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Robert Osborne - January 2004
Remind Me

Robert Osborne on Katharine Hepburn

"The problem with Kate," her father once said, "is that she never wants to go anywhere unless she is going to be The Bride or The Corpse." He knew his daughter well. Ever since Katharine Hepburn was a child, she insisted on being the center of attention. Let's just say she picked her chosen career well: as an actress, she not only commanded the world's interest and focus for over 70 years, but her eccentricities only added to her fascination. Ask anyone who knew her or worked with her and you'll hear words such as "demanding," "infuriating," "fearless," "meddlesome," "opinionated" and "self- centered." Also "dazzling," which is exactly what she is in most of the 24 Hepburn films we'll be showing this month.

For instance, Bringing Up Baby on January 21 - did anyone ever play a madcap heiress in a screwball comedy better than she? Check out The African Queen and The Lion in Winter on January 28 - screen acting doesn't get any finer. Check out the seven Hepburn-Tracy films we're showing on January 14 - you'll see two artists working in tandem in a way that, according to those who were around to make such a judgment, has only been equaled by the theater's illustrious acting team, Lunt and Fontanne.

We'll also be showing several Hepburn rarities you'll have fun watching, including the 1933 Christopher Strong, in which at one juncture, Kate H. wears a shimmering costume with a helmet-like headdress that makes her resemble an oversized insect, ready for a sci-fi film. There's also 1944's Dragon Seed, in which she jarringly appears to be the world's first Chinese peasant to speak with a Bryn Mawr accent. (An interesting but long WWII drama, Dragon Seed was once good-naturedly referred to by its leading man Turhan Bey as "Draggin' Seed.") Another rare one: 1943's let's-put-on-a-show-for-the-boys Stage Door Cantee where Hepburn makes a brief but passionate cameo appearance. (Like all the famous stars in "S.D.C.," she donated her entire salary to a wartime charity.) On January 5, we'll also be showing one that got away, 1941's Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde starring Spencer Tracy. A year before Tracy met Hepburn for the first time, he lobbied for Kate to play both the lowbrow Ivy and the highborn Beatrix in that film, feeling it important that both women be mirror images of each other. Hepburn was for it, MGM was not. (Ingrid Bergman and Lana Turner eventually split the parts.)

Another January treat: our screening of the excellent documentary Katharine Hepburn: All About Me on January 7, in which the four-time Oscar® winner herself does the talking about what her father would say was her favorite subject. It's another reason to thank heaven for films. We may have lost the great, eccentric Kate last year but we still have her remarkable image, and that marvelous, distinctive voice to continually fascinate us. There was no one like her - and wouldn't she be pleased we feel that way.

by Robert Osborne