Katharine Hepburn (1907)
It was on this date, May 12, 1907, that the First Lady of Cinema, Katharine Hepburn, was born in Hartford, Connecticut. She was the daughter of a doctor and a suffragette, both of whom always encouraged her to speak her mind and develop it fully. She grew up a tomboy and, after an initial period as “box-office poison,” as critic Leonard Maltin describes it, distinguished herself in strong leading-lady roles. From Morning Glory in 1933, which won her her first Oscar — to On Golden Pond in 1981, which won her a fourth Oscar (she won Academy Awards in consecutive years for Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner in 1968 and The Lion in Winter in 1969) Hepburn, with a total of 12 Oscar nominations, was considered a national treasure.
Her list of memorable films includes: Little Women (1933), Alice Adams (1935), Stage Door (1937), Bringing Up Baby (1938), Holiday (1938), The Philadelphia Story (1940), Woman of the Year (1942), State of the Union (1948), Adam's Rib (1949), The African Queen (1951), Pat and Mike (1952), Summertime (1955), The Rainmaker (1956), Desk Set (1957), Suddenly, Last Summer (1959), Long Day's Journey into Night (1962), The Glass Menagerie (1973), Love Among the Ruins (1975), Rooster Cogburn (1975), The Corn is Green (1979). But about her chosen profession Hepburn was also self-deprecating, saying once, “Acting is the most minor of gifts and not a very high-class way to earn a living. After all, Shirley Temple could do it at the age of four.”
For a woman who described herself as having an angular face, an angular body and an angular personality, it may or may not be a surprise to learn Hepburn’s “angular” view of religion. “I’m an atheist, and that’s it,” said Hepburn in an interview in the October 1991 Ladies’ Home Journal. “I believe there’s nothing we can know except that we should be kind to each other and do what we can for each other.” And, as for religion in politics, she said, “Our Constitution was not intended to be used by … any group to foist its personal religious beliefs on the rest of us.”
The woman who once said, “If you obey all the rules, you miss all the fun,” when Katharine Hepburn died, on 29 June 2003 at age 96, no major news outlet mentioned her Atheism.
Originally published May 2003 by Ronald Bruce Meyer.