Oct 23, 2010

Katharine Hepburn: an unrepeatable presence

Knowing that I couldn't possibly say something new about the legendary actress and her acting skills, I felt discouraged to write about her. What could I express that sounded new to you? I watched and re-watched some of her movies trying to find an interesting approach to her work. I read one of her biographies. I listened to her voice telling me her life. An then I just thought: the only thing that would be a real contribution is trying to explain what impressed me about her persona and work; what I've learned from Katharine Hepburn. This is my attempt of doing so.
A few years ago, I entered to an old book store. I asked for a book about Kate. The saleswoman thought a bit and said, smiling, just like we were talking about a relative: "do you admire the old woman?". The old woman. You knew she was talking not only about the age she reached. Katharine Hepburn's presence was, since her early movies, older than her age. She exuded a combination of wisdom, independence and confidence. These inner characteristics added to her unique face, her deep, trembling voice and her unusual height could only end creating an unrepeatable presence.
There are many aspects of her life and the way she was raised that I admire. I like, for example, the fact that her grandma and mom were women eager to learn, to have something important to do with their lives besides having a husband and kids. I like the admiration and respect Kate had for his dad, a prestigious but down to earth urologist. I like the fact that she was so close to her parents and brothers, even when she became a big star. I like the Hepburn's love for sports and exercise. I like the way they discussed any subject without restrictions (press play to hear the audio).

Every time I see Kate on the screen I think of her background. She was proud of her upbringing and her own discipline ("Without discipline, there's no life at all", she said). She took cold showers several times a day and practiced lots of sports. In her films --even in the darkest like "Suddenly, last summer"-- she always projects that bright, clean freshness people have when coming out from the shower and, believe it or not, that is in my opinion one of the components of her natural presence on screen. She enjoyed life, she was independent, she didn't care about what people thought about the revolutionary way she dressed and always spoke her mind, even when that made her look a little bit cuckoo (she didn't even care walking naked on a studio as a way to put a big shark under pressure). I think that the roles she performed the best were women that had some of these characteristics. Think in distant roles like the crazy girl from the upper class that chases a leopard in "Bringing up Baby", the sporty woman from "Pat & Mike", the old liberal woman that loves skinny diving from "On golden pond". They were all Kate-ish.
Her private life was, at the end, concordant with the way she was raised. I mean, if she was that independent how could she possibly marry and be a normal housewife?

Even when she wouldn't/couldn't marry Spencer Tracy (he was married already) they became one of Hollywood's biggest couples. And, of course, that's not just a banal commentary about their relationship. That statement is supported by a great work in several movies, some of them unforgettable. My favorites are "Woman of the year" and "Adam's Rib". The interesting thing was that finally the independent Kate had an equal force, equal not only because you believed in them as a couple without minimizing Kate's energy (like, for example, "Undercurrent", where she played a naive, weak girl converted by her husband in a confident woman), but because Spencer was a great actor too, who apparently played without any effort.
Probably Kate learned a lot from Spencer, but I think this is what she valued the most:

But there's more to learn from Kate. She never gave up, she tried really hard in the worst moments of her career. She was a good worker, always on time, always learning the whole script and always trying to improve the overall movie or play. If she had any idea, she suggested them to the writers or directors in a very direct and well-thought way. She said: "As one goes through life one learns that if you don't paddle your own canoe, you don't move."  She also said:

Using some of Kate's ideas as guides for your own life cannot lead you astray, in my opinion. These are my favorites quotes from her on life in general:
  • "Life is to be lived. If you have to support yourself, you had bloody well find some way that is going to be interesting. And you don't do that by sitting around wondering about yourself." 
  • "Life can be wildly tragic at times, and I've had my share. But whatever happens to you, you have to keep a slightly comic attitude. In the final analysis, you have got not to forget to laugh." 
  • "I'm an atheist, and that's it. I believe there's nothing we can know except that we should be kind to each other and do what we can for each other." 
  • "If you always do what interests you, at least one person is pleased.
Respect for Miss Hepburn :) There are not much to add I think. Simply, she was one of the best. You can only pay tribute to her by watching some of her movies. Besides the titles above mentioned, and trying not to recommend more obvious films, here are some of the movies I like the most: "Holiday" with Cary Grant, "Summertime" and "Alice Adams".
Numerous have been the audio files added to the post. But I'd like to finish with Katharine Hepburn's voice, a final advice, from George Bernard Shaw, to Kate's mom, to Kate, to you:

Written for the LAMB Acting School entry.


  1. I loved this. And I also love Kate. I really adore all the movies you mentioned, although it is "Suddenly, Last Summer," not "Suddenly That Summer." I hope you don't mind my correcting that.

    I'd like to add that you're a very good writer in English. :)

  2. La grandisima Kate !! Amazing Kate..

  3. Desiree: Oops, what an awful mistake. I rechecked the text and didn't notice the error. Thanks for letting me know, of course I don't mind, on the contrary :)

    Abril: Grandísima :)

  4. I loved this. And I also love Kate. I really adore all the movies you mentioned, although it is "Suddenly, Last Summer," not "Suddenly That Summer." I hope you don't mind my correcting that.

    I'd like to add that you're a very good writer in English. :)



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