Unafraid to Fall

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On Today’s Menu:
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** Share some birthday cake
for a legendary actress.
** Linger to consider what fosters bravery in our lives.
** Savor a last ½ cup perusing a list of wonderfully watchable movies.
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First Sip:

Living itself
was a sort of ecstasy.

the opportunitiesthe hopes.
I was on my own in a high state of excitement.
I did not need anything else

I just seemed—still seem—
to trot along my own trail—
nose to the ground, going my own way.

– Katharine Hepburn


Slice of Cake:

She was successful. Then she wasn’t.
Then she was successful again. Then she wasn’t.
Then she was.

She won an Oscar for best actress for Morning Glory (1933).
It was only her third film. She was 25.

Her next few films did poorly at the box office.
It was said she had an off-putting attitude off-screen.
She wouldn’t sign autographs. She wouldn’t give interviews.
She wouldn’t wear glamorous gowns—she preferred sports clothes and slacks.

Katharine Hepburn

photo by Silver Screen Collection/Getty Images

In 1938, frustrated with the poor showing of scripts on offer,
Hepburn decided she wanted to make a film based on a play written by her friend Philip Barry.1
First, however, she had to pay her studio to let her out of her contract.

The film was Holiday.
Critics liked it. Audiences did not.

She panicked.
She worked.
She changed her approach—
which is why her career was so long.
…She was never

The woman had an ego as big as a pharaoh’s,
but somewhere underneath that, she knew
that the actual job at hand was a
with challenges, and often she needed
to rise to the occasion.

She didn’t rest on her laurels. Ever.

– Sheila O’Malley2

Hepburn left Hollywood and
went back to New York, hoping to do more theater.
Philip Barry sent her his new play. She thought it was wonderful.
Another friend advised Hepburn to buy the movie rights before the play even opened.
Then he went ahead and bought the rights for her—in her name.3

The play was The Philadelphia Story.
Owning the copyright assured her the lead in the movie.
It became a critical and financial hit—and she went on to other hits.
(Including her first two films with Spencer Tracy.)

In the late 1940s, her career took another dive
as she and other actors protested both the Hollywood Blacklist
and the on-going hearings of the House Un-American Activities Committee.

Hepburn joined the Committee for the First Amendment.

Other members included:
Lucille Ball, Humphrey Bogart, Lauren Bacall, Joseph Cotten,
Dorothy Dandridge, Bette Davis, Henry Fonda, John Garfield,
Judy Garland, Ira Gershwin, Paul Henreid, Lena Horne, Danny Kaye,
Gene Kelly, Evelyn Keyes, Burt Lancaster, Groucho Marx,
Burgess Meredith, Vincente Minnelli, Edward G. Robinson,
Frank Sinatra, Kay Thompson, Billy Wilder, and Jane Wyatt

In 1948 and 1949, Hepburn made two more movies with Spencer Tracy:
State of the Union and Adam’s Rib. Both proved to be quite popular.

Then came The African Queen (1951) with Humphrey Bogart.
It was extremely successful—
And Hepburn received her first Oscar nomination in more than ten years.

Over the next 15 years, Hepburn kept busy:

** She made three more movies with Spencer Tracy.
** She went back to the stage in Shakespeare plays at Stratford, Connecticut—
as well as touring Australia with the Old Vic Theatre Company.
** She won 2 more Oscars during the 1960s
for Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner (1967) and The Lion in Winter (1968).
** She starred in a Broadway musical about Coco Chanel.

Later on in her career, she realized
that she was “afraid of” Shakespeare.
Well, this must not be allowed to stand!

So she ended up doing theatrical productions
of Shakespeare’s plays all over the world.
Her notices weren’t all that good,
but Hepburn wasn’t doing it to be congratulated.
She was doing it so that she would
keep learning and growing as an actress.

She worked her butt off.
There is an arrogance to that kind of dedication.
She didn’t waste her time on concern for others.
She kept her eye on the ball.

That is what is required to be
a star of her magnitude

– Sheila O’Malley2

Then, in 1981, she made a movie called On Golden Pond,
with Henry Fonda and Jane Fonda.
This led to…

Katharine Hepburn—at age 75
winning her fourth Oscar for Best Actress.
(This is still the record for most wins by any actor.)


Happy 113th Birthday
** Katharine Hepburn

– born May 12, 1907
in Hartfort, Connecticut


Linger Awhile:

There was a hemlock tree
that I used to climb.

The neighbors used to call my mother…
“Kathy is at the top of the hemlock!”

“Yes, I know.
Don’t scare her.
She doesn’t know that it’s dangerous.”

from Me: Stories of My Life
an autobiography by Katharine Hepburn1

I’ve been thinking this week about how the feeling of freedom,
of hope, and the ability to take chances in life—
how all of that originates from bravery.
From not being afraid to fail. Not being afraid to fall.

And where does that bravery come from?
I think it’s maybe from believing that if we do fall,
someone is there to catch us.

Re-reading Katharine Hepburn’s autobiography this week,
I could see she had a safety net. Several safety nets, in fact:
Talent, intelligence, education, luck, and money—
old family money and her own earnings.

But I believe, of all her safety nets,
the most importanteven more important than money—
was the fact that she had a large and supportive family.

What can I say?
The luck of having Dad and Mother…

Dad with his red hair and his hot temper.
Some say I’m like him. I hope so…

Mother with her real savvy of life…
She was deep. She was witty.
Some say I’m like her.
I hope so, I’d be so proud.

Six children over a period of fifteen years.

We were a happy family.

The family with us was strong and remains strong.
Their problems are my problems and vice versa.
We’re sort of a ‘group’ going through the world together….
I feel cared for and I have always felt cared for.

My sisters and brothers.
They are so much a part of me…
They are my ‘box’—my protection.

– Katharine Hepburn1

Like Hepburn, I am from a big family. And I feel happy and very lucky to say that we
act as safety nets for one another. I have always felt cared for.

I didn’t have money for college when I first graduated high school. But I had
family I could go live with—and in places with better job prospects than the little town I grew up in.

When my first child was born, my mom moved across country to help take care of the baby.
Six years later, when my younger sister had her baby, my mother was there to help.

And when my mother had a series of mini-strokes and could no longer live alone,
our family was there for her.

My mother with
six of her children

Summer 2011

I don’t know that I’m especially brave…
But I do know for sure that I have felt a lot more freedom
and a lot more hope in my life
because I have my family.

Well, who is happy? I am
I have a happy nature—
I like the rain
the mountains, the sea

Well, I like life.
And I’ve been so lucky.
Why shouldn’t I be happy?

– Katharine Hepburn1


“Half Cup More”

Katherine Hepburn is my favorite actor.
I especially love her black & white movies…

However! her very first films have not aged well.
From 1932 through 1936, all but one of her films
now seem dated and melodramatic.

Starting in 1937, they improveddramatically.

Here are 8 of my
Favorite Katharine Hepburn Movies **

Little Women (1933) directed by George Cukor4
This is a wonderful film. And it would make a wonderful double billing with the 2019 version of Little Women directed by Greta Gerwig. And yes, Saoirse Ronan is amazing, but to hear Katharine Hepburn bellowing ‘Christopher Columbus!’ is to hear Jo March come right off the page.

Stage Door (1937) directed by Gregory LaCava
This is a terrific ensemble piece. Andrea Leeds deserved her Oscar. Ginger Rogers really should have won one, as well.

Bringing Up Baby (1938) directed by Howard Hawks
A fun, funny film with an utterly preposterous plot. Katharine Hepburn is adorable in this.

Holiday (1938) directed by George Cukor4
Holiday is my all-time favorite movie. And has been for a very long time. Yet, it was only this week that I learned that ten years before this movie was made, the play Holiday had a seven-month run on Broadwaywith a 21-year-old Katharine Hepburn as the understudy to Hope Williams in the starring role. (Hepburn only played the role on stage in one performance.)

I love this movie because it is funny and appealing—but it also brings up questions of sexism and classism and the ability to define one’s own life. The brother-sister relationship is subtle and splendid. Plus, I really love Jean Dixon and Edward Everett Horton as the academic married couple.

Philadelphia Story (1940) directed by George Cukor4
Here is as perfect as a film can be. Three powerhouse actors: Katharine Hepburn, Jimmy Stewart, Cary Grant—all terrific! And yet, most of the best lines seem to belong to the newspaper photographer, played by Ruth Hussey.

Adam’s Rib (1949) directed by George Cukor4
Two lawyers, married to each other, find themselves adversaries on a court case. I think this is the best of the Spencer Tracy-Katherine Hepburn films.

The African Queen (1951) directed by John Huston
Humphrey Bogart won an Oscar for this role. It’s interesting to see him play a more humble character. (Very different from his Casablanca character.)

Summertime (1955) directed by David Lean
Beautifully filmed in Venice, this one feels like a holiday in Italy.

And because 8 is just not enough
(and because there are some good movies without Katharine Hepburn in them!)

Here are 15 more of my
** Favorite Black & White Movies **
(in chronological order):

Rear Window (1954)
Roman Holiday
All About Eve

To Have and Have Not (1944)
The Magnificent Ambersons
Now, Voyager
His Girl Friday
The Thin Man
The Women
Mr Smith Goes to Washington
Swing Time

It Happened One Night (1934)
I’m No Angel


Take-Away Box

My cue came. I walked on.
And I walked through the whole opening night.
It was perfectly awful

My voice got higher and higher
A totally nothing performance.

Noel Coward came backstage.
This time he said:
“You mucked it up. But that happens
to all of us. You’ll get roasted.
But keep at it. You’ll find the way.”
And indeed I was roasted

Dorothy Parker summed it up:
‘See K.H. run the gamut-t-t of emotion
from A to B.’
Dorothy Parker was right.

After the shock of the opening,
we settled down to the gradual demise.

One night a woman came back to my dressing room
She said,
“I’m a singer. I think that I could help you.”
I certainly need help.
When do we start?”
“Now,” she said.

We went back to my house. Talked about vocal troubles
worked on the scenes which seemed to be causing the most trouble.
…Every night, she came to the play.
Bit by bit by bit, I pulled myself back
from that cliff-hang of terror

We worked on voice. And relaxation.
And it did improve…
People came back and said,
“Why, you’re not so bad at all.
You made me cry.”

And slowly my confidence returned. It was thrilling
My dignity returned. I stopped making excuses.

And I began to look at myself as the
leader of a group. Not a poor little thing who was
trying her best and had been mistreated.

– Katharine Hepburn
in her autobiography Me: Stories of My Life
in a chapter about ‘’The Lake’
a play by Dorothy Massingham
Martin Beck Theatre, New York City


Thank you for reading!
Kelly J Hardesty

Thoughts? Questions?
Scroll down to the endand you can leave me note!
Always so lovely to hear from you.

You Can Read More…


notes & footnotes

Me: Stories of My Life (1991)

an autobiography by Katharine Hepburn

from The Sheila Variations
a blog by Sheila O’Malley
September 6, 2008

The friend who bought Katharine Hepburn the film rights
to The Philadelphia Story was Howard Hughes.

Here’s what Hepburn says in her autobiography
about him:

Howard and I were indeed a strange pair…
People who want to be famous are really loners.
Or they should be.

I did not want to marry Howard.

I liked him. He was bright… His life was interesting.
But obviously I was obsessed by my own failure,
and I wondered whether I could put it right.

I look back at our relationship and
I think that we were both cool customers…
When I decided to move East, I think he thought
‘Well, I don’t want to move East.
I’ll find someone who will stay West.’

I always thought it was lucky that we never married—
two people who are used to having their own way
should stay separate.

Then…the hurricane of 1938.
Our house at Fenwick disappeared.
Howard had a pilot fly in with bottled water—
and I knew that Howard and I had
become friends and not lovers.
Love had turned to water. Pure water.
… He was always a good friend.

– Katharine Hepburn
in her autobiography Me: Stories of My Life

You may have noticed that
4 out 8 of my favorite Katharine Hepburn films
were directed by the same person:
George Cukor.

Cukor also directed Gaslight (1944), Dinner at Eight (1933),
and A Star is Born (1954) with Judy Garland.

George Cukor was nominated for Best Director four times,
plus he won an Oscar for directing My Fair Lady (1964).

And yet, director George Cukor
is not a household name
like, say, John Huston or Billy Wilder.

Here is Hepburn’s theory for why not:

His was an extraordinary career, and yet is
seldom listed with the so-called great directors.
…I think that I have finally figured out why.

He was primarily an actor’s director.
He was primarily interested in making the actor shine.

When George Cukor talked to the press..
he discussed what interested him—the performances.
So the writer then wrote about the actors…
We got the credit and George didn’t.
I wonder if I’m right. I think so.

– Katharine Hepburn
in her autobiography Me: Stories of My Life

Katharine Hepburn made seven films directed by George Cukor

Her first: A Bill of Divorcement (1932)

Her most beloved: Little Women (1933)

One of her most successful: The Philadelphia Story (1940)

My very favorite: Holiday (1938)

Her best film with co-star Spencer Tracy: Adam’s Rib (1949)

Plus one Hepburn herself called ‘a real disaster’: Sylvia Scarlett (1935)

George Cukor was really
my best friend in California.

We made many pictures together—always happily.
Must have had the same set of standards. We both…
loved to work—we admired each other…

It was as if George and I had been brought up together.
Total comfort. The same liberal point of view—
the same sense of right and wrong.

I miss him.

– Katharine Hepburn
in her autobiography Me: Stories of My Life

George Cukor did NOT direct Woman of the Year (1942).

Hepburn writes that she “had to explain
to Cukor that this script had to be directed by a very
macho director from the man’s point of view
and not the woman’s.
I’m sure that George was very disappointed.”

(I think that the reason I don’t like
Woman of the Year is that it’s too macho
and not enough from ‘the woman’s point of view.’)

Hepburn also writes about going to parties
at George Cukor’s enormous Hollywood home—
especially, she tells a story of his famous ‘Oval Room’

The leather walls, high ceiling, indirect lighting…
a sofa built into a rounded glass window.
It was a huge sort of seat, very cushioned,
very deep…

I remember once getting onto that sofa and being
penned in by Igor Stravinsky and Groucho Marx.
I wanted to talk to Stravinsky about the lyre birds in Australia…
For me they sang and sang…
Had he heard them?
“Shut up, Groucho.”
Well, he had tried to hear them, yes,
he had gone to Melbourne and gone to
Sherbrooke Forest and listened but—
“Shut up, Groucho.”

—He had heard nothing. It was his kind of sound.
He had a symphony in mind.
The birds were silent…What a waste!

Poor Groucho, he wanted to talk and I wanted to
hear Stravinsky, who wanted to hear the lyrebirds,
and they chose not to sing.

Life life!

– Katharine Hepburn
in her autobiography Me: Stories of My Life


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© Kelly J Hardesty 2024

8 thoughts on “Unafraid to Fall”

  1. Your posts have developed into a wonderful combination of dash and verve and reflection and smarts and whirling-around-the-world and memories and vulnerability and humour. I hope you have many, many readers xxx

  2. I’m off to watch Holiday! I love KH, but haven’t seen that one.
    My heart goes out to poor Igor… what he could have done with the lyrebirds song.

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