Tuesday, 11 October 2011

Katharine Hepburn's Second Oscar

Once upon a time I had four Katharine Hepburn bios, due to fickle friends and dire circumstances I only have one at the moment – the Garson Kanin memoir. Of her four Oscars, the most has been said of Kate's second - because it was "undeserved", because she was up against so many other icons, because it was something of a supporting performance...and so on. It was a long wait between her 1932 win for Morning Glory and the 1967 one for Guess Who's Coming to Dinner. It was also, not insignificantly, Spencer Tracy's last film before his death. I love this extract from Kanin's book.

She was in France, making The Madwoman of Chaillot when the news came through by telephone. Her housekeepers, Willie and Ida, phoned her from Hollywood, awakening her just before 7. A.M., French time.

“You won, Miss Hepburn!” they shouted. You won the Oscar!”
“Did Mr. Tracy win it, too?” she asked.
There was a pause before Willie replied, “No, Madam.”
“Well, that’s okay,” she said. “I'm sure mine is for the two of us.”
The following day, Gregory Peck received a cable:

IT WAS DELIGHTFUL A TOTAL SURPRISE I AM ENORMOUSLY TOUCHED BECAUSE I FEEL I HAVE RECEIVED A GREAT AFFECTIONATE HUG FROM MY FELLOW WORKERS AND FOR A VARIETY OF REASONS NOT THE LEAST OF WHICH BEING SPENCER STANLEY SIDNEY KATHY AND BILL ROSE. ROSE WROTE ABOUT A NORMAL MIDDLE AGED UNSPECTACULAR UNGLAMOROUS CREATURE WITH A GOOD BRAIN AND A WARM HEART WHO’S DOING THE BEST SHE CAN TO DO THE DECENT THING IN A DIFFICULT SITUATION. IN OTHER WORDS SHE WAS A GOOD WIFE. OUR MOST UNSUNG AND IMPORTANT HEROINE. I’M GLAD SHE’S COMING BACK IN STYLE. I MODELLED HER AFTER MY MOTHER. THANKS AGAIN. THEY DON’T USUALLY GIVE THESE THINGS TO THE OLD GIRLS YOU KNOW.

(from Tracy and Hepburn: An Intimate Memoir by Garson Kanin)

It reads with much more fluidity and honesty than a number of Oscar acceptance speeches, but then I'm highly nepotistic considering how much I adore the woman. I still get a pang in my heart when watching Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner which, for all its didactic implications, is still a thoroughly enjoyable ensemble piece. I don't care for whether or not Kate deserved the Oscar for that specific performance, I suppose I'd fete either Evans or Dunaway, but I don't think it's a poor performance. And, with the pervading wave of sentiment behind the win how could I say no to a face like this?

3 comments:

The AZ Cinema Experiment said...

I am not that familiar with the career of Hepburn but I am also not completely unfamiliar. The only thing that comes to mind when reading things like this is that there are no more real movie stars anymore. It really is sad. Nobody that matches the caliber of those old stars at least.

TomS said...

Dunaway's and Bancroft's performances have stood the test of time. But in 1968, their films were so cutting-edge that the Academy wasn't sure what to make of them. Hepburn gave a wonderful performance in what was essentially a more familiar style of domestic comedy-drama. I thought she was awesome, and yes, there was a tidal wave of sentiment behind her that makes sense today. A nice remembrance of this Oscar win, Andrew.

Andrew: Encore Entertainment said...

az cinema well, i've written A LOT of stuff on her. i'm so with you on the lack of movie "stars". it's a real shame.

tom i still don't LOVE bancroft's work in the graduate. great, no doubt, but not as fond of it as others (it's hoffman's show for me). i suppose winning for sentiment isn't the way for oscar to go, but the moment is so sweet.