Judging from the number of Academy Awards won for Best Performance, Hepburn is the greatest American actress. She was nominated 12 times and won four: Morning Glory (1933), Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner (1967), The Lion in Winter (1968), and On Golden Pond (1981).
But then you look at those other nominations: The Philadelphia Story, Woman of the Year, The African Queen, and Long Day’s Journey into Night among them. And the other great performances that didn’t even make the list: Little Women, Stage Door, Bringing Up Baby, Adam’s Rib, Pat and Mike, Rooster Cogburn. Six Golden Globe awards. The Emmy. The Tony nominations. Awards don’t ever tell the whole story, but these sure do paint a pretty persuasive picture, don’t they?
No wonder the American Film Institute named Hepburn as the greatest female movie star in film history.
No one would ever have considered Katharine Hepburn a conformist, however successful she was in Hollywood. She swam naked in public pools in college. Smoked when that wasn’t considered appropriate for women. Dressed in men’s suits because it was more “comfortable.” Disdained the press, her female colleagues, even her fans. But in many ways this contempt for the conventional helped make her bigger than life on screen.
As famous and wealthy as acting made her, she wasn’t particularly enamored of the work. “Acting is the most minor of gifts,” she said. “After all, Shirley Temple could do it when she was four.”