On This Day in History: Katharine Hepburn's Death
Katharine Hepburn was, quite frankly, a badass. Born in Hartford, Connecticut on May 12, 1907, she was the second of five children born into the Hepburn family. Her mother was a suffrage activist, while her Urologist father sought to educate the public about the prevention of sexually transmitted diseases, and they both encouraged Katharine to speak out, sharpen her mind, and engage with the world as fully as possible. Life for the affluent family was very liberal, and Katharine loved things like Tennis, horsback riding, swimming, and gymnastics. She and her siblings also came up with a family act that they performed around the neighborhood in order to raise money for charity. Sadly, their peaceful life would take a turn for the worse in 1921. A 14-year-old Katharine found her older brother, Tom, hanging from the rafters in their family home. It was ruled as a suicide, but the family believes it was the result of a failed magic trick he had been practicing. Needless to say, Katharine was devastated. She withdrew from society for several years and adopted her brother's birthday (November 8) as her own. She re-emerged in 1924 when she went to college. However, she was far from an exemplary student, and she got into trouble several times for smoking, breaking curfew, and swimming naked in the campus fountain. Hepburn graduated college with a Bachelor of the Arts degree and immediately decided to hit the stage. She started out with a small Broadway role that caught the attention of director George Cukor, who invited Katharine for a Hollywood screen test. The rest, as they say, is history. Katharine made waves when she hit Hollywood in 1932. Here was this tall, athletic, outspoken woman who wasn't afraid to be herself, and she was taking Hollywood by storm. Katharine was extremely confident, fiercely independent, and she wasn't about to let the expectations of others influence her lifestyle. She was often labeled as too aggressive or too masculine, and the directors often had to "soften her up" so she could play love scenes. Another difference between Katherine and other leading ladies was her devotion to wearing trousers. Katharine was known for her androgynous style, and she refused to wear skirts in everyday life. She was so attached to trousers that, while working at RKO studios, they took her jeans away in hopes of persuading her to wear a skirt. Instead, Katharine showed up to work in her underwear and refused to cover up until her pants were returned. Hollywood was as much a leader than as it is now, and Katharine's trousers caused a major controversy in the fashion world. This was a time when women were getting arrested for wearing trousers in public and "impersonating" men, and having an icon like Hepburn, who blatantly refused to follow societies rules, helped turn the fashion tide. In her 1993 biography, Hepburn stated that "I realized long ago that skirts are hopeless. Anytime I hear a man say he prefers a woman in a skirt, I say 'try one. try a skirt.'" Her choice may have been based on personal comfort, but her iconic look was so influential that the Council of Fashion Designers of America gave her a Lifetime Achievement Award in 1986. Those trousers were but a small facet of this brilliant, sharp-witted goddess of the silver screen, and I wish I had the time to give you an in-depth look at her remarkable life. We could talk about her only marriage to Ludlow Ogden Smith, and how she made him change his name to S. Ogden Ludlow because she didn't want to be known as "Kate Smith." We could go over the fact that Philadelphia Story was written specifically with her in mind, and she performed it both on Broadway and on screen. Or, we could look into her volatile 27-year affair with Spencer Tracy and how she didn't go to his funeral out of respect for his wife and kids. Katharine Hepburn left behind several legacies when she died on June 29, 2003, and I fully believe that she will be remembered for generations to come! To learn more about this legendary actress, check out Katharine Hepburn, Biography, Vanity Fair, The New York Times, and Daily Mail. The photos came from The New York Post and Screen Prism.