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Katharine Hepburn is the most honored performer in Oscars history. She was nominated for a whopping 12 awards. Sure, Meryl Streep may have eclipsed that number, but it will be difficult for her to match Hepburn's four total Best Actress wins. Hepburn, who was never present at any ceremony in which she won, earned her first award in 1934 and her last 48 years later in 1982.
Hepburn came to Hollywood from the stage in the early 1930s. Her third film was Morning Glory, released in 1933 and directed by Lewis Sherman. In it, she plays a dedicated actress named Eva Lovelace, who is trying to make it big on Broadway. Her performance in the film, directed by Lowell Sherman, overshadows everyone else in the picture, even veterans Adolph Menjou and Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. Yeah, she's a little annoying at times, but that's her character. Morning Glory isn't a great film by any standard, but Hepburn does keep it from being a chore to sit through all 75 minutes of it.
Despite several great performances, by the end of the 1930s, Hepburn's career was nearly dead. Thankfully, a little play and film called The Philadelphia Story came around in 1940 to save her. She earned her third Oscar nomination for that film, but Ginger Rogers' performance in Kitty Foyle was just too good.
By the 1960s, Hepburn was still acting and the Oscar nominations continued piling up. In 1967, she joined Spencer Tracy for the last time in Guess Who's Coming To Dinner, another Stanley Kramer film on social issues. The film starred Sydney Poitier as a doctor hoping to marry their daughter, despite his race. Hepburn, again, gives this fantastic and touching performance as the mother here, convincing Tracy that love shouldn't be stopped by racial boundaries. This was Tracy's final film, since he died just days after production wrapped. His performance was one for the ages as well and it's a shame he didn't win.
Hepbrun's ability to be as authentic as possible on screen lead her to a second win. Her role in Guess Who's Coming To Dinner couldn't be any more different than her role in the film that earned her a third statue, 1968's incredible The Lion In Winter.
Directed by Anthony Harvey and based on James Goldman's stage play, The Lion in Winter remains one of the most entertaining films set in Medieval England. Hepburn stars as Queen Eleanor, the frustrated wife of King Henry II, played by a fiery Peter O'Toole. Goldman brings the estranged couple together during the winter of 1183 and tensions continue to rise as they bicker over who will inherit the throne. Hepburn and O'Toole are giants of cinema and seeing them onscreen together onscreen is like watching a great boxing match. They are literally at each other's throats for the film's entire running time and its beautiful to see.
Hepburn's win came during a bizarre Oscars ceremony, in which the Academy is still clinging to Old Hollywood stars. For the only time in Oscar history, there was a tie, since Hepburn and Barbra Streisand, for her wonderful debut in Funny Girl, were both handed the award.
13 years later, Hepburn was still working. Many of her contemporaries had either died or retired, but there was more to be done for her and that included On Golden Pond. Director Mark Rydell handles the touching film version of Ernest Thmpson's play with a moving delicacy, ensuring that the story of an elderly father reuniting with his daughter doesn't turn hammy.
The headline of On Golden Pond is Henry Fonda's performance alongside his daughter, Jane Fonda, who made sure she could work with her legendary father at least once. Fonda managed to do as well as he could, despite his declining health. For Hepburn, she managed to give another good performance that earned her that record fourth win.
After On Golden Pond, Hepburn continued making film and TV appearances until the mid-1990s and she died in 2003 at age 93. She left behind one amazing body of work. If I could pick just one other role that I wish she won an Oscar for, I'd pick Summertime, her 1955 collaboration with director David Lean. Still, the Oscars she did win were certainly deserved.
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