Sunday, December 7, 2008

The Katharine Hepburn Cultural Arts Center

For all the fans of Kate the Great, here is some fun news: The Katharine Hepburn Cultural Arts Center is being established in Old Saybrook, near at her family home in Fenwick. I received a comment from Ann, who runs the blog documenting the progress of the theatre arts center, which is currently under construction and poised to open in the summer of 2009, informing me about this wonderful project. The non-profit theatre organization is going to take residence in a historic theatre on Main Street in the Town of Old Saybrook, with funds provided the town and private donations raised by trustees of the organization. "The Kate" as the theatre has already been affectionately monikered, will feature a 250 seat theatre as well as a museum devoted to the iconic actress.

Hepburn, one of the last true stars of the Hollywood Golden Age, died in 2003 at the age of 96, leaving behind a considerable legacy on stage, on television and most notably on film. Her relationship with Spencer Tracy has taken on an iconically romantic status of its own. She alone holds the record for most Oscar wins by an actor with four statuettes (for Morning Glory, Guess Who's Coming to Dinner, The Lion in Winter and On Golden Pond), though the always practical Kate never really cared for awards or the fuss of celebrity. Kate also treaded the boards in the The Lake (prompting that oft-quoted zinger by Dorothy Parker), The Philadelphia Story, Coco, A Matter of Gravity and The West Side Waltz (the latter opposite Dorothy Loudon, what a night that must have been), earning two Tony nominations along the way.

Hepburn is one of my all-time favorite actresses. With her distinctive looks, voice and independent personality she defied what was expected of a movie star, one of the reasons why she remained a movie star for sixty years (unlike her contemporaries, like Joan Crawford and Bette Davis who found themselves reduced to camp roles in lower quality films). She won her last Oscar as leading actress in 1982, just before she turned 75; and she would continue to work steadily throughout the 1980s, ultimately retiring in poorer health after a brief cameo in 1994's Love Affair. Her film roles were very diverse, from literary heroines to historical figures to screwball comedy heiress to witty, urbane society women, to vulnerable "spinsters", etc.

It should be noted that she had some of her greatest successes (and a couple of failures along the way) working in film adaptations of plays. Starting with her 1932 debut in A Bill of Divorcement, she also brought stage characters to the screen in Morning Glory, Spitfire, Quality Street, Stage Door, Holiday, The Philadelphia Story (inspired by and written for her by Philip Barry; one of the best things that ever happened in her career), Without Love, State of the Union, Summertime (David Lean's Technicolor valentine to Venice in an adaptation of Arthur Laurents' The Time of the Cuckoo), The Rainmaker, Desk Set, Suddenly Last Summer, Long Day's Journey Into Night (one of her finest hours as an actress), The Lion in Winter (my personal favorite?), The Madwoman of Chaillot, The Trojan Women, A Delicate Balance, The Glass Menagerie (for TV), The Corn is Green (also for TV), and On Golden Pond. That's not even taking into consideration those roles written expressly for her: Bringing Up Baby, Woman of the Year, Adam's Rib, The African Queen, etc. Speaking of The African Queen... this classic has yet to be released on DVD in the United States... someone is clearly sleeping on the job here! So to whomever owns the rights: restore it, reissue it and give it the superlative DVD treatment it deserves.

Now as an added treat, here is Kate's one and only appearance on the Academy Awards. Under an incredible veil of secrecy, Hepburn showed up (in a black Mao pantsuit and garden clogs, at that) to present the Irving G. Thalberg Memorial Award to her friend and colleague, Lawrence Weingarten at the 46th annual ceremony in 1974. The audience reaction she receives after a gracious introduction by the one and only David Niven (remember when Hollywood gave us such class acts?) is one of those for the ages - and so is her quip...

video

She was a star. One of the best we've ever had. Now... who's up for a road trip to Old Saybrook this summer...?

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