Anne Edwards

A Remarkable Woman

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A Remarkable Woman Summary

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A Remarkable Woman: A Biography of Katharine Hepburn (1985) is a biography by American author Anne Edwards of the actor named by the American Film Institute as the greatest female star of the Classic Hollywood era. Best-known for Academy Award-nominated roles in The African Queen, Suddenly Last Summer, and Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, Hepburn is also notable for her outspokenness and her embodiment of modern, self-reliant femininity. Anne Edwards specializes in biographies of Hollywood’s female stars, including Judy Garland (1975) and Vivien Leigh (1977). A Remarkable Woman earned broadly positive reviews, and was described by Kirkus Reviews as a “very readable book, laced now and then with clichés,” and  “a tribute to a remarkable individual with a lot of guts.”

Edwards’s biography stresses Hepburn’s autonomy and self-reliance, describing her as “a stranger to compromise.” Edwards finds the origin of these traits in the actor’s eccentric upbringing. Born in 1907 in Connecticut, Hepburn was the daughter of Thomas Hepburn, a successful surgeon, and Kit Houghton Hepburn, a pioneering activist for women’s rights, whose work was financially supported by her husband’s income. Edwards describes the family home as a place of fierce debates, telling the story of an occasion on which Hepburn’s mother threw a coffee pot at her politically retrograde husband.

Hepburn grew up as a tomboy, keeping her hair short and calling herself “Jimmy.” Thomas Hepburn, encouraging all his children to explore the full potential of their minds and bodies, taught his daughter to swim, run, wrestle, and play sports. Hepburn became a passionate golfer, reaching the penultimate round of the Connecticut Young Women’s Golf Championship.

Following in her mother’s footsteps, Hepburn attended Bryn Mawr College, where she became interested in drama and decided to pursue acting. While still a student, she forced her way into the office of director Edwin Knopf and demanded to be cast in a film. He explained that he didn’t work with amateurs, but Hepburn persisted until she was given a non-speaking role in Czarina.

Hepburn pursued theatre instead, seeking a breakthrough role that would allow her to transfer to Hollywood. She believed she had found such a role in The Animal Kingdom, but she was fired almost immediately because her co-star Leslie Howard couldn’t stand her “outrageous posturings” and “insufferable bossiness.”

Eventually, Hepburn found her breakthrough role in The Warrior’s Husband; this Broadway show became her springboard to her first Hollywood success, 1932’s A Bill of Divorcement.

She rapidly became a star, famed for her beauty as much as her talent, though fame brought new conflicts. She called journalists “the invaders of privacy,” and in return, they named her “Katharine of Arrogance.” Despite her fearless professional demeanor, Hepburn could be quite shy. She was unable to dine in restaurants because it made her feel too self-conscious to be seen eating.

On the set, she continued to stand up for herself, often to the dismay of directors and producers. She wasn’t above spitting in the faces of men who told her what to do. She once famously came on set in her underwear when a studio took away the worn-out dungarees she liked to wear between takes. Despite her star power, this behavior continued to get her fired from projects. After a few box office flops, she was labeled “Box Office Poison” and struggled to find work.

Hepburn fought back. Barred from Hollywood, she returned to the stage, taking a role in The Philadelphia Story by Philip Barry. Her then-partner Howard Hughes was so certain that the role would re-launch her film career that he bought the film rights before the play had even debuted.

This strategy worked exactly as intended, and Hepburn reinvented herself as the definitive on-screen portrayer of independent middle-aged women. Over the next few decades, she earned no fewer than 12 Academy Award nominations, winning four Academy Awards for a Leading Performance, which is still the record for an actor of either gender.

Throughout her rise, fall, and final ascent, Hepburn remained closely tied to her family. Her base continued to be the family’s summer home in Connecticut, and until her father’s death, Hepburn sent her full salary home and received an allowance. At the age of almost 40, her father once refused her extra money to buy a dress, on the grounds that she already had a dress.

Hepburn fought fiercely to keep her romantic life private, but Edwards sympathetically tells the story of her loveless early marriage to Ludlow “Luddy” Ogden Smith and her affairs with men from Howard Hughes to Leland Hayward. Edwards identifies Hepburn’s famous affair with Spencer Tracy as the defining relationship of her life. Hepburn once said that he “was the only man…man enough to counteract her individualistic femininity.” Edwards points out that the self-reliant and individual Hepburn had an urge to submit, romantically, although she stresses that “one cannot say that Tracy became a father image to her.”