“Katharine Hepburn runs the gamut of emotions from A to B.” This quote, by famed writer-critic Dorothy Parker, was put forth about an early performance of Katharine Hepburn. As a young actress, Kate was also dubbed "box office poison.”
Born and raised to have an independent mind and spirit, young Kate broke the mold of every actress in history. She wore pants and no make-up, and refused to pose for pictures, grant interviews or sign autographs. She wasn't popular or well-liked in Hollywood.
But as we all know, she was, within a few short years, to become one of the most acclaimed and admired actresses in the history of Hollywood and the movies. She is truly now regarded as one of the movies' immortal figures- imitated, studied, and admired by any and every actress, young or old. To put it in simplest terms, Katharine Hepburn was the Meryl Streep of her time.
Katherine Hepburn in Morning Glory.
It was for the 1932-33 Academy Awards that Katharine received her very first Oscar nomination. Young Kate was nominated for her performance as “Eva Lovelace" in the movie Morning Glory. Her nomination was surprising enough, and she didn't even bother to show up for the awards ceremony. (In retrospect, one wonders if she would have found the evening's show amusing.)
Host for the ceremony that year was legendary liberal humorist, Will Rogers. Rogers was quite possibly the most beloved comedian-humorist in American history. He was definitely slanted left as a liberal, but conservatives loved him and were hardly ever offended by his humor. He showed so much common sense in his observations, no one took any offense at his remarks and barbs.
Rogers spent much of the evening making wisecracks about the Republicans, Hollywood big shots and phonies, even Oscars lobbying (this predated Jon Stewart's similar targets in his Oscar hosting stint by 73 years).
His rudest joke, however, was reserved for the awarding of the evening's Best Actress award.
That year, besides Katharine, there were two other nominees for Best Actress": Mae Robson for Lady for a Day and Diana Wynard for Cavalcade.
Rogers was handed the official envelope with the Best Actress winner listed on it. Upon receiving the envelope, Rogers opened it and summoned the other two nominees, May Robson and Diana Wynard, up on stage with him. The two nominees, May and Diana, excitedly rushed up on stage. Of course, they thought they had both won, assuming that it was a tie. (A tie had happened just the previous year for the Best Actor award).
May Robson in Lady for a Day (left) and Diana Wynard in Cavalcade.
Instead, Rogers thanked both women for their performance, and announced that the award for Best Actress had been awarded to Katharine Hepburn. (Funny perhaps...but what a creep!)
As the two embarrassed women stood awkwardly on stage, the audience looked on, baffled and confused. The crowd was stunned and responded with a round of half-hearted applause. One can easily imagine what the two ladies must have been thinking about Will Rogers as they awkwardly made their way back to their seats in the audience.
Hollywood eventually did warm up to Kate Hepburn, bestowing three more Oscars on her, more than any actress (or actor) in movie history. She also received 13 Oscar nominations, a record that stood until the perennial Meryl Streep smashed it with 16 (so far!).
Although she never bothered to show up at any of the Oscar ceremonies, Kate was genuinely moved. In 1998, she confessed that she felt touched by her Academy Awards. “They gave me their respect and their affection. It was a revelation. The the generous heart of the industry,” she said wistfully.
Her final film was 1994's Love Affair, a remake of an earlier classic. In 1991, she published her memoirs, Me: Stories of My Life, in which she told her story with characteristic candor and forthrightness. Late in her career, she made several critically acclaimed appearances on Broadway.
Katharine Hepburn died on June 29, 2003 at the age of 96. Even after her death, she proved she could still win Oscars, when Cate Blanchett took home a statuette for playing her in The Aviator (2004).
See also: A Truly Humilating Oscar Moment.