Katharine Hepburn Biography

Katharine Hepburn was a legendary actress who reigned over Hollywood with her beauty, independent spirit and eccentricity. This biography of Katharine Hepburn provides detailed information about her childhood, life, achievements, works & timeline.

Quick Facts

Birthday: May 12, 1907

Nationality: American

Famous: Quotes By Katharine Hepburn Atheists

Died At Age: 96

Sun Sign: Taurus

Also Known As: Katharine Houghton Hepburn

Born in: Hartford

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Spouse/Ex-: Ludlow Ogden Smith

father: Thomas Norval Hepburn

mother: Katharine Martha Houghton

siblings: Marion Grant - Margaret Hepburn - Richard Hepburn - Tom Hepburn - Robert Hepburn

Died on: June 29, 2003

place of death: Old Saybrook

U.S. State: Connecticut

Personality: ENTJ

More Facts

education: American Academy of Dramatic Arts - Bryn Mawr College - Kingswood-Oxford School,

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With a record four Academy Awards for Best Actress, Katharine Hepburn was undoubtedly Hollywood’s top female legend. She was a versatile actress whose career spanned the media of stage, film and television for over six decades. Her acting career began on the Broadway where her amazing performance ensured her entry into Hollywood. With her luminous beauty, spirited personality and quick wit, the young woman seemed poised for great success. However, behind her charming personality lay a great childhood tragedy—her beloved brother Tom had died from an apparent suicide and this made the young Katharine moody, withdrawn and upset. She struggled hard to get over her brother’s death and found solace in acting. Even after foraying into the world of acting she did not find overnight success and had to struggle for months to find meaningful roles. But the gutsy lady never gave up and in the long run her perseverance paid off. Not only did she go on to have a successful career as a stage artist, but also successfully entered films and became the reigning queen of Hollywood. With her free-spirited attitude and assertiveness, she represented the modern woman of her times by refusing to give into the demands of traditional society.

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Childhood & Early Life
  • Hepburn was born as one of the six children of her parents Thomas Hepburn and Katharine Martha. Her father was an urologist at Hartford Hospital while her mother was a feminist campaigner.
  • Her father helped to establish the New England Social Hygiene Association while her mother was an active participant in the women’s suffrage movement and also campaigned for birth control.
  • Her parents were very progressive people who encouraged their children to think independently.
  • As a child she learned to swim, run, dive, wrestle and play tennis and golf. She was a tomboy who kept her hair short like boys.
  • Tragedy struck the happy family when her older brother Tom died from an apparent suicide in 1921. Katharine who was very close to her brother became very nervous and upset after the incident and even dropped out of school.
  • On her parents’ urging she enrolled at Bryn Mawr College in 1924. She struggled at college as she was not interested in academic pursuits but still managed to graduate with a degree in history and philosophy in 1928.
  • In 1928, she went to Baltimore to pursue a career in acting and was cast in a small role in Edwin H. Knopf’s stage production ‘The Czarina’. Her role, albeit minor, was appreciated.
  • Knopf made her the leading lady in his production ‘The Big Pond’. However, she mixed up her lines and acted clumsy on the opening night and was fired. She kept trying and was soon hired as an understudy in Philip Barry’s play ‘Holiday’, a role which she held for six months.
  • The first few years of her acting career were very difficult and she was not able to find good roles. Nonetheless the self-assured lady never thought of giving up. Her perseverance paid off when she was chosen to play the lead role in the Greek fable, ‘The Warrior’s Husband’.
  • ‘The Warrior’s Husband’ opened in March 1932 and gave her the big breakthrough she craved for. The play ran for three months and her role was positively reviewed.
  • She was offered a role in the 1932 film ‘A Bill of Divorcement’ opposite John Barrymore. The movie was a hit and she got noticed for her performance. She appeared in ‘Christopher Strong’ the very next year.
  • The 1933 was a great year for the actress. She played the aspiring actress Eva Lovelace in ‘Morning Glory’ and then appeared as Jo in ‘Little Women’. Both the films were big hits that earned her several awards.
  • In spite of being an established film actress she yearned to appear again on the Broadway. She agreed to act in the struggling producer Jed Harris’s play ‘The Lake’. The play was a commercial disaster due to Harris’s poor direction and Hepburn’s image suffered as well.
  • During the 1930s her career suffered a big set back. Many of her films like ‘The Little Minister’ (1934), ‘Break of Hearts’ (1935), ‘Sylvia Scarlett’ (1935), ‘Quality Street’ (1937) fared poorly and were flops. The actress’s career began spiraling downward.
  • Determined to get her failing career back on track, she decided to look for a stage project. She was cast as Tracy Lord in Philip Barry’s play ‘The Philadelphia Story’ which opened to positive reviews in 1939. The show was a bit hit and ran for 417 performances.
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  • With her popularity reclaimed, she reprised the role of Tracy Lord in the 1940 movie ‘The Philadelphia Story’ which was based on the eponymous play. The film was a huge hit and she was nominated for an Academy Award.
  • The decade of the 1940s was not too successful for the actress with several of her movies receiving negative reviews. She decided to reinvent herself during the 1950s and took up more challenging roles in ‘The African Queen’ (1951) and ‘Pat and Mike’ (1952).
  • Her career during the 1960s was interrupted due to personal issues and commitments. During the 1970s and 1980s she remained focused on her career and acted in several films and Broadway productions. She also ventured into television during this time.
  • She was very active in films, television and stage even during her later years. She had a deep dedication towards her profession and made her last television appearance in the movie ‘One Christmas’ in 1994.
Major Works
  • She portrayed an aspiring actress in the drama film ‘Morning Glory’. This role was critically acclaimed and helped her win her first Academy Award.
  • She appeared in ‘Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner’ along with Spencer Tracy and Sidney Poitier. The film dealt with the topic of interracial marriages—a sensitive issue at that time and era.
  • The film ‘The Philadelphia Story’ helped her resurrect her declining career. It was a romantic comedy that was based on a Broadway play of the same name by Philip Barry. The film was nominated for six Academy Awards.
Awards & Achievements
  • She holds the record for winning the maximum Academy Awards for the Best Actress. She had been bestowed the award four times including ‘Morning Glory’ (1934), ‘Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner’ (1968), ‘The Lion in Winter’ and ‘On Golden Pond’ (1982).
  • She won the Lifetime Achievement Award from Screen Actors Guild in 1979.
Personal Life & Legacy
  • She married Ludlow Ogden Smith, a businessman in 1928. However she never committed to the relationship fully and divorced him in 1934. She never married again.
  • She had a long relationship with her co-star, actor Spencer Tracy. Their relationship is often cited to be among Hollywood’s legendary love affairs. Tracy was already married, but estranged from his wife. Hepburn took a break from her career to take care of Tracy during his final years.
  • She lived a long and fruitful life. She suffered several health problems during the final years of her life and died at the age of 96 in 2003.
  • She was once criticized for “having no sex appeal”.
  • This legendary actress is named in Encyclopedia Britannica's list of "300 Women Who Changed the World".

1. The Philadelphia Story (1940)

  (Romance, Comedy)

2. The African Queen (1951)

  (Adventure, War, Romance, Drama)

3. Bringing Up Baby (1938)

  (Comedy, Romance, Family)

4. The Lion in Winter (1968)

  (History, Biography, Drama)

5. On Golden Pond (1981)


6. Guess Who's Coming to Dinner (1967)

  (Comedy, Drama)

7. Holiday (1938)

  (Comedy, Romance)

8. Adam's Rib (1949)

  (Drama, Comedy, Romance)


Academy Awards(Oscars)
1982 Best Actress in a Leading Role On Golden Pond (1981)
1969 Best Actress in a Leading Role The Lion in Winter (1968)
1968 Best Actress in a Leading Role Guess Who's Coming to Dinner (1967)
1934 Best Actress in a Leading Role Morning Glory (1933)
Primetime Emmy Awards
1975 Outstanding Lead Actress in a Special Program - Drama or Comedy Love Among the Ruins (1975)
BAFTA Awards
1983 Best Actress On Golden Pond (1981)
1969 Best Actress Guess Who's Coming to Dinner (1967)
1969 Best Actress The Lion in Winter (1968)
People's Choice Awards
1983 Favorite Motion Picture Actress Winner
1976 Favorite Motion Picture Actress Winner

See the events in life of Katharine Hepburn in Chronological Order

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Article Title
- Katharine Hepburn Biography
- Editors, TheFamousPeople.com
- TheFamousPeople.com
Last Updated
- July 27, 2017
Katharine Hepburn

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