Actress. Born May 12, 1907, in Hartford, Connecticut. She was the eldest of six children of Thomas Hepburn, a urological surgeon, and Katharine Houghton Hepburn, a prominent feminist who campaigned actively for women’s rights.
Hepburn spent a privileged childhood in the wealthy New England town of Hartford, where she attended Hartford School for Girls. She continued her education at Pennsylvania’s Bryn Mawr College, studying history and philosophy. Upon receiving her bachelor’s degree in 1928, Hepburn set her sights on an acting career. She quickly won a small role with a Baltimore stock company, making her stage debut in a production of The Czarina. Within a few months she landed a small part in the short-lived Broadway play Night Hostess (1928).
Hepburn spent the next few years in supporting roles, finally dazzling critics and audiences with her portrayal of the mythic Antiope in the play The Warrior’s Husband (1932). On the strength of her stage performance, she was contracted by RKO Studios. After delivering an impressive screen test, she was cast opposite John Barrymore in the George Cukor film A Bill of Divorcement (1932). The project proved to be an auspicious debut for Hepburn, who followed the film’s immediate success with equally compelling performances in Little Woman and Morning Glory (both 1933). For the latter film, she earned her first Academy Award for Best Actress for her portrayal of Eva Lovelace, an aspiring actress who comes to New York in search of fame and fortune.
Hepburn returned to Broadway in the 1934 production The Lake, in which her performance was upbraided by drama critic Dorothy Parker who famously quipped that Hepburn “runs the gamut of emotions from A to B.” Despite her initial success, Hepburn’s popularity waned throughout the 1930s. Her film projects ranged from the successful Alice Adams (1935) to the box-office disasters Sylvia Scarlett (1935) and Mary of Scotland (1936). Refusing to give interviews or sign autographs, she was viewed as arrogant by both critics and audiences. Her detachment made her a low box office draw and strained her relationship with RKO, with whom she severed her contract in 1937.
Free from studio commitments, Hepburn collaborated with screenwriter Philip Barry to create the play The Philadelphia Story. She assumed the custom-tailored role of Tracy Lord in the 1938 Broadway production, which met with favorable reviews. Two years later, she reprised the role in the film adaptation, which costarred Cary Grant and James Stewart. The movie triumphed at the box office, earned Hepburn an Academy Award nomination, and rejuvenated her flagging screen career.
Hepburn scored another success with the 1942 film Woman of the Year, which was her first screen project with Spencer Tracy. Her performance as an icy political reporter humbled by Tracy’s brash unaffected character marked the beginning of one of the greatest pairings in cinema history. The film also initiated an offscreen romance between the two actors. Hepburn and Tracy would star opposite each other in eight more films, including Adam’s Rib (1949), Pat and Mike (1952), and Desk Set (1957). The unorthodox film Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner? (1967) featured Tracy in his final dramatic performance and awarded Hepburn a second Oscar for Best Actress. Shortly after the film’s release, Tracy died of heart failure, ending the couple’s legendary 26-year relationship.
As she aged, Hepburn demonstrated remarkable staying power by gracefully making a transition into more mature roles. She offered stellar performances as a passionate missionary in John Huston’s The African Queen (1951) and as a drug-addicted mother in Long Day's Journey Into Night (1962), based on the life of famed playwright Eugene O’Neill.
In 1968, Hepburn took home her third Academy Award for her part as Queen Eleanor (opposite Peter O’Toole’s King Henry II) in the historical film A Lion in the Winter. The following year, she returned to Broadway, earning critical acclaim for her performance as the legendary fashion designer Gabrielle Chanel in the musical Coco.
Throughout the 1970s, Hepburn turned her attention toward television, appearing in a handful of impressive projects, including The Glass Menagerie (1973), Love Among the Ruins (1975), and The Corn is Green (1978). In 1981, the 74-year-old actress earned an unprecedented fourth Academy Award for her performance in the sentimental drama On Golden Pond.
Following a 13-year absence, Hepburn returned to film acting in 1994 with a role in the timeless story Love Affair (a remake of 1957’s An Affair to Remember, which starred Cary Grant and Deborah Kerr). As the aristocratic aunt of Warren Beatty, Hepburn's performace was credited by many critics as the highlight of the otherwise stale film.
In 1928, Hepburn married Ludlow Ogden Smith, whom she divorced in 1934. Before meeting Tracy, she was romantically involved with producer Howard Hughes.
In 1991, Hepburn published an autobiography — Me: Stories of My Life. She currently lives an extremely reclusive life on her family’s beachfront estate in a suburb of Connecticut. She was admitted to a Hartford, Connecticut, hospital in July 2001 to undergo treatment for a minor infection, but doctors expected her to recover fully and she was discharged shortly thereafter.
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