Fan Letter · Western

To Katharine Hepburn, from a Reluctant Admirer

Katharine Hepburn, classic Hollywood actress. Image: The Famous People

Dear Katharine Hepburn:

It took us (as in, yours truly) a long time to acknowledge your talent.

You see, you struck us as patrician and not a little self-important. We thought your manner and accent were affected, and we didn’t feel your performances exuded warmth. (Example: The Philadelphia Story.)

Admittedly, we had not seen many of your films, but we weren’t keen to explore your filmography. Sometimes we felt you were competing with everyone else on screen. (Example: 1933’s Little Women.) At times you seemed to compete with the scenery, for pete sake.

That’s how it seemed to us.

People would say you were one of the greatest film actors of All Time, and we rolled our eyes. We figured these folks needed new eyeglasses or more robust vitamins.

But then we saw you in the 1975 western, Rooster Cogburn, the only film you made with John Wayne.

This film made us think we judged you too harshly.

Wayne & Hepburn: Together at last! Image: Jeff Arnold’s West

Rooster Cogburn is not a good movie. It’s hammy and lacks the understated prose of the great westerns of the 1950s. Because it resurrects Wayne’s character from his earlier film, True Grit (1969), and recycles your character from The African Queen (1951), it feels like a desperate attempt to revive previous successes – like reheating last week’s filet mignon in the microwave.

This film is also pedestrian and sanctimonious. You and Wayne, representing Old Hollywood, are heroes who believe in the Common Good, while the much-younger villains – they of New Hollywood – are greedy and selfish. Combine that with self-indulgent dialogue between you and Wayne, and it’s almost too much to ask of an audience.

In many ways, the villains are the better actors, especially outlaw leader Richard Jordan. You have charisma, but so does he. Jordan’s acting easily outshines Wayne (who is disappointingly mediocre), and he nearly steals his scenes with you.

Richard Jordan means Business. Image: Scott Rollins

It was your first scene in this film that made us take notice. You portray a missionary teacher in a remote settlement somewhere in the western U.S. When Jordan and his gang arrive to Set Up Shop, you approach them with a plea for civility.

You’re polite; he’s belligerent. You call him unpleasant; he fires a pistol at you.

You don’t even wince.

He pulls out a second pistol and shoots twice more at the ground in front of you. Again you don’t flinch. In fact, you start reciting Psalm 23 as Jordan continues to fire in his two-fisted way. The bullets don’t even impede your cadence.

These aren’t real bullets, we know; studios can’t have actors shooting each other with live ammunition. But your focus and concentration in this scene are remarkable. Not once do you break character.

That’s when we decided you may Have Something after all.

Posing for L.L. Bean. Image: The Ace Black Blog

We began re-examining your films, such as Stage Door (1937), Adam’s Rib (1949) and Holiday (1938), and noted your timing and empathy. You even had us choking back a sob in the über-schmaltzy Summertime (1955).

As much as it pains us, we concede these films were made better by your presence.

So, these we take back: (1) It wasn’t sheer madness, after all, that nominated you for 12 Oscars; and (2) It is possible your reputation of Box Office Poison in the late 1930s may have been undeserved.

We grudgingly agree you became a legend for a Reason.

We are eating Humble Pie, dear Katharine. But if you want to let us Have It, go right ahead:

Image: giphy.com

This is part of the SPENCER TRACY & KATHARINE HEPBURN Blogathon hosted by In the Good Old Days of Classic Hollywood.

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39 thoughts on “To Katharine Hepburn, from a Reluctant Admirer

  1. Very amusing — made me chuckle — but I’m surprised you had such difficulty “discovering” Hepburn (and startled to learn which movie it was that converted you!). Of course, as a Brit living in the UK, as I was back then, I wouldn’t have picked up on the affectedness of the manner and accent that you mention, and nowadays I don’t notice it because it’s just a part of an actress I’ve watched a thousand times.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I really got off on the wrong foot with Katharine Hepburn – I felt she was just Too Much. And it truly was Rooster Cogburn, of all things, that changed my mind about her. (I’ve seen that dreadful movie twice now, and that is enough.)

      Like

  2. This gave me a much-needed smile! Thanks! Watch Philadelphia Story again. You may notice that Kate’s patrician attitude isn’t exclusive to her, plus she changes subtly as the plot transpires. And you get to see Cary Grant shove her to the floor in the most forceful way! 🙂 Hilarious!

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Awesome!!! Thank you for posting this. I make the exact same admission in my blog post for the Hepburn and Tracey blogathon (not up yet). It took me a long time to warm up to Hepburn exactly because her arrogance and narcissism was so offputting to me (but to give her credit, she was very much aware of these flaws in her character). It was only when I started seeing her later films (from the late 1950’s onward) that I came to really appreciate her enormous talent.

    Tam
    The Dream Book Blog
    http://thedreambook.wordpress.com/

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I so identify! It took me years to appreciate her. It was African Queen for me. She always seemed so affected in comparison to actresses I appreciated like Barbara Stanwyck. But, as you say, she really had something.

    That scene you describe from Rooster Cogburn sounds pretty amazing! I’m not sure anyone had more steel in their spine than she did.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. I tend to agree that Kate got better as she got older, though I would’ve liked to have seen her in plays. Even in her younger years, she was known for her stage work too.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. What a great letter. I’ve been contemplating writing a similar one about Carole Lombard. I’ve loved Katharine Hepburn from day one as she was my introduction to classic film. But I can see how you would feel that way about her. I always think of her playing strong women and sometimes I forget how well she could play painful vulnerability. She is multi faceted. I wrote a review last week for The Philadelphia Story at The Silver Petticoat Review and it made me re-think how I interpreted the entire film. I’m glad Kate was able to win you over finally.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Although Kate has been my number one gal since I first discovered classic film, I can understand how she may have turned you away. Her attitude and personality are, for lack of a better term, a lot. But I think once you dig into her story more, you start to see how remarkable she was. Really wonderful post!

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Great and brave post! (Love the caption too) It took me a while to love her too, and I didn’t like The Philadelphia Story at all. Still don’t. But Stage Door! I think that’s when I began to fall for her and reassess. And now she impresses me so much.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. What a fun way to express your feelings about Ms. Hepburn! Typically, I enjoy her performances very much and would count myself among her fans. But I do admit that I don’t like THE PHILADELPHIA STORY.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. What a nice open letter! Unlike you, I was quickly bewitched by Katharine wehn I saw my first movie with her – Adam’s Rib – and the love never stopped growing. And, well, Rooster Cogburn is only even watchable because of her!
    Congrats on being so blunt in your piece and voicing your “unpopular opinion”.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Wow that was a great idea for the blogathon! I wonder what Katharine herself would have thought of your letter! I must admit a pairing between Katharine Hepburn and John Wayne seems a bit weird O_o. To me they sort of represent very different things.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You’re right – the Katharine Hepburn/John Wayne pairing is strange. However, they seem to have a warm chemistry on screen. I can’t really recommend it, except if you’re wanting to see every Katharine H movie in her filmography.

      Liked by 1 person

  12. Kate is not my “favorite” of favorites HOWEVER- I do admire her and respect her acting and I do love a handful of her films- she reminds me that you can overcome anything- and you can dare to be different- Ive come to like her a lot more that I originally did.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You’re right – Kate dared to be different, and that is an empowering message. There is much about her career to be admired; several people (whether in show biz or not) have named her as their inspiration.

      Like

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