Katharine Hepburn may be the greatest star ever to appear on the big screen. From 1928 through 1994 she acted in various kinds of productions ranging from Broadway theater to the biggest Hollywood productions and back again to Shakespeare plays later in her career. She received four Academy Awards for Best Actress, more than anyone before or since. In 1999 American Film Institute named her the greatest female star in history of American cinema.
Hepburn was the first modern woman
Katharine Hepburn was the first big Hollywood star to break the female protagonist’s stereotype. Her role was often not defined through the male hero, she did not need to be saved and she did not need a man to seduce. Instead, she usually played strong independent characters, often aristocrats.
Also off screen Hepburn was an example of a strong, intelligent, successful woman. She has been even defined as ”the patron saint of the independent American female.”
Hepburn’s public life
Despite her great influence Hepburn rarely gave interviews, instead jealously protecting her privacy much like her contemporary Greta Garbo.
However, starting in the ’70s Hepburn opened up to the public. In the following years, before her death in 2003, she made many praiseworthy statements. She supported birth control and the right to abortion and generally presented herself as an advocate of liberal and tolerant values. American Humanist Association gave her the Humanist Arts Award in 1985.
In 1991 Hepburn summed up her life philosophy in a beautiful way:
“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.”
Hepburn’s greatest roles
It’s hard to choose Hepburn’s greatest roles from a career stretching across seven decades. She was always known for choosing roles in various genres – drama and comedy alike. Hepburn has been occasionally criticized for her limited versatility as an actor, but no one had work ethic like her. She always thoroughly studied her character and the script. She knew all the lines – not just her own but her colleagues’ as well.
Hepburn’s greatest feature films might be the following three:
- The African Queen (1951) saw both Katharine Hepburn and Humphrey Bogart winning an Oscar.
- Bringing Up Baby (1938) is often considered the best romantic screwball comedy ever made. Hepburn plays a haughty heiress with a troublesome pet leopard in her custody.
- The Philadelphia Story (1940) is another romantic comedy. Hepburn takes on another aristocratic role as a bride in a scandalous wedding.