There is no shortage of iconic women in the history of cinema. From activists like Jane Fonda to trailblazers like Dorothy Arzner, over the decades there have been women who have inspired, challenged and captivated audiences with their talents. Yet among all these brilliant women, there is one in particular who bewitched my body and my soul; who by her eccentricity, her challenge and her incredible talent never ceases to amaze: the one and only Katharine Hepburn.
“Katharine Hepburn was the antithesis of what the patriarchal, domineering studio system thought a woman in Hollywood should be.”
What can’t you say about Katharine Hepburn? Named the greatest female legend of all time by the American Film Institute, during her 60-year career, Hepburn set the record for most Oscar wins in any acting category (four, plus twelve nominations), and has worked with everyone from Lucille Ball to Anthony Hopkins. Add to that a dazzling spirit, a passion for feminism and women’s empowerment, and a timeless style that challenges gender roles (those pants! The three-piece costumes!), And you have an icon in movie history who has achieved her immense success by being anything but ordinary.
Hepburn’s rise to fame has been as brash and brilliant as Hepburn herself. Scouted during his time on Broadway The warrior’s husband, Hepburn was snatched from the theater world and brought to RKO Studios, making her first film, A divorce certificate, in 1932. Just two films and dozens of positive reviews later, she had already won an Oscar. It was around this time that Hepburn performed his iconic first role as Jo in the 1933 adaptation of Little woman. In many ways, Hepburn is Jo; strong-willed, assertive and very resistant to gender norms. She was determined never to marry, commenting “I loved the idea of being alone”, wore slacks and suits, and defended herself by negotiating contracts that gave her an unprecedented degree of agency. at a time when studios could control every aspect of an actor’s life. In short, she was the antithesis of what the patriarchal, domineering studio system thought a woman in Hollywood should be.
All this idiosyncrasy comes to a head in the 1938 comedy classic Raising baby, starring Hepburn as hesitant but headstrong Susan, alongside Cary Grant as introverted paleontologist David – two acquaintances inadvertently tasked with caring for a pet leopard (the titular baby). In a film filled with wacky moments and over-the-top performances, Hepburn is nonetheless an electrifying presence, stealing every scene she finds herself in as she smashes cars into trees, argues with a leopard, and generally makes life out of it. David a giant mess. Yet, amid all the hilarity, Hepburn proves that she’s more than just comedic relief; when David demands that Susan leave his side because of all the disarray she’s caused, Susan collapses, her confident exterior giving way to heavy sobs as she exclaims, “Everything I do with them. best intentions seem to go wrong. It’s an undeniably moving and effective scene that exemplifies Hepburn’s talent, transforming the giddy female comedic trope into a fully realized character, just as tender and poignant as she is fiery and hilarious.
“Watching Katharine Hepburn is watching a woman who doesn’t care what the world thinks … a proud feminist who is leading the way for future generations.”
Hepburn had a second career high in the 1950s and 1960s. The dry humor and dynamic energy that made her a star in her youth has remained, as seen in the 1968 film. The lion in winter, which stars Hepburn in an Oscar-winning performance as Eleanor of Aquitaine facing Peter O’Toole as King Henry II in a political struggle to determine who will heir to the throne. A very different role than the fiery and wacky-looking Susan, Eleanor is cool, calculating, and intelligent, a sarcastic joke or fierce rebuttal always on the tip of her tongue, and Hepburn plays it to perfection. During a confrontation between Henry and Eleanor, Hepburn brims with pain and barely restrained retribution, recounting Henry’s cruelty to her before viciously declaring, “I could peel you like a pear, and God himself. would call that justice. ” This is just one of the many moments in the film where Hepburn demonstrates her great skill, a strong and straightforward woman filling every frame with her captivating presence.
Katharine Hepburn is worth discussing now, days after what would have been her 114th birthday, at a time when women in the film industry are asserting themselves both in front of and behind the camera in a way that, there is. just a few years ago, would have seemed unimaginable.
Watching Katharine Hepburn, whether in her films or in the few interviews she gave during her lifetime, is watching a woman who doesn’t care what the world thinks, who can make an audience laugh or cry with the same skill, a proud feminist who paves the way for future generations by demanding nothing less than the best and offering nothing less than the best.
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