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 wearing pants and smoking a cigarette in london
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 in 1933
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.

7 Top-Rated Portable Air Conditioners You Can Buy Right Now

Black + Decker/Amazon
Black + Decker/Amazon

The warmest months of the year are just around the corner (in the Northern Hemisphere, anyway), and things are about to get hot. To make indoor life feel a little more bearable, we’ve rounded up a list of some of the top-rated portable air conditioners you can buy online right now.

1. SereneLife 3-in-1 Portable Air Conditioner; $290

SereneLife air conditioner on Amazon.

This device—currently the best-selling portable air conditioner on Amazon—is multifunctional, cooling the air while also working as a dehumidifier. Reviewers on Amazon praised this model for how easy it is to set up, but cautioned that it's not meant for large spaces. According to the manufacturer, it's designed to cool down rooms up to 225 square feet, and the most positive reviews came from people using it in their bedroom.

Buy it: Amazon

2. Black + Decker 14,000 BTU Portable Air Conditioner and Heater; $417

Black + Decker portable air conditioner

Black + Decker estimates that this combination portable air conditioner and heater can accommodate rooms up to 350 square feet, and it even comes with a convenient timer so you never have to worry about forgetting to turn it off before you leave the house. The setup is easy—the attached exhaust hose fits into most standard windows, and everything you need for installation is included. This model sits around four stars on Amazon, and it was also picked by Wirecutter as one of the best values on the market.

Buy it: Amazon

3. Mikikin Portable Air Conditioner Fan; $45

Desk air conditioner on Amazon

This miniature portable conditioner, which is Amazon's top-selling new portable air conditioner release, is perfect to put on a desk or end table as you work or watch TV during those sweltering dog days. It's currently at a four-star rating on Amazon, and reviewers recommend filling the water tank with a combination of cool water and ice cubes for the best experience.

Buy it: Amazon

4. Juscool Portable Air Conditioner Fan; $56

Juscool portable air conditioner.

This tiny air conditioner fan, which touts a 4.6-star rating, is unique because it plugs in with a USB cable, so you can hook it up to a laptop or a wall outlet converter to try out any of its three fan speeds. This won't chill a living room, but it does fit on a nightstand or desk to help cool you down in stuffy rooms or makeshift home offices that weren't designed with summer in mind.

Buy it: Amazon

5. SHINCO 8000 BTU Portable Air Conditioner; $320

Shinco portable air conditioner

This four-star-rated portable air conditioner is meant for rooms of up to 200 square feet, so think of it for a home office or bedroom. It has two fan speeds, and the included air filter can be rinsed out quickly underneath a faucet. There's also a remote control that lets you adjust the temperature from across the room. This is another one where you'll need a window nearby, but the installation kit and instructions are all included so you won't have to sweat too much over setting it up.

Buy it: Amazon

6. Honeywell MN Series Portable Air Conditioner and Dehumidifier; $400

Honeywell air conditioner on Walmart.

Like the other units on this list, Honeywell's portable air conditioner also acts as a dehumidifier or a standard fan when you just want some air to circulate. You can cool a 350-square-foot room with this four-star model, and there are four wheels at the bottom that make moving it from place to place even easier. This one is available on Amazon, too, but Walmart has the lowest price right now.

Buy it: Walmart

7. LG 14,000 BTU Portable Air Conditioner; $699

LG Portable Air Conditioner.
LG/Home Depot

This one won't come cheap, but it packs the acclaim to back it up. It topped Wirecutter's list of best portable air conditioners and currently has a 4.5-star rating on Home Depot's website, with many of the reviews praising how quiet it is while it's running. It's one of the only models you'll find compatible with Alexa and Google Assistant, and it can cool rooms up to 500 square feet. There's also the built-in timer, so you can program it to go on and off whenever you want.

Buy it: Home Depot

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The Maestro: 10 Facts About Ennio Morricone

Peter Tea via Flickr // CC BY-ND 2.0
Peter Tea via Flickr // CC BY-ND 2.0

Famed composer Ennio Morricone died on July 6, 2020 at the age of 91, leaving behind a body of work that eclipses the idea of “productivity” itself. It’s not just that Morricone composed thousands of hours of music for hundreds of movies. It’s that he managed to create so many original, indelible moments over and over again, in such a broad variety of genres for so long, without acquiescing to repetition or compromising his creativity. The last, best comfort to take in his absence is the thrilling—and rather intimidating—volume of music he left for us to revisit and, more likely, discover while celebrating his legacy in the days, weeks, months, and years ahead.

In spite of his seemingly constant presence in the film industry for more than 70 years, there are many details about Morricone's life and career that even longtime fans may not know. In honoring the man and the artist, we’ve collected a handful of facts and figures about the Oscar-winning composer and his vast, incredible, and unforgettable body of work.

1. Ennio Morricone made music for 85 of his 91 years.

Ennio Morricone was encouraged to develop his natural musical abilities at a young age—he created his first compositions at age 6. He was taught music by his father and learned several instruments, but gravitated toward the trumpet. When he was just 12 years old, Morricone enrolled in a four-year program at the prestigious National Academy of St. Cecilia in Rome, where he was born, and completed his studies within six months.

2. Ennio Morricone's career primarily focused on film, television, and radio compositions, but he also worked in popular music.

Morricone’s professional career began in 1950 as an arranger for jazz and pop artists. He helped compose hits for a diverse slate of stars including Nora Orlandi, Mina, Françoise Hardy, Mireille Mathieu, and Paul Anka, whose song “Ogni Volta” (“Every Time”) sold more than 3 million copies worldwide.

Morricone later worked with Pet Shop Boys, k.d. lang, Andrea Bocelli, and Sting. From 1964 to 1980, he was also part of Gruppo di Improvvisazione Consonanza (or “The Group”), an ensemble focused on avant-garde improvisations. Although it was reissued a few years ago, original copies of their 1970 album The Feed-back once fetched as much as $1000 on the collector’s market.

3. Ennio Morricone hit the ground running as a composer—and never slowed down.

Many of Morricone’s first efforts in the movies were as an orchestrator for more established composers, but he quickly joined their ranks. Between 1955 and 1964, when he created his breakthrough score for A Fistful of Dollars, he either orchestrated or composed (or both in some cases) some 28 film scores. During this time, he was already working with Michelangelo Antonioni (L’Avventura), Vittorio De Sica (The Last Judgment), Lucio Fulci (twice!), Lina Wertmüller (I basilischi), and Bernardo Bertolucci (Before the Revolution).

4. Ennio Morricone helped turn A Fistful of Dollars into a worldwide classic.

When Sergio Leone hired Morricone for his first Western, he’d already embarked on an iconoclastic journey, referencing Akira Kurosawa’s Yojimbo. Leone’s initial “concession” was to evoke Dimitri Tiomkin’s score for Howard Hawks’s Rio Bravo in its music. Morricone combined ideas from Tiomkin’s music with an arrangement of folk singer Peter Tevis’s cover of the Woody Guthrie song “Pastures of Plenty” to create what became the opening title theme. The music won the Silver Ribbon Award for Best Score from the Italian National Syndicate of Film Journalists and forged a longtime partnership between Morricone and Leone.

5. During their heyday, Sergio Leone and Ennio Morricone worked in a way that was virtually unprecedented outside of musicals.

The music in Leone’s films is at once one of their most distinctive features, and also one of their most inextricable. Later in his career, Morricone explained that he would often compose portions of the music for Leone’s films before shooting began, and then scenes were staged and shot to match the timing and rhythm of the composer’s music. “That’s why the films are so slow,” Morricone joked in 2007. His use of so many then-unconventional instruments, including electric guitars, the mouth harp, and sound effects like gunshots redefined the musical landscape of the genre, while Leone razed its traditional morality tales to explore darker, more complex stories.

6. A Fistful Of Dollars spawned a lifetime of awards.

Morricone won his only competitive Oscar just four years ago, and had previously received an honorary Oscar in 2007. But after that recognition from the Italian National Syndicate of Journalists, he racked up hundreds of nominations and awards from the Motion Picture Academy (five other nominations), the American Film Institute (four), the Hollywood Foreign Press Association (six nominations, three wins), the Grammys (five nominations and four awards including their Grammy Hall of Fame and Trustees Award), and the Los Angeles Film Critics Association (a Career Achievement award and a win for his score for Once Upon a Time in America). Somewhat predictably, much of the work he did in “genre” films, even the acclaimed “Spaghetti Westerns,” was marginalized at the time, but went on to be appropriately recognized and reevaluated for its impact and artistry.

7. Ennio Morricone was both a critical and a commercial success.

Morricone's work with Leone raised his profile as a formidable collaborator for filmmakers and gave him worldwide chart success. His score for The Good, The Bad and The Ugly sold more than 2 million copies, and the soundtrack to Once Upon A Time In The West, his fourth collaboration with Leone, sold approximately 10 million copies worldwide. It remains one of the top five best-selling instrumental scores in the world today. To date, Morricone has sold more than 70 million records worldwide.

8. Ennio Morricone’s partnership with Sergio Leone was exemplary, but he wasn’t the composer’s only frequent collaborator.

From A Fistful of Dollars to Once Upon a Time in America, Leone’s final film, he and Morricone always worked together. While working primarily in Italy, he often teamed up with Sergio Corbucci and Sergio Sollima, Pier Paolo Pasolini, Bernardo Bertolucci, and Dario Argento, among others. After being courted by Hollywood, Morricone began developing long-term partnerships with American and international filmmakers like Brian De Palma, Warren Beatty, Samuel Fuller, and Roland Joffe. By the late 1970s, he was working with John Boorman and Terrence Malick, and by the 1980s and ‘90s, he was regularly collaborating with John Carpenter, Barry Levinson, George Miller, and Pedro Almodóvar.

Beginning in 1988, Morricone began working with Giuseppe Tornatore on the Oscar-winning Italian film Cinema Paradiso, and subsequently worked on all of Tornatore's other films, including 2016’s The Correspondence and the director's commercials for Dolce & Gabbana.

9. Quentin Tarantino championed Ennio Morricone’s work even before the two of them ever worked together.

Quentin Tarantino’s films are always an exciting pastiche of past and present influences, and he has used cues from Morricone scores in many of his films, beginning with Kill Bill: Volume 1 and 2. Tarantino first hoped to work with the composer on Inglorious Basterds, but when the timing couldn’t be worked out, the filmmaker utilized eight older tracks by Morricone on the soundtrack.

Morricone composed the song “Ancora Qui” for Django Unchained, but it wasn’t until The Hateful Eight that he composed a full score for Tarantino, who still used archival tracks—namely, some unreleased cues from his score for John Carpenter’s The Thing—to expand the film’s musical backdrop. In 2016, Morricone won his first competitive Oscar for his work on Tarantino's film after being nominated six times over the course of nearly 40 years. Morricone also earned an Honorary Oscar in 2007 "For his magnificent and multifaceted contributions to the art of film music."

10. Morricone’s discography remains an embarrassment of riches—at least, whatever’s left of it.

Though the extent of the loss hasn’t been reported, Morricone’s was among the work reportedly destroyed in the 2008 fire on the Universal backlot where the company’s Music Group stored original recording and master tapes from some of the world’s best-selling artists. But Morricone recorded more than 400 film scores throughout his career and more than 100 classical pieces, not counting the thousands of pieces licensed for use. More and more of them have been restored and re-released digitally, on CD and vinyl. Meanwhile, his work continues to elicit as strong reactions from moviegoers as the images they were originally written to accompany.

Yo-Yo Ma released an album of performances of Morricone pieces in 2004 that sold more than 130,000 copies. His work tested and redefined the boundaries of film composition, what instruments could be used, and how music and imagery could work together to tell stories and generate powerful feelings. And each listen of those recordings, whether of transgressive experimentation, pointed drama, or lush sentimentality, honors Morricone's enormous talent and evokes his irreplaceable spirit.