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Consider This

By LC Van Savage


Katharine Houghton Hepburn was to be admired for many things in her long, very successful life. Born to wealth, intellectual stimulation and privilege, she herself said, "How could I not have succeeded? I was given everything." She obviously took nothing for granted and it appears she well understood her place in the world.

Hepburn gave all of us a lot of fun with her films. She was a marvelous comedienne, understated and droll, very funny. A compelling dramatic actress also, she was a spirited lady who gave women "permission" to be athletic, to be bony and tall, to be not glamorous, to be outspoken and opinionated, and most of all, to wear pants. Bless you Kate. Were it not for you, most of us would be running around in hot, twisting, chafing stockings, high heels and skirts. Ugh.

Pants! Imagine that! She wore them everywhere, for all occasions. I’ll bet she wore them even to funerals. I personally owe her and think I liked her for that even more than I liked her films.

I too always wanted to live in pants the way boys could, but in my environs, "it simply wasn’t done." How I hated that phrase. That and, "it would be unseemly." Unseemly? I remember once begging my parents to be allowed to wear pants to church, but their negative response, of course, included the "unseemly" word. And so I sat in my pew in a proper dress, watching the faithful at St. Mary’s Episcopal going to the bar for Holy Communion, everyone kneeling and leaning forward, the women treating the 1950s congregation to a view of their often substantial thigh backs, stretched garters, dark stocking tops and bloomers, while receiving the wine and wafer. I’d sit there sulking in my horrid dress thinking, "Gross. Talk about unseemly. If they were wearing pants we wouldn’t be forced to view all that on an empty stomach."

America back then, in its judgmental, holier than thou ways was shocked and horrified at Hepburn’s cohabiting in joyous sin with a married man, a man who hypocritically would join her in delicious trespass but would not marry her because his religion forbad divorce. He was a great drunken, angry thug of a man who gave himself leave to beat hell out of anyone he fancied, stranger or friend, a man who would trash hotel rooms, restaurants and bars in his drunken rages, all paid for and covered up by his movie studios, and yet he was a man who was arguably one of the world’s finest actors. He was her Spence, and Hepburn made her choices, danced her dance and kicked anyone out of her life who dared to butt into what she chose to do.

She swam outdoors, it’s been said, every day of her life in all seasons. She ran for exercise long before it became commonplace to see people galloping all over the country. She was a very good golfer and apparently could master----mistress--- most sports quite well. It could be said I suppose, that these pursuits contributed to her living well into nine-plus decades of life.

Was she a great actress? Not to Dorothy Parker, who once stated that Hepburn’s acting talents "ran the gamut of emotions from A to B." Well, Hepburn sure showed ‘em. With her monied, educated Connecticut accent, she made marvelous, successful films for over seventy years, nine with Tracy. She won many awards, including a bunch of Oscars, but couldn’t be bothered to show up to collect them.

Her famous red hair faded, her voice got more crackled, her head shook, but when she appeared anywhere, you watched. You listened.

Hepburn stepped out of the line and if she stepped on toes along the way, she didn’t much give a damn. And because of her personal dress code, we’re not treated so much to that Sabbath thigh/garter/stocking/bloomer spectacle. Thanks Kate.  

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Reader Comments

Name: Clara Email:
Comment: A really neat tribute to a great woman, LC. I think Kate was a feminist who didn't need a label, a free soul who lived her life her way and proved to us that the world wouldn't end if a prominent woman defied convention. The fact that she was a stellar actress gave her the high profile that has benefited the rest of us. My thanks for a fine column, my friend, and thanks to Kate!



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