October 29, 2014

Women of Doubt: Katharine Hepburn was a modern woman...and an atheist

It's been a few weeks since I covered a Woman of Doubt column. These tend to be my more labor intensive offerings, and so, they kind of fell to the wayside in light of everything we've had going on.

But today, I'm back, and we're looking at the wonderfully talented Katharine Hepburn, a freethinker and actress.

Celebatheists had this to say about Hepburn:

Katharine Houghton Hepburn (May 12, 1907 – June 29, 2003) was an American actress of film, stage, and television. In a career that spanned more than sixty years as a leading lady, she was best known for playing strong-willed, sophisticated women in both dramas and comedies. The winner of a record four Academy Awards for Best Actress, Hepburn also became a cultural icon through her independent lifestyle and spirited personality, and is acknowledged as an influential figure in the public's changing perception of women over the course of the 20th century. She was named by the American Film Institute as the greatest female star in the history of American cinema. 1

Hepburn had many profound quotes on her lack of belief, some of which we will cover just a little further down.

Wikipedia offers this description of Hepburn:

Hepburn famously shunned the Hollywood publicity machine, and refused to conform to society's expectations of women. She was outspoken, assertive, athletic, and wore trousers before it was fashionable for women to do so. She married once, as a young woman, but thereafter lived independently. A 26-year affair with her co-star Spencer Tracy was hidden from the public. With her unconventional lifestyle and the independent characters she brought to the screen, Hepburn came to epitomize the "modern woman" in 20th century America and is remembered as an important cultural figure. 2

On May 12, 1907, Hepburn was born, the second of six children, in Hartford, Connecticut, to Thomas Norval Hepburn and Katharine Martha Houghton. Her father was a urologist, and her mother a campaigner for feminist rights. Both of Hepburn's parents were involved in social reform campaigns, which she too participated in growing up.

Hepburn's father encouraged his children to push both their minds and bodies to the limit, and she enjoyed a variety of sports, including golf and swimming. She also enjoyed movies, typically visiting them every Saturday night.

As a teen, Hepburn discovered her older brother's body. He had died of an apparent suicide, and this had a profound effect on her, causing emotional and behavioral changes, as well as prompting her to leave school in favor of private tutoring.

At Bryn Mawr College, Hepburn disliked the collegiate experience. She found that she loved acting, however, and committed to her scholastic endeavors because roles in college plays were dependent on good grades.

Hepburn began her stage career in 1928, and experienced mixed success. In some cases, she was hailed, but others saw her fired from productions for mixing up lines, failing to speak clearly, and tripping over her own feet. In 1932, she experienced a break when a scout for Leland Hayward encouraged her to audition for a part in an upcoming production after he saw her performance in The Warrior's Husband.

From 1932 to 1934, she experienced critical success, although not always box office success. Beginning in 1934, however, she came to be known as "box office poison", after a significant slump caused by bad commercial ventures and terrible directing.

In 1939, Hepburn decided she would orchestrate her own comeback. She agreed to star in The Philadelphia Story, a play that seemed tailor-made for her. Before it even debuted, Humphrey Hughes secured the film rights for her, which she was able to pitch with the caveat that she be cast in the starring role. The critical and financial success of the stage show made this an easy sell.

Hepburn also chose the director and co-stars for the film, and specifically crafted the image of her character to encourage audiences to relate, find her humorous, and ultimately sympathize.

A similar arrangement produced great success in her next film Woman of the Year.

Throughout her lengthy career, which would continue to experience ups and downs, Hepburn maintained that dedication to crafting the productions that she wanted to star in--no doubt a result of her early experiences in show business.

While I won't run through everything, her career that begin in 1928 would last until 1994, with her last onscreen appearance in a TV movie. There would be decades like the 1940s that saw her work slow down, but she never completely exited the scene.

One of the remarkable things about Hepburn that I love--especially compared to Hollywood today--is that she ages on screen, as you follow her career--and that was perfectly okay. She never lost her edge, and she's truly a picture of how aging can be a beautiful and graceful experience.

Hepburn was renowned for her intense commitment to privacy. She rarely interacted with the social scene, preferred casual clothes in an era of glamor, and rejected interview opportunities regularly.

Hepburn died on 29 June, 2003, at the Hepburn family home in Fenwick, Connecticut.


"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."

"No I don't think you go anywhere when you die. I hope you just lie in the ground, happy, at rest at last. I don't feel the slightest interest in the next world, I think it's here. And I think anything good that you're going to do you should do for other people here and not so you can try to have a happy time in the next world <points up to sky>."

"Life is hard. After all, it kills you."

"Sometimes I wonder if men and women really suit each other. Perhaps they should live next door and just visit now and then."

"Love has nothing to do with what you are expecting to get - only with what you are expecting to give - which is everything."

"Being a housewife and a mother is the biggest job in the world, but if it doesn't interest you, don't do it - I would have made a terrible mother."

"I never lose sight of the fact that just being is fun."


1 "Katharine Hepburn." Celebatheists. <http://www.celebatheists.com/wiki/Katharine_Hepburn> 27 October, 2014

2 "Katharine Hepburn." Wikipedia. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Katharine_Hepburn> 27 October, 2014

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