5 Reasons Why Katharine Hepburn is the Most Kick**** Woman in Hollywood History
Katharine Hepburn, Hollywood icon, defined success on her own terms.
With the 87th Academy Awards ceremony coming up on Feb. 22, we mustn’t forget the woman who still holds the record for the most acting wins in history: Katharine Hepburn. Despite her lack of glamorization in comparison to her silver screen counterparts and almost being shunned by filmmakers for a series of box office flops, Hepburn was nominated for 12 Academy Awards for Best Actress and won four of them: Morning Glory (1933), Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner (1967), The Lion in Winter (1968), and On Golden Pond (1981), spanning her acting career as one of longest and arguably most successful of all time. Despite her widely known lack of conformity, Hepburn defined success on her own terms and as a result, the American Film Institute named her the Greatest Female Screen Legend in Hollywood history. Here are some reasons why we at Iris think Katharine is so amazing:
1) She refused to be a sex symbol.
“Dressing up is a bore. At a certain age, you decorate yourself to attract the opposite sex, and at a certain age, I did that. But I’m past that age.” Source
Katharine made it clear that she had no interest in conforming to the traditional label of a sex symbol, which was seen as the ultimate claim to Hollywood fame during her time. Once playfully quoted stating, “Plain women know more about men than beautiful women do,” she often chose roles that were less glamourized, wore minimal makeup, and moreover was remembered for her ability to rock a pantsuit. Highly criticized by the media for her less-feminine wardrobe choices on and off-screen, she still managed to steal the stage from her leading male counterparts, including the iconic Humphrey Bogart (whom AFI has ranked as Hepburn’s opposite as the Greatest Male Screen Legend of all time), Cary Grant (ranked second, respectively), James Stewart (third), Laurence Olivier (14th), and her long-term lover Spencer Tracy (ninth). 2) She was not shy about her progressive opinions.
“[…] We’ll move forward, progressively forward - that is what the American people have always done - we will fight not only to prevent the abridgment of freedom but to broaden the freedoms that already exist - we fight not only for what we have and hold dear - but for what we hope to have - and deserve to have - and can have - and that is why we are here tonight." Source
From making public statements on her critique of America’s unemployment rates and health programs, to her roles that transgressed barriers of gender, age and race, Hepburn is celebrated not only for her sharp wit, but correspondingly for her strong opinions that she was not afraid to share. An example is her leading role in Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner (1967). During a time when interracial marriage was still illegal in 17 states and Hepburn was nearing the end of her acting career, the movie that focused on the then-controversial subject was depicted not only in a positive manner, but was met with much box office successs.
3) She defied normative acting standards by continuing to act, even as she aged.
“I think they’re beginning to think I’m not going to be around much longer. And what do you know. They’ll miss me like an old monument. Like the Flatiron Building.” (1967) Source
Starting on Broadway and then making her first onscreen appearance in A Bill of Divorcement in 1932, Katharine Hepburn continued her career for an amazing six decades before her final appearance in 1994’s One Christmas at the age of 87. Hepburn was fully aware of the prevailing stigmas toward aging actresses, and yet she still continued to be marked with success, illustrated in the fact that she continued to be nominated for acting awards up until her death.
[On marriage:] “It’s bloody impractical to love, honor and obey. If it weren’t, you wouldn’t have to sign a contract.” Source
Hepburn had publicly stated she didn’t believe in marriage on numerous occasions, although when she portrayed herself as a wife in movies, she made sure to do so with equality and respect. Married once when she was young, she is known for her love affair with actor Spencer Tracy that spanned for more than 25 years as well as 9 on-screen partnerships. Devoted to him until the day he died despite his marriage to another woman, it is acknowledged throughout Hollywood that she never made attempts to force him into divorce but instead respected his wife’s wishes to continue to keep his last name.
5) She got the last laugh!
After a series of commercial failures in the late 1930s, Hepburn was labeled “box office poison” by mainstream Hollywood and began to struggle to find work, despite the rise of fame that had preceded her. However, quite characteristically as the self-made woman she was, she orchestrated her own comeback. By buying out her own acting contract as well as the film rights to the romantic comedy Philadelphia Story (1940), she then sold the latter to Metro-Goldwyn-Meyer under terms that she star in it. This strategic power move led Hepburn to be contracted under MGM and regain status as a box office starlet, all the while allowing her partnership with Spencer Tracy to flourish both on and off screen.
There are an infinite number of reasons why Katharine Hepburn should be commemorated, but these few reasons alone make our point obvious: Strong-willed, unapologetic, superbly confident, and ahead of her time, Hepburn was a force to be reckoned with.
With the Academy Awards coming up, let’s not forget who helped forge the path for all future actors to come and constantly encouraged performers to have their own agency. We also must celebrate her, “rules to live by: ‘1. Never quit; 2. Be Yourself and 3. Don’t put too much flour in your brownies.’”