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" Final Resting Place of Katharine Hepburn"
12th May 1907 - 29th June 2003
Legendary Actress Katharine Hepburn appeared in over 75 films, including
the classic film "The African Queen" with Humphrey Bogart. She won won 4
Oscars during her career. Great friend and companion of Spencer Tracy until his
death in June 1967..
Buried in Cedar Hill Cemetery, Hartford, Connecticut.
Picture of grave courtesy of David Zipperer of New York.
Katharine Houghton Hepburn was an iconic four-time Academy Award-winning American star of film, television and stage, widely recognized for her sharp wit, New England gentility and fierce independence.
A screen legend, Hepburn holds the record for the most Best Actress Oscar nominations, with 12, and wins, with 4 (Meryl Streep currently holds the record for most overall acting nominations, but that includes both Best Actress and Best Supporting Actress nominations). Hepburn won an Emmy Award in 1975 for her lead role in Love Among the Ruins, and was nominated for four other Emmys and two Tony Awards during the course of her more than 70-year acting career. In 1999, the American Film Institute ranked Hepburn as the number one female star in their Greatest American Screen Legends list (AFI's 100 Years... 100 Stars). Hepburn had a famous and longtime romance with Spencer Tracy, both on- and off-screen.
Hepburn's early years
Hepburn was born in Hartford, Connecticut, to Dr. Thomas Norval Hepburn, a successful urologist from Virginia, and Katharine Martha Houghton, a suffragette and birth control advocate, who, along with Margaret Sanger, helped to found the organization that became Planned Parenthood. Hepburn's father was a staunch proponent of publicizing the dangers of venereal disease in a time when such things were not discussed, and her mother campaigned for birth control and equal rights for women. The Hepburns demanded frequent familial discussions on these topics and more, and as a result the Hepburn children were well versed in social and political issues. The Hepburn children were never asked to leave a room no matter what the topic of conversation was. Once a very young Katharine Hepburn even accompanied her mother to a suffrage rally. The Hepburn children, at their parents' encouragement, were unafraid of expressing frank views on various topics, including sex. "We were snubbed by everyone, but we grew quite to enjoy that," Hepburn later said of her unabashedly liberal family, who she credited with giving her a sense of adventure and independence.
Her father insisted that his children be athletic, and encouraged swimming, riding, golf and tennis. Hepburn, eager to please her father, emerged as a fine athlete in her late teens, winning a bronze medal for figure skating from the Madison Square Garden skating club, shooting golf in the low eighties, and reaching the semifinal of the Connecticut Young Women's Golf Championship. Hepburn especially enjoyed swimming, and regularly took dips in the frigid waters that fronted her bayfront Connecticut home, generally believing that "the bitterer the medicine, the better it was for you." She continued her brisk swims well into her 80s. Hepburn would come to be recognized for her athletic physicality she fearlessly performed her own pratfalls in films such as Bringing up Baby, which is now held up as an exemplar of screwball comedy.
When Hepburn was young, she found her older brother Tom, whom she idolized, hanging from the rafters by a rope, dead of an apparent suicide. Her family denied that it was self-inflicted, arguing that he had been a happy boy; rather, they insisted that it must have been an experimentation gone awry. It has also been speculated that the boy was trying to carry out a trick that his father had taught him. Hepburn was devastated by his death and sank into a depression. She shied away from children her own age and was mostly schooled at home. For many years she used Tom's birthday (November 8) as her own. It was not until she wrote her autobiography, Me: Stories of my Life, that Hepburn revealed her true birth date.
She was educated at Bryn Mawr College, receiving a degree in history and philosophy in 1928, the same year she debuted on Broadway after landing a bit part in Night Hostess.
A banner year for Hepburn, 1928 also marked her nuptials to socialite businessman Ludlow ("Luddy") Ogden Smith, whom she had met while attending Bryn Mawr and married after a short engagement. Hepburn and Smith's marriage was rocky from the start she insisted he change his name to S. Ogden Ludlow so she would not be confused with well-known musician Kate Smith. They were divorced in Mexico in 1934. Fearing that the Mexican divorce was not legal, Ludlow got a second divorce in the United States in 1942 and a few days later he remarried. Although their marriage was a failure, Katharine Hepburn often expressed her gratitude toward Ludlow for his financial and moral support in the early days of her career.
Hepburn's acting career begins
Hepburn cut her acting teeth in plays at Bryn Mawr and later in revues staged by stock companies. During her last years at Bryn Mawr, Hepburn had met a young producer with a stock company in Baltimore, Maryland, who cast her in several small roles, including a production of The Czarina and The Cradle Snatchers.
Hepburn's first leading role was in a production of The Big Pond, which opened in Great Neck, New York. The producer had fired the play's original leading lady at the last minute, and asked Hepburn to assume the role. Terror stricken at the unexpected change, Hepburn arrived late and, once on stage, flubbed her lines, tripped over her feet and spoke so rapidly that she was almost incomprehensible. She was fired from the play, but continued to work in small stock company roles and as an understudy.
Later, Hepburn was cast in a speaking part in the Broadway play Art and Mrs. Bottle. Hepburn was fired from this role as well, though she was eventually rehired when the director could not find anyone to replace her. After another summer of stock companies, in 1932 Hepburn landed the role of Antiope the Amazon princess in The Warrior's Husband (an update of Lysistrata), which debuted to excellent reviews. Hepburn became the talk of New York City, and began getting noticed by Hollywood.
In the play, Hepburn entered the stage by leaping down a flight of steps while carrying a large stag on her shoulders an RKO scout (Leland Hayward, whom she would later romance) was so impressed by this display of physicality that he asked her to do a screen test for the studio's next vehicle, A Bill of Divorcement, which starred John Barrymore and Billie Burke.
In true Hepburn fashion, she demanded an outlandish $1,500 per week for film work (at the time she was earning between $80 and $100 per week). After seeing her screen test, RKO agreed to her demands and cast her, launching her film career aside legendary actor John Barrymore and director George Cukor, who would become a lifetime friend and colleague. In one of Barrymore's many attempts to bed her, he pinched Kate's behind on the set. She said, "If you do that again I'm going to stop acting." Barrymore replied, "I wasn't aware that you'd started, my dear."
RKO was delighted by audience reaction to A Bill of Divorcement and signed Hepburn to a new contract after it wrapped. But her nonconformist, anti-Hollywood behavior offscreen, which would make her one of the silver screen's most beloved stars and a feminist icon, at the time made studio executives fret that she would never become a superstar. Though she was headstrong, her work ethic and talent were undeniable, and the following year (1933), Hepburn won her first Oscar for best actress in Morning Glory. That same year, Hepburn played Jo in the screen adaptation of Little Women, which broke box-office records.
Intoxicated with her success an Oscar followed by a smash hit at the box office Hepburn felt it was time to make her return to the theater. She chose The Lake, but was unable to obtain a release from RKO and instead went back to Hollywood to film the forgettable movie Spitfire in 1933. Having satisfied RKO, Hepburn went immediately back to Manhattan to begin the play, in which she played an English girl unhappy with her overbearing mother and wimpy father. Generally considered a flop, Hepburn's acting in The Lake resulted in Dorothy Parkers famous quip that the actress "ran the gamut of emotions from A to B."
In 1935, in the title role of the film Alice Adams, Hepburn earned her second Oscar nomination. By 1938 Hepburn was a bona fide star, and her foray into comedy with the films Bringing Up Baby and Stage Door was well-received critically. But audience response to the two films was tepid, and the good reviews from critics were not enough to rescue her from an earlier string of flops (The Little Minister, Spitfire, Break of Hearts, Sylvia Scarlett, A Woman Rebels, Mary of Scotland, Quality Street). Her career began to decline.
Box office poison
Some of what has made Hepburn greatly beloved today her unconventional, straightforward, anti-Hollywood attitude at the time began to turn audiences sour. Outspoken and intellectual with an acerbic tongue, she defied the era's "blonde bombshell" stereotypes, preferring to wear pantsuits and disdaining makeup. She also had a famously difficult relationship with the press, turning down most interviews, which did not help her exposure to the public. When she did speak with the press, occasionally she fed them lies to amuse herself. On her first outing with the Hollywood press corps after the success of A Bill of Divorcement, Hepburn talked with reporters who had invaded her and her husband's cabin aboard the ship City of Paris. A reporter asked if they were really married; Hepburn responded, "I don't remember." Following up, another reporter asked if they had any children; Hepburn's answer: "Two white and three colored." Hepburn's aversion to media attention did not thaw until 1973, when she appeared on The Dick Cavett Show for an extended two-day interview.
She could also be prickly with fans though she relented as she aged, in her early career Hepburn often denied requests for autographs, feeling it an invasion of her privacy. On the set she was saddled with the label "difficult to work with", an attitude that earned her the nickname "Katharine of Arrogance", (an allusion to Catherine of Aragon), among directors and crew. Soon audiences began staying away from her movies.
Hepburn was already reeling from a devastating series of earlier flops when in 1938 she (along with Fred Astaire, Joan Crawford, Marlene Dietrich, and others) was voted "box office poison" in a poll taken by motion picture exhibitors. In 1939, Hepburn wanted the role of Scarlett O'Hara, but David O. Selznick insisted that she did not have the lustful, sexual appeal that the part needed. The night before the deadline, Selznick finally cast Vivien Leigh.
Yearning for a comeback on the stage, Hepburn returned to her roots on Broadway, appearing in The Philadelphia Story, a play written especially for her by Philip Barry, a year after Hepburn had starred in the film version of his play Holiday. She played spoiled socialite Tracy Lord to rave reviews. With the help of Howard Hughes, who at one time had been her lover, she purchased the rights to the play and turned it into a hit movie. She was nominated for a Best Actress Oscar for her work in the movie, in which she appeared with Cary Grant and James Stewart. She enhanced James Stewart's performance; in turn he received his only Oscar. Her career was revived almost overnight.
Hepburn and Spencer Tracy
In 1942, Hepburn made her first appearance opposite Spencer Tracy in Woman of the Year. Behind the scenes the pair fell in love, beginning what would become one of the silver screen's most famous romances.
They are one of Hollywood's most recognizable pairs both on-screen and off, and have in large part become the standard by which other film romances are judged. Hepburn, with her agile mind and New England brogue, complemented Tracy's easy working-class machismo. Tracy seemed to be the only one Hepburn would allow to tame her. When Joseph Mankiewicz introduced the two, Hepburn, who was wearing special heels that added several inches to her lanky frame, said, "I'm afraid I'm too tall for you, Mr. Tracy." Mankiewicz retorted, "Don't worry, he'll soon cut you down to size."
As the Daily Telegraph observed in Hepburn's obituary, "Hepburn and Spencer Tracy were at their most seductive when their verbal fencing was sharpest: it was hard to say whether they delighted more in the battle or in each other."
The pair carefully hid their love from the public, using back entrances to studios and hotels and assiduously avoiding the press. Hepburn and Tracy were undeniably a couple for decades, but did not live together regularly until the last few years of Tracy's life. Even then, they maintained separate homes to keep up appearances. Tracy, a devout Roman Catholic, had been married to the former Louise Treadwell since 1923, and remained so until his death.
Hepburn appeared in a total of nine movies with Tracy, including Adam's Rib and Guess Who's Coming to Dinner, for which Hepburn won her second Best Actress Oscar.
Before Tracy, Hepburn had relationships with several Hollywood directors and personalities, including her agent Leland Hayward. Hepburn also had a famous affair with billionaire aviator Howard Hughes, as well as her Mary of Scotland director John Ford. Tracy, however, seemed to be her one true love. She was so heartbroken after he died that she never watched Guess Who's Coming to Dinner, saying it evoked memories of Tracy that were too painful.
Hepburn figures in Martin Scorsese's 2004 biopic of Hughes, The Aviator. However, the movie is a highly fictionalized portrayal of Hepburn and Hughes' courtship, and many portions of the movie involving their relationship are inaccurate. Hepburn did not, as noted in the film, leave Hughes for Tracy; Hepburn and Hughes had split up years before, in 1938. Hepburn was portrayed by Cate Blanchett, who won a Best Supporting Actress Oscar for her performance.
The African Queen
Hepburn is perhaps best remembered for her role in The African Queen (1951), for which she received her fifth Best Actress nomination, although she did not win (losing to Vivien Leigh in A Streetcar Named Desire). She played a prim spinster missionary in Africa who convinces Humphrey Bogart's character, a hard-drinking riverboat captain, to use his boat to attack a German ship.
Filmed mostly on location in Africa, almost all the cast and crew suffered from malaria and dysentery except director John Huston and Bogart, neither of whom ever drank any water. Hepburn, ever the urologist's daughter, disapproved of the two men's boozing and piously drank gallons of water each day to spite them. She wound up so sick with dysentery that even months after she returned home the famously vigorous actress was still ill. The trip and the movie made such an impact on her that later in life she wrote a book about filming the movie: The Making of The African Queen: Or, How I Went to Africa With Bogart, Bacall and Huston and Almost Lost My Mind, which made her a best-selling author at the age of 77.
Later Film Career
Following The African Queen Hepburn often played spinsters, most notably in her Oscar-nominated performances for Summertime (1955) and The Rainmaker (1956), although at 49 some considered her too old for the role. She also received nominations for her performances in films adapted from stage dramas, namely as Mrs. Venable in Tennessee Williams' Suddenly Last Summer (1959) and as Mary Tyrone in the 1962 version of Eugene O'Neill's Long Day's Journey Into Night.
Hepburn received her second Best Actress Oscar for what some said was essentially a pedestrian role in Guess Who's Coming to Dinner. She always said she believed the award was meant to honor Spencer Tracy, who died shortly after filming of the movie was completed. The following year she won a record-breaking third Oscar for her role as Eleanor of Aquitaine in The Lion in Winter, an award shared that year with Barbra Streisand for her performance in Funny Girl.
Hepburn continued to do filmed stage dramas, including The Madwoman of Chaillot (1969), The Trojan Women (1971) by Euripides, and Edward Albee's A Delicate Balance (1973). In 1973 she first appeared in an original television production of Tennessee Williams's The Glass Menagerie.
Two years later Hepburn received an Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Special Program (Drama or Comedy) for Love Among the Ruins, which costarred Laurence Olivier and was directed by George Cukor. Hepburn also appeared opposite John Wayne in Rooster Cogburn, which was essentially The African Queen done as a western. Hepburn won her fourth Oscar for On Golden Pond (1981) opposite Henry Fonda. In 1994, Hepburn gave her final three movie performances One Christmas, based on a short story by Truman Capote, as Ginny in the remake of Love Affair; and This Can't Be Love, directed by one of her close friends, Anthony Harvey (The Lion in Winter).
On June 29, 2003, Hepburn died of natural causes at Fenwick, the Hepburn family home in Old Saybrook, Connecticut. She was 96 years old. In honor of her extensive theater work, the bright lights of Broadway were dimmed for an hour.
Her autobiography, Me: Stories of My Life, was published in 1991. The book Kate Remembered, by A. Scott Berg, was published just 13 days after her death. It documents the friendship between the actress and Berg. The book bills itself is an authorized biography, but that has been called into question by The New York Times.
Berg has been criticized for inserting himself into the book too much, including by a columnist for the Hartford Courant. New York Post columnist Liz Smith called the book a "self-promoting fakery," and suggested that Hepburn "would have despised it and his betrayal of her friendship".
Hepburn's professional legacy is today carried on within her family. Hepburn's niece is actress Katharine Houghton, who appeared with her in Guess Who's Coming to Dinner. Hepburn's grandniece is actress Schuyler Grant; the two appeared together in the 1988 television movie Laura Lansing Slept Here.
In 2004, in accordance with Hepburn's wishes, her personal effects were put up for auction with Sotheby's in New York. Hepburn had meticulously collected an extraordinary amount of material relating to her career and place in Hollywood over the years, as well as personal items such as a bust of Spencer Tracy she sculpted herself and her own oil paintings. The auction netted several million dollars, which Hepburn willed mostly to her family and close friends, including television journalist Cynthia McFadden.