Katharine Hepburn — A Little Bit Independent (1937) 🇺🇸
That’s Katharine Hepburn. Here is a story of the reasons why this volatile actress has insisted upon having her own way in Hollywood.
The Eternal Poles — the fusion of diametrically opposite characteristics, constitute the unique personality of Katharine Hepburn. She is at the same time, shy, retiring, unassuming, and fiery, dynamic and volatile, a combination which puts her in the good company of many of the world’s elect. It also may well be responsible for the superb artistry with which she portrayed the leading role in Morning Glory, which won her the Motion Picture Academy Award for acting in 1933 and for her work in Alice Adams, the award for second best performance in 1935.
The history of this unusually vital person has been punctuated by battles that would exhaust a Titan. She has fought every step of the way for her own beliefs, in spite of great odds. She has been known as the girl who walked off stages; the girl who has refused “fat” parts; the girl who insisted upon either acting a scene as she wanted to, or leaving the cast; the girl who okays every script first before she even starts rehearsal for screen plays; as well as the girl who battled like a demon for a certain part on the stage and won, only to fight equally valiantly to get out of a part that she felt would harm her future.
“Judge my acting as strictly as you wish for I base my ambitions on constructive criticism, but don’t condemn my personal life or personal characteristics because they are part of myself and do not belong to the public.”
This is Katharine Hepburn’s ultimatum regarding her career. She feels that the Katharine Hepburn who appears on the silver screen is a figure that the world can love, hate or ignore, as it wills, whose rise and fall the public have the right to dictate according to their taste. But when the personal element enters into publicity and studio politics fire flashes from the dark eyes of the red-haired little actress.
Not all the directors in Hollywood could get Katie, as she is known to the studio, to change her mind in anything that she felt was right regarding the interpretation of a scene or the suitability of a role to her own talents.
She considers that she alone knows what she can best act in and proceeds to do battle for her own cause, to the dismay of those who feel that she needs caution, advice or (in some cases) complete reformation.
There have been those who have condemned Katharine Hepburn for her tactics. Many have declared she would never “get anywhere” with her method of progress. The answer lies in the box-office, where the receipts bear incontrovertible witness to her popularity and the excellence of her screen performances.
Regarding herself, it is a strange and true fact that she is a shy and nervous individual who hates to meet people and shuns the strain of social life. On the set she is the idol of every grip, cameraman and “juicer” with whom she works. She would rather sit down and have a sandwich and a cup of coffee with one of the stage hands than face the staring crowds in the studio commissary.
When a picture is completed and she feels that it will be a success she rewards those with whom she has worked with little gifts and notes of thanks. One such case is that of Lew Anderson, who worked on the properties for Mary of Scotland. After the picture was finished, Katie gave Lew a handsome silver pencil inscribed to him in her own handwriting etched on the silver case, a proof that she, personally, wished to thank him for his tireless efforts in her behalf towards making the picture as good as possible.
An example of her independence began when Katie was a freckled little girl with a mop of amazingly red-brown hair. One of six children she was brought up in Hartford. Connecticut, where two older brothers were her envy and despair, mainly because they were able to do exciting things that were barred to small Katie because “she was a girl.”
On one occasion when they had excluded her from participation in some of their activities she went to the nearest barber and had her hair shingled close to her head, then, donning a suit of her brother’s clothes, she demanded to be admitted to their games on terms of equality!
This anecdote is perhaps the keynote to Katharine Hepburn’s character. Yet her indomitable will is offset by such an appealing willingness that the combination breaks down all opposition.
A condensed version of “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” was one of her childish masterpieces. The only parts portrayed were those of Little Eva, Topsy and a couple of slaves. Miss Hepburn played Topsy and cast a child she did not particularly like as Eva because of a recent argument which “Eva” had won. The slaves were two younger children who could be “managed.”
Miss Hepburn had a hazy remembrance that the play closed after the first night, due to discord in the cast!
In plays, even then, she quite definitely had her own way. She was always the star of the production, besides writing, producing and directing the whole thing. If anyone objected to the way she did things, she simply walked out and stayed out until they asked her to come back.
A conclusive method which she still follows.
Contrary to many reports her family did not oppose her embarking upon a theatrical career. Instead, they gathered around loyally and helped pack her bags for her first trip in search of a job on the stage.
At this time Miss Hepburn was so bashful that it was agony for her even to talk to strangers and as a result she silently haunted the offices of agents and producers, sitting for hours in waiting rooms and wondering how ambitious players ever gained an audience with the powers that produced shows.
“I always moved at top speed,” said Miss Hepburn, with a rueful laugh, “and by the time I had visited one or two offices my face would be moist with perspiration, my make-up entirely gone, my hair disarranged and my clothes mussed up. But I was too nervous and bashful to ask anyone where the ladies’ dressing room was and I would spend hours roaming around the different buildings trying to find it myself.”
But that was long ago. Achievement and success have developed the faculty of commanding apparent poise and assurance whenever it is necessary, and there are times when, in deciding upon screen procedure or the merits of scripts submitted for her consideration, such a faculty is necessary.
If a resume of the past were taken, it would be plain that the parts she has played of her own choosing, are essentially right for her particular temperament. The young tomboy in Sylvia Scarlett, the lovable Jo in “Little Women,” the wild gypsy girl in “The Little Minister” are all roles tailored to fit the Hepburn technique and the Hepburn character. As the ill-starred Mary, Queen of Scots, in her latest picture, playing opposite Fredric March, she has probably found the most suitable and dynamic role of her career to date.
Perhaps the answer to it all is — that Katharine Hepburn knows herself as few actresses do. It is this knowledge which gives her the feeling of right to dictate her own terms regarding her work as an artist.
If ever an actress tried to please her public, Katharine Hepburn is the one and she continues to gain, successfully, step by step, the affection and regard of her admirers. To her — “the play’s the thing!”
Source: Motion Picture Studio Insider, January 1937