Wednesday, May 12, 2010
Katherine Hepburn (May 12, 1907 – June 29, 2003)
Hepburn made her first appearance with Spencer Tracy in Woman of the Year (1942), directed by George Stevens. Behind the scenes the pair fell in love, beginning what would become one of Hollywood's most famous romances, despite Tracy's life long unwillingness (he was a Catholic) to divorce his estranged wife, the former Louise Treadwell, whom he had married in 1923.
Hepburn and Tracy became one of Hollywood's most recognizable couples. Hepburn, with her agile mind and distinctive New England accent, complemented Tracy's working-class machismo. When Joseph Mankiewicz introduced them, Hepburn, who was wearing special heels that added several inches to her slender frame, said, "I'm afraid I'm too tall for you, Mr. Tracy." Mankiewicz retorted, "Don't worry, he'll soon cut you down to size." As The Daily Telegraph observed in Hepburn's obituary, "Hepburn and Spencer Tracy were at their most seductive when their verbal fencing was sharpest: it was hard to say whether they delighted more in the battle or in each other".
Most of their films stress the difficulties that couples can have when they try to find an equable balance of power. The sparring over power and control is almost always resolved in an agreement to share. They appeared in nine movies together, including Keeper of the Flame (1942), Adam's Rib (1949), Pat and Mike (1952), Desk Set (1957) and Guess Who's Coming to Dinner (1967), for which Hepburn won her second Academy Award for Best Actress.
Hepburn and Tracy carefully hid their affair from the public, using back entrances to studios and hotels and assiduously avoiding the press. They were undeniably a couple for decades, but did not live together regularly until the last few years of Tracy's life. Even then, they maintained separate homes to keep up appearances. Their relationship, which neither would discuss publicly, lasted until Tracy's death in 1967. Their relationship was complex and there were periods during which they were estranged. Tracy had several affairs while estranged from Hepburn, notably while filming Plymouth Adventure with his co-star Gene Tierney.
Hepburn had had several prior liaisons, most notably with her agent Leland Hayward, John Ford and Howard Hughes. Tracy, however, seems to have been her true love. Hepburn took five years off after Long Day's Journey Into Night to care for Tracy while he was in failing health. Out of consideration for Tracy's family, Hepburn did not attend his funeral. She described herself as too heartbroken to ever watch Guess Who's Coming to Dinner, saying it evoked memories of Tracy that were too painful.
Hepburn's genealogy has been researched through the Whittier line back to King Louis IX of France. She is listed as one of the descendants of the Mayflower compact author William Brewster (her family tree).
In her 1973 interview on The Dick Cavett Show Hepburn stated that although she agreed with Christian principles and thought highly of Jesus Christ, she did not believe in religion or in the afterlife. Her paternal grandfather, Sewell Snowden Hepburn, was an Episcopal clergyman, but on the subject of religion, she told another journalist (this time a Ladies Home Journal reporter) in October 1991 that:
"I'm an atheist and that's it. I believe there's nothing we can know except that we should be kind to each other and do what we can for other people."
In 1910, the Hepburn family lived at 133 Hawthorne Street in Hartford, Connecticut. Eight years later, they were recorded living at 352 Laurel Street, also in Hartford. By 1930, Katharine's parents and four younger siblings had moved to a large eight bedroom house at 201 Bloomfield Avenue in West Hartford. As of 2007, the house is owned by the University of Hartford.
Margaret "Peg" Perry, Hepburn's last surviving sister, died on February 13, 2006, aged 85. Perry was a librarian in Canton, Connecticut.
Robert Hepburn, the last surviving sibling of Katharine Hepburn, died on November 26, 2007. Robert was a doctor who followed in the footsteps of their father, Dr. Thomas Hepburn. He was the head of the urology department at Hartford Hospital for more than 30 years.
Hepburn's professional legacy is today carried on within her family. Hepburn's niece is actress Katharine Houghton, who appeared as her daughter in Guess Who's Coming to Dinner. Hepburn's grandniece is actress Schuyler Grant, who appeared in Anne of Green Gables and All My Children.