Katharine Hepburn

Actresses

Katharine Houghton Hepburn (May 12, 1907 – June 29, 2003) was an American actress who was a leading lady in Hollywood for more than 60 years. She appeared in a range of genres, from screwball comedy to literary drama, and she received a record (for any gender) four Academy Awards for Lead Acting Performances, plus eight further nominations. In 1999, Hepburn was named by the American Film Institute the greatest female star of Classic Hollywood Cinema. She was known for her fierce independence and spirited personality.

Raised in Connecticut by wealthy, progressive parents, Hepburn began to act while studying at Bryn Mawr College. Favorable reviews of her work on Broadway brought her to the attention of Hollywood. Her early years in film were marked with success, including an Academy Award for Best Actress for her third picture, Morning Glory (1933), but this was followed by a series of commercial failures culminating in the critically lauded but commercially unsuccessful Howard Hawks comedy Bringing Up Baby (1938), a pairing with Cary Grant.

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. That comedy film, directed by George Cukor and again co-starring Cary Grant, was a box office success and landed her a third Academy Award nomination, plus won her other co-star, James Stewart, his only Academy Award. Both movies are now considered among the greatest comedy films. In the 1940s, she began focusing on a screen and romantic partnership with Spencer Tracy, which spanned 26 years and nine movies, although the romance with the married Tracy was hidden from the public. The partnership began with Woman of the Year (1942), continued with Adam’s Rib (1949), both being “battle of the sexes” romantic comedies, and concluded with the race-issue drama Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner (1967), also starring Sidney Poitier; Tracy died shortly after the movie’s filming.

Hepburn challenged herself in the latter half of her life, as she tackled Shakespearean stage productions and a range of literary roles. She found a niche playing middle-aged spinsters, such as in John Huston‘s The African Queen (1951), with Humphrey Bogart; which landed her another Academy Award nomination. Joseph L. Mankiewicz‘s Suddenly, Last Summer (1959), with Elizabeth Taylor, was another commercial and critical success and landed her another Oscar nomination. Other roles in the 1950s and 1960s include David Lean‘s Summertime (1955), with Rossano Brazzi, Darren McGavin, and Isa Miranda; The Rainmaker (1956), with Burt Lancaster, Wendell Corey, Lloyd Bridges, and Earl Holliman; Sidney Lumet’s Long Day’s Journey Into the Night (1962), with Ralph Richardson, Jason Robards, and Dean Stockwell; and Bryan Forbe’s The Madwoman of Chaillot (1969), with Paul Henreid, Oskar Homolka, Yul Brynner, Richard Chamberlain, Edith Evans, Donald Pleasence, and Danny Kaye.

Hepburn earned three more Oscars for her work in Stanley Kramer‘s Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner (1967), The Lion in Winter (1968), with Peter O’Toole; and On Golden Pond (1981), with Henry Fonda (who won his only Academy Award for the movie) and Jane Fonda. In the 1970s, she began appearing in television films, which later became the focus of her career. She made her final screen appearance at the age of 87 in Love Affair (1994), with Warren Beatty, Annette Bening, Garry Shandling, Chloe Webb, Pierce Brosnan, Kate Capshaw, Paul Mazursky and Brenda Vaccaro. After a period of inactivity and ill health, she died in 2003 at the age of 96.

Hepburn famously shunned the Hollywood publicity machine, and refused to conform to society’s expectations of women. She was outspoken, assertive, and athletic, and wore trousers before they were fashionable for women. She was briefly married as a young woman, but thereafter lived independently. With her unconventional lifestyle and the independent characters she brought to the screen, Hepburn epitomized the “modern woman” in the 20th-century United States, and is remembered as an important cultural figure.

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(*seen originally in theaters)

(*seen rereleased in theaters)

  • A Bill of Divorcement (1932) – directed by George Cukor
  • Morning Glory (1933) – directed by Lowell Sherman
  • Christopher Strong (1933) – directed by Dorothy Azner
  • Little Women (1933) – directed by George Cukor
  • Spitfire (1934) – directed by John Cromwell
  • The Little Minister (1934) – directed by Richard Wallace
  • Break of Hearts (1935) – directed by Philip Moeller
  • Alice Adams (1935) – directed by George Stevens
  • Sylvia Scarlett (1935) – directed by George Cukor
  • Mary of Scotland (1936) – directed by John Ford
  • A Woman Rebels (1936) – directed by Mark Sandrich
  • Quality Street (1937) – directed by George Stevens
  • Stage Door (1937) – directed by Gregory La Cava
  • Bringing Up Baby (1938) – directed by Howard Hawks
  • Holiday (1938) – directed by George Cukor
  • The Philadelphia Story (1940)** – directed by George Cukor
  • Woman of the Year (1942) – directed by George Stevens
  • Keeper of the Flame (1942) – directed by George Cukor
  • Stage Door Canteen (1943) – directed by Frank Borzage
  • Dragon Seed (1944) – directed by Clarence Brown
  • Without Love (1945) – directed by Harold S. Bucquet
  • Undercurrent (1946) – directed by Vincente Minnelli
  • The Sea of Grass (1947) – directed by Elia Kazan
  • Song of Love (1947) – directed by Clarence Brown
  • State of the Union (1948) – directed by Frank Capra
  • Adam’s Rib (1949) – directed by George Cukor
  • The African Queen (1951) – directed by John Huston
  • Pat and Mike (1952) – directed by George Cukor
  • Summertime (1955) – directed by David Lean
  • The Rainmaker (1956) – directed by Joseph Anthony
  • The Iron Petticoat (1956) – directed by Ralph Thomas
  • Desk Set (1957) – directed by Walter Lang
  • Suddenly, Last Summer (1959) – directed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz
  • Long Day’s Journey into Night (1962) – directed by Sidney Lumet
  • Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner (1967) – directed by Stanley Kramer
  • The Lion in Winter (1968) – directed by Anthony Harvey
  • The Mad Woman of Chaillot (1969) – directed by Bryan Forbes
  • The Trojan Women (1971) – directed by Michael Cacoyannis
  • A Delicate Balance (1973) – directed by Tony Richardson
  • The Glass Menagerie (1973) – directed by Anthony Harvey – TV movie
  • Love Among the Ruins (1975) – directed by George Cukor- TV movie
  • Rooster Cogburn (1975) – directed by Stuart Millar
  • Olly Olly Oxen Free (1978) – directed by Richard A. Colla
  • The Corn Is Green (1979) – directed by George Cukor – TV movie
  • On Golden Pond (1981) – directed by Mark Rydell
  • Grace Quigley (1985) – directed by Anthony Harvey
  • Mrs. Delafield Wants to Marry (1986) – directed by George Schaefer – TV movie
  • Laura Lansing Slept Here (1988) – directed by George Schaefer – TV movie
  • The Man Upstairs (1992) – directed by George Schaefer – TV movie
  • This Can’t Be Love (1994) – directed by Anthony Harvey – TV movie
  • Love Affair (1994) – directed by Glenn Gordon Caron
  • One Christmas (1994) – directed by Tony Bill – TV movie