Wednesday, May 12, 2010

A Connecticut Yankee in King Mayer's Court

If we cared a little more about her, we would have realized that today was Katharine Hepburn's birthday, and held off on our carra rirries post for 24 hours. We realize that this borders on blasphemy, but we always found the Great Kate to be something of a silly bore. We're not particularly fans of her celebrated comedies with Spence; she annoys us in The Philadelphia Story (1940) - although one could argue, that's the entire point of her character; and by the time you get to Guess Who's Coming to Dinner (1967) and The Lion in Winter (1968), the tics and mannerisms just about drive us nuts.

The two exceptions to our patented dislike for the Hepburn touch are Bringing Up Baby (1938), where her manic, chatterbox style is tempered by an uncharacteristic femininity, and offset by the brilliance of Howard Hawks, Cary Grant and Asta; and Suddenly, Last Summer (1959), where Hepburn gets to sink her teeth and claws into a delicious gorgon of a role. Everything else - eh.

Just the perfect blendship: HEPBURN, CARY GRANT, MAY ROBSON and ASTA in Bringing Up Baby (1938)

The meanest mother of them all: HEPBURN as Violet Venable in Suddenly, Last Summer (1959)

Like another overrated icon with great cheekbones (no names, please, but initials "G.G."), we will probably never fully understand the mystique of Katharine Hepburn, but respectfully recognize her importance, her legacy, and commit to re-watching at least Stage Door (1937) in order to better appreciate her talents.

May 12, 1907 - June 29, 2003


  1. can't say i disagree with you. however, i did enjoy reading about her; scott berg's book was quite good. well, the parts that weren't historic filler that is.

  2. Oh come on! Completely agreed on GG--I have never seen her in anything where she wasn't just slightly above amateurish, except for fleeting glimpses. But I also, often, feel the same way about Bette Davis, which is far higher blasphemy than a little Kate hate.

    Agreed on Philadelphia Story, but Desk Set is fantastic, and Lion in Winter is probably my favorite Hepburn performance. "YOUR FATHER HAD SCAAAHHHHS ON HIS AAHMS!" "I'd hang you from the nipples, but you'd frighten the children" "What kind of spindly, ricket-ridden, milky, wizened, dim-eyed, gammy-handed, limpy line of things will you beget?!" I could go on...

  3. Not surprisingly, I am sort of in the same boat with you TJB. I also, like Billy D, enjoy her Lion in Winter, too, and :::gasp::: On Golden Pond. I don't dislike Kate as much as fail to be captivated by her. One of my best friends is obsessed with her to the point of ridiculousness and I'm always like, "Whaa?" But I can't throw stones because I have so many of my own oddball fascinations!

  4. Finally!! At long last there is something we actually disagree on! Well really, two things as I also like GG.

    While you are giving her one last chance, try "Holiday" (again?). Even if you don't like her, it's a sweet and strange little film.

    Mad about you.

  5. i can't remember all the hepburn stories, but i know i enjoyed the michael jackson coming to dinner one (with maybe sondheim next door and wanting an autograph?) AND kate & irene selznick in LA exploring new homes and while snooping upstairs realizing that the house wasn't empty & kate marching down the steps, arm outstretched saying, "how do you do, i'm katharine hepburn!"

    wouldn't you just love that?

  6. What a refreshing article! I also dislike intensely all her films with Spencer Tracy. Everything she made after "A Long's Day Journey Into Night", with the exception of "A Lion in Winter", was second rate at best. I think that her best performance, bar none, was as Violet Venable in "Suddenly, Last Summer". I would have given her the Oscar instead of Simone Signoret, as great as she was.
    Now, Bette Davis is the only actor/actress to deserve four Oscars. Nobody else. Certainly not Kate.

  7. Oh dear. Well, one can not love every role that any actor of actress could undertake. Even Bette Davis had some stinkers (Bunny O'Hare, anyone?) and Kate had her share.

    But lets not lose sight of what she did accomplish and needs to be respected. In the late 1930s, Hollywood was trying to figure out how to get rid of Hepburn because theater owners hated her films because people didn't like to pay to see her. Nevermind that they put her into dogs like Sylvia Scarlett, et. al.

    When the Philadelphia Story became available, Hepburn jumped in front of the studios and bought the film rights, knoiwing full well that if she didn't grab them for herself that they could have cast Rosiland Russell in the role that Hepburn coveted. So she went to the bargaining table and struck a deal taht teh studios thought would save the picture - Cary Grant and Jimmy Stewart as co-stars. Hepburn, no fool, saw this as insurance for the picture as well.

    The film was a HUGE success. Moreover it cemented Hepburn's roll in Hollywood. There is a very reason why in the famous MGM Actor/Actress group photo taken during WWII that she is seated to the night hand of god (Mayer) himself, in pants no less. Quite a coup for any employee who just six years before was problem, not an actor.

    My favorite Kate movies include Holiday, Desk Set, Adam's Rib and Lion. I only care for one scene in Guess Who's Coming to Dinner, and thats where she reads her Art Gallery employee the riot act ad then tells her to clean out her desk and disappear.

    One last, interesting thing to think about - Hollywood never cast in the role of a mother of young children, did they?

  8. I love Kate Hepburn ("Stage Door", "Philadelphia Story" - hell, I love "Desk Set"). But you dish her to dirt with such wit, I just had to laugh and roll with it.

  9. choklitdad: I consider that a great compliment, and thank you.

  10. But the "tics and mannerisms" of Bette Davis leave you undisturbed?