First Movie I Saw Her In: The African Queen (1951; on DVD March 23---finally!!!)
Three Favorite Movies: Holiday (1938); The Philadelphia Story (1940); The African Queen (1951)
Honorable Mention(s): Stage Door (1937); Woman of the Year (1942)
Favorite Movie with Spencer Tracy: Adam’s Rib (1949)
Oddly Interesting: Dragon Seed (1944)
Favorite Performance(s): Alice Adams (1935); Holiday (1938); Long Day’s Journey Into Night (1962); Lion in Winter (1968); On Golden Pond (1981)
Why I Like Her: Yeah, yeah, yeah I know it’s fashionable these days to hate Katharine Hepburn but we live in a mad, mad, mad, mad world so what’s a little backlash against my favorite actress of all time?
Katharine Hepburn is probably the coolest woman that ever lived. I am in awe of her progressive, New England personality borne of a solid upbringing. I admire her feisty independent spirit and even her prickly personality.
When I watch a Katharine Hepburn movie I’m not watching it because I necessarily love that time period—though I do—but every Hepburn film I’ve seen, period piece or not, has a sense of timelessness about it. It’s her performances that remain fresh all these years later. Hepburn was the first “modern” woman in film I ever saw. Other actresses were strong-willed but were very much of their time. Hepburn’s confidence and focus is another part of what’s so great about her. Hepburn is much like Cary Grant in that her personality transcends the time in which her films were made. She’s not just a “1930s actress” or someone exclusive to any other decade.
The Hepburn I like best is in the roles where she’s vulnerable and tender. It’s no coincidence that my favorite Hepburn performances: Alice Adams, Holiday, On Golden Pond, etc., all have Kate in “Tender Mode.” If you’ve only seen her in her tough, pre-feminist roles give that other side of her a try and I think you’ll be won over.
In the looks department, she’s another Golden Age actress who was not “conventionally” beautiful yet Hepburn’s distinctive speaking voice, steely stare burns with a fierce intelligence that is quite attractive. My wife and I disagree as to whether Hepburn is good looking or not—you probably know which end of that argument I’m on…
Fashion wise, Hepburn had a natural, easy style about her. No, not the “rags” as she called the Kate-uniform she wore in her later years but rather the sporty, athletic, and tastefully-casual style she had in the 1940s-50s. Hepburn had a natural glamour. One of my favorite photos of her is from 1938 with the freckled, beaming Hepburn amid the destruction of her Connecticut home that ruined 95% of her personal belongings.
Hepburn’s never had a “down period” because she didn’t work as often as her contemporaries. She endured the “Box Office Poison” tag in the 1930s something that’s long-been consigned to the realm of historical trivia. She wasn’t helpless, drug-addled, or self destructive. Hepburn was a survivor who was level-headed and who credited her parents with raising her right. I like my heroes to be long-lived, happy, and honored while they’re still among the living. Hepburn had all that. We know about the four Academy Awards, the twelve nominations, and her long affair with Spensuh; all that’s legend now.
So there you have it, Hollywood Dreamland’s Ten Favorite Actresses. Kate’s ruled the roost for a number of years in my personal top ten but I’m not above having her knocked off the top of this heap if I suddenly find a new favorite to obsess over. It may not ever happen; but I’ll have a blast looking.
One More Thing: One of my favorite Hepburn-related websites is the Katharine Hepburn Cultural Center. "The Kate" is the theatre built in Old Saybrook, Connecticut. I plan on dragging the wife up there to see The Land Where Kate Lived (how is it in Summer?). The Center has a great blog, which gave Hollywood Dreamland a plug when we were just getting started. I'm grateful for that. It was special to have something connected to Katharine Hepburn wish us well, though I'm surprised we're still around!