When Daniel Day Lewis won a Best Actor Oscar recently at the 85th Academy Awards, he became the first male actor ever to win that award three times. He’s still one short of the legendary Katharine Hepburn who won four Academy Awards for best actress. That’s more “best acting” awards than any other actor in the history of the Oscars.
Hepburn only attended a single awards ceremony during the course of her long career. That was in 1974 to present the Irving G. Thalberg Memorial Achievement Award to her friend Lawrence Weingarten. Producers and friends maintained, however, that winning the Oscar always thrilled her.
Katharine Hepburn won her first Oscar her third time out of the box, playing aspiring actress Eva Lovelace in the film “Morning Glory.” Lovelace’s pretty face proves more irresistible than her talent as she tries to scale the heights of Broadway. In the process, she attracts the attention of Douglas Fairbanks Jr. and Adolph Menjou. Hepburn had lobbied the film’s producer aggressively for the role, telling him it was a part she was born to play.
The Philadelphia Story
In the five years following the success of “Morning Glory,” however, Hepburn’s films did not do well. The public seemed willing to accept her in roles where she played characters similar to herself. Neither the public nor the press applauded her when she tried to use her creative muscles and stretch. “Sylvia Scarlett,” in which Hepburn’s character impersonates a male for much of the film, was one of the biggest box office bombs of the 1930s.
In 1939, though, Hepburn came upon a part that seemed tailor made for her. In “The Philadelphia Story,” Hepburn plays a socialite very similar to herself in mannerisms, assertiveness and humor. Hepburn’s career rebounded. Thereafter Hepburn was one of the most popular and bankable stars of the silver screen.
Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner
Hepburn’s second Best Actress Award came 24 years after her first with the 1967 hit “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner.” She plays Christina Drayton, the mother of a daughter whose — fiancé unbeknownst to her — is African American. “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner” was Hepburn’s ninth and final film with longtime intimate Spencer Tracy. Tracy died shortly after filming was completed. Two days after Tracy’s death, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down state statutes outlawing interracial marriages.
The Lion in Winter
Following Spencer Tracy’s death, Katharine Hepburn threw herself into acting to take her mind off her grief. The role she chose was Eleanor of Aquitaine in the 1968 film, “The Lion in Winter.” The film showed off her considerable talents as a mature actress. Hepburn won the Best Actress Oscar for the second year in a row.
On Golden Pond
Hepburn kept up an enormously busy acting schedule in her golden years, appearing in films as well as on stage and television. In 1981, she took on the role of quirky Ethel Thayer opposite Henry Fonda in the movie “On Golden Pond.” That role earned Hepburn her fourth Best Actress Academy Award, a record that remains unbroken to this day.