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Katharine Houghton Hepburn (May 12, 1907 – June 29, 2003) was an American actress. Known for her fierce independence and spirited personality, Hepburn was a leading lady in Hollywood for more than 60 years. She has been romantically linked to Irene Mayer Selznick, Phyllis Wilbourn, Judy Hollywood, Billie Burke, Denise Parker, Nancy Hamilton, Alice Palache, Constance Collier.
According to Alan Royle, Kate’s more serious female relationships included Judy Garland for several years, Claudette Colbert for over a decade, Laura Barney Harding (heiress to the American Express fortune) for much of her adult life, Judy Holliday for several months, Jane Loring (film editor) for years and Elissa Landi. As for the men in her life there was, of course, Spencer Tracy for decades, Robert Walker (although she was more a surrogate mother image than lover), Paul Henreid late in life (until he opted to remain with his wife), agent Leland Hayward, Howard Hughes, John Ford, George Stevens, John Barrymore, Jimmy Stewart, Charles Boyer, Joseph Cotten, Van Heflin, Ernest Hemingway, Kenneth MacKenna and Robert Mitchum.
Hepburn appeared in a range of genres, from screwball comedy to literary drama, and she received four Academy Awards—a record for any performer—for Best Actress. In 1999, Hepburn was named by the American Film Institute as the greatest female star of Classic Hollywood Cinema.
Raised in Connecticut by wealthy, progressive parents, Hepburn began to act while studying at Bryn Mawr College. After four years in the theatre, favorable reviews of her work on Broadway brought her to the attention of Hollywood. Her early years in the film industry were marked with success, including an Academy Award for her third picture, Morning Glory (1933), but this was followed by a series of commercial failures that led her to be labeled "box office poison" in 1938. Hepburn masterminded her own comeback, buying out her contract with RKO Radio Pictures and acquiring the film rights to The Philadelphia Story, which she sold on the condition that she be the star. In the 1940s, she was contracted to Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, where her career focused on an alliance with Spencer Tracy. The screen partnership spanned 25 years and produced nine movies.
Hepburn challenged herself in the latter half of her life, as she regularly appeared in Shakespearean stage productions and tackled a range of literary roles. She found a niche playing middle-aged spinsters, such as in The African Queen (1951), a persona the public embraced. Three more Oscars came for her work in Guess Who's Coming to Dinner (1967), The Lion in Winter (1968), and On Golden Pond (1981). In the 1970s, she began appearing in television films, which became the focus of her career in later life. She remained active into old age, making her final screen appearance in 1994 at the age of 87. After a period of inactivity and ill health, Hepburn died in 2003 at the age of 96.
Hepburn famously shunned the Hollywood publicity machine and refused to conform to society's expectations of women. She was outspoken, assertive, athletic, and wore trousers before it was fashionable for women to do so. She was briefly married as a young woman, but thereafter lived independently. A 26-year affair with her co-star Spencer Tracy was hidden from the public. With her unconventional lifestyle and the independent characters she brought to the screen, Hepburn epitomized the "modern woman" in the 20th-century United States and is remembered as an important cultural figure.
American Academy of Dramatic Arts
The Savoy, London
Hepburn's only husband was Ludlow Ogden Smith, a socialite-businessman from Philadelphia whom she met while a student at Bryn Mawr. The couple married on December 12, 1928, when she was 21 and he was 29. Hepburn had Smith change his name to S. Ogden Ludlow so that she would not be known as "Kate Smith", which she considered too plain. She never fully committed to the marriage and prioritized her career. The move to Hollywood in 1932 cemented the couple's estrangement, and in 1934, she traveled to Mexico to get a quick divorce. Hepburn often expressed her gratitude toward Smith for his financial and moral support in the early days of her career, and in her autobiography called herself "a terrible pig" for exploiting his love. The pair remained friends until his death in 1979.
Soon after moving to California, Hepburn began a relationship with her agent, Leland Hayward, although they were both married. Hayward proposed to the actress once they had each divorced but she declined, later explaining, "I liked the idea of being my own single self." They were involved for four years. In 1936, while she was touring Jane Eyre, Hepburn began a relationship with entrepreneur Howard Hughes. She had been introduced to him a year earlier by their mutual friend Cary Grant. Hughes wished to marry her, and the tabloids reported their impending nuptials, but Hepburn was too focused on resurrecting her failing career. They separated in 1938, when Hepburn left Hollywood after being labeled "box office poison".
In the 1950s, after lesbian actress Constance Collier died, her "companion," Phyllis Wilbourn, lived with Hepburn, and was buried in the Hepburn family plot.
Hepburn's New York apartment
Hepburn stuck to her decision not to remarry, and made a conscious choice not to have children. She believed that motherhood should be a full-time commitment, and said it was not one she was willing to make. "I would have been a terrible mother," she told Berg, "because I'm basically a very selfish human being." She felt she had partially experienced parenthood through her much younger siblings, which fulfilled any need to have children of her own. Rumors have existed since the 1930s that Hepburn may have been a lesbian or bisexual, which she often joked about. In 2007, William J. Mann released a biography of the actress in which he argued this was the case and her partner was Laura Barney Harding. In response to this speculation about her aunt, Katharine Houghton said, "I've never discovered any evidence whatsoever that she was a lesbian." However, in a 2017 documentary, columnist Liz Smith, who was a close friend, attested to the fact that she was.
Hepburn stated in her eighties, "I have no fear of death. Must be wonderful, like a long sleep." Her health began to deteriorate not long after her final screen appearance, and she was hospitalized in March 1993 for exhaustion. In the winter of 1996, she was hospitalized with pneumonia. By 1997, she had become very weak, was speaking and eating very little, and it was feared she would die. She showed signs of dementia in her final years. In May 2003, an aggressive tumor was found in Hepburn's neck. The decision was made not to medically intervene, and she died from a cardiac arrest on June 29, 2003, a month after her 96th birthday at the Hepburn family home in Fenwick, Connecticut. She was buried in Cedar Hill Cemetery in Hartford. Hepburn requested that there be no memorial service.
Hepburn's death received considerable public attention. Many tributes were held on television, and newspapers and magazines dedicated issues to the actress. American president George W. Bush said Hepburn "will be remembered as one of the nation's artistic treasures." In honor of her extensive theatre work, the lights of Broadway were dimmed for the evening of July 1, 2003. In 2004, in accordance with Hepburn's wishes, her belongings were put up for auction with Sotheby's in New York City. The event garnered $5.8 million, which Hepburn willed to her family.[
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