In honor of Women’s Equality Day, this week, I am obsessing about Katharine Hepburn, one of Hollywood’s great leading ladies. My earliest memories of Kate are actually imitations of her. I remember seeing caricatures of her in the cartoons I watched as a child, and then countless comedians poke fun of her accent, which became more pronounced as she aged. I’ve adored countless classic actresses in Hollywood (Audrey Hepburn, Grace Kelly, Claudette Colbert, Greta Garbo and Bette Davis among others) but something about Kate always stands out and sets her apart from the “traditional” Hollywood leading lady.
When Hepburn walked into a room, she commanded it. Not through her impeccable fashion sense, or her striking looks, but through her wit, intelligence and great booming laugh. She lived her life on her terms, not afraid to buck traditions (including wearing trousers when it wasn’t popular to do so), or having a great disdain for makeup (can’t say that I share that sentiment with her). She also broke curfew, smoked and went swimming naked in the Cloisters fountain on Bryn Mawr’s campus after dark. Typical for today’s campus life, but totally outside the norm in the late 1920s. Hepburn was also socially progressive, and spoke up on behalf of fellow actors, directors and writers who faced Hollywood’s blacklists during the Red Scare of the 1940s.
It wasn’t until I was in grad school studying film that I truly appreciated Hepburn’s work. It’s easy to get wrapped up in the beauty of Hollywood women. What girl hasn’t watched their favorite actresses and wished that they had their hair, makeup, body, fame, boyfriend/husband, clothing and shoes? I’m completely guilty of this, but when I watch Hepburn films, I find myself wishing for her strength, comedic timing, delivery of her convictions and fierce protection of those she loves and cares for. My favorite Hepburn films, Bringing up Baby, The Philadelphia Story, Adam’s Rib and Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner all showcase these traits. Whether she’s a socialite delighting in the discomfort of her former husband, a free-spirit who convinces a stuffy scientist to loosen up, a lawyer who goes toe to toe with her conservative husband in the courtroom to ensure a fair trail for a fellow woman, or a mother who proudly encourages her daughter to marry who she wants, seeing Hepburn in any of these roles remind me what my own mother taught me: that we’re all uniquely beautiful, but that will fade (or be judged by what others consider “beautiful”). What you want to be remembered for is your intelligence, wit and open heart. For that reason, her films will always hold a special place in my heart and never fail to inspire me when I see them on Turner Classic Movies, or when they pop up in my Netflix queue. Ms. Hepburn, you will always have my gratitude for that gift.
So, this week, I raise my glass to the indomitable Katharine Hepburn and all of the incredible women who paved the way for my own brand of independence. Cheers and Thank You!
Until next week (and my next obsession)!
Graphics by: Michelle
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