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Katharine Hepburn Biography (1907–2003)

Katharine Hepburn was a spirited and eccentric actress who appeared in such classic films as ‘The African Queen,’ ‘Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner’ and ‘On Golden Pond.’

Who Was Katharine Hepburn?

Born on May 12, 1907, in Hartford, Connecticut, Katharine Hepburn became an unlikely Hollywood star in the 1930s with her beauty, wit, and the eccentric strength with which she imbued her characters. Over a career that lasted more than six decades, she took home a record four Academy Award wins for acting. Hepburn died at her home in Old Saybrook, Connecticut, on June 29, 2003.


Early Life

Katharine Houghton Hepburn was born May 12, 1907, in Hartford, Connecticut, to Katharine Martha Houghton, a suffrage activist, and Dr. Thomas Norval Hepburn, a urologist who sought to educate the public about the prevention of sexually transmitted diseases. A liberal-minded family, the Hepburns encouraged young Katharine to speak out, sharpen her mind and engage with the world as fully as possible. The Hepburns’ happy family life took a tragic in 1921, however, when Katharine made the horrifying discovery of her older brother, Tom, dead, hanging from the ceiling of his room. The loss of her beloved brother completely debilitated Katharine. For years, she withdrew almost entirely from those around her, for a time even adopting Tom’s birthday (November 8) as her own.

Fortunately for filmgoers everywhere, Katharine Hepburn overcame this great tragedy of her childhood to become one of the most enduring legends in cinema history. Over the course of more than six decades in Hollywood, she earned twelve Academy Award nominations and won an unprecedented four Best Actress Oscars.

Becoming a Star

While attending the all-women’s Bryn Mawr College near Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Katharine Hepburn fell in love with acting. After graduating from the school in 1928 with a degree in history, she spent the next several years acting in plays in and around New York, appearing in productions both on and off Broadway. She got her big break into screen acting when an RKO Radio Pictures talent scout spotted her in a Broadway performance and offered her an audition for a role starring opposite John Barrymore in the 1932 film A Bill of Divorcement. Hepburn got the part and never looked back.

A Bill of Divorcement became a hit, and RKO offered Hepburn a lucrative long-term contract to make films for the studio. Hepburn won the first of her four Academy Awards just a year later, for her performance in Morning Glory, opposite Douglas Fairbanks Jr. and Adolphe Menjou. Soon after, her performance as Jo in the hit big-screen adaptation of the beloved Louisa May Alcott novel Little Women won her great acclaim, and Hepburn became known throughout the world as a formidable onscreen presence with a fierce intelligence unique among actresses of her stature.

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