Katharine Hepburn

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Katharine Houghton Hepburn

Also Known As: "Kath", "Kate", "The First Lady of Cinema"
Birthplace: Hartford, Hartford County, Connecticut, United States
Death: June 29, 2003 (96)
Fenwick, Old Saybrook, Middlesex County, Connecticut, United States (Natural causes)
Place of Burial: Hartford, Hartford, CT, United States
Immediate Family:

Daughter of Dr. Thomas Norval Hepburn and Katherine Martha Hepburn
Ex-wife of Ludlow "Luddy" Smith
Partner of Spencer Tracy
Sister of Thomas Houghton Hepburn; Richard Houghton Hepburn; Dr. Robert Houghton Hepburn; Margaret Houghton Perry; Marion Hepburn Grant and 1 other
Half sister of Private

Occupation: Actress, Cultural Icon, Golfer, Artist, Feminist
Managed by: Private User
Last Updated:
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Immediate Family

About Katharine Hepburn


Four-time Academy Award winning actress Katharine Hepburn maintained a successful acting career for over 70 years. Her notable performances in The African Queen and On Golden Pond, as well as countless other films, contributed to her title as the AFI's Greatest American Female Star. Hepburn holds the record for the most Best Actress Oscar wins with four out of 12 nominations.

She was born on May 12, 1907, in Hartford, Connecticut, the daughter of suffragist Katharine Martha Houghton (a member of the Houghton family of Corning Glass and a co-founder of Planned Parenthood), and Dr. Thomas Norval Hepburn who was a successful urologist from Virginia with Maryland roots. Her siblings were Thomas Hepburn, Richard Hepburn, Robert Hepburn, Marion Hepburn Grant and Margaret Hepburn Perry.

Hepburn's genealogy has been researched through the Whittier line back to King Louis IX of France (a great grandson of King Henry II and Queen Eleanor of Aquitaine—the same queen she played in The Lion in Winter). 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.”

From early childhood, Hepburn was continually encouraged to expand her intellectual horizons, speak nothing but the truth, and keep herself in top physical condition at all times. She would apply all of these ingrained values to her acting career, which began in earnest after her graduation from Bryn Mawr College in 1928. Scoring her first major Broadway success in The Warrior's Husband (1932), she was invited to Hollywood by RKO Radio Pictures.

Hepburn was an unlikely Hollywood star. Possessing a distinctive speech pattern and an abundance of quirky mannerisms, she earned unqualified praise from her admirers and unmerciful criticism from her detractors. Unabashedly outspoken and iconoclastic, she did as she pleased, refusing to grant interviews, wearing casual clothes at a time when actresses were expected to exude glamour 24 hours a day, and openly clashing with her more experienced coworkers whenever they failed to meet her standards. She nonetheless made an impressive movie debut in A Bill of Divorcement (1932) and went on to win an Academy Award for her third film, Morning Glory (1933). Her much-publicized return to Broadway, in The Lake (1933), proved to be a flop. And while moviegoers enjoyed Hepburn's performances in homespun entertainments such as Little Women (1933) and Alice Adams (1935), they were largely resistant to historical vehicles such as Mary of Scotland (1936), A Woman Rebels (1936), and Quality Street (1937). Hepburn recovered some lost ground with her sparkling performances in the comedies Bringing Up Baby (1938) and Holiday (1938), but it was too late: a group of leading film exhibitors had already written off Hepburn as “box office poison.”

In 1939 Hepburn again returned to New York to star on Broadway, this time in The Philadelphia Story as Tracy Lord, a role playwright Philip Barry had written for her. The play was a tremendous success, and Hepburn, who owned the film rights (Howard Hughes had bought them for her), sold them to L.B. Mayer and MGM on the condition that she would star. The movie, like the play, was successful, earning Hepburn, Cary Grant and James Stewart Academy Award nominations (Stewart won).

She continued to make periodic returns to the stage (notably as the title character in the 1969 Broadway musical Coco), but Hepburn remained essentially a film actor for the remainder of her career. Her stature increased as she chalked up such cinematic triumphs as The African Queen (1951), Summertime (1955), and Long Day's Journey into Night (1962). She won a second Academy Award for Guess Who's Coming to Dinner (1967), a third for The Lion in Winter (1968), and an unprecedented fourth Oscar for On Golden Pond (1981); her 12 Academy Award nominations also set a record, which stood until 2003, when broken by Meryl Streep. In addition, Hepburn appeared frequently on television in the 1970s and '80s. She was nominated for an Emmy Award for her memorable portrayal of Amanda Wingfield in Tennessee Williams's The Glass Menagerie (1973), and she won the award for her performance opposite Laurence Olivier in Love Among the Ruins (1975), which reunited her with her favorite director, George Cukor. Though hampered by a progressive neurological disease, she was nonetheless still active in the early '90s, appearing prominently in films such as Love Affair (1994) and writing several volumes of memoirs, including her autobiography, Me: Stories of My Life (1991).

Hepburn was married once, to Philadelphia broker Ludlow Ogden Smith, a union that was dissolved in 1934. While filming Woman of the Year in 1942, she began an enduring, intimate relationship with her costar, Spencer Tracy, with whom she would appear in films such as Adam's Rib (1949) and Pat and Mike (1952). Tracy and Hepburn never married—he was Roman Catholic and would not divorce his wife—but they remained close both personally and professionally until his death in 1967, just days after completing the filming of Guess Who's Coming to Dinner. Hepburn had suspended her own career for nearly five years to nurse Tracy through what turned out to be his final illness. In 1999 the American Film Institute named Hepburn the top female American screen legend of all time.

Sources: Wikipedia, Biography, IMDB, Find A Grave

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Katharine Hepburn's Timeline

May 12, 1907
Hartford, Hartford County, Connecticut, United States
June 29, 2003
Age 96
Fenwick, Old Saybrook, Middlesex County, Connecticut, United States
Cedar Hill Cemetery, Hartford, Hartford, CT, United States