Hepburn, Katharine (Houghton) 1907-2003

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HEPBURN, Katharine (Houghton) 1907-2003

OBITUARY NOTICE—See index for CA sketch: Born May 12, 1907, in Hartford, CT; died June 29, 2003, in Old Saybrook, CT. Actress and author. Hepburn, famous for combining her distinctive voice and aristocratic good looks with a strong, intelligent personality, was an Oscar- and Emmy Award-winning actress whose career spanned six decades. The daughter of a well-to-do surgeon and a suffragette, Hepburn was born raised to have liberal, independent views. Her childhood was a happy one, except for the tragedy of her older brother Tom's death at age sixteen. When she was fourteen Tom hung himself, although it was never determined whether the hanging was a suicide or accidental, and in subsequent years Hepburn often told interviewers that her birthday was November 9 instead of May 12, in remembrance of Tom. Despite Tom's death, Hepburn's parents refused to mourn for long and worked to maintain a happy household. She went on to attend Bryn Mawr College, where she participated in a number of plays and graduated with a B.A. in 1928. She married Ludlow Ogden Smith that year, but her ambitions to become a Hollywood actress created a marital rift that resulted in divorce six years later. Meanwhile, Hepburn began to attract notice for her work in Broadway plays such as These Days (1928) and The Warrior's Husband (1932). By the early 1930s she had signed a generous contract with RKO and starred in her first movie, A Bill of Divorcement (1932). This was soon followed by Christopher Strong (1933) and the hit film Morning Glory (1933), for which she won her first Academy Award. Hepburn's early 1930s films established her uniqueness as an actress. Not the typical glamour queen, she managed to combine a boyish, athletic quality with feminine wiles and charm. Sometimes wearing trousers and other times high-necked, fashionable dresses, she was an actress audiences did not always know what to make of, but she nevertheless had an unquestionable appeal. Despite her early successes, Hepburn's career flagged somewhat in the late 1930s due to poorly reviewed films such as Spitfire (1934), and she received negative criticism for her performance in the Broadway play The Lake (1933). She rebounded, however, with the 1940 Cary Grant/Jimmy Stewart film The Philadelphia Story, which won her a New York Film Critic's award and an Oscar nomination. Soon, Hepburn was back on top, making films with such famous leading men as Humphrey Bogart in The African Queen (1951), John Wayne in Rooster Cogburn (1975), and Spencer Tracy, with whom she appeared in Keeper of the Flame (1942), Adam's Rib (1949), and Pat and Mike (1952). While it was rumored that Hepburn was having an affair with Tracy, he was a married Roman Catholic and refused to divorce his estranged wife. Hepburn later confessed that she had a strong attraction for the actor, who died in 1967 just after they made the movie Guess Who's Coming to Dinner (1967) with Sidney Poitier. Hepburn never remarried or had children; she was devoted to her career and always maintained she never had any regrets over this choice. She received Oscar awards for best actress for Morning Glory (1933), Guess Who's Coming to Dinner (1967), The Lion in Winter (1968), and On Golden Pond (1981). Many of her appearances toward the end of her career were on television, and included The Glass Menagerie (1973); Love among the Ruins (1975), for which she won an Emmy Award; The Man Upstairs (1992); and One Christmas (1994). Her last starring role was in the 1994 film Love Affair. By the late 1990s declining health finally slowed the energetic performer, whose colorful life is recorded in her autobiography Me: Stories of My Life (1991). Hepburn was also the author of World of Stories: Six Stories Told by Katharine Hepburn (1983) and The Making of "The African Queen"; or, How I Went to Africa with Bogart, Bacall, and Huston and Almost Lost My Mind (1987).



International Dictionary of Films and Filmmakers, fourth edition, Volume 3: Actors and Actresses, St. James Press (Detroit, MI), 2000.

McDonogh, Gary W., Robert Gregg, and Cindy H. Wong, editors, Encyclopedia of Contemporary American Culture, Routledge (New York, NY), 2001.

Sonneborn, Liz, A to Z of American Women in the Performing Arts, Facts on File (New York, NY), 2002.


Chicago Tribune, June 30, 2003, section 1, pp. 1, 12.

Los Angeles Times, June 30, 2003, pp. A1, A12.

New York Times, June 30, 2003, p. A1.

Times (London, England), July 1, 2003.

Washington Post, June 30, 2003, pp. A1, A8.