CNN PEOPLE IN THE NEWS
A Look at the Life and Career of Katharine Hepburn, Dead at 96
Aired June 29, 2003 - 19:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
MARTIN SAVIDGE, ANCHOR: And in case you're just joining us, we are following the live, and now the death, of actress Katharine Hepburn. She was a legend, as anyone knows, in the Hollywood movie industry.
She passed away today at the age of 96, and all of us are reflecting on the movies that we loved best from her career. And we've only just scratched the surface. So, if you want more, you want to see more, PEOPLE IN THE NEWS now looks back on the life of Katharine Hepburn.
KATHARINE HEPBURN, ACTRESS: I guess all talented people are a bit peculiar. It's part of their talent.
I shouldn't be surprised if I'm a good actress.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: She's sort of...
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: ... hard, isn't she?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Ow!
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You've got nerve.
CARY GRANT, ACTOR: She's making all this up out of motion pictures!
HEPBURN: Save me, save me!
JIMMY STEWART, ACTOR: She's sort of like a -- She's sort of like a -- She's sort of like a queen, a radiant, glorious queen.
WILLOW BAY, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Katharine Hepburn, a life remembered.
NATASHA RICHARDSON, ACTRESS: Here she was, this sort of very independent, strong woman, striding around Hollywood in pants.
HEPBURN: Not pants, they're slacks. Watch your language.
RICHARDSON: And at the same time, she was, you know, intensely feminine.
SALLY FIELDS, ACTRESS: She seemed so educated and so on an upper rung of light, you know, but I would never be.
HENRY FONDA, ACTOR: What is that over there?
HEPBURN: That's a lawn chair.
DABNEY COLEMAN, ACTOR: I remember the first day we read "On Golden Pond" around a table, and after the reading of -- I was hearing people calling her "Kate" and "Katharine," "Katie," "Ms. Hepburn," so and so. So I said finally, "By the way, I don't know what to call you. What should I call you?"
And she says, "I prefer Ms. Garbo."
BARBARA LEAMING, BIOGRAPHER: I think that one of the things that you have to remember with Hepburn is that her legacy is not really a movie star's legacy. I mean, she's important, yes, as an actress but her significance goes way beyond whether or not this performance was good or that performance was good.
HEPBURN: Well, I got the case.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What case?
HEPBURN: A girl named Arwin Thattinger (ph) shot her husband. I'm going to defend her.
LEAMING: She became the symbol of the modern woman who believed that she could do anything, that everything was possible.
BAY: Biographer Barbara Leaming researched Hepburn's life for five years. Her quest was prompted by a lunch she had in 1980 with director and friend Orson Welles.
Welles told Leaming that he thought one of the most mysterious people in Hollywood was Katharine Hepburn. He said that in all of the years that he'd been in Hollywood, there was no one who was more misunderstood, less known than Katharine Hepburn.
And he said, "If you could actually find out the real story, it's the best story imaginable."
BAY: When Leaming set out to tell the story, the acting part was easy.
Hepburn started her career on Broadway and enchanted audiences for more than 60 years. She performed in 44 films, earned 12 Academy Award nominations and won four Oscars, more than any actor in the history of film.
But few people in or out of Hollywood knew anything about her private life.
LEAMING: Katharine Hepburn is a very complicated figure because of her history. She's someone who basically grew up in the war room of the women's movement in the United States. Her mother and her aunt were two of the most important leaders in the struggle, first for women's education and then for the vote and then finally for birth control.
BAY: Katharine's mother, orphaned at an early age, put herself and two sisters through college. She then took on an even more daunting role for a woman at the turn of the century: she joined the fledgling women's rights movement.
LEAMING: She became one of the big, militant theoreticians and leaders in the suffrage fight in the most violent part of the suffrage fight. I mean, these were women who were fighting in the streets and being beaten up. Think of what an impression that makes on a little girl. These women aren't frightened.
BAY: And neither was Katharine. The second of six children, Katharine was born on May 12, 1907. Her father and mother taught all of their children to be fearless and independent.
Graduating from Bryn Mawr in 1928, Hepburn immediately decided to become an actress.
LEAMING: I think she wanted to be an actress because, like a lot of the people in her family, she was a tremendous show-off. But I think also she was trying to find a place for herself.
BAY: From the moment she walked down those stairs in her first film, "Bill of Divorcement" in 1932, Hollywood was smitten. Tinseltown had never seen anything quite like Katharine Hepburn, on screen or off.
Hepburn, the defiant one, when PEOPLE IN THE NEWS continues.
ANNOUNCER: Welcome back to PEOPLE IN THE NEWS.
BAY: Her mother was a pioneer in the women's rights movement. Katharine Hepburn had learned early to be fiercely independent, a strength of character that, in the early '30s, left many in Hollywood scratching their heads.
LEAMING: First of all, I mean, what the strangest thing about her was how well educated she was. And she came in with this enormous sense of self-confidence, just this incredible sense that she could do anything.
BAY (on camera): That was particularly unusual in a woman?
LEAMING: Absolutely, in a woman. Absolutely. There were plenty of educated men, but there weren't at that point -- a girl who had graduated from Bryn Mawr did not go out and become a movie star.
BAY (voice-over): In Hepburn's second film, 1933's "Christopher Strong," she played a pioneering aviatrix. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I wish I were going with you.
HEPBURN: I wish you were.
BAY: By the time she was cast in her third film, "Morning Glory," it was clear Hepburn could play strong, independent women...
HEPBURN: If there's one person in the whole world I've tried particularly to meet, it's you.
BAY: ... women in control of their own destinies.
HEPBURN: Will you let me play the golden viol (ph) when you put it on at Miss Bernamen's (ph), if that's satisfactory? I'll read a part for you any time you like.
BAY: With her performance as a struggling young actress in "Morning Glory," she won her first Academy Award.
She had another success as the tomboy, Jo March, in "Little Women."
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: May I engage you for this dance, Miss March?
HEPBURN: No thanks, I'm not going to.
BAY: There were more hits, but there were disasters, too, enough to tarnish her reputation as a star who could deliver at the box office.
Then came "Bringing Up Baby"...
HEPBURN: Now, please, listen. You certainly can't think that I'd do that intentionally.
GRANT: Well, if I could think, I'd have run when I saw you.
HEPBURN: But if you'd only wait while I explain, I just gave you my (UNINTELLIGIBLE).
Oh, you tore your coat.
BAY: ... a brilliant screwball comedy, her first. She starred alongside Cary Grant and a leopard and brought out the best in both of them.
GRANT: Get it! Get the keys!
Oh, give it to me!
HEPBURN: Oh, David. Oh, you're wonderful! Oh, you're wonderful. You're absolutely wonderful. You're a hero. You saved my life. Oh, you'll go down in history. I've never seen such bravery.
Did you want to say something, David?
What? Yes? Yes? What is it?
BAY: But "Bringing Up Baby" wasn't enough to save Hepburn's reputation. The Hollywood Critics Association took out a full-page ad, calling her box office poison.
She retreated to her family home in Connecticut and licked her wounds.
But in typical Hepburn fashion, she refused to give up and commissioned "The Philadelphia Story," with a lead role written just for her.
From then on, Katharine Hepburn did what few stars in Hollywood, men or women, were capable of doing: she controlled her own destiny.
RICHARDSON: She really called the shots in an era when the studio heads were very much telling the stars what they could and couldn't do.
LEAMING: She had a lot of input into the movies.
BAY: Not only did she ask for the best leading men, she go them: Cary Grant, Jimmy Stewart, Spencer Tracy. And she also took an active role in the script-writing process.
LEAMING: If there was a story conference, Kate gave her ideas and gave them freely. And people liked it, I think. Where they didn't like her was in the studio offices when she'd come in and negotiate a contract. That they hated.
BAY (on camera): She negotiated her own contract?
LEAMING: Yes. Yes. And of course, it's not so surprising, because her mother was negotiating with the president of the United States and with the Congress.
BAY (voice-over): Hepburn may have learned business skills at home, but she was also shaped by a profound loss.
LEAMING: When Kate was 13 years old, she discovered her 15-year- old brother, Tom, hanging by the neck. And that changed her forever. I mean, her whole life was shaped by the suicide of her brother.
BAY (on camera): In what way?
LEAMING: Well, I think that what happened, when Kate found her brother Tom, she decided that she'd failed him. And a lot of people do that if something like that happens. But she felt it was her fault. She started looking around for who she could save instead, and for the rest of her life, if you look at it, she found one man after another who leaves her.
BAY (voice-over): Leaming believes that all of Hepburn's subsequent relationships with the men she loved were influenced by the loss of her brother.
LEAMING: That's first of all John Ford and then probably most famously, Spencer Tracy.
HEPBURN: You're going in the wrong direction.
SPENCER TRACY, ACTOR: I am.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Tracy and Hepburn met during the making of "Woman of the Year" in 1941. Right from the start, their on screen chemistry was magic. But with passion came sacrifice.
HEPBURN: What's on your mind?
TRACY: I'd like to take you to a baseball game.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: A great romance and the price of love, when we return.
BAY: In 1941, Katharine Hepburn is the spirited Hollywood eccentric.
HEPBURN: Isn't the sports department downstairs?
BAY: And Spencer Tracy, the famously old-fashioned leading man. And yet, despite their extravagant contrasts, Hepburn and Tracy found common ground in their passion, both on screen and off.
LEAMING: One of the things that's key to understanding that is she's completely kinetic. She's all movement. She never stops. And Tracy is still.
HEPBURN: Is she entitled to the same justice, I mean, that's usually reserved for men? The same unwritten law that that men have...
TRACY: Would you please...
HEPBURN: I know what you're going to say.
HEPBURN: That he should have been convicted, too, but he wasn't. And you're not going to (UNINTELLIGIBLE) away just because she had the misfortune to be born a female.
TRACY: Just one word in edge...
TRACY: ... wise. Couldn't I -- Could I please get a word in edgewise?
BAY: Tracy and Hepburn made nine films together during their 27- year partnership.
LEAMING: He just was the perfect foil for her, physically and verbally.
BAY: Their off-screen romance, in those days carefully hidden from the public, was more complex. Although they loved each other deeply, Tracy never divorced his wife. He also had a serious drinking problem.
LEAMING: Kate was the one who adjusted herself and sacrificed what she really wanted in life to keep Spencer alive. And she did do it. I mean, she kept him alive for decades. And it's an incredible love story in that regard.
BAY (on camera) : And you believe that she sacrificed herself in that relationship?
LEAMING: Yes. Because he was a very difficult person. I mean, you have to understand that Kate was warm and giving. Spencer wouldn't even let her live with him. And most of their relationship they lived apart, and it was very hard for her. I mean, she would say that she didn't want children. She did want children. She desperately wanted to have children.
BAY: How do you know that?
LEAMING: From her best friend in college, who was an absolutely wonderful person who kept the relationship with Kate very, very much close all the way through the whole Spencer thing. And that was who Kate discussed it with.
BAY (voice-over): Their last film together was "Guess Who's Coming to Dinner?"
TRACY: The only thing that matters is what they feel. And how much they feel for each other. And if it's half of what we felt, that's everything.
BAY: Tracy died two weeks after its completion in 1967.
Devoted to Tracy in life, Hepburn was devastated by his death. She threw herself into the making of another movie, "Lion in Winter" with Peter O'Toole.
PETER O'TOOLE, ACTOR: Don't fight me, Eleanor.
HEPBURN: What would you have me do? Give out? Give up? Give in?
O'TOOLE: Give me a little peace.
HEPBURN: And that's all? Why so modest? How about eternal peace? Now there's a thought.
LEAMING: It breaks your heart. It's -- I mean, I can't watch it to this day without just sheets of tears coming down.
HEPBURN: I've lost you. And I can't ever have you back again. You're all that I've ever loved. Christ, you don't know what nothing is. I want to die.
O'TOOLE: No, you don't.
HEPBURN: I want to die.
O'TOOLE: I'll hold you.
HEPBURN: Henry, I want to die.
BAY: For this brave performance, Hepburn took home her third Oscar.
(on camera) Was there a connection between her life and her characters?
LEAMING: I think probably the closest to what she actually was is the part that she plays in "The African Queen." There's a kind of clumsiness and vulnerability and incredible (UNINTELLIGIBLE). But Houston captured it. He got her bravery, he got courage, he got her hunger for experience.
And there's something on her face that's just so pure Kate. I mean, she loved danger, she loved excitement.
HUMPHREY BOGART, ACTOR: How'd you like it?
HEPBURN: Like it?
BOGART: White water, rapids.
HEPBURN: I never dreamed.
BOGART: I don't blame you for being scared, miss. Not one little bit. Ain't no person in their right mind ain't scared of white water.
HEPBURN: I never dreamed that any mere physical experience could be so stimulating.
BAY (voice-over): When Katharine Hepburn was 72, she starred with Henry Fonda in "On Golden Pond." And Spencer Tracy was never far from her thoughts.
Director Mark Rydell remembers.
MARK RYDELL, DIRECTOR, "ON GOLDEN POND": She told many, many stories about Spencer. Spencer -- you know, all those great stories. And I began to feel that maybe it was time for her to transfer her allegiance from Spencer Tracy to Henry Fonda, because we were about to start shooting.
So I went to her and I said, privately, "Do you think it's time for you to make your commitment to Henry."
And the next day, she brought to rehearsal Spencer's hat and gave it to Henry.
COLEMAN: Henry was sitting in a director's chair, and Katharine came up with a hat box and said, "You know, Spencer wore this in every movie, every movie ever made."
RYDELL: And she said, "Here you are, my Spencer." He wept, he was so overcome by it. And he wore the hat throughout the movie.
FONDA: It's a mess, isn't it?
HEPBURN: Just takes seconds. It will be all ship-shape again. And warmer.
RYDELL: She leaves a trail that's hard to equal. She set the standards, in an odd way, for a certain kind of sophisticated, articulate, intelligent modern woman.
DARYN KAGAN, HOST: Katharine Hepburn once summed up her amazing career with this humble piece of self-analysis. She said, quote, "I was fortunate to be born with a set of characteristics that were in the public vogue." And understatement, to be sure.
That's it for this edition of PEOPLE IN THE NEWS. I'm Daryn Kagan. Thanks for joining us.
SAVIDGE: We are now continuing to look back on the remarkable life of actress Katharine Hepburn. Bruce Burkhardt does just that for us.
HEPBURN: I'll play any part that appeals to me for $20 but I'll never, under any circumstances, play any part with which I don't feel a sincere congeniality.
BRUCE BURKHARDT, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Nineteen- thirty-three was Katharine Hepburn's third movie in Hollywood, "Morning Glory," and one of the first of her record four Oscars.
In it, she portrays a naive but confident young actress who has no doubts about her future stardom.
HEPBURN: You're talking to the biggest actress in the world, and I'm going to prove it to you.
BURKHARDT: While she would later astound us with her range, this was typecasting.
HEPBURN: Just worship me.
RICHARDSON: Here she was, this sort of very independent strong woman, driving around Hollywood in pants. And at the same time, she was, you know, intensely feminine.
BURKHARDT: In a town where the pants in the family had always been worn by men, Katharine Hepburn, in her own charming way, took charge.
LEAMING: She's important, yes, as an actress. But her significance goes way beyond whether or not this performance was good or that performance was good and whether she was a good actress or not. She became the symbol of the modern woman who believed that she could do anything, that everything was possible.
ROGER EBERT, FILM CRITIC: Echoes of her legacy can be seen in the work that was done a little bit later by people like Jane Fonda. Or some of Cher's roles. Sally Field. Where you have women who go in and change the system or challenge the system. Katharine Hepburn had to popularize that kind of woman, as opposed to just the romantic or the passive woman.
HEPBURN: Would you get off my running board?
GRANT: This is my running board!
HEPBURN: All right, honey.
GRANT: Hold it!
BURKHARDT: Her independence, her feisty spirit, traits that she came by honestly.
Born in 1907 in Hartford, Connecticut, she was one of six children in a well-to-do New England family. Her father, a doctor of urology, and her mother, a pioneering leader in women's rights, fighting for the vote and later, for birth control. It was an unorthodox upbringing.
Of Hepburn's mother, "Life" magazine wrote in 1939, Mrs. Thomas Norville Hepburn believes in the control of children before birth and nothing thereafter."
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Your lover's arm stealing around you.
HEPBURN: I'd like to see anybody try it.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Would you?
BURKHARDT: Growing up with three older brothers, Hepburn was something of a tomboy, which may explain why her favorite movie was "Little Women," in which she played the tomboy, Jo March.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I got you!
BURKHARDT: Her childhood was not without tragedy. It was she who discovered her older brother hanging dead from a rafter, a suspected suicide, but the family always said it was a prank gone bad.
Hepburn went on to graduate from Bryn Mawr in 1928, not a college known for turning out actresses.
And this scene was America's first glimpse of Katharine Hepburn, in the movie "Bill of Divorcement." She went on to make another 42 movies, winning four Oscars and 12 nominations, playing a diverse range of characters, from co-starring with a leopard and Cary Grant in a movie that helped put the screwball into comedy, "Bringing Up Baby"...
HEPBURN: Get behind me.
GRANT: I am behind you.
HEPBURN: Well, get closer.
GRANT: I can't get any closer. Now are you calm? Left foot first.
BURKHARDT: ... to portraying an uptight minister's sister in "African Queen."
LEAMING: I think probably the closest to what she actually was is the character she plays in the "African Queen." There's a kind of clumsiness and vulnerability and incredible braveness (ph) that Houston captures. Her got her bravery, he got her courage, he got her hunger for experience.
BURKHARDT: But it wasn't all successes. The Hollywood Critics Association at one point called her box office poison. And there were complaints about her tinny voice.
She lost the part of Scarlet O'Hara in "Gone with the Wind" because producer David Selznick thought she lacked sex appeal. As usual, she fought back and bought the rights to "The Philadelphia Story" so she could play the lead.
HEPBURN: Well, I'm going to be examined, undressed and generally humiliated at 15 cents a copy. And you, you're loving it.
BURKHARDT: In an era when studio moguls controlled everything, Katharine Hepburn fought them tooth and nail, even negotiating her own contracts. But it was her next film, "Woman of the Year," that proved to be the most pivotal of her life. It was in this film that she met Spencer Tracy.
And intense love affair that her biographer believes has roots in her brother's suicide.
LEAMING: And the rest of her life, if you look at it, she finds one man after another who needs her. And men who are bent on destroying themselves. And that's, first of all, John Ford and then probably most famously, Spencer Tracy.
BURKHARDT: During the 27-year affair, Hepburn and Tracy made nine films together, a perfect on screen match that ended with "Guess Who's Coming to Dinner?"
TRACY: And there's nothing, absolutely nothing, that your son feels for your daughter that I didn't feel for Christina.
BURKHARDT: Tracy, a Catholic, would not divorce his wife. And at the time, their affair was kept relatively quiet. Two weeks after finishing this film, Tracy died. Hepburn never watched the movie.
HEPBURN: How dear of you to let me out of jail.
BURKHARDT: To deal with her grief, Hepburn immediately jumped into another project, co-starring with Peter O'Toole in "The Lion in Winter." It won her a third Oscar, with a fourth and final one still to come.
HEPBURN: You know, Norman, you really are the sweetest man in the world, but I'm the only one who knows it.
BURKHARDT: "On Golden Pond" paired her with Henry Fonda. Amazingly, they had never met before this movie. Two legends, facing their own mortality, on screen and off.
Hepburn claimed that death did not frighten her. Not much did.
O'TOOLE: I hope we never die.
HEPBURN: So do I.
O'TOOLE: You think there's any chance of it?
BURKHARDT: Hepburn liked to tell people about her family's motto. She said her parents lived by it and so did she: "Listen to the song of life."
SAVIDGE: We want to remind you that the niece of Katharine Hepburn is going to be Larry King's guest tonight on "LARRY KING LIVE." This was an interview that was taped recently, not taped today, since the news of the passing of Katharine Hepburn. But still, it will be filled with a lot of insight into this wonderful actress's life.
We want to bring in David Sterritt now. He is a film critic with the "Christian Science Monitor." He joins us on the telephone.
And David, are you there?
DAVID STERRITT, FILM CRITIC: I sure am.
SAVIDGE: What do you think? I mean, it's sad but also, it is such a remarkable life to look back upon as you hear this new.
STERRITT: Well, that's for sure. It's also kind of surprising, because you know, in a kind of a way it just seemed that she would always be there. SAVIDGE: That's true.
STERRITT: She's certainly been there since a long time before I started going to the movies. And I grew up looking at her films, as so many people did. They were already old movies, some of them. And she kept right on working and working. I remember some of the incredibly fine TV work that she did.
And it just seemed that she would just always be there. And it has been less than 10 years since her last movie, so yes, in a kind of a way it's sad but it's also kind of surprising.
SAVIDGE: You mentioned television, and that's not something that immediately comes to mind when you think of somebody like Katharine Hepburn. What were the works that she did?
STERRITT: Oh, it's not well know. What I'm particularly thinking of is in the 1970s she did a few really good made-for-TV movies. She did a version of "The Glass Menagerie" with Sam Waterston and a couple of other people that was just excellent. It was just, I think, one of the definitive productions of that great Tennessee Williams play.
And she did a movie with George Cukor that he directed for TV -- and of course, he had been one of her old directors back in the big Hollywood days -- called "Love Among the Ruins" with Laurence Olivier. And I wouldn't be surprised if those movies started to get some more attention now. It's been kind of forgotten over the past 30 years.
But they were really, really, really good and showed the kind of versatility that she had. Because obviously, she could capture the large screen, the wide screen, the big screen. She, as everybody knows, had the record for Oscar nominations and Oscar wins. But she also could move to the small screen to a living room TV screen and have a certain kind of intimacy that really communicated exactly the way television does at its best. She could do it all.
SAVIDGE: She was captivating, I think is the word that comes to mind when you see her presence on the screen. And you mentioned the awards that she won there, and the nominations. That would be, not only for an actress but I believe for actors an incredible achievement.
STERRITT: Yes. I think it is just a record all around. And it really is extraordinary. And it shows that she was really respected by Hollywood. Again, there's been talk today since her death that she didn't really play by the rules and she didn't like to give interviews and she was eccentric and strong-willed.
Still, Hollywood really respected her and must have liked her to give her that kind of recognition in the Academy Awards. And of course, the box office tells us how much the public adored her.
So again, in that respect, too, she just seemed to move right across the entire spectrum. She just had respect and, really, love everywhere. SAVIDGE: The box office. You know, we measure movies now in their success, by how much money they make. But a lot of it is due to special effects and just the modern day magic of movie making. She was actually a personality that pulled people in, and with them their money, right?
STERRITT: No question about it. And ironically, some of the movies that she's now known for most famously, "Bringing Up Baby," didn't really do very well back in her early career, back in the time when her box office status was pretty uncertain.
"Sylvia Scarlett," another George Cukor movie, which is quite wonderful, did not do well at the box office.
But you're absolutely right. She was working in movies in her early career at a time when movies were still judged by the strength of the personality in them. And as time when by, they would gradually acquire an audience, even if they weren't going to click immediately.
Nowadays, if a movie hasn't clicked on its first weekend, it's going to be good-bye to that movie.
She was one of the strongest figures at a time when the movies themselves had more --somehow more presence and dignity than they have today.
SAVIDGE: As you watch her films and as they progress, did she change in her style, in her delivery, in her persona? Was she always the same Kate?
STERRITT: Well, one of the fascinating things about her is that she allowed herself to really age on screen. And she aged with dignity. But she aged without covering it up. I suppose it was the "African Queen" that kind of marked the break between the younger roles and the older roles.
But in that sense, she certainly changed. And eventually, she was able to do a real older woman part -- well, she did quite a number of them, but I'm thinking particularly of a film like "Long Day's Journey Into Night." Again, probably the definitive version of that great Eugene O'Neill play, which she did in the '60s. And there's a real troubled, older woman part.
So in that sense, sure, she evolved from being an attractive, young girl to being a really dignified and sometimes not so dignified old woman. In other ways she didn't necessarily change that much.
To my mind, the thing that's most striking about her: people talked about the kind of strength that she had, physically as well as emotionally. And people talk about the gracefulness that she had. And those things are completely true. But to me there's a kind of a patrician quality that I just see running pretty much through her whole career.
She did all kinds of movies, from melodrama to adventure movies to a lot of comedies, et cetera. But to me, running somewhere below the surface and sometimes right on the surface was that sense of dignity, that kind of patrician quality. We knew we were looking at a real person here, no matter what the role happened to be.
SAVIDGE: You did. Absolutely.
The movie "Guess Who's Coming to Dinner" with Spencer Tracy, the last that she portrayed with him, their affair at that time must have been scandalous. And even by modern standards it would be difficult, I think.
I just wonder how that impacted her life, off screen as well as on screen.
STERRITT: Yes. It wasn't the only scandalous affair that Hollywood's known, and it wasn't the only affair that has, let's say, threatened to put a very major dent into a career. I think, for example, of Ingrid Bergman at one stage in her career.
Hepburn, again, I think already, by the time that that whole thing came into being and became widely know, had developed such a sense of being her own person and such a sense of being a major star, that she was able to ride out any waves that were caused by it.
And the same with Spencer Tracy. He was also one of the really great Hollywood stars, and in his way, he was one of the most long- lasting ones. He was one of the great old Hollywood stars who really lasted a lot longer than some of the others.
So again, yes, there were problems there and yes, I'm sure it really complicated their personal lives and made things very difficult for them at times. And in fact, during the later stages of his life, she apparently really interrupted or at least hosed down, damped down the momentum of her own career in order to help get through his problems at the end of his life.
But again, they were both such established, solid, deserving stars that they were able to ride out that sort of problem, both personally and professionally.
SAVIDGE: She always came across as strong and shunning any thoughts of frailty. And yet, you come to the movie, say, "On Golden Pond," which is about the frailty that comes with age. And she portrayed it in such a remarkably touching way.
STERRITT: Yes, and again, that is part of something that I've kind of alluded to before but this versatility that she had. She made all different kinds of movies, and I mean, we think about a movie like the "African Queen," it's a comedy. But it's also an adventure movie. She did high drama. She did what you can almost call low comedy.
And in the later stages of her career, she really did allow a certain vulnerability to come through. And she could have forged through that, and she could do it brilliantly because she always had that kind of inner strength, that sense of being such a strong, solid presence, both as a person and as a screen icon. So she knew that she could allow more vulnerability to show through, whether it was just in her physical appearance or in the kind of acting that she gave, using the physical condition that she had, that tremor that she had, as part of her persona and actually making it into a part of her charisma. She was able to do all those things because of that really solid base that she had already developed as an actress and, I truly believe, as a person.
SAVIDGE: One of the stories we've heard is, of course, how she purchases the script from "Philadelphia Story." She so much wanted to do that role. And in that movie she goes up with two of my favorite male actors, Cary Grant and James Stewart.
This was truly a movie that she made her own, isn't it? In every regard?
STERRITT: Yes, and she had very good reason to, because that was when her Hollywood career was not going very well. It's fascinating to think back as to how some people who have become completely indestructible icons of the screen, at one point in their careers really weren't doing very well.
So it was during a difficult period of her career. And she went back to Broadway and she had gotten her start on the stage. That's another measure of her versatility. So she went back to Broadway and appeared in that play, which was, of course, hugely popular. And then she was smart enough as a professional and as a businesswoman to know that she couldn't just let this thing sort of slip through her fingers once it finally closed on Broadway.
So she absolutely did buy out the film rights and was able, then, to go to Hollywood and say, "I have this smash hit property and I've got me and I've got some pretty good ideas as ought to direct this movie and who ought to be in this movie with me." And she got Hollywood to do things the way she wanted them done. And of course, that was a big hit.
And in fact, I'm pretty sure that got her somewhere around her third Oscar nomination. So that was really the play and then the movie that put her back on the Hollywood map.
SAVIDGE: I would find it very difficult to be a leading man up against her. We've mentioned Cary Grant, James Stewart. Do we have any idea what their feelings were, working with her?
STERRITT: I've never really looked into that, but I will say that her most memorable co-stars do tend to be actors with really strong personalities of their own.
STERRITT: Again, Tracy was just around forever and ever, and he also was extremely versatile. And the two of them, among other things, had a sense of comic timing where it was really (UNINTELLIGIBLE) coming together. You really did have a sense that these two were playing off each other as people who really understood each other, and neither one felt, "I'm the first banana, or the second banana. We're both just bananas here."
Cary Grant is another example. In a movie like "Bringing Up Baby," where in that movie she plays a total ditz and he plays a distinguished professor who also happens to be a total ditz. So again, you had this very nice pairing going together.
So there were times when it didn't work. There were times when she would overshadow a co-star or sometimes, I think, when a director allowed somebody else to get in her way. But in the movies we remember best, the co-stars really just seem to be her equals. We don't usually have a sense of somebody just partnering her or her just partnering somebody else.
SAVIDGE: No, it never seemed like acting at any time, really. It seemed to be natural for her.
David Sterritt, the film critic for "The Christian Science Monitor," thanks so much for talking to us on the telephone about the life of Katharine Hepburn. It was a pleasure.
STERRITT: It's been my pleasure, too. Thanks much.
SAVIDGE: We should point out that the lights of Broadway will dim at 8 p.m. on Tuesday in honor of Katharine Hepburn.
We'll take a break, be back with more in a moment.
SAVIDGE: Actress Katharine Hepburn left us today, although with such a long legacy in the movie industry she never really will leave us at all. She passed away at the age of 96. This news coming to us from Old Saybrook, Connecticut. And authorities there, as well as the executor of her estate, who said that she passed away at 2:50 p.m. and that her family was with her. Of course, she had been in declining health for the past few years.
James Prideaux joins us again on the telephone. We spoke to him a short while ago.
At that time, James, you only had just learned this news, and I wonder if you have any more reflection upon hearing it today.
JAMES PRIDEAUX, FRIEND OF HEPBURN'S: Well, I still can't grasp it. I'm really very laid low. I cannot imagine a world without Kate. She was the most alive person I ever knew, and the most adventurous. She loved an adventure, doing, going. Anything. And everything in life was fascinating to her. And we laughed a lot, and boy, am I going to miss her.
SAVIDGE: We all are going to miss her, but certainly you, as a contemporary and close friend, would feel such a loss tremendously.
One of the things I am touched about is her relationship with Spencer Tracy. That was such a remarkable affair. And I'm wondering how would she speak of him in private moments? PRIDEAUX: Well, do you know, she didn't much. He was dead when I met her in '69. He had just died the year before, I think it was. And she didn't talk about -- Yes, she would say Spencer did this or Spencer did that. "You know Spencer."
But she never talked about the relationship. She didn't talk about it a great deal. And I didn't ask.
SAVIDGE: Did she ever talk of regrets, things she wished she had done. It's hard to think there was anything she hadn't done.
PRIDEAUX: She didn't waste time with regrets. No, no point in that. She was quite firm about that, no, look ahead, go get going.
SAVIDGE: What were favorite roles? What did she think she portrayed best?
PRIDEAUX: I don't know. She never said she had a favorite. So I really don't know. I would like to think it was one of my movies. She did three movies with me, you know, on television.
SAVIDGE: Television is not something that we think of with her, and yet she did have some remarkable roles there.
PRIDEAUX: Well, she did. You know, the last thing she did, according to the press, is always "On Golden Pond."
PRIDEAUX: But, she did three movies for me after that on television: "Mrs. Delafield Wants to Marry," "Laura Lansing Slept Here" and "The Man Upstairs."
SAVIDGE: Did she find television dramatically different from movies?
PRIDEAUX: Well, she missed the fact that she didn't have the rehearsal time. You know, "We've got to have four days, five days rehearsals," she'd say. And we didn't have that. And she missed that.
SAVIDGE: But did she find that -- if she loves adventure, it must have been exciting.
PRIDEAUX: Well, she loved working. She loved doing. She loved creating. And that was -- she was always very happy when she was working.
And I remember, after the first movie, we all hugged each other and kissed each other after the last shot. And as she was going up to her dressing room she said, "I just think we've had a lot of fun." That's what it was to her.
SAVIDGE: We've mentioned this before, her strengths that come across and that frailty would not be something you'd associate with her. And yet, living to the age of 96, how did she cope with her own physical frailty?
PRIDEAUX: Well, you know, I haven't seen her that much. I'm in L.A., she's in Connecticut. So I expect she handled it very well. She always said that death -- she viewed death as simply a long, lovely sleep. And she wasn't worried about that at all.
SAVIDGE: James Prideaux, thank you very much for joining us once again on the telephone, talking about the life of Katharine Hepburn.
She passed away today. We want to remind you, she -- her niece will be on "LARRY KING LIVE," coming up at 9 p.m. Eastern time. And coming up in just a moment, we'll hear from Katharine Hepburn herself.
KAGAN (voice-over): We know Katharine Hepburn as a movie star, but she was also a star on the stage. And that's where she began her career.
In college, Hepburn's performance as Pandora in "The Woman in the Moon" helped the young actress get started. By 1932, she won the title role in "The Warrior's Husband."
HEPBURN: Charmed to meet you, Mr. Dancer (ph).
KAGAN: Katharine Hepburn was a huge success, and Hollywood took notice. Hepburn spent the rest of her career between plays and movies. After a string of bad films, her performance in the Broadway play, "The Philadelphia Story," resurrected her movie career. She starred in the film version with rave reviews.
Of all of Hepburn's Broadway shows, she only garnered two Tony nominations, one of her portrayal of Paris designer Coco Chanel in the musical, "Coco." The other Tony nomination in 1981 with "The West Side Waltz." It was Katharine Hepburn's final stage appearance.
SAVIDGE: And we want to remind you again that the niece of Katharine Hepburn will be Larry King's guest, coming up at 9 p.m. That will be 9 p.m. Eastern time, right here on CNN, as we remember the life of Katharine Hepburn. She died today at the age of 96, surrounded by her family and -- Old Saybrook authorities say.
We'll take a break.
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