This film is written in conjunction with the Oscar Snubs Blogathon hosted by Silver Scenes.
Anybody following the Academy Awards excitement will have probably seen the various Oscars trivia posts floating around the web, most of them giving a nod to the great Katharine Hepburn and her unprecedented 4 Oscar wins.
You may also know that Hepburn and Luise Rainer are the only two women to be awarded back-to-back Oscars (Hepburn for GUESS WHO’S COMING TO DINNER (1967) and THE LION IN WINTER (1968)). Hepburn is also one of the few to have to share an Oscar win, as she did in 1969 when she tied with Barbra Streisand in FUNNY GIRL (1968).
But despite all these accolades, Miss Hepburn only attended the Oscar ceremony once, and that was to present an award, not to receive one: Katharine Hepburn’s One and Only Academy Award Appearance
Until a certain somebody came along, Katharine Hepburn also held the record for nominations in the leading actress category. Twelve nominations and four wins over the span of half a century isn’t a bad track record for a star. Hepburn was fortunate to have won her very first nomination and her final three – she came in with a bang and went out with the whole 1812 Overture.
Let’s take a look at all Katharine Hepburn’s near-misses. You can judge for yourself whether she deserved the win, or if you are surprised some of these roles even earned her the nomination.
ALICE ADAMS (1935)
Katharine Hepburn always said her performance of this social-climbing wallflower was her personal favourite. This film was directed by George Stevens and co-starred Fred MacMurray and the great Hattie McDaniel. The movie has some funny bits and some heartbreaking parts. In one scene, Katharine Hepburn had trouble summoning the tears required, so Stevens yelled at her until the tears were pouring down her face. Hepburn talks about the experience making the film here.
There’s not much I can say about this film that hasn’t already been said. This movie has gone down in history as one of Katharine Hepburn best known performances, and is firmly planted in the canon of classic film. Luckily, James Stewart did win the Oscar that year for his role in the picture, and Donald Ogden Stewart also walked away with a statuette for his screenplay. Ginger Rogers won the leading actress award that year for KITTY FOYLE (1940). Who would you have voted for on the 1940 Academy Awards ballot?
WOMAN OF THE YEAR (1942)
Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy lit a flame in their first of nine films together. This is one of Hepburn’s radically feminist films, in which she portrays a high-profile political journalist to Tracy’s sports columnist. It’s a great movie, and a juicy role for Hepburn, but take a look at the other contenders for leading actress that year, and you’ll see why Kate the Great was snubbed.
THE AFRICAN QUEEN (1951)
Another film now considered a Katharine Hepburn classic, THE AFRICAN QUEEN was filmed on location in Africa and tells the tale of a spinster missionary and the boat captain that helped her escape from German-occupied Congo in the midst of WWI. Although Humphrey Bogart walked away with the leading actor Oscar for his role, Hepburn lost out to Vivien Leigh in A STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE (1951). Hepburn wrote a book about her experiences in Africa entitled “The Making of THE AFRICAN QUEEN, or How I Went to Africa with Bogart, Bacall and Huston and Almost Lost My Mind,” which is well worth the read.
I consider this story, about a spinster who finds love on holiday in Venice, one of Hepburn’s most under-appreciated performances. Director David Lean captured the beauty of the city, and Hepburn gave a subtle but moving performance. This romantic film has depth and warmth and humour, and I am very sorry that it isn’t better known. This is one Oscar snub that still gets my goat. And look how sad Katie is that she didn’t win…
THE RAINMAKER (1956)
This is one of the odder members of Hepburn’s spinster cycle of films. She plays the unmarried sister of some Midwest farmers who would like nothing better than to get her married off to the local sheriff. But things get weird when she is swept off her feet by a travelling schyster who promises he can end the drought by making it rain. This film is pretty sexist, and I’d like to know whose idea it was to cast Hepburn opposite Burt Lancaster as the romantic lead? That’s almost as strange as her romantic pairing with Bob Hope in THE IRON PETTICOAT (1956), which she had made earlier that same year. How steamy is this scene – not:
SUDDENLY, LAST SUMMER (1959)
Hepburn plays a pretty psychotic mother is this movie, which also stars Elizabeth Taylor and Montgomery Clift. Both Hepburn and Taylor were nominated for the leading actress category for their performances, but they lost to Simone Signoret for ROOM AT THE TOP (1959). Although SUDDENLY isn’t one of my favourite films due to its subject matter, Hepburn does give a steely performance as the obsessed mother trying desperately to cover up her son’s homosexuality and the nature of his violent death.
LONG DAY’S JOURNEY INTO NIGHT (1962)
This is another darker drama, part of Hepburn’s mother cycle of films. Her performance as the drug-addicted matriarch of this dysfunctional family certainly deserves praise. Sydney Lumet directed this Eugene O’Neill masterpiece which also stars Ralph Richardson. Despite its high star profile, 1962 was a tough year to compete in. Other films made that year included TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD, THE MUSIC MAN, THE MIRACLE WORKER, WHATEVER HAPPENED TO BABY JANE?, and LAWRENCE OF ARABIA, among others. Hepburn lost to Anne Bancroft in THE MIRACLE WORKER. At this point, Katharine Hepburn is beginning to lose faith in her ability to win another Oscar!
But she needn’t have worried. After taking several years away from filmmaking to care for the ailing Spencer Tracy, the pair would return to the screen one last time to make GUESS WHO’S COMING TO DINNER (1967), which is as much an homage to their love affair as it is a key text in the civil rights movement in Hollywood. Hepburn was with Tracy when he passed away just weeks after they finished shooting the movie, and she would later credit the public’s sympathy of her loss for her winning the Academy Award that year.
The Academy Awards often cause controversy when the public feels strongly that the right people/films weren’t nominated or that those who were nominated didn’t win the Oscars they deserved. If Hepburn’s Oscar legacy can teach us anything, it is that winning an Oscar, or even being nominated, does not necessarily reflect the merits of the performance. Often times, the films which are remembered as quintessential to an actor or actress’s career were never recognised as classics in their own time. And often the films that were nominated only feature as footnotes in a star’s long and illustrious career.
The most important thing to remember is that The Academy cannot nominate films that haven’t been made, which is why it is now so important that films with diverse casts, and with diverse themes, and with diverse crews behind the camera, get made, promoted, and viewed by the public. Only then will the marginalized groups of our society make an appearance at this awards ceremony not only as presenters, but as nominees and winners. Maybe next year #OscarsSoWhite won’t be trending any more.
Good luck tomorrow night, Leo.