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Was Katharine Hepburn really that good of an actor?

She has more acting Oscars than anyone else, but I rarely found her as good as some other performers from the same era, especially Davis and Stanwyck. Both of them could sometimes be very mannered, but Hepburn was almost unbearably mannered almost all the time, even in films that some people love, like Adam's Rib and The Lion in Winter.

There are a few films where I think she's really first-class. Her best performance is in Alice Adams (as almost everyone agrees), where William Wyler made her appear vulnerable for one of the only times in her career. She's genuinely hilarious in Bringing Up Baby. And I thought she really showed what she could do in Long Day's Journey into Night--that can be a really over-the-top role, but it's also a really fine one, and she doesn't overdo it.

by Anonymousreply 49June 9, 2024 10:11 PM

It's becoming increasingly hard to see the early stars for what they brought to the screen of their time. Imagine trying to be realistic about a performance by Sarah Bernhardt based on the few silent fragments that have survived and accounts of her stylized method.

Hepburn projected a genuine gallantry at a time when that was considered unfeminine; she had true elegance of person; she was not afraid to appear ridiculous.

Was she a good actress compared to the 1970s and post-1970s generations of talent?

It might be an apples and oranges kind of question.

by Anonymousreply 1June 9, 2024 4:08 AM

"Alice Adams" was directed by George Stevens. Hepburn made three movies with him, but she never worked with Wyler.

by Anonymousreply 2June 9, 2024 4:11 AM

Most people would agree that she wasn’t on the same level of excellence as let’s say Ms. Joan Crawford.

by Anonymousreply 3June 9, 2024 4:13 AM

You're right, r2. My bad.

by Anonymousreply 4June 9, 2024 4:14 AM

I can't stand her movies with Spencer Tracy.

But give me some "Summertime"

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by Anonymousreply 5June 9, 2024 4:45 AM

[quote]I can't stand her movies with Spencer Tracy.

Like them or not, they had undeniable chemistry with each other.

by Anonymousreply 6June 9, 2024 5:02 AM

Greatest lesbian thespian

by Anonymousreply 7June 9, 2024 5:06 AM

She wasn’t gay.

by Anonymousreply 8June 9, 2024 5:25 AM

Laura Hardon

by Anonymousreply 9June 9, 2024 5:26 AM

I could only take twenty minutes or so of The Lion in Winter when I tried watching it for the first time a couple of months ago, her performance was so anachronistic and the main thing that put me off watching more. Still, I get the appeal, back then and now.

by Anonymousreply 10June 9, 2024 5:29 AM

She's terrific in Long Day's Journey into Night.

Perhaps the greatest Oscar double-cross was that Anne Bancroft won Hepburn's Oscar that year, and Hepburn won Bancroft's the year she played Mrs Robinson.

by Anonymousreply 11June 9, 2024 2:12 PM

I found her wildly entertaining in Lion... it was a campfest. She was hilarious. I agree with R1... she was right for her time and then endured as legend. But today she'd probably be Glenn Close.

by Anonymousreply 12June 9, 2024 2:15 PM

R1 I would still put Hepburn, Davis and Stanwycks best up against anyone today. I would even put some of Crawford alongside it as well.

Honestly if anyone’s filmography isn’t aging well at all, it’s Streeps. A lot of Fondas work as well.

by Anonymousreply 13June 9, 2024 2:20 PM

“Miss Hepburn ran the whole gamut of emotions—from A to B.”

by Anonymousreply 14June 9, 2024 2:24 PM

I think Hepburn’s great strength was that she didn’t care. Many actors, especially women, want to ingratiate themselves and seem not to care where the approval comes from because they need it so much.

Katharine didn’t give a fuck. She had “Daddy’s” money to fall back on. I read: “Tracy and Hepburn: An Intimate Memoir” by Garson Kanin and could never like her again.

Tracy was a married alcoholic? Didn’t even slow her down.

by Anonymousreply 15June 9, 2024 2:25 PM

She never disappeared into a role. You were always aware you were watching Katharine Hepburn.

by Anonymousreply 16June 9, 2024 2:27 PM

[quote] Tracy was a married alcoholic? Didn’t even slow her down.

With a disabled child.

by Anonymousreply 17June 9, 2024 2:29 PM

I would say she was a great star, not a great actress. Davis and Stanwyck destroy her acting abilities.

by Anonymousreply 18June 9, 2024 3:11 PM

Hepburn was an actress, not an actor.

by Anonymousreply 19June 9, 2024 5:13 PM

Hepburn thought Long Days Journey Into Night was her greatest performance and the only time in her career that she actively campaigned at Oscar time. T

by Anonymousreply 20June 9, 2024 5:33 PM

I think she’s just one of those “you had to be there” type of famous figures.

by Anonymousreply 21June 9, 2024 5:48 PM

She was definitely beautiful.

Her first TV interview was with Dick Cavett. She was nervous.

This is a five minute clip showing her walk on stage right before taping begins. She starts bitching about the set:

“That carpet. If anyone can survive that carpet…”

And after a hairdresser is finished, she looks at her assistant who apparently doesn’t approve. She says in the most serious diva tone

“Don’t tell me what’s wrong. Just fix it.”

Just a couple examples. The whole clip is a riot and so entertaining.

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by Anonymousreply 22June 9, 2024 5:58 PM

You’re right, R22. That clip was hysterical. But it really makes her look like an unrepentant cunt. There was nothing, absolutely nothing, about that situation she was unable to find fault with.

I’ve recently read about how her neighbors in Midtown Manhattan positively adored her. They even hold a yearly ceremony to commemorate her residence on their block. But clearly they only knew her casually. She was a bitch.

by Anonymousreply 23June 9, 2024 6:17 PM

[quote] Hepburn was an actress, not an actor.

Thank you for posting from 1952, Grandma.

by Anonymousreply 24June 9, 2024 6:18 PM

She was terribly miscast in The Lion in Winter. No way did she deserve to win the Oscar for that movie. Streisand gave a superior and iconic performance and should have won by herself.

by Anonymousreply 25June 9, 2024 6:22 PM

I agree with you R23. I was pretty shocked when I first watched.

At the same time I admire her entitled, bitchy attitude. She was Katharine Hepburn. She knew it.

by Anonymousreply 26June 9, 2024 6:52 PM

R24 You're welcome, as the 1950s can be considered the best years of her career.

by Anonymousreply 27June 9, 2024 6:55 PM

My parents lived near her in Turtle Bay. Ran into her a lot. She began to recognize them after bumping into them often on the street. My folks said that they never know what they were going to get: either a friendly conversation or a cold avoidant posture.

Although these days people criticize her for this, Hepburn was proud of the fact that she was always recognizable on screen as Hepburn. She criticized Streep for blending into her roles. That's not what an Actress does, she said. An Actress stands out.

by Anonymousreply 28June 9, 2024 7:08 PM

She was no Kate Jackson.

by Anonymousreply 29June 9, 2024 7:12 PM

Edith Bunker has the same blood as Katherine Hepburn. I remember that story she told.

by Anonymousreply 30June 9, 2024 7:14 PM

She didn’t win a golden globe, unlike the superior Pia Zadora.

by Anonymousreply 31June 9, 2024 7:21 PM

R22 Love the part where Cavett asks for someone to give her a mirror and she said no, no, never face the truth when you've gotten this far.

by Anonymousreply 32June 9, 2024 7:21 PM

She played frigid dyke very convincingly.

by Anonymousreply 33June 9, 2024 7:22 PM


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by Anonymousreply 34June 9, 2024 7:28 PM

Olivier's top five performances: Rebecca (1940) ; Hamlet (1948) ; Wuthering Heights (1939); Henry V (1944); Spartacus (1960)

He's hammy in all of them, yet is the byword for great actor.

by Anonymousreply 35June 9, 2024 7:28 PM

[quote]She criticized Streep for blending into her roles.

No, she found Streep's method as too cerebral and over-reliant on technique.

by Anonymousreply 36June 9, 2024 7:36 PM

Kate and Ali

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by Anonymousreply 37June 9, 2024 7:44 PM

She was marvelous, darlin!

by Anonymousreply 38June 9, 2024 7:46 PM

I don't know how cerebral Meryl is in her acting choices, but her "technique" has allowed her to play a wider range of roles than Kate did.

by Anonymousreply 39June 9, 2024 7:48 PM

I can’t get beyond OP’s opening sentence.

by Anonymousreply 40June 9, 2024 8:06 PM

Different period--actors had personas some of which could display range. Jimmy Stewart, Humphrey Bogart, Bette Davis, Gary Cooper, among others represent this. None of them disappeared into character. A few people did like Paul Muni, but that style didn't emerge until later starting perhaps with John Garfield. Stanwyck could play vastly different characters but not in the manner of a method actor and she was often ok even when miscast as in "Golden Boy". She never gave a truly defining performance like Crawford in Mildred Pierce, or Davis in her WWII era films.

Hepburn could play a certain kind of light or mildly screwball comedy but she was better in drama. She brought sophistication and could be glamorous as well as androgynous. She was self-involved and knew it.

by Anonymousreply 41June 9, 2024 8:09 PM

I never thought so. People complain that Taylor Swift talk sings and that’s how I would describe Hepburn’s performances.

by Anonymousreply 42June 9, 2024 8:13 PM

OP appears to be trying to be honest, but...

Chalk it up to personal taste. Hepburn was wonderful in "The African Queen," "Philadelphia Story," "Lion in Winter," "Summertime," "Bringing Up Baby," "Unercurrent," "Stage Door," "Alice Adams," "Little Women," and at least three of the earlier Tracy pairings. "Mannered" is what most of her biggest successes called for, whether for characters' intelligence, wit, position, or defensive hauteur.

The point about Hepburn movies is that, unlike any other of the actresses working in the 1930s through the 1970s, her performances seemed to matter, to be about something worth paying attention to. She couldn't and wouldn't play domestic dramas, or simple "pluck my eyebrows and become beautiful" types. She couldn't play a moll or a murderer in the Stanwyck could. She conveyed smarts more convincingly than any ingenue or romantic lead. Her duds were duds - no surprise there. But no one came near to her in her range in well-made films needing some thought.

R41's (mostly) right. It's simpler to say that big stars tended to have recognizable personas that were sustained from one film to another, and audiences liked to see them as their familiar selves, whatever the genre.

But Hepburn's natural sophistication made it seem like there were real stakes involved.

As far as Stanwyck, who I adore, is concerned, her Phyllis Dietrichson was more important in film and to audiences than Crawford in "Mildred Pierce." Crawford's success was partly found in her seldom bringing magic to a character. She couldn't rise to the kind of truthfulness that Davis brought to "The Letter," which is as creepy and noirish as anything produced.

by Anonymousreply 43June 9, 2024 8:29 PM

She definitely had a much better late career than most of the rivals mentioned here. Crawford and Davis appeared mostiy in dreck during their final decades. And, although Hepburn became a caricature of herself to a degree as she aged, that was much more the case with Crawford and Davis.

by Anonymousreply 44June 9, 2024 8:34 PM

She definitely had a much better late career than most of the rivals mentioned here. Crawford and Davis appeared mostiy in dreck during their final decades. And, although Hepburn became a caricature of herself to a degree as she aged, that was much more the case with Crawford and Davis.

by Anonymousreply 45June 9, 2024 8:35 PM

Spitfire. Probably her worst film:

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by Anonymousreply 46June 9, 2024 9:09 PM

Sondheim loathed her so much that he reportedly put a line in Into The Woods that he used daily about her: "it's the witch from next door."

by Anonymousreply 47June 9, 2024 9:12 PM

Apparently he lived behind her in Turtle Bay and when he was composing "Sweeney Todd", she made his life hell complaining all the time about the noise from his piano. However, depending on what time he was playing, she may have been justified

by Anonymousreply 48June 9, 2024 9:54 PM

"The old question about whether she could act may not only not have an answer; it may not be the right question. “She does not enter into the leading character: she substitutes herself for it,” Shaw wrote of Sarah Bernhardt. And, if Hepburn showed us how Jo March and Eleanor of Aquitaine took their turns at playing Katharine Hepburn, the exchange seemed to involve no loss of scale or interest. Hepburn claimed that she was too content with herself as a person to be among the really great actors, too much the strong and happily unreflective product of her parents. There is some truth in this: the engine of the Hepburn machinery seems to have been a survival instinct in permanent overdrive, which is visible in the almost unhinged force that broke through the mediocrity of her early material, and which carried her through her uniquely Lazarus-like career. She overcame every obstacle—horror, failure, love, the endings of most of her movies—to provide us with a continually renewed image of the strength that such overcoming required. We held her close not because she could act but because of the insistent life that hummed through every taut and peremptory inch of her, and that we imagined to be as natural as breathing or winning for someone so easily, imperiously free. It was in making us believe in this that she may have been our greatest actress of all."--Claudia Roth Pierpont, "Born for the Part," published in the New Yorker

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by Anonymousreply 49June 9, 2024 10:11 PM
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