had been in school for several years, and she was self-conscious and uncomfortable with her classmates. She struggled with the scholastic demands of university, and was once suspended for smoking in her room. Hepburn was drawn to acting but roles in college plays were conditional on good grades. Once her marks had improved, she began performing regularly. The lead role in a production of The Woman in the Moon in her senior year, and the positive response it received, cemented Hepburn's plans to pursue a theatrical career. She graduated with a degree in history and philosophy in June 1928.
Breaking into theatre (1928–1932)
Hepburn left Bryn Mawr determined to become an actress. The day after graduating, she traveled to Baltimore to meet Edwin H. Knopf, who ran a successful stock theatre company. Impressed by her eagerness, Knopf cast Hepburn in his current production, The Czarina. She received good reviews for her small role; the Printed Word described her performance as "arresting". She was given a part in the following week's show, but here Hepburn was less accomplished. She was criticized for her shrill voice, and so left Baltimore to study with an acclaimed voice tutor in New York City.
Hepburn in the role that brought her to the attention of Hollywood, 1932's The Warrior's Husband
Knopf decided to produce The Big Pond in New York and called for Hepburn to be the understudy to the leading lady. A week before opening, the lead was fired and replaced with Hepburn, which gave her a starring role after only four weeks in the theatre. On opening night, Hepburn turned up late, mixed her lines, tripped over her feet, and spoke too high and fast to be comprehensible. She was promptly fired, and the original leading lady rehired. Undeterred, Hepburn joined forces with producerArthur Hopkins, and accepted the role of a schoolgirl in These Days. Her Broadway debut came on November 12, 1928, at the Cort Theatre, but reviews for the show were poor and it closed after eight nights. Hopkins promptly hired Hepburn as the lead understudy in Philip Barry's play Holiday. In early December, after only two weeks, she quit to marry Ludlow Ogden Smith, her beau from college. She planned to leave the theatre behind, but began to miss the work and quickly resumed the understudy role inHoliday, which she held for six months.
In 1929, Hepburn turned down a role with the Theatre Guild to play the lead in Death Takes a Holiday. She felt the role was perfect, but again she was fired. Hepburn went back to the Guild and took an understudy role for minimum pay in A Month in the Country. In the spring of 1930, Hepburn joined a stock company in Stockbridge, Massachusetts. She left halfway through the summer season, and continued studying with a drama tutor. In early 1931, she was cast in the Broadway production of Art and Mrs. Bottle. She was released from the role after the playwright took a dislike to her, saying "She looks a fright, her manner is objectionable, and she has no talent", but then rehired when no other actress could be found. It went on to be a small success.
Hepburn appeared in a number of plays with a summer stock company in Ivoryton, Connecticut, and she proved to be a hit. During the summer of 1931, Philip Barry asked her to appear in his new play, The Animal Kingdom, alongside Leslie Howard. They began rehearsals in November, Hepburn feeling sure this was the role to make her a star, but Howard disliked the actress and again she was fired. When she asked Barry why she had been let go, he responded, "Well, to be brutally frank, you weren't very good." This unsettled the self-assured Hepburn, but she continued to look for work. She took a small role in an upcoming play, but as rehearsals began she received an offer to read for the lead role in the Greek fable The Warrior's Husband.
The Warrior's Husband proved to be Hepburn's break-out performance. Biographer Charles Higham states that the play was ideal for the actress, requiring an aggressive energy and athleticism, and she enthusiastically involved herself with its production. It opened on March 11, 1932, at the Morosco Theatre on Broadway. Hepburn's first entrance called for her to leap down a narrow stairway with a stag over her shoulder, wearing a short silver tunic. The show ran for three months, and Hepburn received positive reviews. Richard Garland of the New York World-Telegram wrote, "It's been many a night since so glowing a performance has brightened the Broadway scene."
Hollywood success (1932–1934)
Hepburn's first movie appearance, in the melodrama A Bill of Divorcement (1932). Critics loved the performance and she became an instant star.
A scout for the Hollywood agent Leland Hayward spotted Hepburn's appearance in The Warrior's Husband, and asked her to test for the part of Sydney Fairfield in the upcoming RKO film A Bill of Divorcement. Hepburn was unhappy with her test scene, and sent material from Holiday instead. Director George Cukor was impressed by what he saw: "There was this odd creature," he recalled, "she was unlike anybody I'd ever heard." He particularly liked the manner in which she picked up a glass: "I thought she was very talented in that action." Offered the role, Hepburn demanded $1,500 a week, a large amount for an unknown actress. Cukor encouraged the studio to accept her demands and they signed Hepburn to a temporary contract with a three-week guarantee. RKO head David O. Selznick recounted that he took a "tremendous chance" in casting the unusual actress.
Hepburn arrived in California in July 1932, at 25 years old. She starred in A Bill of Divorcement opposite John Barrymore, showing no sign of intimidation. Although she struggled to adapt to the nature of film acting, Hepburn was fascinated by the industry from the start. The picture was a success and Hepburn received rave reviews. Mordaunt Hall of The New York Times called her performance "exceptionally fine ... Miss Hepburn's characterization is one of the finest seen on the screen". The Variety review declared, "Standout here is the smash impression made by Katharine Hepburn in her first picture assignment. She has a vital something that sets her apart from the picture galaxy." On the strength of A Bill of Divorcement, RKO signed the actress to a long-term contract. George Cukor became a lifetime friend and colleague—he and Hepburn made ten films together.
Film still from Little Women(1933), which was one of the most popular movies of its day
Hepburn's second film was Christopher Strong (1933), the story of an aviatrix and her affair with a married man. The picture was not commercially successful, but Hepburn's own reviews were good. Regina Crewe wrote in the Journal American that although her mannerisms were grating, "they compel attention, and they fascinate an audience. She is a distinct, definite, positive personality." Her third picture confirmed Hepburn as a major actress in Hollywood. For playing aspiring actress Eva Lovelace in Morning Glory, she won anAcademy Award for Best Actress. She had seen the script on the desk of producer Pandro S. Berman and, convinced that she was born to play the part, insisted that the role be hers. Hepburn chose not to attend the awards ceremony—as she would not for the duration of her career—but was thrilled with the win. Her success continued with the role of Jo in the screen adaptation of Little Women (1933). The movie was a hit, one of the film industry's biggest successes to date, and Hepburn won the Best Actress prize at the Venice Film Festival. Little Women was one of Hepburn's personal favorites and she was proud of her performance, later saying, "I defy anyone to be as good as I was [as Jo]".
By the end of 1933 Hepburn was at the top of her profession, but yearned to prove herself on Broadway. Jed Harris, one of the most successful theatre producers of the 1920s, was going through a career slump. He asked Hepburn to appear in the play The Lake, which she agreed to do for a low salary. Before she was given leave, RKO asked that she film Spitfire (1934). Hepburn's role in the movie was Trigger Hicks, an uneducated mountain girl. It is widely considered one of her worst films, and Hepburn received poor reviews for the effort. Hepburn kept a picture of Hicks in her bedroom throughout her life to "[keep] me humble."
The Lake previewed in Washington, D.C., where there was a large advance sale. Harris's poor direction had eroded Hepburn's confidence, and she struggled with the performance. Despite this, Harris moved the play to New York without further rehearsal. It opened at the Martin Beck Theatre on December 26, 1933, and Hepburn was roundly panned by the critics. Dorothy Parker quipped, "Katharine Hepburn runs the gamut of emotions from A to B." Already tied to a ten-week contract, she had to endure the embarrassment of rapidly declining box office sales. Harris decided to take the show to Chicago, saying to Hepburn, "My dear, the only interest I have in you is the money I can make out of you." Hepburn refused, and paid Harris $14,000 to close the production instead. She later referred to Harris as "hands-down the most diabolical person I have ever met", and claimed this experience was important in teaching her to take responsibility for her career.
Career struggles, "box office poison" (1934–1938)
In Mary of Scotland (1936), one of a series of unsuccessful films Hepburn made in this period.
After the failure of Spitfire and The Lake, RKO cast Hepburn in The Little Minister (1934), based on a Victorian novel by James Barrie, in an attempt to repeat the success of Little Women. There was no such recurrence, and the picture was a commercial failure. The romantic drama Break of Hearts (1935) with Charles Boyer was poorly reviewed and also lost money at the box office. After three forgettable movies, success returned to Hepburn with Alice Adams (1935), the story of a girl's desperation to climb the social ladder. Hepburn loved the book and was delighted to be offered the role. The picture was a hit, one of Hepburn's personal favorites, and gave the actress her second Oscar nomination.
Berman allowed Hepburn to select her next feature. She chose George Cukor's new project, Sylvia Scarlett (1935), which paired her for the first time with Cary Grant. Her hair was cut short for the part, as her character masquerades as a boy for much of the film. Critics disliked Sylvia Scarlett and it was unpopular with the public. For her next film she played Mary Stuart in John Ford's Mary of Scotland (1936). It met with a similarly poor reception. A Woman Rebels (1937) followed, a Victorian era drama where Hepburn's character fights against convention. Quality Street (1937) also had a period setting, this time a comedy. Neither movie was popular with the public, which meant she had made four unsuccessful pictures in a row.
Alongside a series of unpopular films, problems arose from Hepburn's attitude. She had a difficult relationship with the press, with whom she could be rude and provocative.When asked if she had any children, she snapped back, "Yes I have five: two white and three colored." She would not give interviews and denied requests for autographs,which earned her the nickname "Katharine of Arrogance". The public were also baffled by her boyish behavior and fashion choices, and she became a largely unpopular figure. Hepburn sensed that she needed to leave Hollywood, so returned east to star in a theatrical adaptation of Jane Eyre. It had a successful tour, but uncertain about the script and unwilling to risk failure after the disaster of The Lake, Hepburn decided against taking the show to Broadway. Towards the end of 1936, Hepburn vied for the role of Scarlett O'Hara in Gone With The Wind. Producer David O. Selznick refused to offer her the part because he felt she had no sex appeal. He reportedly told Hepburn, "I can't see Rhett Butler chasing you for twelve years."
For her next feature, Stage Door (1937) paired Hepburn with Ginger Rogers in a role that mirrored her own life—that of a wealthy society girl trying to make it as an actress. Hepburn was praised for her work at early previews, which gave her top billing over Rogers,
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