Katharine Hepburn, ranked the number one female in the American Film Institute’s “50 Greatest Movie Legends,” died at the age of 96 in 2003. Throughout her career, she won four Academy Awards for best actress, a record (she was nominated 12 times). On May 12 this icon of both independence and film will be commemorated with a first-class stamp by the U.S. Postal Service, an entry into its “Legends of Hollywood” series.
Bringing Up Baby (1938) is my all-time favorite film. The combination of Katharine Hepburn and Cary Grant sparkles. She’s a silly socialite, he’s a stuffy paleontologist, and they are both very eccentric. Loving this film may explain why I’m not sympathetic to those involved in the production of comedies loaded with sex, bathroom humor, vulgarity, and disrespect. They may make fortunes, but there was a time in this country when money could be made with class.
Katharine Hepburn and Cary Grant possessed two of the most beautiful faces to grace the silver screen. Because they were so elegant, their performances in screwball comedies were hilarious and luminous.
The Philadelphia Story (1940) was another pairing of these two great stars (from a time when stars were truly great) in a dippy, yet pathos-tinged story, that teamed their acting chops with their comedic talents. Hepburn was radiant, Grant was handsome, and they were both silly. Despite their characters’ flaws, Hepburn and Grant emanated class.
Katharine Hepburn was, and always will be, my idea of the perfectly realized human being. She was an individual who did not try to be what others thought she should be; she was self-created and self-actualized. Hepburn was a liberated woman long before those words described a movement.
Complex and self-critical, Hepburn led her life to suit herself, never planning to be the role model for other women. Even in her later years, she was an independent spirit and voice, an inspiration to women, young, old, married, single, rich, poor.
Dorothy Parker is widely quoted for her criticism of a young Kate Hepburn (“She runs the gamut of emotions from A to B”) but years later Pauline Kael decreed that Hepburn was “our greatest tragedienne.” Not many actresses can present a résumé that competes with Hepburn’s, which is all the more impressive because she didn’t accept roles, as she grew older, that were just work and not up to her standards.