August 31, 2015 13:17 UTC

Katharine Hepburn, 1907-2003: An Independent, Intelligent Actress

She has been called the greatest American actress of all time. <em>Transcript of radio broadcast: </em>

VOICE ONE:

I’m Steve Ember.

VOICE TWO:

And I’m Barbara Klein with People in America in VOA Special English. Today we tell about Katharine Hepburn, one of America’s great film and stage actresses. Hepburn’s career lasted almost seventy years. During that time she made more than fifty films. She became known all over the world for her independence, sharp intelligence, and acting ability.

Katharine Hepburn holds the record for the most Academy Awards for Best Actress. She won the honor four times. This star holds a special place in American film and popular culture.

(MUSIC)

VOICE ONE:

Katharine Houghton Hepburn was born in Hartford, Connecticut in nineteen oh seven. She came from a wealthy and highly educated family. Her father, Thomas Hepburn, was a successful doctor. Her mother, Katharine Martha Houghton, was a great supporter of women’s rights issues including the right to birth control. The Hepburns made sure to educate their children about important political and social subjects. The family members were not afraid to express their liberal opinions.

VOICE TWO:

Doctor Hepburn also believed in the importance of intense exercise. For most of her life Kate was an excellent athlete.  She rode horses, swam and played golf and tennis. Here is a recording of Katharine Hepburn from a film about her life.

She is talking about the values her family taught her. She says she is not strange, but is fearless.

“I don’t think I’m an eccentric, no! I’m just something from New England that was very American and brought up by two extremely intelligent people…who gave us a kind of, I think the greatest gift that man can give anyone, and that is…sort of freedom from fear.”

VOICE ONE:

Katharine graduated from Bryn Mawr college in Pennsylvania in nineteen twenty-eight. She soon started appearing in small roles in plays on Broadway in New York City.  That year she also married a businessman named Ludlow Ogden Smith. Their marriage lasted only a few years. But Katherine later said Ludlow’s support was very important to her during the early part of her career.

(MUSIC)

VOICE TWO:

Katharine Hepburn was not the usual kind of actress during this period. She had a thin and athletic body. She spoke with a clear East Coast accent. And she was very independent in her thoughts and actions.

For example, she wore men’s pants as clothing at a time when women wore only skirts or dresses. Sometimes her independence and liberal opinions got her in trouble. After a few successful plays in New York, Hollywood filmmakers became interested in her.  She later signed with the film production company called RKO pictures. Her first movie came out in nineteen thirty-two.

VOICE ONE:

The next year she made the film “Morning Glory.” In her role as Eva Lovelace, Hepburn plays a stage actress fighting for a successful career. Few directors are interested in her.  But by the end of the movie, she has a chance to let her acting skills shine and she becomes a star. This movie earned Hepburn her first Academy Award for Best Actress. Here is a recording from the movie. Hepburn’s character, Eva, tells about how she has changed her name in preparation for becoming a great actress.  She talks very quickly, but you can sense the energy behind her performance.

"I hope you’re going to tell me your name. I want you for my first friend in New York. Mine’s Eva Lovelace. It’s partly made up and partly real. It was Eva Love. Love’s my family name. I added the Lace. Do you like it or would you prefer something shorter? A shorter name would be more convenient on a sign.

Still, Eva Lovelace in “Camille” for instance, or Eva Lovelace in “Romeo and Juliet,” sounds very distinguished, doesn’t it?

I don’t want to use my family name because I shall probably have several scandals while I live and I don’t want to cause them any trouble until I am famous, when nobody will mind.

That’s why I must decide on something at once while there is still time, before I am famous.”  

VOICE TWO:

During the nineteen thirties, critics either loved or hated Katharine Hepburn. Some thought she was a fresh and exciting addition to the Hollywood industry. Others decided she was too bold and self-important.  They thought her way of speaking sounded false. But Hepburn wanted to face the movie industry her own way. She liked to play the roles of strong women.

She did not want to be like other actresses. She did not wear make up on her face. She would not let photographers take sexy pictures of her. And she did not like talking to her fans or the media.

VOICE ONE:

Katharine Hepburn continued to work very hard making movies. Yet by the late nineteen thirties she had became unpopular with the public. So movie producers stopped wanting her in their films.

But Hepburn was not raised to quit easily. She decided to return to the stage on Broadway in New York City. She starred in a play called “The Philadelphia Story." Hepburn's friend Philip Barry wrote the play especially for her. It is about a wealthy and intelligent woman named Tracy Lord. She is about to marry a man she does not love. In the movie she learns to be more honest with herself and others. She decides to marry a man from her past whom she has always loved.

VOICE TWO:

The play was a great success. Hepburn immediately bought the legal rights to the play. She knew “The Philadelphia Story” would be made into a movie. And she wanted to make sure she was the star of the film version.

In nineteen forty, “The Philadelphia Story” became a great movie success. Hepburn received another Academy Award nomination for Best Actress.  She had taken control of her career once again. And she would stay in control of it from now on.

Here is a recording from "The Philadelphia Story." Katharine Hepburn’s character, Tracy Lord, is talking with her new friend, Macaulay Connor, a writer. She has just read his book and discovered something surprising about him.

Tracy: These stories are beautiful! Why Connor, they’re almost poetry!

Macaulay: Well, don’t kid yourself, they are.

Tracy: I can’t make you out at all now.

Macaulay: Really? I thought I was easy.

Tracy: So did I. But you’re not. You talk so big and tough, and then you write like this. Which is which?

Macaulay: Both, I guess.

Tracy: No. No, I believe you put the toughness on to save your skin.

Macaulay: Oh, you think so.

Tracy: I know a little about that.

VOICE ONE:

In nineteen forty-two, Katherine Hepburn starred in “Woman of the Year.” This was the first of nine movies she starred in with actor Spencer Tracy. They would soon become a famous couple both on and off the movie screen. Usually their movies dealt with finding a balance of power between their two strong characters. Hepburn and Tracy had a magical energy when they acted together. But in real life they kept their love hidden from the public.

Spencer Tracy was married to another woman. For religious reasons, he would not end his marriage and divorce his wife. So Hepburn and Tracy led a secret love affair for more than twenty years. Katharine Hepburn had had other love interests. She once had a relationship with the famous American millionaire Howard Hughes. But Spencer Tracy remained the love of her life.

(MUSIC)

VOICE TWO:

One of Katharine Hepburn’s most famous roles was in the movie “The African Queen.” She made this movie in nineteen fifty-one with the famous actor Humphrey Bogart. In the film, their two very different characters fall in love on a riverboat in the middle of Africa.

As Katharine Hepburn became older, she played more and more wise and complex characters. In nineteen sixty-seven she starred in her last movie with Spencer Tracy. He died a few weeks after filming ended. For this movie, “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner,” she won her second Academy Award. She won her third Academy Award the next year for “A Lion in Winter.” And, in her mid-seventies she won her last Academy Award for “On Golden Pond.”

VOICE ONE:

Even into her eighties, Katharine Hepburn kept working. She had roles in several movies and television programs. She also wrote several books, including one about her life. In two thousand three, Katharine Hepburn died. She was ninety-six years old.

As part of her last wishes, she helped create the Katharine Houghton Hepburn Center at Bryn Mawr College. This program helps support the things that were important to her: film and theater, women’s rights, and civic responsibility.

VOICE TWO:

An actor who worked with Katharine Hepburn once said that she brought with her an extra level of reality. He said that when she was near, everything became more interesting, intense and bright. This intensity and intelligence shine in the films that Katharine Hepburn made over her lifetime. People still enjoy her films today. Katharine Hepburn’s work and personality have had a great influence on American film and culture.

(MUSIC)

VOICE ONE:

This program was written and produced by Dana Demange. You can download this program and others from our Web site, voaspecialenglish.com. I’m Steve Ember.

VOICE TWO:

And I’m Barbara Klein.   Join us again next week for PEOPLE IN AMERICA in VOA Special English.

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Learn with The News

  • Audio Serena Williams Chasing History at US Open

    The U.S. Open tennis tournament begins Monday in New York City. It is the last opportunity for 127 women to win a ‘Grand Slam’ title this year. And it is a chance for one player, Serena Williams, to win a place in history. A victory would give Williams a rare 'calendar-year Grand Slam.' More

  • Diana Kuya is a student at the University of Nairobi.  She plans to start her own agribusiness once she graduates.

    Video More Kenyans Exploring Agricultural Businesses

    Kenya is facing high unemployment rates. Recent college graduates face a difficult time in finding a job. Now, more and more Kenyan university graduates are planning to start pursuing agricultural business -- 'agribusiness'-- as way to have their own business and make money. More

  • Video Student Develops Gun Unlocked by Fingerprint

    Kai Kloepfer has a talent for technology. He has been teaching himself engineering skills since he was a child. He decided to create a gun designed to prevent accidental shootings. More

  • Audio Is China’s Economic Information Correct?

    An American expert on China says the Chinese government is not influencing information about the country’s economic growth. He believes that the economy is changing quickly. And he says the ways of measuring new economic activity is unable to keep up with the changes. More

  • Audio Ten Years after Katrina, New Orleans Is a Different City

    On the anniversary of storm, President Obama and other officials recognize efforts to remake a city famous for its culture and music. More

Featured Stories

  • Audio Everyday Grammar: Fun with Future Tenses

    English has several ways to talk about the future. It's one of the most flexible tenses in English. We visit some popular songs for examples of the future forms. Read and listen as the Everyday Grammar team shows you six ways to express an event in the future. You will not regret it! More

  • Video A Horseman in the Sky by Ambrose Bierce

    Carter Druse lived in Virginia, a southern state during the American Civil War. He had a tough decision to make - should he join the Confederate Army or the Union Army? Read this classic American Story to find out what decision he makes, and what it means to his father and fellow soldiers. More

  • Audio Betty Azar, 'Rock Star' of English Grammar

    It all started with a question from a student. The year was 1965. Betty Azar was teaching her first English as a Second Language class at the University of Iowa. A student from the Middle East asked Ms. Azar, “Why can’t I put a in front of water?’ As in ‘I drank a water.’” More

  • Audio Millions with Mental Illness Get Little or No Treatment

    The World Health Organization reports that hundreds of millions of people worldwide have a mental disorder. However, the WHO adds that most get little or no treatment. Learn the vocabulary needed to talk about this important study. More

  • Hoarding

    Video Could Organizing Your Home Change Your Life?

    A new movement in the United States is all about clearing away unnecessary things in your life. A Japanese cleaning expert on clutter is now the hot topic on playgrounds, at work and parties. But can cleaning out clutter really help you succeed at your job or lose weight? Read on to learn more. More

Practice Your Writing

Confessions of an English Learner
Confessions of an English Learner blog

Tell us About Our Programs