- The Washington Times - Monday, June 30, 2003

OLD SAYBROOK, Conn. (AP) — Katharine Hepburn, an icon of feminist strength and spirit who brought a chiseled beauty and patrician bearing to such films as “The Philadelphia Story” and “The African Queen,” died yesterday. She was 96.

Miss Hepburn died at 2:50 p.m. at her home in Old Saybrook with family by her side, said Cynthia McFadden, a friend of Miss Hepburn and executor of her estate. Miss Hepburn, who had been in declining health in recent years, died of old age, Miss McFadden said.

The lights will dim on Broadway at 8 p.m. today in her honor, said Patricia Armetta-Haubner, a spokeswoman for the League of American Theaters and Producers.

“I think every actress in the world looked up to her with a kind of reverence and a sense of ‘Oh boy, if only I could be like her,’” actress Elizabeth Taylor said in a statement.

During her 60-year career, she won a record four Academy Awards and was nominated 12 times, which stood as a record in the acting categories until Meryl Streep surpassed her nomination total in 2003. Her Oscars were for “Morning Glory,” 1933; “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner,” 1967; “A Lion in Winter,” 1968; and “On Golden Pond,” 1981.

Despite her success, Miss Hepburn always felt she could have done more. “I could have accomplished three times what I’ve accomplished,” she once said. “I haven’t realized my full potential. It’s disgusting.”

But, she said, “Life’s what’s important. Walking, houses, family. Birth and pain and joy — and then death. Acting’s just waiting for the custard pie. That’s all.”

Miss Hepburn, the product of a wealthy, freethinking New England family, was forthright in her opinions and unconventional in her conduct.

She dressed for comfort, usually in slacks and a sweater, with her red hair caught up in a topknot. She married once, briefly, and her name was linked to Howard Hughes and other famous men, but the great love of her life was Spencer Tracy. They made nine films together and remained close companions until Mr. Tracy’s death in 1967.

Miss Hepburn’s third movie, “Morning Glory,” brought her first Oscar and a string of parts followed, including Jo in “Little Women” and the madcap socialite of “Bringing Up Baby.”

A theater-chain owner branded her and other stars “box-office poison” after several of Miss Hepburn’s roles received a cool reception from critics, and her film career waned.

Undaunted, Miss Hepburn acquired the rights to a comedy about a spoiled heiress, and, after it was rewritten for her, took it to the New York stage. “The Philadelphia Story” was a hit.

She returned to Hollywood for the 1940 film version, which featured James Stewart and Cary Grant. Once again, she was a top star, with a contract at MGM.

Her first film with Mr. Tracy was “Woman of the Year,” in 1942. Legend has it that when they met she commented, “I’m afraid I’m a little big for you, Mr. Tracy.” His reply: “Don’t worry, I’ll cut you down to size.”

One critic compared them to “the high-strung thoroughbred and the steady workhorse.”

Mr. Tracy never divorced his wife, who outlived him by 15 years. Miss Hepburn, though she led a PBS tribute to Mr. Tracy in 1986, rarely mentioned their private relationship.

After leaving MGM in 1951, Miss Hepburn divided her time between the stage — she appeared in George Bernard Shaw’s “The Millionairess” and Shakespeare’s “As You Like It” — and film. She coolly braved a jungle for “The African Queen” and did her own balloon flying in the low-budget “Olly Olly Oxen Free.”

She co-starred with Miss Taylor and Montgomery Clift in “Suddenly Last Summer,” Jason Robards Jr. in “Long Day’s Journey into Night,” Laurence Olivier in the TV movie “Love Among the Ruins” and Henry Fonda in “On Golden Pond,” which won both of them Oscars.

She coaxed the ailing Mr. Tracy back onto the set for their roles as wealthy, liberal parents faced with the interracial marriage of their daughter in “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner.” Mr. Tracy died before the film’s release.

For many years, she divided her time between New York and Connecticut. She took to writing; her first book, “The Making of ‘The African Queen’: Or, How I Went To Africa With Bogart, Bacall and Huston and Almost Lost My Mind” made her a best-selling author at 77.

She was born in Hartford, Conn., on May 12, 1907, one of six children of Dr. Thomas N. Hepburn, a noted urologist and pioneer in social hygiene, and Katharine Houghton Hepburn, who worked for birth control and obtaining the vote for women.

“My parents were much more fascinating, as people, than I am,” the actress once said. “Mother was really left of center; women’s suffrage was her great cause, and I remember appearing at all the local fairs carrying huge flocks of balloons that said ‘votes for women.’ I almost went up with them.”

She made her New York debut in “These Days” in 1928, the same year she married Philadelphia socialite Ludlow Ogden Smith. She divorced him in 1934 and later remarked, “I don’t believe in marriage. It’s bloody impractical to love, honor and obey. If it weren’t, you wouldn’t have to sign a contract.”

She had various health problems in later years, including hip-replacement surgery and tremors similar to symptoms of Parkinson’s disease.

“There comes a time in your life when people get very sweet to you,” she said in an interview. “But I’m a madly irritating person, and I irritated them for years. … I think they’re beginning to think I’m not going to be around much longer. And what do you know — they’ll miss me, like an old monument. Like the Flatiron Building.”

Miss McFadden said that according to Miss Hepburn’s wishes, there will be no memorial service and that burial will be private at a later date.

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