The Golden Age of Hollywood

Happy Christmas from the Great Katharine Hepburn!

publicity for LITTLE WOMEN (1933)
Joan Blondell, KH, and Spener Tracy in DESK SET (1957)
KH, Peter O’Toole, and Jane Merrow in THE LION IN WINTER (1968)
Cary Grant and Katharine Hepburn in HOLIDAY (1938)
Cary Grant and Katharine Hepburn in HOLIDAY (1938)
Douglas Montgomery as Laurie and KH as Jo in LITTLE WOMEN (1933)
KH and director George Cukor on the set of LITTLE WOMEN (1933)
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Our Miss Fantastic on TCM this Friday: Katharine Hepburn on SUTS

This post is written in conjunction with the Summer Under the Stars Blogathon hosted by Sittin’ on a Backyard Fence and ScribeHard on Film. A full day of Katharine Hepburn films will air on TCM on August 17.

Turner Classic Movies had selected an amazing line-up of movies for Miss Hepburn‘s day on Summer Under the Stars this year. As the self-proclaimed KH aficionado in the blogosphere, I’m going to rate Friday’s movie selection to help the plebes decide which Hepburn films to DVR. You’re welcome!

1.) ADAM’S RIB (1949)

If you haven’t seen this film yet, it’s time you did – this is definitely an essential. Arguably the best Spencer Tracy/Katharine Hepburn film, Adam and Amanda Bonner are lawyers who take opposing sides in a court case in which a woman tried to shoot her unfaithful husband. Hepburn and Tracy are romantic and flirtatious and very funny. The best thing about this film, historically, is that Hepburn is shown as a successful career woman, and at no point does the film try to argue that she should be in the kitchen raising children. She’s allowed to be really good at her job, yet she is just as female and sexy as ever.

2.) LITTLE WOMEN (1933)

This is by far my favorite film version of Louisa May Alcott‘s American classic. My friend Megan argues that this version is too sentimental and she much prefers the Margaret O’Brien one. But I think director George Cukor has really captured the heart and sole of the March family. Hepburn’s real-life tomboyishness translates brilliantly to the Jo character. I cannot recommend this movie, or the book that it’s based on, enough.

Hepburn, a former history major of Bryn Mawr College, did her research for playing the indomitable Eleanor of Aquitaine. This film about Queen Eleanor’s relationship with England’s King Henry II and their three sons is full of wit, with verbal quips flying like arrows in this historically dysfunctional royal family. The film won three Oscars, for best music, best screenplay, and leading actress (Hepburn’s third of four well-deserved Oscar wins). 


My personal favorite, this screwball comedy directed by Howard Hawks and co-starring Cary Grant has me in stitches every time I watch it. When happy-go-lucky Susan (Hepburn) and professorial David (Grant) continue to run into each other, she falls in love and goes out of her way to keep him near her, even if it means getting arrested while chasing a pet leopard across the Connecticut countryside.

5.) PAT AND MIKE (1952)

Hepburn pushes Tracy around in PAT AND MIKE

The first film Hepburn and Tracy made after the popular ADAM’S RIB (1949) is less romantic, but equally amusing. Hepburn plays multi-talented sportswoman Pat Pemberton and Mike Conovan (Tracy) is her agent, watching her every move to see that she stays in shape for every big game. This film is chock full of your favorite character actors and also features a number of real-life American sportswomen, including Babe Didrickson Zaharius, Gussie Moran, Betty Hicks, and many others.


Hepburn and Tracy‘s final picture together also stars Hepburn’s niece, Katharine Houghton. She plays their 23-year-old daughter Joey who wishes to marry African American doctor John Prentice, played by Sidney Poitier. The film made waves in 1960s America, which was being revolutionized by the Civil Rights movement. Great performances all around, especially from Hepburn and Tracy who both give the most touching performance as the democratic married couple trying to come to terms with changing times.

7.) WOMAN OF THE YEAR (1942)

In their first film together, Hepburn and Tracy play newspaper writers who fall in love and marry. But the couple struggles to make their marriage a success because Tess’s job as an international political correspondent interferes with her time with Sam. This is another film showing Hepburn as a successful professional woman, in this case even more successful than her sportswriter husband. Unfortunately, in 1942 this meant that she must be tamed by the film text in order to become more acceptable as a progressive woman. This movie is incredibly sexy, even though I’m not crazy about the ending.

8.) MORNING GLORY (1933)

Katharine Hepburn’s first Oscar win is not remembered as one of her great films, but it is worth a watch. It was only her third film, and in many ways it tells her personal story as a young woman trying to find success in the theatre in New York City. Co-stars Douglas Fairbanks, Jr., Adolphe Menjou, and C. Aubrey Smith. 


I really like this radical movie about Lady Cynthia Darrington, an aristocratic English aviatrix. This is the only film in which Hepburn is directed by a woman, one of the few female directors in Hollywood at the time, Dorothy Arzner. As one of her earliest films, it contributed to audiences image of her as a wealthy, independent, autonomous woman. This movie also includes the scene with Hepburn in her famous moth costume.

10.) MARY OF SCOTLAND (1936)

Although Hepburn really enjoyed working wiht director John Ford, she hated the simpering Queen Mary and would have much preferred to play Elizabeth. This stodgy costume drama lacks sex appeal and only added to Hepburn’s reputation as “box office poison.”

11.) SONG OF LOVE (1947)

Music majors love this biopic about Robert and Clara Schumann and their friend Johannes Brahams. Although Hepburn does an adequate job as the famous classical pianist, she is less credible as the mother of seven.


Fail. Co-stars Edith Evans, Yul Brenner, and Danny Kaye. Triple weird. And Hepburn might be able to do eccentric, but no one will ever believe she’s mad. She’s just not that good of an actress. And everyone knows she’s really with it mentally. Of course I’ve seen this movie, but I don’t even know what it’s actually supposed to be about. TCM did right to schedule this gasser at 3:45 am. Only hard-core Hep, Brenner, Evans, and Kaye fans will stay up for this one.

I really hope you enjoy Katharine Hepburn’s day of glory on TCM. Can’t wait to hear what everybody watches! Please don’t forget to complete the survey near the top of the right sidebar of this blog. I REALLY value your feedback!


And the winners are…

Over the past month or so I’ve posted four polls about Katharine Hepburn movies and co-stars. Although you can continue to cast your votes on those polls, I thought I’d give all those who have already voted a run-down on the scores.

What’s your favorite Katharine Hepburn classic? has 20 votes so far and they are pretty evening distributed across the board. BRINGING UP BABY (1938) is in the lead with five votes, followed by LITTLE WOMEN (1934) with four votes. THE PHILADELPHIA STORY (1940) and AFRICAN QUEEN (1951) are both tied for last place with three votes each. The remaining five votes selected “other” and that list includes to votes for THE LION IN WINTER (1968), and one each for HOLIDAY (1938), ON GOLDEN POND (1982), and CHRISTOPHER STRONG (1933).

15 people have voted on What’s your favorite Katharine Hepburn Oscar win? GUESS WHO’S COMING TO DINNER (1967) and THE LION IN WINTER (1968), for which Katharine Hepburn won back-to-back Oscars, are tied for the lead with six votes each. MORNING GLORY (1933), Hepburn’s first ever Oscar nomination and win, is trailing with only two votes and Hepburn’s final Oscar win, ON GOLDEN POND (1982) brings up the rear with a single vote.

Cary Grant and Katharine Hepburn made four films together and you can vote for your favorite in What’s your favorite Cary Grant/Katharine Hepburn movie? Nine of the fourteen votes went to the ever-popular BRINGING UP BABY (1938). THE PHILADELPHIA STORY (1940) has only three votes and HOLIDAY (1938) only two. Unfortunately, SYLVIA SCARLETT (1935) brings up the rear without a solitary vote.

The most recent poll Who’s your favorite of Hepburn’s leading men? gives several options, but so far people have only voted on two: six votes have gone to Cary Grant and five to Spencer Tracy. John Wayne, Humphrey Bogart, Henry Fonda, and Peter O’Toole are also listed, but no one seems overly impressed with their performances, apparently!

These are all running polls, so feel free to cast your vote at any time. If you don’t see the answer you would like, you can always enter your own in the “other” option. Let me know if you have an idea for a poll question and I will post it for you. You can see all the existing polls under the “Polls” tab at the top of the blog, and there is also a link to each individual poll in the Table of Contents. Thanks for voting!

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The Most Radically Feminist Films of Katharine Hepburn

Katharine Hepburn has been called a feminist film persona and a 20th century feminist icon, but few have really delved into the sources and manifestations of the term “feminist” as it relates to this great star. Is she called a feminist because she insisted on wearing pants in a time when most women were expected to wear skirts and high heels? We all know the story about the time the studio, in an effort to force her into dresses and skirts, stole the trousers from her trailer and Hepburn paraded around the studio in her underwear until her slacks were returned. Her feminism was also manifested in her choice of a career over marriage. Although these aspects of her life choices contribute to our image of the feminist, it is within her films themselves that the strength of her feminism is most prevalent.

M. Carey Thomas of Bryn Mawr

Hepburn’s feminist choices and tendencies can be traced back to a couple different sources, but I believe that the major feminizing influence on Katharine Hepburn is Bryn Mawr College, one of the Seven Sister’s colleges on the East coast. Not only did Hepburn herself go there, but the major female influences of her childhood also attended, including her mother, her Aunt Edith, and her mother’s friends from college, “Aunts” Mary Towle and Bertha Rembaugh (prominent lawyers living in Greenwich Village). At Bryn Mawr, Hepburn’s mother’s generation adopted the feminist principles of the college’s president M. Carey Thomas. Katharine Hepburn was raised in the midst of the Bohemian society that these early feminist created for themselves – a female society of free thought, speech, and action. The Hepburn feminist persona is a product of the feminism she experienced first-hand as a child.

Although many of Hepburn’s films contain themes of feminism, her most radically feminist films can be divided into three categories: those in which communities of women are central to the plot/story, those in which Hepburn portrays strong female characters from literature and history, and those films which directly address the “woman issue.” 

Hepburn as Jo from

In a previous post, I described the nature of films in which communities of women are featured the way in which such films break down stereotypes about female professionals. The Hepburn films that follow the “communities of women” structure are LITTLE WOMEN (1933), QUALITY STREET (1937), STAGE DOOR (1937), DESK SET (1957), THE MADWOMAN OF CHAILLOT (1969), and THE TROJAN WOMEN (1971).

Hepburn plays women from literature and history a number of times: LITTLE WOMEN (1933), MARY OF SCOTLAND (1936), SONG OF LOVE (1947), and THE LION IN WINTER (1968). As you can see, these women are characteristically  independent and freethinking individuals. In two of these films, Hepburn is portraying women of power, women in leadership roles.

Hepburn and Spencer Tracy in
ADAM’S RIB (1949)

Only a couple of Hepburn’s films directly address the question of woman’s equality, or gender issues generally, but these films are the most significant because of the pertinence of their message: LITTLE WOMEN (1933), SYLVIA SCARLETT (1935), A WOMAN REBELS (1936), WOMAN OF THE YEAR (1942), ADAM’S RIB (1949), and ROOSTER COGBURN (1975). One could argue that a couple of these films don’t meet the qualifications for the category, but the gender stereotypes are so central to the thrust of the story, I chose to include them in this group.

The films listed here make up more than 25% of the movies Katharine Hepburn made in her 60-year career. Even in those films that didn’t qualify for these categories, Hepburn carries the standard of female autonomy high. LITTLE WOMEN is the only film that overlapped in these three divisions, which goes to show how significant the Jo March character is to the feminist ideal. M. Carey Thomas herself used to sign her diary as Jo when she was a girl. George Cukor, who directed Hepburn in that film and many others, often remarked that LITTLE WOMEN was Hepburn’s seminal film because she actually was Jo, in more ways than one!

As Eleanor of Aquitaine in THE LION IN WINTER (1968)
(with Peter O’Toole)

If I were to compose a canon of Hepburn’s most feminist films, I would choose only a couple from each of the groups listed above. Clearly, LITTLE WOMEN would make the top of the list, closely followed by ADAM’S RIB, in which Hepburn and Tracy play husband and wife lawyers on opposite sides of the courtroom – she defending the female position, he the male. The two films which best embody the manifestation of female autonomy are STAGE DOOR and DESK SET, not because the Hepburn character is radically feminist, but because the film text as a whole supports a feminist agenda. The last film I would add to the canon would be THE LION IN WINTER, because Eleanor of Aquitaine was a feminist in her own right long before there was a fancy word for it. Hepburn really did her research for that part and felt an immediate affinity for the queen who had lived hundreds of years before her. There is no doubt she deserved the Oscar she won for that role.

I hope you enjoy watching these films! I always love to hear what you think about Katharine Hepburn as a feminist persona. Do you agree with my list? What changes would you make? What films would you add or take away? Thanks for reading and happy viewing!


Poll: What’s your favorite Katharine Hepburn Oscar win?

<a href=””>Which is your favorite Katharine Hepburn Oscar win?</a>