Hepburn: 'More Modern Than Tomorrow'

Hepburn: 'More Modern Than Tomorrow'
AP Photo, File

o March chopped off her hair and wrote thundering dramas and moved alone to New York just after the Civil War but found happiness in a last rainy scene under an umbrella with her kindly older suitor; Lady Cynthia Darrington set altitude and distance records on the earliest solo flights but went down in flames for love of a married man; Tess Harding was the New York Chronicle’s ace political columnist and the second-ranked dame in the country—after Mrs. Roosevelt—but swore to give it all up for life in Spencer Tracy’s kitchen. Cutting a path across history, in the guise of more than forty varied screen heroines who shared a singular face and accent, Katharine Hepburn embodied the most sought-after strengths of modern women, and then habitually followed a man into confusion and defeat. The strengths—intelligence, independence, gall—were the memorable part, and formed a dramatic premise in themselves. The dire or merely domestic outcomes of so many of her movies can be easily dismissed as the requirements of a less enlightened age, or as a sign of the ongoing bewilderment about how a truly “modern” woman’s story might conclude. Now that Hepburn’s own story has ended—she was ninety-six—we may be able to learn how such a woman actually lived out an uncensored and unedited freedom, since we have always somehow known that, despite four Academy Awards and a dramatic range from Louisa May Alcott to Eugene O’Neill, for half a century Katharine Hepburn was really playing herself.


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