Katharine Hepburn - Personal Life - Public Image and Character

Public Image and Character

"I strike people as peculiar in some way, although I don't quite understand why. Of course, I have an angular face, an angular body and, I suppose, an angular personality, which jabs into people."

"I'm a personality as well as an actress. Show me an actress who isn't a personality and you'll show me a woman who isn't a star."

—Hepburn commenting on her personality.

Known for being fiercely private, Hepburn would not give interviews or talk to fans for much of her career. Her life, she felt, was no one else's business. Uninterested in a social scene she saw as tedious and superficial, she distanced herself from the celebrity lifestyle, and she wore casual clothes that went strongly against convention in an era of glamour. She rarely appeared in public, even avoiding restaurants, and once wrestled a camera out of a photographer's hand when he took a picture without asking. Despite this she enjoyed the fame, and confessed that she would not have liked the press to ignore her completely. The protective attitude thawed as she aged; beginning with a two-hour long interview on The Dick Cavett Show in 1973, Hepburn became increasingly open with the public.

Hepburn's relentless energy and enthusiasm for life is often cited in biographies, while a headstrong independence became key to her celebrity status. This self-assuredness meant she could be controlling and difficult; her friend Garson Kanin likened her to a schoolmistress, and she was famously blunt and outspoken. Katharine Houghton commented that her aunt could be "maddeningly self-righteous and bossy". Hepburn confessed to being, especially early in life, "a me me me person". She saw herself as having a happy nature, reasoning "I like life and I've been so lucky, why shouldn't I be happy?" A. Scott Berg knew Hepburn well in her later years, and said that while she was demanding, there remained a sense of humility and humanity. She led an active private life, reportedly swimming and playing tennis every morning. In her eighties she was still playing tennis regularly, as indicated in her 1993 documentary All About Me. She also enjoyed painting, which became a passion later in life. A small bust she sculpted of Spencer Tracy's head was featured in Guess Who's Coming to Dinner.

When questioned about politics, Hepburn told an interviewer, "I always just say be on the affirmative and liberal side. Don't be a 'no' person." The anti-communist hysteria in 1940s Hollywood prompted her to political activity, and she made a speech against censorship in May 1947 that shocked the public. Targeted by right-wing activists as a supposed communist sympathizer, she was mentioned at the hearings of the House Un-American Activities Committee. She insisted that the claims made about her were untrue. For decades, Hepburn openly promoted birth control and supported abortion. She found great spirituality in existence, practicing Albert Schweitzer's theory of "Reverence for Life", but did not believe in religion or the afterlife. In 1991, Hepburn told a journalist, "I'm an atheist, and that's it. I believe there's nothing we can know except that we should be kind to each other and do what we can for other people." Her public declarations of these beliefs led the American Humanist Association to award her the Humanist Arts Award in 1985.

Read more about this topic:  Katharine Hepburn, Personal Life

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