Katharine Hepburn (1907-2003)
As a result of a string of unsuccessful films, and despite the fact that she had already won an Academy Award for Best Actress for 1934’s “Morning Glory” - Katharine Hepburn could not get a job with any of Hollywood’s studios in the late-1930s. She was labeled as “box office poison”.
Did she accept this fate? Far from it!
In 1939 she was cast in the role of Tracy Lord in the Philip Barry play “The Philadelphia Story”. In fact, Barry specifically wrote the play just for Hepburn. She not only starred in the play… she also financed it’s production and refused to take a salary for the role.
The play was a major success on Broadway.
Howard Hughes purchased the film rights to the play and presented them to Hepburn as a gift. This would lead to a major turning point in her career! Just about every studio wanted to make the film. In the end, Hepburn decided to sell the film rights to MGM Studio’s Louis B. Mayer for a mere $250,000.00… but there was a catch: MGM would make the film, but Hepburn would retain the right to choose - along with Mayer - the film’s producer, director, screenwriter and cast. This was virtually unheard of in Hollywood at the time!
Together, Hepburn and Mayer chose an incredible cast, including Cary Grant and James Stewart as the films two leading men… Ruth Hussey in a supporting role and, of course, Hepburn in the lead role of Tracy Lord.
“The Philadelphia Story” was released on December 26, 1940. It was an instant success! The film went on to earn six Academy Award nominations (Outstanding Production… Best Director… Best Actor… Best Actress… Best Screenplay… and Best Supporting Actress). It won two Academy Awards: “Best Actor” for James Stewart and “Best Supporting Actress” for Ruth Hussey.
No… despite receiving the nomination, the film did not result in another Best Actress Academy Award win for Hepburn… but that’s not important. What IS important is that the film completely jumpstarted her career.
Hepburn would go on to earn NINE more Academy Award nominations in the category of Best Actress between 1943 and 1982. Of those nine nominations, three would result in wins for her roles in “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner” (1968), “The Lion in Winter” (1969) and “On Golden Pond” (1982). Four of Hepburn’s films (“Bringing Up Baby”, “The Philadelphia Story”, “The African Queen” and “Guess Who's Coming to Dinner”) are included in the American Film Institute’s list of the 100 Greatest American Films of all time.
Katharine Hepburn is the perfect example of “not giving up when others are knocking you down”. For that I find her to be a true inspiration!
* * *