Five Roles Katharine Hepburn Never Played: The Great Imaginary Film Blogathon


ImaginaryWe all indulge in a little wishful thinking at some times.

“I wish political leaders wouldn’t use chemical weapons on their own people.”

“I wish Congress would NOT shut down the entire US government.”

“I wish Katharine Hepburn had made a film about Amelia Earhart.”

You know, the really important things in life.

Well, thanks to the wonderful folks over at Silver Scenes, now is every classic movie lovers chance to dream openly about those films that will never be. Here is a list of films I wish Katharine Hepburn could have gotten around to making.

The Warrior’s Husband

WH iii

The Warrior’s Husband (1931-32 season) was the stage performance that first distinguished Hepburn as an actress and set her on the road to Hollywood. The play, written by Julian Thompson is about the Greek fable love affair between Antiope and Theseus. Everything about the part of Antiope was perfectly suited to the star character Katharine Hepburn was destined to develop as a movie actress. Her costumes, the dramatic entrance, and the overall themes of the play set Hepburn apart and demanded that the critics sit up and take notice of the new star.

“I had a stag over my shoulder. A tight tunic made of metal links. Beautiful leather shin guards showing the legs to good advantage, and a silver shield and a high silver helmet, and a cape. A great costume…. I leapt down the stairs, three or more steps at a time… rounded the corner… one jump for the last four steps… threw my stag on the ground and landed on one knee, paying obeisance to Hyppolyta, my sister, Queen of the Amazons. The audience, of course, burst into applause.” (Me)

WH

It would be so unbelievably epic to see Hepburn, in all her brass-armoured glory, tackle Cary Grant to the ground for a passionate, Amazonian kiss. Zing!

Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing

maan

Katharine Hepburn played Beatrice in the Stratford, Connecticut Shakespeare Theatre’s production of Much Ado About Nothing in 1957. She was 50 years old at the time. Beatrice is often played by older actresses – Harriet Walter was in her 50s when she took the role at the Royal Shakespeare Company in 2002, and Vanessa Redgrave is currently playing the role opposite James Earl Jones at The Old Vic. If you don’t know it, Much Ado is one of Shakespeare’s rom-coms. Beatrice and Benedick spend the first part of the play verbally sparring with each other, until their friends conspire to trick them into hooking up, falling in love, and SPOILER ALERT getting married. A perfect plot for the tenth Hepburn/Tracy project? I think so.

Joan of Arc

Joan of Arc

Hollywood gossip columnist Louella Parsons reported in November 1933 that Hepburn was set to play in two costume dramas, “‘The Tudor Wench’ will be followed by ‘Joan of Arc’ with Madame Hepburn playing the Maid of Orlean.” Hepburn even did some color screen tests for RKO’s production of George Bernard Shaw’s play Saint Joan, but the rights were withdrawn when producers insisted on script cuts. Hepburn continued to express her interest for the part, a part which admittedly would have been right up her alley. As biographer William J. Mann points out:

“The play – which suggests Joan of Arc needed to be killed because the world wasn’t yet ready for her – suited Kate’s sense of herself.”

It would have been awesome to see the tomboy Katharine Hepburn dressed in a suit of armour leading her troops into battle. The burning at the stake bit doesn’t sound as wonderful, but I’m sure Miss Hepburn would have performed it marvellously.

kh as joan of arc

Elizabeth I

The closest Katharine Hepburn ever came to the role of Elizabeth I was in her portrayal of the ill-fated MARY OF SCOTLAND (1936). She enjoyed making the movie, largely due to her relationship (intellectual, sexual, or otherwise) with director John Ford. She didn’t have much respect for her own character, wishing much more to be on the other side of the executioner’s axe.

“The queen of Scots, Kate averred, was a “ninny”; it was Elizabeth of England whom she really admired. With the sappy Mary, lamenting how she’s “loved as a woman, lost as a woman,” Kate had nothing in common – even if, as the years went by, she sometimes wanted us to think she did. Rather, it was Elizabeth’s line, “I’ve loved no man, only my kingdom” that reflects the truth of Katharine Hepburn. Her career was her kingdom.” (Mann, 257)

So dramatic!

So dramatic!

Surely Bette Davis could have been gracious enough to hand one of her seemingly millions of films as the Virgin Queen over to MGM to at least give Hepburn a sporting chance at it. But no – those Warner Brothers actresses are so greedy!

Amelia Earhart

earhart-hepburn ii“I would have love to play [Amelia Earhart] in a film.” (Chandler)

Katharine Hepburn always had a fascination with aviation – many of her boyfriends were connected to flying in some capacity or another. Famously, Howard Hughes even taught her how to fly, and her agent Leland Hayward had also been a pilot. Hepburn even claims that her husband, Luddy, could have built a plane.

0008715.JPG“Obviously I was always attracted by flying and fliers.”

Hepburn played an Earhart-like aviatrix in one of her first Hollywood movies, CHRISTOPHER STRONG (1933). It is clear how the freedom, independence, and tomboyish androgyny of the aviatrix style would have been well-suited to Hepburn’s feminist persona.

“If I hadn’t been an actress, I can’t imagine what I would have been. Well, yes, I can. I would have liked being an aviator, like Amelia Earhart. But that isn’t a career to last as long as mine did, especially if you have some bad luck, as she did. In that field, you don’t get to have bad luck many times.”

Heck, the even look alike!

Final Analysis

It would be nice to exchange some of Katharine Hepburn’s less successful films, and she has had quite a few, for these more substantial roles. In many ways, Hepburn’s persona was too radical for the idealogical structure of her age. The films she made, even the most controversially progressive, never fulfilled her potential as a feminist figure (the most notable exception being ADAM’S RIB (1949)). In some of these meatier roles, Hepburn would have been able to translate some of the principles of her personal life onto the screen.

That’s not to say that Hepburn failed in any way during her long and prolific film and stage career. She produced several films that broke down gender stereotypes and presented a new vision of American womanhood to the public. We are eternally grateful for the work she was able to accomplish on this front, and it is only through whimsy, not regret, that we speculate about those projects-that-never-were. Thank you for reading!