Meryl Streep won three. So did Daniel Day Lewis, Frances McDormand and Jack Nicholson. But though she never attended a prize show to accept any of them in person, this actor from Hartford, born today in 1907, won four Oscars for her film performances, more than any other actor. Katharine Hepburn, who retained close ties to her native state her entire life, is widely considered to be one of the greatest film and theater actresses in American history. Hepburn starred in over 80 feature films, TV shows, and stage dramas, presenting Oscar-worthy performances throughout her six-decade acting career.
The daughter of wealthy and progressive, politically active parents, Hepburn attended private school in West Hartford before attending Bryn Mawr college in Pennsylvania, where she discovered her love for acting. She was a tomboy from an early age, and as her cinematic fame grew in the 1930s and 1940s, she became famous for her outspoken, headstrong personality and rejection of Hollywood-style glitz and glamour — particularly for her love of trousers, which was still viewed as a fringe fashion statement in the first half of the 20th century. She was briefly married in her early 20s; after obtaining a divorce, she never remarried in spite of a number of famous affairs with men such as Howard Hughes and Spencer Tracy.
Some of Hepburn’s most famous films include The Philadelphia Story, Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, The African Queen, Rooster Cogburn, and On Golden Pond, and she frequently starred opposite the most famous leading men in mid-20th-century Hollywood, including Jimmy Stewart, Gregory Peck, and Spencer Tracy. She embraced the challenge of working within multiple genres, from classic romance films to Shakespearean dramas to screwball comedies.
Throughout her long and varied career, Hepburn remained connected to her Connecticut roots, frequenting her family’s sprawling estate in the Fenwick neighborhood of Old Saybrook whenever possible. In the 1960s, she narrated the documentary video “The Long Tidal River,” which was part of a successful campaign to raise awareness for cleaning up and preserving the Connecticut River. Locally, she was known as an avid swimmer and tennis player who kept largely to herself. Following several years of declining health, Hepburn passed away in her Fenwick home in 2003 at the age of 96 and was buried in Cedar Hill Cemetery in Hartford. To this day, she remains one of Connecticut’s most famous residents and a beloved Hollywood icon.
Andy Piascik, “Katharine Hepburn’s Love Affair (With Connecticut),” connecticuthistory.org
The Katherine Hepburn Museum, Old Saybrook
“Katharine Hepburn,” Connecticut Women’s Hall of Fame
“One Life: KATE,” National Portrait Gallery online exhibit