Female Filmmaker Feature: 7 Intriguing Facts About Katharine Hepburn
by Mandi Harrison
I have loved Katharine Hepburn since I was 7 years old and watched her play my favorite character (at the time) Jo March, from Little Women. Katharine was the perfect Jo, spunky, impulsive and self-assured. She has those traits in each one of her movies, and she soon became my favorite actor. Here are a few things that I just love about her.
Her mother was a suffragette. That’s right: her mother fought for women’s right to vote. Not only that, she campaigned for birth control along with the founder of Planned Parenthood. As a child, Katharine would go with her mother to rallies. She was raised to know she had worth and that she had something to contribute, which was extraordinary for the time.
She acted in theater until an agent’s scout discovered her and brought her for a screen test for a film opposite John Barrymore, the hugest star at the time. Once she was offered the role, Katharine demanded $1,500 a week, an unheard-of amount for an unknown actress. Even more unheard-of, the studio was advised to accept her demands and she went on to positive reviews and the film was a success.
Katharine won an Oscar for Best Actress for her role in Morning Glory, her third film. She went on to be nominated 11 more times, winning 3 more. She has the record for winning the most, 4, while Daniel Day-Lewis has 3. She never attended a ceremony until 1974, when she presented an achievement award.
She married when she was 21 and made her husband change HIS last name, because she found it boring. Six years later, she got a quickie divorce in Mexico after moving to Hollywood. She had a few high profile relationships, including Howard Hughs, each ending because she never wanted to remarry or have children. She would say she liked the idea of being her own happy self and that it would’ve been selfish to have kids.
She did, however, have love in her life- actor Spencer Tracy. For 27 years and 9 movies, they had a not-so-secret love affair. Spencer was married, but estranged from his wife, and Katharine never asked him to leave her. Spencer had a lot of health problems in his later years, due to a drinking problem. Katharine stepped back from acting to care for him. In 1967, they filmed their last film, Guess Who’s Coming For Dinner and 17 days later, Spencer passed away. Katharine went back to acting as a way to handle the grief. She later said that she knew immediately that he was her great love.
After having such success from the start, Katharine went through a rough patch with films, having a string of box office flops. Some of the films, such as Bringing Up Baby and Holiday, are now considered classics! Katharine took a step back and then took charge. She bought out her contract from her current studio; she bought the rights to a play she was in titled The Philadelphia Story and sold the screenplay to a studio, on the terms that SHE would be playing the lead role. The film went on to be a smashing box office and critical success. She would go on to create other package deals, finding the script and negotiating a contract for herself and the writers as a team. Again, WAY ahead of her time.
Katharine auditioned for Gone With The Wind and David. O. Selznick said that she had no sex appeal. She was often deemed difficult and controlling, and was considered self righteous and bossy. Katharine herself admitted that she was a “me me me person.” But she was also known for her independence and she could light up a room. She became the definition of ‘The Modern Woman”.
She was extremely private, and didn’t like to go to public events or give interviews and be photographed, until later in life. After Spencer passed away, she granted interviews, and participated in a documentary about her life.
The more I read about her, the more fascinating she becomes. The confidence she had to be herself and not conform to society is admirable. She wore trousers in her day-to-day life, but remained elegant. She chose herself. She was an advocate for Women’s Rights and for The First Amendment. My other favorite actress, Cate Blanchett, won the Oscar for Supporting Actress for her portrayal of Katharine in The Aviator, the biopic of Howard Hughes. Imagine being such a fascinating character, that other people win awards for portraying you. Her self confidence has inspired me and countless others. If you haven’t seen many (or any) of Katharine’s work, I highly recommend these movies:
Bringing Up Baby
The Philadelphia Story
Woman of The Year
Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner