Author Topic: Legendary actress Katharine Hepburn dies  (Read 47 times)

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Legendary actress Katharine Hepburn dies
« on: June 30, 2003, 02:33:35 AM »

Legendary actress Katharine Hepburn dies
By Jamie Allen

(CNN) --Screen and stage legend Katharine Hepburn has died, according to the executor of her estate and Old Saybrook, Connecticut, authorities. She was 96.

Hepburn's film career spanned seven decades, and she was perhaps the most decorated actor, male or female, in the industry. She won more Academy Awards for lead roles (four) than anyone -- and her 12 nominations in the best actress category stood as a record until this year when actress Meryl Streep surpassed her nomination total with 13.

Old Saybrookauthorities and the executor of Hepburn's estate, Cynthia McFadden, told The Associated Press that Hepburn died Sunday at 2:50 p.m. She was at her home. Hepburn's health had declined in recent years.

A statement from her family was expected later Sunday.

In her work, Hepburn transformed herself from the key actress of a generation into thespian royalty, an uncontested icon of live theater and cinematic art. In private life, her 25-year love affair with actor Spencer Tracy is the stuff of Hollywood legend, and so are her bouts with Hollywood itself.

But her performances in some of the century's top films are what stand out as enduring evidence of her power and gifts. The American Film Institute ranked Hepburn the top female star in its "50 Greatest Movie Legends," one of a handful of AFI picks that ruffled few feathers.

"I'm a personality as well as an actress," Hepburn once said. "Show me an actress who isn't a personality, and you'll show me a woman who isn't a star."

An unconventional star
Katharine Houghton Hepburn was born May 12, 1907, in Hartford, Connecticut. She was the second of six children. Her father was a doctor, and her mother was a suffragette -- an influential combination that perhaps brought out the brazen, outspoken personality that distinguished the actress as "a personality."

Hepburn said she was always fascinated with acting. As a youngster, she used to take on odd jobs to pay for tickets to the latest silent films. Her first acting experience can be traced to an amateur production at age 12.

She attended college at Bryn Mawr, at first struggling with academics but then finding her calling in the theater. After college, she toured the East Coast with a stock company, eventually making a name for herself in the Broadway hit "The Warrior's Husband."

By the early 1930s, Hollywood came calling. But in true Hepburn fashion -- which would later both hurt and embellish her career -- she had the audacity to turn down her first contract offer from Paramount Pictures, then make outlandish salary demands when approached by RKO Pictures.

She told the studio she wanted $1,500 per week for her work. After seeing her screen test for "A Bill of Divorcement" (1932), the studio agreed to her demands, and Hepburn's film career was launched opposite that of screen legend John Barrymore.

The following year, she starred as Eva Lovelace in "Morning Glory." Her characterization of a young woman trying to succeed in New York won Hepburn her first Oscar for best actress.

Also in 1933, she starred as Jo in the screen adaptation of the Louisa May Alcott classic "Little Women"; it was a box-office record breaker. In 1935, Hepburn wowed audiences again, in the title role of "Alice Adams," which earned her a second Oscar nomination. (Bette Davis won that year for "Dangerous.")

The 1938 screwball comedy "Bringing Up Baby" was a popular pick among critics and audiences. But some observers at the time said it came too late to save Hepburn's career, which was in decline.

'Box office poison'
It seems that Hepburn's unconventional personality off-screen was affecting audience perspective. Always known as the straightforward, anti-Hollywood New Englander, Hepburn refused to play the celebrity game.

She defied the era's stereotypes for actresses, dressing unfashionably with no makeup and turning down interviews and autograph requests. Soon she'd attracted the "difficult to work with" label -- and audiences responded by staying away from her movies.

Perhaps the low point in Hepburn's career came during the period when she was a contender for Scarlett O'Hara in "Gone With the Wind." She lost out to a young British actress named Vivien Leigh. It was around this time that an exhibitor publication branded her "box office poison."

But Hepburn wasn't going quietly. "Not everyone is lucky enough to understand how delicious it is to suffer," the actress once said.

Hepburn returned to Broadway in 1938 in Philip Barry's "The Philadelphia Story." She played Tracy Lord, a role Barry wrote for her. She felt so strongly for the project that she purchased the screen rights. After becoming a Broadway hit, the film, starring Hepburn, James Stewart and Cary Grant, came out in 1940, breaking all box-office records.

Hepburn, meanwhile, was nominated for a best actress Oscar. In her early 30s, she was at the top of her game. But defining moments in her career were still around the corner.

One of them came in 1942 when she co-starred with Tracy in "Woman of the Year." The romantic comedy about a sports reporter who wins the heart of a world-famous political commentator was a hit and earned Hepburn another Oscar nomination.

Behind the scenes, she and Tracy fell in love. The relationship, like Hepburn's life, defied celebrity convention -- the pair never married.(Tracy, a devout Catholic, had been married to another woman since 1928 and remained so until his death), but the love affair lasted until Tracy died in 1967.

Dream team on- and off-screen
Hepburn and Tracy, who went on to film nine movies together, were the yin and yang of middle-century moviemaking. From different backgrounds, they complemented each other and brought out the other's strengths. To this day, they are one of the most popular screen teams of all time, a benchmark to which other movie couples are inevitably compared.

The actress, as always, was honest about her feelings for men such as Tracy.

"I often wonder whether men and women really suit each other," she once said. "Perhaps they should live next door and just visit now and then."

On another occasion, she said, "I've been loved, and I've been in love. There's a big difference."

After "Woman of the Year," Hepburn worked steadily through the 1940s, including the 1949 comedy "Adam's Rib," also with Tracy.

A mark of a great actress is her ability to switch parts to match her age, and Hepburn did just that with her next acclaimed film. In "The African Queen" (1951), she starred opposite Humphrey Bogart -- by now, a legend in his own right -- as a straight-laced World War I missionary who convinces Bogart's gin-swilling riverboat captain to use his boat to attack a German ship.

It was another Oscar-nominated performance for Hepburn; Bogart won the best actor Oscar.

Hepburn was again nominated for Oscars for "Summertime" (1955), "The Rainmaker" (1956), "Suddenly, Last Summer" (1959) and "Long Day's Journey Into Night" (1962).

An Oscar record breaker
But she didn't win an Academy Award again until she returned to the screen with Tracy in "Guess Who's Coming to Dinner" (1967). The acting team played a couple who deals with their daughter's decision to marry a black man, played by Sidney Poitier.

For Tracy, it was his final role. After battling his ailing health for years, he passed away a few weeks after the movie completed shooting.

Hepburn followed this Oscar-winning role with her portrayal of Eleanor of Aquitaine in "The Lion in Winter" (1968), winning her third Oscar. The story of Henry II details the king's deliberations over his successor on a fateful Christmas Eve.

In 1969, Hepburn returned to Broadway in the musical "Coco." Years of success apparently had not mellowed her; during one performance, she dropped out of character to chastise an audience member for using flash photography.

The 1970s saw Hepburn delve into television. She won an Emmy in 1975 for her lead role in "Love Among the Ruins." She was nominated for four Emmys in her acting career.

Hepburn continued to redefine herself with age. Suffering from a progressive neurological disease, which caused uncontrollable shaking, she starred in 1981's "On Golden Pond" as the devoted wife of an aging professor played by Henry Fonda. Both won Oscars for their roles.

Hepburn last appeared in a major motion picture in 1994's "Love Affair," which starred Warren Beatty and Annette Bening. Her minor role as a grand-aunt received high praise.

She once told a reporter that she lived her life on her own terms.

"I don't regret anything I've ever done," she said, "as long as I enjoyed it at the time."
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