Originally created 07/01/03

Strength of character

She convinced her husband to change his name. Cary Grant called her "the most completely honest woman I've ever met." She rewrote studio contracts to suit her, and fought doggedly for her choices for co-stars and directors. Mostly, she just lived life on her own terms.

Katharine Hepburn didn't just act the part of a strong, independent woman. She wrote the part for herself - and, no doubt, for other women to come.

Certainly Hepburn will be remembered as an acting legend - nominated for a then-record 12 Oscars, awarded four of them and cited by the American Film Institute as the greatest American female screen legend.

But it may not have been her theatrical giftedness that built her legend. More likely, it was her fierce independence, confidence, brashness, sophistication and even swagger. It was apparent to all that no leading man of her generation or any other could upstage or intimidate her.

In this day and age, the notion of an independent woman living life on her own terms seems wholly unspectacular. The novelty of that image went out the door as soon as Mary Tyler Moore threw her cap in the air in the middle of a Minneapolis intersection.

But Hepburn did it at a time in which it truly stood out - and in a business that put her under an international microscope.

Through it all, she seemed unfazed and unimpressed with so much of it. Certainly she realized she had a "fascinating life," as she put it. But unlike many of her generation and profession, Katharine Hepburn avoided the undertow of scandal and occasional public indifference, seemingly through sheer force of will. Or perhaps it was enlightened disregard.

Or pure strength of character.

Because she portrayed women with such strength, and because it was so obviously not an act, Katharine Hepburn was, indeed, the greatest female American screen legend.


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