Style on Display: Katharine Hepburn exhibit in South Carolina

Katharine Hepburn photographed by Alfred Eisenstaedt for LIFE magazine in 1938.

When it comes to classic film actresses, Katharine Hepburn placed herself far from the crowd of studio starlets.

Her characters were strong, she didn’t attend Hollywood events, and she didn’t present herself in a soft, feminine manner.

“Kate wasn’t someone you could mold easily, that you could control,” said director Dorothy Arzner, who directed Hepburn in Christopher Strong (1933).

And when you think of Katharine Hepburn, you think of her clothing—particularly her pants, something so innocuous now but an article of clothing “polite” women of the 1930s and 1940s weren’t seen wearing in public.

These pants and other items of Katharine Hepburn’s costumes and clothing are on display in the Upcountry History Museum in Greenville, SC, as part of the “Katharine Hepburn: Dressed for Stage and Screen” exhibit, running through January 14. The costumes are on loan to the Upcountry History Museum from the Kent State University Museum. The Hepburn Estate donated Miss Hepburn’s collection to Kent State University Museum.

Costumes from the play version of “The Philadelphia Story” at the Upcountry History Museum.

“It was Miss Hepburn’s wish that her personal collection of her performance clothes be given to an educational institution. Her other personal effects were sold in a Sotheby’s Auction for charity,” said Jean L. Druesedow, director of the Kent State University Museum in an e-mail interview. “Her executors discovered the Kent State University Museum through friends of friends and Gladys Toulis, the first director of the Kent State Fashion School.”

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An education from “The Philadelphia Story”

The Philadelphia Story” taught me what a hangover was when I was nine.

And who knew what yare meant before Katharine Hepburn used the word?

My fourth grade education was enhanced when I learned the meaning of those words the first time I saw “The Philadelphia Story” (1940) in 1998.

Katharine Hepburn as Tracy Lord with too many men after her

Katharine Hepburn as Tracy Lord with too many men after her

My dad was out of town one summer evening and my mother, sister and I picked a movie to watch. We loved it.

“Why did she shield her eyes from the sun like that?” I asked my mom. She explained the consequences people face the next morning after drinking too much.

For years after, I even tried to imitate Hepburn’s silly little laugh she does in the film.

I had forgotten not only about my new vocabulary words the first time I saw the film but many of the charming scenes in “The Philadelphia Story” until I saw it last night for the first time on the big screen.

Moonlight Movies at Falls Park in Greenville, SC

Moonlight Movies at Falls Park in Greenville, SC

I drove an hour to my hometown of Greenville, SC where outdoor classic films are shown every week in May at the Reedy River Falls Park.

Classic film screenings are a treat for me. Where I live, viewing movies on the big screen is rare.

It had been several years since I had seen this movie. Though I knew it was good- boasting a cast of Katharine Hepburn, Cary Grant, James Stewart, Ruth Hussey, Virginia Weidler and Roland Young-I forgot how wonderful it really was.

The leads are perfect in nearly every film but Virginia Weidler steals the show.

On paper, the film sound dizzy: A divorced woman is remarrying, the ex-husband pops back in the picture and then a reporter-who already has a girlfriend-becomes a potential romantic partner. It’s a love pentagon.

But somehow the story works when it’s acted out.

The only time it doesn’t work is in the horrible Grace Kelly remake, “High Society.”

The script of The Philadelphia Story was written specifically for Katharine Hepburn who originated the role on Broadway and reprised her role as Tracy Lord on screen. The film helped rid Hepburn of her box office poison status. 

Katharine Hepburn with Van Heflin in the stage version of The Philadelphia story

Katharine Hepburn with Van Heflin in the stage version of The Philadelphia story

In the play, Joseph Cotten played C. K. Dexter Haven (played by Cary Grant in the film version) and Macaulay Connor was played by Van Heflin (played by James Stewart). While watching the movie last night I couldn’t help picture those two performing those roles.

I have only been to one other Moonlight Movie series in Greenville back in 2011 to see Strangers on a Train. It wasn’t a pleasant experience due to people talking and continuously getting up and down during the film.

However, last night was much more relaxing and everyone was respectful of the movie.

The only disappointing thing is no one applauded when the film started or when actors entered their first scene like at the Turner Classic Film Festival, however I heard several people around me say they had never seen the movie again.

Revisiting “The Philadelphia Story” was fun and I reminded me how great a movie it was. I’m discovering seeing movies on the big screen is a very special experience.

After all-they were made to be seen that way.

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Kate the Great (Bitch)

I am an old movie fanatic, but it’s hard for me to choke down a Katharine Hepburn movie. I’d rather watch Mickey Rooney over her, and that says a lot.

Beloved star. Award winning actress. First rate bitch.

I know all actors and actresses weren’t always be pleasant to each other, such as Miriam Hopkins and Bette Davis or maybe June Haver and Betty Grable, but they had reasons. Hopkins slept with Davis’s husband and Haver was acting like she was the new Grable. Hepburn was rude to actors without any justification.

Hepburn and Mitchum in “Undercurrent” (1946)

Hepburn stars with Robert Taylor and Robert Mitchum, a newcomer at the time, in 1946 thriller “Undercurrent.” To be honest, she probably was miscast because she is supposed to play the demure wife of Robert Taylor who is trying to kill her.

The snobbish Hepburn and gruff Mitchum did not get along. At one point during filming she said to him, “You know you can’t act, and if you hadn’t been good-looking you would never have got a picture at all. I’m tired of working with people like you who have nothing to offer.” (from IMDB trivia for the film).

The one thing I found ironic about this quote was the fact that it seems she got along fine with Robert Taylor who was famous for his good looks and capitalized off of them, according to Turner Classic Movies primetime host Robert Osborne.

The list goes on of actors that she was unpleasant to, including Ginger Rogers, who admired the actress, and John Barrymore who acted with her in her first film, “A Bill of Divorcement” (1932).

Hepburn and Rogers in “Stage Door” (1937)

“Astaire gave her class, Rogers gave him sex,” Hepburn said about the famous dancing pair.

“She is snippy, you know, which is a shame,” Ginger Rogers said about working with Hepburn in “Stage Door.” “She was never on my side.”.

Actresses like Joan Crawford and June Allyson answered every fan letter they received personally, something Katharine Hepburn didn’t do; she didn’t even sign autographs.

Crawford and Allyson understood that they achieved fame because of their fans. Not according to Miss Hepburn.

“Once a crowd chased me for an autograph ‘Beat it,’ I said, ‘Go sit on a tack!’ ‘We made you,’ they said. ‘Like hell you did,’ I told them.”

If Miss Hepburn didn’t give a damn about her fans, then why should I care about her movies? After all, she was named “Box Office Poison” in 1938.

P.S.) As a side note, Audrey Hepburn and Katharine Hepburn are not related, to clear up confusion that some people seem to have.

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