11 Timeless Facts About Katharine Hepburn

A publicity still of Katharine Hepburn circa 1941.
A publicity still of Katharine Hepburn circa 1941.
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Over the course of her 62-year career in film, Katharine Hepburn portrayed an array of comedic and dramatic characters who were sometimes witty, often independent, and never, ever dull. Hepburn—who was especially well-known for her unapologetic attitude and her proclivity for wearing pants whenever possible—was just as captivating offscreen as she was on. Read on to discover fascinating details about the star of The Philadelphia Story and so much more.

1. Katharine Hepburn was a tomboy from an early age.

Katharine Hepburn in London in 1952.Keystone/Getty Images

Aside from her acting career, Katharine Houghton Hepburn was also famous for her commitment to wearing pants at a time when the rest of Hollywood’s female starlets virtually never strayed from skirts and dresses; the Council of Fashion Designers of America even honored her with a lifetime achievement award in 1986.

Hepburn, whose mother was a suffragette and early advocate of birth control, was raised to be confident, independent, and individualistic, and her aversion to forced femininity began at a young age. For one memorable summer during her childhood in Connecticut, she sported a short haircut and started going by “Jimmy.” “I thought being a girl was really the bunk,” Hepburn later explained in an interview. “But there’s no bunk about Jimmy.”

Though she stuck with her birth name after that, she never warmed to the idea of long, flowy clothing. “I realized long ago that skirts are hopeless,” Hepburn said in 1993. “Anytime I hear a man say he prefers a woman in a skirt, I say: ‘Try one. Try a skirt.’”

2. Katharine Hepburn found her brother dead when she was 13 years old.

While Hepburn’s upbringing was privileged in some ways, it wasn’t without tragedy. In 1921, when she was 13 years old, she found her 15-year-old brother Tom hanging from the rafters, having strangled himself to death. Her family maintained that it was the result of a magic trick gone awry, since Tom had tried a mock-hanging stunt at least once before, but it cast a dark shadow over the rest of Hepburn’s childhood and added to an already-established legacy of suicide in the family: Two uncles, a great-uncle, and her grandfather all ended their own lives.

3. Katharine Hepburn bought out her contract for The Lake rather than finish the run.

Katharine Hepburn strikes a pose in 1933, shortly after escaping from The Lake.General Photographic Agency/Getty Images

Hepburn made her Broadway debut in 1930’s Art and Mrs. Bottle and graced the stage again in 1932’s The Warrior’s Husband. Her third play, 1993’s The Lake, garnered abysmal reviews, including Dorothy Parker’s alleged observation that Hepburn “ran the gamut of emotion from A to B.” Not long into the run, 26-year-old Hepburn was so miserable—and treated so poorly by director Jed Harris—that she bought out her contract and simply walked away.

4. The Lake was the original source of one of Hepburn’s most memorable lines.

One line from the ill-fated play, however, followed Hepburn out that stage door and right into another one. In 1937’s Stage Door, Hepburn portrays an aspiring actress competing with other boarding house tenants for parts in a play, and director Gregory La Cava gave her the line “The calla lilies are in bloom again,” which he had borrowed from The Lake. Delivered several times throughout the film in Hepburn’s trademark Mid-Atlantic drawl, the line became one of her most iconic, and it’s been referenced in various programs over the years, including an episode of I Love Lucy and the 1988 comedy Big Top Pee-Wee.

5. Katharine Hepburn once dumped a cup of water on co-star Ginger Rogers.

It would take more than a little water to frighten off Fred Astaire's legendary dancing partner.London Express/Getty Images

On the set of Stage Door, Ginger Rogers was flaunting a new mink coat when Hepburn appeared and poured her cup of water on it, explaining that if the coat was, in fact, real mink, it wouldn't shrink. The media speculated that the behavior was brought on by jealousy of Rogers, since Hepburn’s then-beau Howard Hughes had reportedly shown interest in her, but Rogers herself wouldn’t play into the rumors. “Don’t ask me, I haven’t the foggiest notion why [she did it],” Rogers later said in an interview.

6. For a while, Katharine Hepburn was considered “box office poison.”

Hepburn followed her film debut in 1932’s A Bill of Divorcement with an Oscar-winning performance in 1933’s Morning Glory and another acclaimed appearance in Little Women that same year. But she also had enough commercial flops—including Spitfire (1934), Mary of Scotland (1936), and the now-beloved screwball comedy Bringing Up Baby (1938)—in the mid- to late 1930s that she landed on a 1938 list of actors labeled “box office poison” by the Independent Theater Owners’ Association of New York.

Hepburn was unabashed. “Look, they say I’m a has-been,” she told the Daily News with a chuckle, “Yet Bringing Up Baby already has clicked to the tune of $2 million gross, while Stage Door has grossed better than $2,500,000. If I weren’t laughing so hard, I might cry, but why should I?”

7. The Philadelphia Story was a turning point in her career.

As it turns out, Hepburn was right not to dwell on the poisonous criticism. In 1938, she accepted a starring role—which playwright Philip Barry had actually written for her—in the Broadway comedy The Philadelphia Story, and Howard Hughes bought her the rights so that she could reprise her role in a film adaptation. The MGM-produced 1940 film, which co-starred Cary Grant and Jimmy Stewart, was a box office smash, and it planted Hepburn right back on her path to greatness.

8. Katharine Hepburn had a decades-long affair with Spencer Tracy.

Hepburn wed Philadelphia businessman Ludlow Ogden Smith soon after graduating from Bryn Mawr in 1928, but they divorced after 6 years. Much more significant was her affair with fellow actor Spencer Tracy, whom she lived with for 27 years (though Tracy, who was Catholic, never actually divorced his wife). Over the course of their relationship, Hepburn and Tracy starred in nine films together, including 1942’s Woman of the Year, 1949’s Adam’s Rib, and 1952’s Pat and Mike. They wrapped production on their last one, 1967’s Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, just a few weeks before Tracy died of a heart attack at age 67.

9. Whisky was Katharine Hepburn’s drink of choice.

Though Hepburn didn’t drink much during her years with Tracy (who was an alcoholic), she was known to regularly indulge in a glass of whisky in later life, which she said helped with the head tremor she had inherited from her grandfather. “I discovered that whisky helps stop the shaking,” she said in the 1993 documentary All About Me. “Problem is, if you’re not careful, it stops the rest of you, too.”

But based on what she told fellow cast member Brian Blessed while filming 1971’s The Trojan Women, it seems like she also just really loved whisky, all favorable side effects aside. “When I smell whisky, I go absolutely out of my mind. Whisky is beauuuuuutiful. I smell whisky in a glass and I want it,” she said, according to Blessed’s autobiography. “I’d drink whisky morning, noon, and night until it killed me.”

10. KathArine Hepburn’s brownie recipe broke up a marriage.

Hepburn may have balked at certain societal restrictions on women, but that didn’t mean she had anything against spending time in the kitchen. She was especially particular about brownies, which, in her opinion, should be moist. After The New York Times published her signature recipe online in 2015, a woman named Sydne Newberry revealed in the comments section that Hepburn’s deliciously fudgy dessert had inadvertently ended her marriage. As Newberry told The Cut, she had brought the brownies on a trip to visit her husband while he was stationed at an Air Force base in Germany in the 1980s. While there, she shared the dessert with his friend and his friend’s wife, “a gorgeous Italian woman who was very proud of her cooking and was a real food snob.”

Her new baking buddy loved the brownies, and the two kept up correspondence over the next few years while the woman tried to get the recipe right. After repeated failures, she implied that Newberry had intentionally omitted something. Then, while visiting Newberry in the states, the woman began an affair with Newberry’s husband, who eventually left his wife for her, apparently undeterred by her lack of success on the brownie front. “If you want to steal somebody’s husband,” Newberry told NPR, “You should screw up a brownie recipe.”

11. Katharine Hepburn held the record for most Academy Award nominations … until Meryl Streep came along.

With her Best Actress nomination for On Golden Pond in 1981, Hepburn set a new record for most nominations ever earned by an actor: 12. The record went unchallenged until 2002, when Meryl Streep clinched her 13th for a supporting role in Adaptation (since then, Streep’s nomination count has risen to a staggering 21). When it comes to actual wins, however, Hepburn comes out on top: Streep has three, while Hepburn has four.

14 Retro Gifts for Millennials

Ravi Palwe, Unsplash
Ravi Palwe, Unsplash

Millennials were born between 1981 and 1996, which means the pop culture they grew up with is officially retro. No matter what generation you belong to, consider these gifts when shopping for the Millennials in your life this holiday season.

1. Reptar Funko Pop!; $29

Amazon

This vinyl Reptar figurine from Funko is as cool as anything you’d find in the rugrats’ toy box. The monster dinosaur has been redesigned in classic Pop! style, making it a perfect desk or shelf accessory for the grown-up Nickelodeon fan. It also glows in the dark, which should appeal to anyone’s inner child.

Buy it: Amazon

2. Dragon Ball Z Slippers; $20

Hot Topic

You don’t need to change out of your pajamas to feel like a Super Saiyan. These slippers are emblazoned with the same kanji Goku wears on his gi in Dragon Ball Z: one for training under King Kai and one for training with Master Roshi. And with a soft sherpa lining, the footwear feels as good as it looks.

Buy it: Hot Topic

3. The Pokémon Cookbook; $15

Hop Topic

What do you eat after a long day of training and catching Pokémon? Any dish in The Pokémon Cookbook is a great option. This book features more than 35 recipes inspired by creatures from the Pokémon franchise, including Poké Ball sushi rolls and mashed Meowth potatoes.

Buy it: Hot Topic

4. Lisa Frank Activity Book; $5

Urban Outfitters

Millennials will never be too old for Lisa Frank, especially when the artist’s playful designs come in a relaxing activity book. Watercolor brings the rainbow characters in this collection to life. Just gather some painting supplies and put on a podcast for a relaxing, nostalgia-fueled afternoon.

Buy it: Urban Outfitters

5. Shoebox Tape Recorder with USB; $28

Amazon

The days of recording mix tapes don’t have to be over. This device looks and functions just like tape recorders from the pre-smartphone era. And with a USB port as well as a line-in jack and built-in mic, users can easily import their digital music collection onto retro cassette tapes.

Buy it: Amazon

6. Days of the Week Scrunchie Set; $12

Urban Outfitters

Millennials can be upset that a trend from their youth is old enough to be cool again, or they can embrace it. This scrunchie set is for anyone happy to see the return of the hair accessory. The soft knit ponytail holders come in a set of five—one for each day of the school (or work) week.

Buy it: Urban Outfitters

7. D&D Graphic T-shirt; $38-$48

80s Tees

The perfect gift for the Dungeon Master in your life, this graphic tee is modeled after the cover of the classic Dungeons & Dragons rule book. It’s available in sizes small through 3XL.

Buy it: 80s Tees

8. Chuck E. Cheese T-shirt; $36-$58

80s Tees

Few Millennials survived childhood without experiencing at least one birthday party at Chuck E. Cheese. This retro T-shirt sports the brand’s original name: Chuck E. Cheese’s Pizza Time Theatre. It may be the next-best gift for a Chuck E. Cheese fan behind a decommissioned animatronic.

Buy it: 80s Tees

9. The Nightmare Before Christmas Picnic Blanket Bag; $40

Shop Disney

Fans of Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas will recognize the iconic scene on the front of this messenger bag. Unfold it and the bag becomes a blanket fit for a moonlit picnic among the pumpkins. The bottom side is waterproof and the top layer is made of soft fleece.

Buy it: Shop Disney

10. Toy Story Alien Socks; $15

Shop Disney

You don’t need to be skilled at the claw machine to take home a pair of these socks. Decorated with the aliens from Toy Story, they’re made from soft-knit fabric and are big enough to fit adult feet.

Buy it: Shop Disney

11. Goosebumps Board Game; $24

Amazon

Fans that read every book in R.L. Stine’s series growing up can now play the Goosebumps board game. In this game, based on the Goosebumps movie, players take on the role of their favorite monster from the series and race to the typewriter at the end of the trail of manuscripts.

Buy it: Amazon

12. Tamagotchi Mini; $19

Amazon

If you know someone who killed their Tamagotchi in the '90s, give them another chance to show off their digital pet-care skills. This Tamagotchi is a smaller, simplified version of the original game. It doubles as a keychain, so owners have no excuse to forget to feed their pet.

Buy it: Amazon

13. SNES Classic; $275

Amazon

The SNES Classic is much easier to find now than when it first came out, and it's still just as entertaining for retro video game fans. This mini console comes preloaded with 21 Nintendo games, including Super Mario Kart and Street Fighter II.

Buy it: Amazon

14. Planters Cheez Balls; $24

Amazon

Planters revived its Cheez Balls in 2018 after pulling them from shelves nearly a decade earlier. To Millennials unaware of that fact, this gift could be their dream come true. The throwback snack even comes in the classic canister fans remember.

Buy it: Amazon

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America’s Most Popular Horror Movie Villains, Mapped

FrontierBundles.com
FrontierBundles.com

No matter how you feel about scary movies, it's hard to avoid them around Halloween. This is the time of year when the faces of cinema's classic horror villains seem to pop up in every store window and television set you see. Depending on where you live, certain horror icons may be especially hard to ignore. Check out the map below to find out the most popular scary movie villain in your state.

To make the map, FrontierBundles.com chose 15 classic horror movie antagonists and looked at regional Google Trends data for each name from the past year. Frankenstein's Monster from 1931's Frankenstein dominates most of the country, with 11 states including Pennsylvania and Arizona searching for the character. Ghostface from 1996's Scream ranked second with eight states. Chucky from Child's Play (1988), the Xenomorph from the Alien franchise, and Norman Bates from Psycho (1960) also rank high on the list.

FrontierBundles.com

Not every Halloween term Americans are searching for is horror-related. Some of the more wholesome seasonal queries that appear in Google's data include candy, crafts, and maze. But for every Google user searching for family-friendly fall activities, there are plenty looking up horror movies and monsters as well. Here's what people are Googling in your state for Halloween.