One has to wonder what is the quality that transcends an artist to a legend. Is it because some of them are methodical, approaching their own work from a distance while those that become legend, fearlessly take a leap to discover what lies deep in their psyche.
Was Katherine Hepburn merely essaying a role, or are her words rooted in empathy when she repeats Haven’s line (from The Philadelphia Story), “You’ll never be a first class human being or a first class woman until you’ve learned to have some regard for human frailty.”
She is best described in one of her own movies, The Philadelphia Story again, “You are, as if, lit from the inside!” This luminous presence extends well beyond the labels that come with the female stardom, she is a bit of everything; she is a femme fatale, a coy county girl, a chic city girl, a mother, a friend or an enemy.
If you were to watch an old Dick Cavett interview of Katherine Hepburn, you would be amazed at her magnanimous presence. I mean how many women can sit like this with their legs on the table, and still look beautiful? Threatening and unapologetic, that picture is very powerful. In a society that has watertight compartment for classy/unclassy, sophisticated/vulgar, this woman continuously defied definition! A woman who had been a leading lady for 60 years – sitting across an audience that is listening to the old world authority. That is how “spellbound” should be!
Hepburn herself called this, living like a man, yet what was unsaid was the affirmation of individuality not reverence of a gender, for she was very much a woman but one who was not afraid to express her opinions. And even though the struggle for feminism had taken roots, Hepburn’s society was not entirely liberal (we cannot claim the society to be liberal and equal even now, can we?) She attributes her traits to her parents’ nurturing skills, she says she was brought up like this, yet there is an unmistakable innate quality, which is more than winning the genetic gamble.
Although her social stature and her parents may have granted her some liberty anyway, she pushed it to the limits, for that is the correct way to rebel. As she herself put it, “You should always do what interests you, that way you please at least one person.” And she did that! She was an atheist, a feminist, and she openly declared that she did not want to be a mother. Here, she did not loathe the idea of motherhood itself, but she did not budge in to the social pressure that may well have been on her.
She was unafraid of being a career girl, of being an artist, and the old Hollywood that was having fun with fearless heroines was the perfect place for her.
Despite the glamour and popularity, the movie industry is largely seen as a superficial place. Even the industry itself has played up this bit of the image, portraying its world as that of lit up from the outside and dark from the inside. But can it be true? Where there is a human, there is complexity. And the industry that shapes how we dress, what we think, can be far from an oversized mask. It has a legacy and contributing to its growth are artists like Katharine Hepburn, Audrey Hepburn, Greta Garbo and so many more. Its virtues and that of its legends cannot be sideline as fickle, after all like every art, cinema imitates life.
Beauty is a big deal now. Women around the world are being taught to look their best on an almost urgent basis. Who cares if you have brains, it is what’s on your timeline that matters, and on your Instagram. And yet women everywhere have no claim on their own bodies. It seems another round of the society dictating what a woman should wear, how she should look. In such a climate, we may have to look back at the past for lessons. We will have to remember the women, and all great people who did not let the world define them. Katharine Hepburn’s legacy is one such legacy that must be kept alive.
Thank you Margaret Perry for hosting the #KHblogathon!