A lion, even in winter

Remembering Katharine Hepburn

The death of Katharine Houghton Hepburn on Sunday, June 29, was big news everywhere, but in my part of the country-the Hartford area of Connecticut-it felt as if a goddess had undergone apotheosis. The headline of the city paper proclaimed “HARTFORD’S HEPBURN,” and the first sentence of the page-one article read, “She is gone.”

She. For the last forty years in her home state, there could be only one She. Shades of H. Rider Haggard’s She, an African white goddess who compels love and dutifulness from all within her reach and who seeks immortality by bathing in dangerous mystical flames. Hepburn’s immortality was secured when the actress bathed in the nonmystical klieg lights of dangerous Hollywood. Like any actor, she helped perpetrate much rubbish, but a dozen major and minor masterpieces will be with us as long as movies are with us. These wonderful entertainments-Little Women, Bringing Up Baby, Alice Adams, Stage Door, Adam’s Rib, Pat and Mike, The African Queen, Long Day’s Journey Into Night (to itemize only the first tier of wonderfulness)-were directed by meticulous craftsmen named Cukor and Hawks and Stevens and LaCava and Huston and Lumet, yet were all Hepburn (or Hepburn-Tracy) movies. Several of them were written for her, and the ones that weren’t are so infused by her personality that she must be counted as coauthor.

Personality. There are those who deny greatness to actors who don’t disappear...

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About the Author

Richard Alleva has been reviewing movies for Commonweal since 1990.