Monday, August 1, 2011

KATHARINE HEPBURN: BORN THIS WAY

Ninth in a series about strong women in film. Strong women are independent, beautiful, sexy, feminine and just want everything in life that a man wants and believe that they have every right to have it!

When I started this monthly "Strong Women in Film" series, I knew that Katharine Hepburn had to be included, but I have hesitated until now to write about her. I mean, what is there to say about Kate that has not already been said? What else is there to do but write her a love letter?


When thinking of Katharine Hepburn, I can't help but think of strength. But I also associate strength with Bette Davis, Joan Crawford, Barbara Stanwyck and many other actresses. So, what is it about Kate that makes her different from the rest? While Davis, Crawford and Stanwyck were strong, their life lessons also taught them to be tough. Their struggles for better roles, better terms and survival as stars as time passed help mold their powerful and imposing personas.


Hepburn, it seems, had the opposite journey. She burst upon the scene a full-fledged individual with a backbone of steel who was unlike anyone in appearance, speech, manner and dress. She was molded, not by a studio, but by her Yankee upbringing. The daughter of a doctor and a suffragist, forthrightness and individualism, as well as education and athleticism, was encouraged. She was such a proficient athlete that Kenneth Tynan called her "The Garbo of the Great Outdoors." A Bryn Mawr graduate, she quickly made the leap from Broadway to Hollywood. Unlike many stage actresses who get the call to the screen, Hepburn started out as a star and retained that status until her dying day. Sharing the screen with no less a talent than John Barrymore in her first film, "A Bill of Divorcement," she took the world by storm and never looked back.
Young Kate: A New Kind of Star - and she knows she is fabulous!
Hepburn's first years in Hollywood were not 100% successful. Because she was so unique and unconventional and utterly unwilling to be anything less than herself, some of her films were just a bit too quirky and individualistic for the public. However, her performances in "Little Women" (the best Jo ever), "Stage Door," "Bringing up Baby," and "Holiday," were beyond compare (though not always successful at the box office). She won her first Academy Award for her portrayal of  the naive young actress in "Morning Glory," her third film, and was nominated for her performance in "Alice Adams."

Well, there she was all over Hollywood, wearing pants, playing golf and speaking her mind (not always politely, she later admitted). She had a notoriously bad relationship with the press, and was known to be a bit testy, even with her fans.
Looking, dressing and acting like nobody else
And then suddenly came the label "Box Office Poison." In 1938 she and many other well-established stars (Garbo, Crawford, Dietrich, Astaire, among others) were called out for their huge salaries and low returns at the box office. Hepburn's reaction was to go back to the stage (after coming to Hollywood, she made one previous return to the stage in "The Lake." The play and her performance earned famously bad reviews, but it did give her the line that impressionists use for decades: "The calla lilies are in bloom again"). Phillip Barry, the author of "Holiday," created "The Philadelphia Story" especially for her. The play, which Hepburn backed, was a smash on Broadway (her co-stars were Joseph Cotton, Van Heflin and Shirley Booth). Owning the rights to the play, she took it, with herself in the lead (this time supported by Cary Grant, James Stewart and Ruth Hussey). The film was a tremendous hit and Hepburn was back, earning another Academy Award nomination and much public admiration.
Kate and her 3 men: John Howard, Cary Grant
and James Stewart in "The Philadelphia Story"
From then on, there was no stopping Kate in Hollywood. Still as strong as ever, she softened her edges when it came to the press and the public. Some women have to learn to push themselves forward to realize their strength. Hepburn, like a thoroughbred, had to learn to rein it in for maximum effect.


Another factor that may have softened her up a bit was her co-star in her next film, "Woman of the Year." The story of her off-screen love affair with Spencer Tracy for the rest of his life is well known and their on-screen chemistry was a hit in film after film. She was strong (we knew that), and she played comedy like nobody's business (we knew that, too), but now there was a lightness to her that was downright adorable.
Tracy & Hepburn: Perfect for one another
In film after film, Katharine Hepburn became more beloved: "Adam's Rib," "The African Queen," "Summertime," "The Rainmaker,""Suddenly Last Summer," "Guess Who's Coming to Dinner?," "The Lion in Winter" and "On Golden Pond" are testaments to her acting ability, her personal charisma and her enduring popularity and star power.


One of the amazing and unique things about Hepburn's later career is that she, almost alone of any of the great actresses of her era, remained a first rank star and got top flight parts as she aged. No cheap horror flicks or B-westerns for Kate. More beautiful that ever, she presented a mature woman to the world who was vital, intelligent, vulnerable and - when necessary - plucky, brave and fearsome. The gallery of these mature and unforgettable women include:
Rose Sayer in "The African Queen"


Mary Tyrone in "Long Day's Journey into Night"
Queen Eleanor in "The Lion in Winter"


Ethel Thayer in "On Golden Pond"
According to Kate,"I suppose when I was a very young actress I was very unsure of myself, and I thought you had to be nice to everybody, so I was. Then I got to be a big star rather quickly, and it occurred to me that you didn't, so then I was difficult with the press and everybody. Then, after a while, things didn't go so well, so I decided it was time to be sweet again. And by that time, the press and I had got to be rather old and sweet together. You know, when someone has been around as long as I have, people get fond of you, like some old building." Some building!


Who could not adore and admire this uniquely individual woman? Her career achievements are legendary:12 Academy Award nominations and 4 wins, as well as an Oscar presented to an actress who portrayed her (Cate Blanchett in "The Aviator"). Her humor and curiosity made her the most vibrant of women. She showed the world how to live a woman's life independently and courageously and with great humor. She was devoted to her craft and we are the lucky recipients.


She was truly one of a kind and definitely our kind of gal.

I love this photo - only Kate could look so relaxed with the
leader of the free world - who looks completely delighted by her company.








11 comments:

Anonymous said...

So loved your blog on Kate...she is my absolute favorite!! Steph @ Lincoln NE

FlickChick said...

Thanks, Steph. She is an inspiration for all independent women everywhere.

backlots said...

What a beautiful post about Kate. I adore her, and your post certainly shows how much you adore her, too. I'm so glad to find your site!

FlickChick said...

Thank you, backlots. So what's not to adore? Seriously, I started this series in January, but really was so reluctant to write about her for fear I could not do her justice. She is the Queen.

Diane said...

I love this post and I loved Kate! How marvelous of you to write about her and yes, she was "born this way" and I wouldn't have had it any other way. Thank you again for a wonderful tribute to a wonderful woman.

Meredith said...

I loved reading what you had to say about Kate, She's been an inspiration to me for quite some time now.

FlickChick said...

@ Diane - Thanks for the kind words. So glad you liked it.

@ Meredith: agreed that not only was she a great actress, as an independent woman she is a great inspiration.

Caftan Woman said...

Beautiful article full of insights and affectionate admiration.

I'm proud to say that my 20 year old daughter is quite impressed with Miss Hepburn and I don't think she could find a better inspiration.

FlickChick said...

Thank you, CW! It's amazing how Kate remains an inspiration for young women generation after generation. She never goes out of fashion.

Amish Stories said...

Greetings from the Amish community of Lebanon,Pa. Richard from Amish Stories.

Margaret Perry said...

Flick Chick, would you like to participate in The 2nd Annual Great Katharine Hepburn Blogathon? We'd love to have you!
http://margaretperry.org/announcing-the-2nd-annual-great-katharine-hepburn-blogathon/