Andrew here, shining a final light on Katharine Hepburn, a postscript to TFE's generous Katharine Hepburn week despite our host never having been a huge fan. Nathaniel’s write-up on Katharine’s twelve Oscar nominations nailed one of the key oddities of the icon's Oscary career. Her win in 1967 for Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner was only the second Oscar she picked up, a full 35 years after her screen debut. For perspective, by that time her biggest peers of the day - Bette Davis, Olivia De Havilland and Ingrid Bergman had already picked up dual statues.
It must have seemed unlikely by then that Katharine was ever going to get a statue to keep her Morning Glory trophy company, especially since with Spencer Tracy’s declining health she was working less and less. Consider: she'd made 15 films in the thirties, 11 in the forties, 7 in the fifties but Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner in 1967 was only her second film that decade. I'd argue that this win marks the only legitimate sentimental win for Kate, though Oscar's love for sentiment is not something new to any of us.
Like all of her Oscar wins, Katharine was not there to accept the prize but in Garson Kanin’s memoir of Katharine and Spencer ("Tracy and Hepburn: An Intimate Memoir") he included a bit about her finding out the news.
She was in France, making The Madwoman of Chaillot when the news came through by telephone. Her housekeepers, Willie and Ida, phoned her from Hollywood, awakening her just before 7. A.M., French time.
“You won, Miss Hepburn!” they shouted. You won the Oscar!”
“Did Mr. Tracy win it, too?” she asked.
There was a pause before Willie replied, “No, Madam.”
“Well, that’s okay,” she said. “I'm sure mine is for the two of us.”
The following day, Gregory Peck received a cable:
IT WAS DELIGHTFUL A TOTAL SURPRISE I AM ENORMOUSLY TOUCHED BECAUSE I FEEL I HAVE RECEIVED A GREAT AFFECTIONATE HUG FROM MY FELLOW WORKERS AND FOR A VARIETY OF REASONS NOT THE LEAST OF WHICH BEING SPENCER STANLEY SIDNEY KATHY AND BILL ROSE. ROSE WROTE ABOUT A NORMAL MIDDLE AGED UNSPECTACULAR UNGLAMOROUS CREATURE WITH A GOOD BRAIN AND A WARM HEART WHO’S DOING THE BEST SHE CAN TO DO THE DECENT THING IN A DIFFICULT SITUATION. IN OTHER WORDS SHE WAS A GOOD WIFE. OUR MOST UNSUNG AND IMPORTANT HEROINE. I’M GLAD SHE’S COMING BACK IN STYLE. I MODELLED HER AFTER MY MOTHER. THANKS AGAIN. THEY DON’T USUALLY GIVE THESE THINGS TO THE OLD GIRLS YOU KNOW.
How ironic that last line seems now considering, as Nathaniel says, she gained two more awards at such an old age. By that age Oscar has always fallen out of love with actresses which is one of the reasons I’ve never much minded that her Dinner win is wrapped in sentiment. Of her twelve nominations it’s the least showy of her roles, a steadfastly reactive role but for that delightful “firing” scene. it’s mere happenstance that her birthday fell on Mothers’ Day this year but even if the performance does not rise to the top in the annals of great Katharine Hepburn performance it takes on a lovely, if sentimental, meaning as a reminder of great mothers everywhere. Kate had no children herself but between domineering mothers in Suddenly Last Summer, drug addled ones in Long Day’s Journey into Night and generally perfect ones in On Golden Pond, Christina Drayton in Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner is perhaps her best one. True, that stands as little reason to hand out Oscars but who’d have imagined one year later she’d be breaking the record for most Best Actress wins?
In 1967 this second Oscar must have seemed like the ultimate reward to an actress who was already a legend and that acceptance telegram does read as particularly charming. Happy birthday, Kate.