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Who is Katharine Hepburn?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 23, 2024
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Katharine Hepburn (1907-2003) is an iconic figure in American cinema. She is well remembered for being an excellent actress, acting in over 50 feature films, beginning in 1932 with Bill of Divorcement. Katharine Hepburn was a remarkable woman as well, taking control of her career in an era in which most women were not outspoken about their lives. Katharine Hepburn was active politically and socially, and never afraid of disturbing the status quo.

Katharine Houghton Hepburn was born to a doctor and suffragette, into a well established East Coast family. As a young woman, she was encouraged to speak her mind and be physically active, and she was home schooled. Her education continued at Bryn Mawr, and it was in college that she began to explore the possibility of an acting career, appearing in many productions there.

Katharine Hepburn went on to appear in Broadway shows after college, attracting the attention of film studios in the early 1930s. By her third film, Morning Glory, she won her first Academy Award. Even in her early years in Hollywood, Katharine Hepburn was a rebellious actress, often appearing in slacks when they were still socially frowned upon for women. She also didn't participate in the endless rounds of press conferences, interviews, and other sundries expected of actresses, and she returned to Broadway in 1934.

Katharine Hepburn met with a difficult reception, thanks to her growing reputation for haughtiness, and after being largely deserted by Broadway audiences, she returned to California to make an assortment of commercially unsuccessful films, although she received an Oscar nomination for Alice Adams (1935). Her declining sales at the box office led to a reluctance to cast her in major films, and Katharine Hepburn returned again to Broadway, where she starred in a 1938 production of Philadelphia Story. This turned out to be the breaking point in her career, as the show became a smash hit, and she negotiated her own contract for the film version of the movie. Katharine Hepburn insisted on her choice of director and costars for the film, and when it was released in 1940, she became, once again, a Hollywood darling. It was around this time that she met Spencer Tracy, with whom she had a very successful on screen partnership, as well as a love affair that lasted until his death.

In the 1950s, Katharine Hepburn began to take more mature roles and evolved greatly as an actress. She received a number of Oscar nominations for her work on many films, including The African Queen (1951), The Rainmaker (1956), and Long Day's Journey Into Night (1962). In the 1960s, she took less film roles so that she had more time to spend with Spencer Tracy, who was very ill. They made Guess Who's Coming To Dinner, their last film together, in 1967, for which she later won an Oscar. In 1968, with The Lion In Winter, Katharine Hepburn took home another Oscar.

Katharine Hepburn continued to star in a variety of films until the 1990s, when she withdrew from public life because of her increasing frail health. When she passed away in 2003, most of the film world mourned the death of a Hollywood legend.

PublicPeople is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a PublicPeople researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By anon137893 — On Dec 29, 2010

this woman is amazing.

By wesley91 — On Nov 10, 2010

@cmsmith10: Howard Hughes and Katharine Hepburn met while she was shooting the film “Sylvia Scarlett”. Hughes flew his plane to the location of the shoot and landed it on the beach, in order to meet her.

Hepburn and Hughes were together for a few years and even lived together. They were both eccentric and hated crowds. It was a match that most people liked, due to the fact that they were very similar and could understand each other’s needs. Eventually, Hughes and Hepburn broke up, but they remained friends.

By cmsmith10 — On Nov 10, 2010

Did Katharine Hepburn and Howard Hughes ever date?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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