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Katharine Hepburn – from ‘box office poison’ to ‘greatest female star’ of hollywood

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Katharine Hepburn – from ‘box office poison’ to ‘greatest female star’ of Hollywood.

written by Souranath Banerjee

After inquiring onto whom i am writing about today, one of my dear friend asked me ‘Did you mean Audrey Hepburn? I know Marilyn MonroeElizabeth Taylor, even Sophia Loren but who is Katharine Hepburn?’

Hepburn5Well, i don’t blame my friend since firstly he is not too much into Hollywood movies and secondly, lets face it – Katharine Hepburn’s visual image is not as popular as some of her contemporary heroines mentioned above.

Katharine Hepburn was neither a style-icon like Audrey Hepburn, nor a diva like Marilyn or a sexy siren like Elizabeth Taylor or Sofia Loren.

But undoubtedly she was one damn good actress!

A career that ran for more than six decades, in which she was nominated 12 times for the Oscars in the ‘Best Actress’ category and won 4 of them. This is the record maximum number of Oscars won by any performer (actor/actress) till date.

Hepburn4In 1999, Katharine Hepburn was named by the American Film Institute as the ‘greatest female star in Hollywood History’, beating popular actresses like Bette Davis and Ingrid Bergman for the top spot.

Her career though began with initial success wasn’t all smooth and up-hill throughout her life.

Within a couple of years into Hollywood, Katharine won her first Oscar for her performance in Morning Glory (1933). It was her third film!

But then her career took a down fall and most of her films didn’t do well in the box-office. And on top of that she had problems with the press. She was too straightforward (often rude) to the reporters and the american audience didn’t seem to like her attitude. 

Hepburn-Stewart-posterEventually her unpopular image was blamed for most of her film’s failures and the Hollywood big-shot Production Houses reacted to it.

Katharine Hepburn was soon termed as the ‘box office poison’ and her film offers quickly dried out.

But it was certainly not the end of her career; far from it.

She planned her mega-comeback with the help of Howard Hughes (her partner at the time) who bought her the rights of the famous play The Philadelphia Story.

the-philadelphia-story-posterKatharine eventually sold the film-rights of the play to Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer on condition that she would be the star of the film. She also choose the director (George Cukor) and the stars Cary Grant and James Stewart.

In the film The Philadelphia Story (1940) she skillfully crafted her character so that the audience would laugh at her and eventually sympathize. And that’s exactly what happened!

The film became the top grossing movie of that year; she was nominated for the Oscars for her brilliant performance but more importantly she was welcomed back by the press and the audience.

lion-in-winter-posterAnd then there was no looking back for Hepburn. Throughout the 50s and the mid 60s she gave one hit after another – The African QueenSummertime, The RainmakerSuddenly, Last SummerLong Day’s Journey Into Night and many more. For most of these films she was nominated at the Oscars!

But her real success came in the late 60s when she bagged two back to back Oscars for the films Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner (1967), The Lion in Winter (1968). She scooped another Oscar towards the end of her career for the film On Golden Pond (1981). 

Tracy-Hepburn-posterHepburn was a very private person, never liked to be bothered by reporters or her fans. Her twenty-seven years relationship with Spencer Tracy was kept a secret from the public for a long time!

Though married once early in her life Hepburn never had any children. She believed that motherhood to be a full-time commitment and said she was not ready for it.

She was claimed to be an headstrong person who was honest and blunt with her comments. She had great work ethics and was always enthusiastic about her projects.

Hepburn3Films, theaters, television – she kept herself busy with work till the last years of her life.

On June 29, 2003 when Katharine Hepburn died (at the age of 96), American president George W. Bush said Hepburn “will be remembered as one of the nation’s artistic treasures.” 

Her witty remarks were always impressive.

“I strike people as peculiar in some way, although I don’t quite understand why. Of course, I have an angular face, an angular body and, I suppose, an angular personality, which jabs into people.” 

PS – Directed by Martin Scorsese, the film The Aviator (2004) which was made on life of Howard HughesCate Blanchett‘s portrayed Katharine Hepburn. And that makes Cate the first performer to win an Oscar for playing a real-life Oscar Winner!

A few famous scenes from the film The Philadelphia Story.

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