Twice a Best Actor was a dream of mine that five additional bloggers helped come true. Thanks to the support of the rest of my blogging family, and their interest in what we had put together, Twice a Best Actress was born! For those new to the blog or unfamiliar with the last roundtable, this is how this works. There are six bloggers (myself included) who will review the TWO Lead Oscar winning performances of an actress each week (to be posted here each Friday). We will assign them all grades that will then get tallied and, after the project is over, we'll have a ranked list of the performances and then a ranked list of the most deserving double winner. With this batch of ladies, we hit a snag with Katharine Hepburn, since she won FOUR times in this category, so we've decided to split her in two and grade we first two wins and her second two wins separately; and we're using her as bookmarks for the project, so she's first!
I want to introduce you to our panel, before we begin. We have three returning bloggers (myself included) and three newbies.
Andrew from The Films the Thing
Drew from A Fistful of Films
Fritz from Fritz and the Oscars
Josh from The Cinematic Spectacle
Kevin from Speaks in Movie Lines
Sati from Cinematic Corner
As you'll see from the reviews below, we have a diverse and opinionated panel, which is going to make for some great discussion
So, let's get it on!
The Academy's love for Katharine Hepburn was life-long and almost immediate. Winning her first Best Actress Oscar (of a career-spanning and record-breaking total of 4), during only her second year in Hollywood and in only her third screen appearance, was their gold-plated embrace of a new Hollywood original. But her win for playing aspiring actress/annoying chatterbox Eva Lovelace seems more of a recognition for Katharine Hepburn the actress and persona and not necessarily for this particular performance. Which is not to say that I think that Kate delivers a completely lousy performance here - she's too much of a professional to do that - but the film, at barely over an hour, never seems to be all that invested in Eva's story to begin with. And by the time we reach what feels like the natural end of Act One, with Eva becoming an overnight sensation and vowing not to be a fleeting flash in the pan, it abruptly stops altogether, setting us up for a story that it doesn't deliver. I'm sure there were parallels trying to be drawn from Kate's own story as a young actress finding success on stage to that of Eva's, but the needy, dreamy, and slightly delusional Eva is far from Kate. Often criticized for playing variations of herself, Kate really does seem to be making choices and creating an actual character different from herself. Her voice, all clipped and New England-y, dripping of intelligence and breeding, would become her trademark, but it was so recognizable that it often hindered her from disappearing completely in a role. Here she actually uses vocal variations to fit the character, using a higher, girlish octave for Eva's endless prattle and then utilizing her voice to its full effect, like the stage actress she was, during her drunken Shakespearian monologues to maximize the comic and dramatic possibilities. And Kate's natural likability save a character that on paper could quickly become an irritating nuisance into someone we generally become invested in. But an Oscar win for this role seems a little excessive (especially when Kate gives a better performance in Little Women that same year) and she would play a similar part to greater acclaim in the far superior Stage Door (which didn't even bring a nomination). If only the Academy had held their love for more deserving Katharine Hepburn performances.
My Grade: C+
I have a really tumultuous relationship with Katherine Hepburn. For the longest time, I considered her the most overrated actress of any generation. She is obviously the most beloved in Oscar’s eyes, considering that she has more Oscars than any other actor; period. Still, that love that Oscar bestowed upon her never really translated onto me, or at least it took a long time to do so. I think it has to do with WHAT she actually won for (but really, let’s take this a performance at a time, right?).
Yes, early in my cinephile days, I was reminded that Hepburn was an actress I needed to become familiar with. So, I saw her better known works, especially the latter three, for which she won Oscars for. I wasn’t wholly impressed. Then, over the years, I delved into those roles she didn’t win for, and I found a surprising goldmine of brilliance. Alice Adams, Bringing Up Baby, The Philadelphia Story, Long Day’s Journey Into Night…she was simply outstanding, and showed so much range! But, of course, she was never honored for these works. Instead, she was handed out Oscars for performances that, in my eyes, feel beneath her.
I’m getting so far ahead of myself it’s pathetic.
So, it wasn’t until I was researching for this Roundtable that I actually saw Morning Glory. It was the one Oscar winning role from Hepburn that I hadn’t seen. Well, I’m in the minority on this one, but I actually think this was her most deserving win! The film itself is brisk and kind of not-all-there (not in an intellectual way, but it does feel unfinished and rushed and rather pointless) and yet her performance is so full-bodied and flirty and fun and pretty much everything that I could have wanted it to be. She throws herself into the character, develops all of her trademark attributes (the talking too fast, the careless speech, the stern demeanor that establishes her confidence) and ultimately grabs us and never lets go. And let’s talk for a minute about that drunk scene. Sure, you can say it’s over the top…but MY GOD was that fun to watch. She owed it, every single minute of it, and while the film’s ending is a serious cop out on all levels, Hepburn sells it beautifully. We never doubt her.
This is the type of performance that wins Oscars for young talent. You can’t not watch it and realize why she won. It established her as a real identity; a real character, and she proved herself to be one of the most beloved and respected in her craft. Oscar rarely rewards the best for their best, but this is one of those moments where Oscar saw something special and made a good move in actually rewarding it.
Her other wins, on the other hand…
My Grade: A
Not many stars so openly rejected the idea of the Oscars as Katharine Hepburn did – but the Academy has nonetheless declared her the champion of its own awards and accompanied her entire career basically from start to finish. The Oscars have always been with her, from her days as a beginner, to the sophisticated leading lady of intelligent comedies, to her first and last teaming with Spencer Tracy, to her spinster period and her renaissance after Tracy’s death. Her first Oscar win came during a time when the Academy embraced new and young actresses with open arms (Helen Hayes, Bette Davis and Luise Rainer also belong to this group) – this win could have come for her more familiar work in Little Women but Morning Glory was simply the perfect vehicle to carry this new and exciting actress to Oscar gold since she played a new and exciting actress who is hoping for her big break and becomes an overnight sensation on Broadway. Oscar couldn’t ask for a better opportunity. And so her Eva Lovelace stands as one of the Oscar-winning performances that are intriguingly close to the truth behind the story we are allowed to see because this actress seemed to have been a true alter ego of Katharine Hepburn at this stage of her life – she’s young, talented and bursting with self-confidence to the point of pure arrogance. On paper, it sounds like a perfect combination of actress and part because Eva Lovelace seems to inhabit everything that Katharine Hepburn was and still is famous for. But Morning Glory and Katharine Hepburn quickly turn any possible excitement into a major disappointment. She was always a spirited and lively presence on the screen with magnetic, indescribable charisma but her Eva Lovelace somehow lacked all of this. The part asked for a childlike naivety but Katharine Hepburn is too self-aware to portray such a woman and instead covered Eva’s single-mindedness with a never-ending one-dimensionality in which she delivers all her lines in the same tone that never expresses any emotions or character whatsoever. The truth is that Eva Lovelace did not ask for an Esther-Blodgett-A-Star-is-Born-sweetness and it made sense that Kate portrayed her as a woman who hides her own insecurities behind a wall of self-confidence but she missed all chances to add a more human dimension to this part – in Kate’s interpretation, it is impossible to believe that any people around Eva might be drawn to this young woman or even care for her at all. Katharine Hepburn’s performance includes neither the dramatic nor the comedic touches of the screenplay (as thin as it is) and simply flows along, showing no true development and always staying on the same note. It’s obvious that it’s a thought-through performance and that Katharine Hepburn knows what she wants to express but the problem is how she expressed it. She didn’t know, as she would later in The Philadelphia Story or Woman of the Year, how to project the self-assurance and inner pains of her character without losing its humanity and creating a full-fledged human being. Katharine Hepburn was surely on her way but this performance was an early misstep.
My Grade: D+
Hepburn won her first Best Actress Oscar for playing Eva Lovelace, a young actress who gets her big break on the Broadway stage. This performance tends to be dismissed, which is a bit unfair. Hepburn's performance can be high-strung and showy at times, but it feels necessary for her character. Naturally, this can be interpreted as overacting, though it feels right to me. It's a delicate task to portray Eva without being too theatrical, and Hepburn manages to give a great performance, even if she'd go on to give better ones.
Did Hepburn deserve to win?
She didn't have much competition from May Robson in Lady for a Day and Diane Wynyard in Cavalcade, but she delivers the best performance. While it's not a popular win, it seems entirely justified in this case.
My Grade: A
I rarely watch movies this old. This is an example of why. It's just not very good. At barely 75 minutes, there isn't enough story to even make it a movie. The performances are good, though. And Kate's work here as Eva Lovelace (how about that?) is really good. I laughed…a lot. I made notes, like, "her face makes me smile" and "she's a handsome woman, say!"
As an early starring role for Hepburn, she does fine work. As mentioned, her facial expressions are priceless, and her trademarked fast-talk is right on point with what I know of Hepburn's work, that being Cate Blanchett's portrayal of her in Scorsese's "The Aviator." The drunken Shakespeare scene is remarkable, even by today's acting standards.
I want to add, though, that I happen to believe that Kate was outacted by Mary Duncan as Rita Vernon. She would've had Supporting Actress on the mantlepiece if it had been around then. You absolutely can't beat this line: "The only way to live through a party like this is to get good and tight." Amen, Mary. I could almost say the same about this movie.
Nevertheless, I'm glad I saw this film. It introduced me to Katherine Hepburn as an actress in a chronological sort of way. She is, no doubt, a fine actress, even with only "Morning Glory" to judge.
The Scene That Won It: Drunken Romeo and Juliet
My Grade: C
Oh man. Not only is Hepburn nothing special here, she gets blown off the screen by Mary Duncan, whose lively, natural performance steals the show and she is barely in few scenes. Hepburn tries playing shy and naive but she comes off as she was indeed TRYING to play shy and naive. It also doesn't help that her characters is almost impossibly annoying and rude.
There is also a ridiculous scene where she gets wasted during the party and it's so cringeworthy. I actually kept waiting for the twist that she is insane, like Bette Davis in Whatever Happened to Baby Jane or Gloria Swanson in Sunset Boulevard but the twist never came. I haven't seen any other nominees, but this doesn't seem like a deserved Oscar. I mean, hell, there were only 2 other nominees but I cannot imagine them being worse than her.
My Grade: D
Making her wait over 35 years and 9 nominations later before bestowing another win, the Academy seemed to once again be awarding the actress herself instead of the work. But this time the circumstances were different. The Academy had already established their love affair with Kate (10 Best Actress nominations, at the time, is a good indicator), but it was another love affair (and a death) that brought about this win. Spencer Tracy, Kate's film partner in 9 movies and romantic lover for over 26 years, passed away 17 days after filming was completed on what would be their last film together. This Oscar for Hepburn was in all actuality a lifetime achievement award for the work she and Tracy had created together and a condolence for the loss she had suffered. (Sure beats a bouquet of flowers.) Because if we are being honest, nothing about this performance is especially Oscar worthy. Playing the mother of a young woman (Hepburn's real-life niece Katharine Houghton) that brings home a black man (Sidney Poitier) and announces her intentions to marry, the film is more concerned with getting across its agenda more than creating any actual human emotions for anyone to play. Preachy, dull, and laughably dated, nothing is asked of Kate other than to be a stand-in for pro interracial marriage. She spends the entire film vacant and on the verge of tears. Her thoughts seem to be someplace altogether and her constantly moist eyes are the result of what was happening in her real life and not the actions taking place on screen. She and Tracy have a built-in history that makes their marriage in the film feel authentic and natural, the kind that only comes from having an intimate relationship together. It's touching to watch, but not enough to build an entire character on. Especially at the expense of the four other actresses nominated that year, all giving incredible performances and any one of them more than deserving of the win. (Although I lean toward Bancroft's legendary Mrs. Robinson.)
My Grade: C-
Sometimes you look at a performance for what it is and say “yeah, that was nice” and then you take a step back and look at that larger picture, you know, the other performances around it, and you think “um, what in the HELL!” This is one of those instances.
I want to start by stating that Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, as a film, is just not very good. It hasn’t aged well, it’s extremely dated, and while that criticism in it of itself is kind of lazy (yes, I own that), it is a criticism I have no qualms heaping upon the film. I just don’t think it was very well written at all, even for its time, but especially from today’s standards, and looking at the film from modern eyes makes me question why this has such a strong showing of support. But, we aren’t here to talk about the film but about the performance within the film that won an Oscar, namely that of Katherine Hepburn.
How did this happen?
The performance is a quiet one, and one that gives Hepburn a lot of opportunities to rest in the background and emote through her eyes, her facial expressions and her body language, keeping her trap shut. She does this adequately enough, but when I think of this film and the performances inside of it, I question why SHE was the one to get rewarded? Why not Spencer Tracy, who delivers a beautiful performance and even has the big speech to validate the Oscar? Why not Cecil Kellaway, with his scene stealing supporting turn? Why not Beah Richards, which that heartbreaking sincerity? Really, why not anyone by Hepburn?
What makes this win all the more perplexing is the race she was in. All four of her fellow nominees TOPPLE her here. Dunaway’s and Bancroft’s are considered legendary performances. Hepburn’s is only legend for BEATING these two. (The other) Hepburn was nominated for the wrong performance (she was brilliant in Two for the Road), but the execution of her nominated performance was stellar, and so richly developed. And then there is Edith Evans; a legend in her own right, delivering a performance that is so intricate, so detailed, so masterful.
How did Hepburn’s nice yet bland performance actually win?
My Grade: C-
Over 30 years after Morning Glory, Katharine Hepburn finally won the second Oscar of her career for playing a liberal mother who supports her daughter’s decision to marry a black man in Guess who’s coming to dinner. If Morning Glory was a performance where fiction copied real life, then Guess who’s coming to dinner actually did the same. It shows an old couple that spent its entire life together, stood by each through good and bad times and exchanges a meaningful final look while remembering their love for each other. Yes, there is an undeniable magic to see Kate and Spencer on the screen for the final time and it seems almost impossible to separate the drama behind the camera from the story on the screen. But there is more to appreciate in Kate’s work even if, like Morning Glory, the script many times held her back and did not ask her to stretch her talents. It’s a performance that was overrated by the Academy and is underrated by movie fans around the world who consider hers a sympathy win cause by Spencer’s death but the truth can be found somewhere in the middle – it’s a limited role, for sure, but Katharine Hepburn succeeded within these limits. After learning of her daughter’s plans, Christina Drayton completes the transformation from shock to denial to acceptance to understanding without a grave amount of emotional soul-searching and in a rather short period of time while Spencer Tracy’s Matt Drayton goes through a long, personal and difficult journey. This positioning of these two characters already indicates that the arc of Christina Drayton is of much less impact to the overall storyline – Matt Drayton’s decisions, attitude and thinking craft the internal and external conflicts in Guess who’s coming to dinner while Christina Drayton finds her own role and position very early in this process and she always remains just a small part in the overall variety of reactions that the movie wants to portray. But Katharine Hepburn also has to be applauded for showing that Christina is always in full comprehension of what is going on around her – she was smart enough to not portray her as a romantic fool but found the main difference to her husband in the fact that she sees Joey and John as strong enough to face their problems as long as the whole family stands together. Katharine Hepburn makes it clear that Christina always respects the decision of her daughter not because she feels that she has to or because it is an easier way to deal with the situation but because she knows that her daughter is always aware of what she is doing and because she feels that the love between Joey and John is more than just a spontaneous decision. The character of Joey might be mostly noteworthy for its naivety but Katharine Hepburn shows that Christina recognizes those sentiments as honesty – Joey is not too unaware of the world to fail to see any problems in her relation to John but she chooses to ignore them and Katharine Hepburn’s own performance constantly follows this theme, showing a woman who might appear to just flow along but actually actively decides to take the direction of her feelings, supporting her daughter unconditionally once she sorted out her own feelings. But this does not mean that her Christina is not always aware of the tensions, feelings and worries around her – holding her family together, keeping grief from Joey and preventing Matt from distancing himself from his daughter are the big worries that Christina faces during the run of the story. In this aspect, Christina Drayton often becomes the secret centre of the story and Katharine Hepburn fills her with warmth and understanding. Yes, there are limits to the success of this performance that were created by the script but it is a lovely piece of work nonetheless.
My Grade: C+
Hepburn won her second Best Actress Oscar for playing Christina Drayton, a woman whose ideals are tested when her daughter brings home a fiancé of a different race. This was a big film that year, but some of the success is due to the presence of Hepburn and Spencer Tracy. Their well-established chemistry plays a big part in the effectiveness of Hepburn's performance. She's very reactive, and it's a relatively quiet performance for an Oscar winner. That said, she's good, not great, here.
Did Hepburn deserve to win?
I haven't seen Edith Evans' performance in The Whisperers, but it looks as if Hepburn gave the worst performance of the nominees. Faye Dunaway should've won for Bonnie and Clyde, though Anne Bancroft and Audrey Hepburn were also deserving.
My Grade: B
I should be beaten for having never seen this movie until just recently. It is an excellent piece of filmmaking in that it is great to look at, well-written all the way around, important thematically, and obviously critically and commercially successful. I absolutely loved it.
Oh, how Kate grew up in the 34 years it took to get her second statue. I want to go on record that (with the panel's and readers' recommendations) I want to fill in the gap. What are the best K. Heburn roles of the 40s and 50s?
Kate's turn here as Mrs. Christina Drayton is a great screen performance.
I made a list:
1. Meeting Dr. Prentice - Her voice, her eyes with that constant glazed, almost crying look (which sustains for a good part of the movie). The shock of understanding that Dr. John Prentice (Poitier) is in fact a black man.
2. Ironing Joey's Shirt - I was enamored with this scene in how well she played off of young Katherine Houghton. She has just true love in her eyes the whole scene. She smiles and owns it. She never misses a beat.
3. Burning Hilary - I applaud the writing in this scene. It is one of the great movie burns of all-time. It is the most eloquent shit-canning I've ever heard.
4. Working with Spencer - The chemistry between Hepburn and Tracy is palpable even at the age they each were at the time. The scene that really stuck with me was him shaving in front of the mirror, drinking his Scotch, distraught. Kate, playing the good wife, offers coy smiles, comforts, worry and happiness colliding.
5. The Final Scene - Here is where I will applaud Stanley Kramer's direction and Sam Leavitt's photography for helping her win. When Spence gives that great final speech, there is a shot that shows here with those tears welling up, it focuses on her very briefly (if I recall correctly), then the focus shifts back to him. You feel what she feels.
I love this performance. I have to say, though, that when I looked at her competition that night, I developed some reservations about her win. Obviously, Anne Bancroft has the more iconic performance as Mrs. Robinson in "The Graduate" and Faye Dunaway, of course, has a maybe even more iconic role than that. It seems strange what stands the test of time. I'm honestly not sure who I'd pick, but it would be among those three.
The Scene That Won It: Burning Hilary
My Grade: A-
That one I liked much more. I think Dunaway should have won for Bonnie and Clyde and her both sweet and seductive performance but Hepburn was very good here, very authentic with a touch of great comedy timing. She really feels like an actual mother to this girl with all her joy at her happiness and being worried about her future. There are also wonderful standout scenes here - with her seeing her daughter's fiancé for the first time and her dismissing Hilary with such fierceness.
Another thing that adds to the performance is that her character is in tears for majority of scenes - it's because of the fact that Spencer Tracy, actress' longtime partner who played her husband in the movie, was dying in real life. It takes you out of the performance but it adds strange gravity and sadness to the movie and the sense of tragedy that every love, no matter how happy, must ultimately face.
My Grade: A-
There is a number assigned to each letter grade that helps us give a score to each performance. The highest number (and A+) would be 20 points. An F would warrant 0 points (a D gives you 5). So these are the scores for each performance as well as a collective score (which will be used at the end to rank each individual actress).
Katharine Hepburn received a total of 64 points for her performance in Morning Glory.
Katharine Hepburn received a total of 67 points for her performance in Guess Who's Coming to Dinner.
This is a collective total of 131 points.
As a point of reference, the highest collective score you can attain is 240.
So this closes our discussion of Katharine Hepburn, at least for now. Next week we’re going to talk about Jodie Foster, which should prove to be very interesting...
I want to close by extending a big thank you to the five bloggers who so graciously accepted the invitation to be part of this panel. These discussions would not be the same without your input, and I'm so honored that you've taken on this undertaking (it's a lot of movies to watch). It's going to be a fun few months!