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Last Updated: Monday, 30 June, 2003, 08:31 GMT 09:31 UK
Obituary: Katharine Hepburn
Katharine Hepburn
Queen of the silver screen
Katharine Hepburn, who has died aged 96, conveyed a haughty, no nonsense female strength which ran counter to the conventional glamour queen.

She came from a well-heeled Connecticut family and would bring to Hollywood a confidence born of wealth, and an independence inherited from her suffragette mother.

"I've had a pretty remarkable life, but compared to my mother and father, I'm dull," she once said.

Despite a privileged upbringing her teenage years were marred by tragedy. Her brother Tom, two years older than her, hanged himself when she was 14. Hepburn discovered his body.

Katharine Hepburn
The star refused to perform for less than $1500 a week

After graduating from Bryn Mawr College in Pennsylvania with a drama degree, she became a Broadway actress. Films soon followed.

In her early movies she often portrayed strong characters. She won the first of four Oscars at the age of 26 in her third picture, Morning Glory.

Her forthright style lent itself equally to drama and comedy. She starred opposite Cary Grant in the ultimate 1930s screwball comedy, Bringing Up Baby.

Off-screen, she used her New England class and determination to dictate her own terms. Even in the 1940s she refused to work for less than $1,500 (1,000) a week.

An intelligent, individualistic woman, she often refused inappropriate casting, publicity and the superficialities of Hollywood fashion and society.

Private life

From the moment she arrived in Hollywood, Katharine Hepburn projected an image quite different from that of the usual movie star.

Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn
Spencer Tracy was Hepburn's greatest love
She strode through town in slacks, refused to grant interviews, shunned autograph hounds, and kept her private life tightly sealed.

Her career had ups and downs. During the 1930s several of her films flopped and she was dubbed "box office poison" by a leading exhibitor.

She took time out for love. Her affair with the millionaire Howard Hughes lasted four years.

"In my relationships, I know that I have qualities that are offensive to people - especially men. I'm loud and talkative and I get on to subjects that irritate," she once admitted.

But the love of her life was the actor Spencer Tracy, with whom she spent 27 years and made nine films.

When the pair first met, Tracy was said to have been upset when Hepburn, seven years his junior, said he was smaller than she expected.

But he is said to have retorted: "I'll soon cut you down to my size."

The relationship was unusual. Despite being together for the best part of three decades, they never married.

Henry Fonda and Katharine Hepburn
She won one of her Oscars for On Golden Pond, starring Henry Fonda

Tracy, a devout Roman Catholic, would not divorce his wife Louise. He remained married to her until his death in 1967.

Hepburn admitted their relationship was often stormy.

"We each had a wild desire to be famous. I think that this was a dominant character failing. People who want to be famous are really loners. Or they should be," she said.

Independent personality

Shortly before his death, they starred in Guess Who's Coming To Dinner. In this, their last film together, they tackled racism as a couple agonising over their daughter's choice of fiance.

Tracy died two weeks after the film's completion, and Hepburn refused to watch it

Some called Katharine Hepburn cantankerous. After an electrifying performance with Peter O'Toole in The Lion In Winter, it emerged she had actually hit him during filming.

She said it had improved his performance.

Katharine Hepburn
Hepburn's film career lasted until 1994

"I'm a personality as well as an actress," she once declared.

"Show me an actress who isn't a personality, and you'll show me a woman who isn't a star."

Her independence of the image-makers enabled her to work continually throughout her life.

With the film On Golden Pond, she won an unprecedented fourth Oscar for her remarkable portrait of a resolute woman, like Katharine Hepburn herself, growing old with grace and grit.

She made her last film, This Can't Be Love, in 1994.

In 1999, the American Film Institute ranked her the greatest actress of all time.

Her record of 12 Oscar nominations was only matched by Meryl Streep this year.


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