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Katharine Hepburn (1907 – 2003)

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Katharine Hepburn

Broadway producers thought Katharine Hepburn was too much the individual to achieve stardom, but she caught the eye of director George Cukor, who offered her the lead in A Bill of Divorcement (1932). Despite her early success in that film and in Morning Glory (1933), by decade’s end exhibitors had labeled her box office poison. She made her comeback through the stage door when playwright Philip Barry wrote The Philadelphia Story to mirror her personality. With help from former beau Howard Hughes, she bought the play’s film rights, and its success put her right back on top. Her professional and personal life both benefited from her MGM contract, particularly when she fell in love with costar Spencer Tracy while making Woman of the Year (1942), their first of nine films together. Blessed with a strong bone structure, Katharine aged gracefully in a series of mature roles in the 1950s. Her film work kept her a star despite frequent breaks to pursue theatrical projects and care for Tracy as his health declined. She put her salary on the line so he could play opposite her in his last film, Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner (1967). He died seventeen days after filming was complete. Katharine won an Oscar for the film, but she said she could never watch it because the memories were too painful. On her own, Katharine continued to triumph as the imprisoned Queen Eleanor of Aquitaine in The Lion in Winter (1968) and Henry Fonda’s supportive wife in On Golden Pond (1982), the latter bringing her a record fourth Oscar for Best Actress. Katharine also turned to television, first as Amanda in an acclaimed production of Tennessee Williams’s The Glass Menagerie (1973) and then in an Emmy-winning performance opposite Laurence Olivier in the romantic comedy Love Among the Ruins 0975), Late in life, Katharine wrote a best-selling memoir, Me: Stories of My Life and appeared in the television documentary Katharine Hepburn: All About Me (1993). Katharine Hepburn lived life on her own terms at all times and was loved for it.

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