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Friday, 5 May 2017

Past Imperfect – #508

Lady on the Left: “I don’t think I’m adequately prepared for what is about to happen in this short story.”
Lady in the Middle: “You’re going to go there already? Give the writer a chance. He’s just trying to make a living like all the rest of us unblocked games hacked.”
Lady on the Right: “Oh, please. Like any of us have actual jobs. We’re sitting on a beach in the middle of the day and we have absolutely no responsibilities whatsoever. We don’t know hardship from a hole in the sand.”
Left Lady: “I don’t really appreciate you discounting my opinion. Just because I have never contributed anything to society, it doesn’t mean that I can’t call it like it is. The writer is making up random dialogue that none of us would every actually say, all in the hopes of coming up with something clever so people he doesn’t really know will click ‘like’ on this post.”
Middle Lady: “You’re just bitter because your hat is clearly the ugliest of the three. There’s no need for you to get vindictive towards others instead of accepting the fact that you’ve made some poor life choices unblocked superfighters.”
Right Lady: “Wait, let’s not base this all on hat selection. I might have erred myself. Every time the wind blows, the propellers on my noggin kick into gear and I end up on the next beach and my drink gets spilled.”
Left Lady: “That’s exactly what I mean. The writer is obviously making crap up until he can sledge-hammer the dialogue toward a point that he doesn’t yet have.”
Middle Lady: “Have you never read this blog before?”
Right Lady: “Have you never listened to a politician make a speech?”
Lady in front of The Three who looks like she might be channeling Katharine Hepburn in The African Queen: “What is wrong with you people? Have you seriously not noticed the woman behind you who is in desperate need of medical attention?”
Left Lady: “I didn’t tell her to drink all that tequila. She should have made better choices.”
Middle Lady: “It just now occurred to me that none of us are wearing outfits that could possibly cover our breasts, so I’m at a loss as to what I should or should not be doing and I’m going to pretend that other people are responsible for where I am now.”
Right Lady: “All I know is that she’s blocking some of the wind and I haven’t been airborne since she passed out behind us. I’ve always depended on taking advantage of the unfortunate in order to further my own agenda.”
Seagull flying overhead: “And that, boys and girls, is how Trump got elected president.”

Saturday, 26 March 2016

Two letters from Katharine Hepburn

Katharine Hepburn didn't win an Oscar for her brilliant performance in The Philadelphia Story. But that film holds the key to her.

Hepburn played the role of Tracy Lord. One scene summed her up perfectly. Cary Grant, as C.K. Dexter Haven, says: "There's magnificence in you, Tracy. I'm telling you . . . a magnificence that comes out of your eyes, that's in your voice, in the way you stand there, in the way you walk. You're lit from within, bright, bright, bright. There are fires banked down in you, hearth-fires and holocausts."
FOR THE RECORD - CLEARING THE RECORD, PUBLISHED JULY 2, 2003, FOLLOWS: In the 1940 film, The Philadelphia Story, James Stewart's character, Macaulay (Mike) Connor, says to Katharine Hepburn's character, Tracy Lord: "There's magnificence in you, Tracy. I'm telling you . . . a magnificence that comes out of your eyes, that's in your voice, in the way you stand there, in the way you walk. You're lit from within, bright, bright, bright. There are fires banked down in you, hearth-fires and holocausts." A column on Tuesday's Op-ed page attributed the quote incorrectly.
"You - I don't seem to you - made of bronze, then," Hepburn/Lord says coyly.

"You're made of flesh and blood - that's the blank, unholy surprise of it. You're the golden girl, Tracy, full of love and warmth and delight," says Grant/Haven.

Those few lines summed up Katharine Hepburn for all time.
Grant's lines added to the already electric Hepburn mystique. I was one of the moviegoers he convinced of how really great Hepburn was. When I heard those words, I was hooked. I closely followed her life and career until it ended on Sunday.

I would come to learn that Grant's words were as true of Hepburn as they were of the character she was playing.

I began collecting copies of her films. I have seen every one of her 36-plus performances, and I've seen several of her movies dozens of times.

In 1974, I wrote a column saluting her versatility, her intelligence, and her stunning wit. Several readers sent the column to her, and, to my surprise, a letter arrived at my home on handsome sun-bright yellow stationary bearing her name across the top in bold crimson letters: "Katharine Houghton Hepburn."
The date on the letter was March 19, 1974.

"Dear Mr. Claude Lewis:
"You must have many friends, as I have received several copies of your lovely piece about me from your section of the world, and insisting that if you feel about me as you say you do, I must see to it that I meet you and thank you.

"So here I am. . . . it's a lovely thing to have a solid, interminable - and totally convinced friend. That certainly makes life worth living. Many, many thanks - Katharine Hepburn."

Under her signature, she wrote: "You make me so proud and happy."

I am a diabetic, and several years later, I experienced serious eye problems. Finally, my eyesight all but vanished, and I wrote a column urging readers who have diabetes to follow the recommendations of their specialists.

I had become slightly depressed by my diminished sight. Readers, who have always been kind to me, sent the column to Katharine Hepburn without my knowledge.

A short time later, a letter arrived at my home in plain envelope. It was dated "VIII 1, 1989":
"Just a word of encouragement to you in your eye battle. I'm so glad to hear that things are taking a positive, hopeful turn. Your column was great, and it certainly was no surprise to me that you have such a vigorous point of view."

And in a palsied handwriting, she added: "God Bless You - Katharine Hepburn."

There's no way I can explain how much that letter meant to me. I was at my lowest ebb, and it did a great deal to lift my spirits and get me back on track. Here was this wonderful woman of great accomplishment and significance, a woman who had considerable health problems of her own - yet she took the time to bolster my morale.

Very often, celebrated stars receive undeserved criticism. Hepburn was no exception. Some complained that she was somewhat reclusive when off the stage. They often accused her of being selfish and charged that she seldom reached out to others.

Her two letters to me prove otherwise. The truth is that Hepburn was a fiercely private person who was shy and surprisingly uncertain of herself. In more than 60 years as a film and stage star, she broke through barriers of time, gender and different cultures. Her very forthrightness - in her career, in her selection of roles, and in her personal life - helped improve many opportunities for women. She was no woman of bronze.

The news of her death at 96 on Sunday was not unexpected, but it brought a new sadness into my life. I have had letters from presidents, politicians, scientists, and sports heroes, but none of them have meant nearly as much to me as my letters from Katharine Hepburn.

One of her most celebrated movies was titled Woman of the Year. I'll always think of her as a woman of the century.

Hadley Freeman's 10 awesome women: from Katharine Hepburn to Miss Piggy

Betty White … more than geriatric self-mockery.

These days, White is mainly known for two things: 1. Being old, and 2. Being funny about it. But there is so much more to her than geriatric self-mockery. Aside from her brilliant performances on The Golden Girls and The Mary Tyler Moore Show, White was one of the first women to take control of her own acting career by co-founding a TV production company in the 1950s. She was also nominated for the first best-actress Emmy in 1950, and her book about this period of her life, Here We Go Again: My Life in Television, is as funny as it is inspirational. Still sharp as a tack in her 10th decade, she is not only a hilarious actor but a hysterical off-the-cuff guest on American talk shows, always happy to share her political views.

"That is one crazy bitch," our Betty mused about Sarah Palin on the Late, Late Show with Craig Ferguson in 2008, casually swinging her pastel pantsuited legs about. Now, it is never nice to say such words about anyone but in the case of Palin I think White gets a free pass. And for the record, no one can rock a pastel pantsuit like Betty can.

Miss Piggy … knows what she wants. Photograph: Rob Grabowski / Retna Ltd.
Miss Piggy

Here is a woman – well, sow, really – who has a true sense of her self-worth. Despite being a TV and movie star, she has no self-defeating body insecurities or, for that matter, any insecurities whatsoever. She is damn good at what she does and she will be the first to tell you so. She is a strong, independent female yet not afraid to be vulnerable and to show that she has needs, fearlessly laying herself open to rejection again and again as she proclaims her love for her "Kermee". The idea that self-deprecation or modesty are necessary qualities in an attractive female is as anathema to her as a bacon sandwich, and yet she does not shun femininity; it's just that, with her, "femininity" means enjoying one's beauty and talents and taking it for granted that everyone else enjoys them too.

Bea Arthur … simply awesome. Photograph: Tristram Kenton
Bea Arthur

Arthur was the star of two of the most radical sitcoms of all time, and it is an indictment of how social attitudes have gone backwards in America in the past few decades that neither of these programmes could be made now. As the eponymous Maude in the 1970s TV show, Arthur played a liberal feminist married woman who became the first woman on prime-time television to have an abortion (and two months before Roe v Wade, when abortion was legalised nationwide) because she and her husband simply don't want to have a baby. In The Golden Girls, Arthur, along with her fabulous three co-stars, played Floridian pensioners who have fun, have issues and, most of all, have sex. I can't remember the last time I saw someone on American TV over the age of 30 having sex.

Arthur was also a great friend to Rock Hudson when many others abandoned him out of homophobia. When someone once told Arthur that her height and deep voice made her a favourite among drag queens she replied: "I'm flattered." Bea Arthur was awesome.

Katharine Hepburn … the human embodiment of 'glorious'. Photograph: Sportsphoto Ltd/Allstar
Katharine Hepburn

The human embodiment of the word "glorious", Hepburn defied every social convention at the time. She always wore trousers, she refused to play ridiculous publicity games, she was a lifelong atheist and, having divorced her only husband after a youthful marriage, she vowed never to marry again, and instead spent her life secretly devoted to a married man, Spencer Tracy.

But without him, and after him, Hepburn was as defiant in her dotage as she had been in her youth. When she was 85, Warren Beatty and Annette Bening came to dinner, along with her friend and biographer A Scott Berg, who recorded the tale in Kate Remembered. After learning, to her astonishment, that Bening and Beatty were married, Hepburn muttered to Berg, "Poor girl." When Berg replied that they seemed very in love, Hepburn, "without missing a beat", replied, "With the same man."

She marched for woman's equality, supported Planned Parenthood and spoke out against McCarthyism at a time when such an act was near career suicide. Hepburn lived life with her chin jutted proudly upwards, defiant, uncompromising and courageous.

Decca Mitford … 'the most extraordinary of the Mitford sisters' Photograph: Empics
Decca Mitford

In a highly competitive field, Decca has always struck me as the most extraordinary of the Mitford sisters. In a somewhat less competitive field, she is also the most admirable. The second-youngest of the siblings, even as a child Decca renounced the very thing that still entrances so many people today about her family: their world of privilege. She saved pennies throughout her childhood so as to be able to run away from home as soon as possible. Which, age 19, she did, with her even more militantly socialist cousin Esmond Romilly and the two lived in Spain, London and then America, passionately in love.

Rejecting the rightwing and fascist politics of her class in general and her family in particular, Mitford became a lifelong socialist and, for some time, a member of the Communist party in America, right in the thick of the McCarthy era.

After Romilly died, she married Bob Treuhaft. Together, they vigorously and courageously fought for civil rights and social justice in America, and Mitford became an acclaimed investigative journalist. Her book The American Way of Death might not have the sparkle of Nancy's novels but Decca was never interested in sparkle: instead, she wrote a sober, groundbreaking and still relevant study on, of all things, the funeral industry.

Yet despite her vociferous disgust for the fascist politics of her sisters Unity, Diana and, for a brief spell, Nancy, she never stopped loving them and exchanged fond correspondence with them, as is right. Principles and morality were Mitford's bywords but she never denied where she came from and she always knew she was, in the purest sense, a Mitford sister.

Nina Simone … passionate. Photograph: Getty Images
Nina Simone

Oh, she was a pistol, the woman born Eunice Kathleen Waymon. Belligerent, temperamental to the point that she was later diagnosed as bipolar, a notoriously unpredictable live performer and when asked in a 1999 interview whether the rumour about her pulling a gun on a record company boss who refused to pay her royalties was true, she replied: "I sure damn did!" The reporter suggested that "men are going to be a bit nervous of you". She didn't even let him finish: "They are, very. But I refuse to cook or to clean. They've got to take me as I am and recognise that I'm a star as well as a woman and they have to deal with the two."

Many think that much of Simone's anger had its roots in professional frustration. Despite her enormous success, Simone had wanted to be a classical musician. But in 1950s America, the easiest and maybe even the only path open to a young black woman who wanted to make her living out of music was the one marked blues and jazz.

This was perhaps the one time Simone compromised. She refused to be confined by her race or gender and her music crossed the divides of both. In her wonderful autobiography, I Put a Spell on You, she emphasises that taking a stand is not just the business of men: "It was always Marx, Lenin and revolution – real girls' talk."

She was a passionate civil rights activist and her music became the soundtrack of the movement. She was utterly fearless, introducing her song Mississippi Goddamn, about the murder of Medgar Evers, with the proclamation: "And I mean every word of it." As if there could be any doubt.

Gloria Steinem and her cat in 1970. Photograph: AP
Gloria Steinem

There are dozens of reasons to admire Gloria Steinem: the face of women's rights and the pro-choice movement for half a century, Steinem testified in the Senate on behalf of the Equal Rights Amendment, co-founded the Women's Action Alliance and remains, now well into her 70s, a tireless campaigner on behalf of women's rights. Unlike her contemporary Betty Friedan, Steinem is a big supporter of gay rights and equality; unlike Germaine Greer, she has never appeared on a reality TV programme alongside Sylvester Stallone's ex-wife. Steinem, thankfully, has no time for the tedious academic theorising that bogs down so much feminist discourse but favours instead plain speaking, good humour and common sense. In response to the critics who yelped when Steinem, at 66, married environmentalist David Bale, she pointed out that the institution of marriage had changed enormously since she spoke against it in the 1970s. Bale then travelled around the country with her while she gave speeches, proving the model of a modern husband before his death only three years after they married. Steinem is indefatigable and inspirational.

Katherine Graham … brave. Photograph: Wally Mcnamee
Katharine Graham

Some people would have serious qualms about becoming the publisher of a major national newspaper, especially when they have had next to no experience and there are no other people of their gender in a similar position. Almost everyone, surely, would prefer to live out their days in peaceful equanimity if they had recently come through a heartbreakingly difficult marriage, during which their spouse suffered from alcoholism and psychiatric problems. That is not what Katharine Graham did. After her husband, Philip, killed himself in 1963 she stepped in and took over his position as the publisher of the Washington Post. Graham helmed the Post through its most exciting, high-profile and risky period, when it covered the Watergate scandal, standing unwaveringly behind the reporters who uncovered it, Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward, and the paper's editor, Ben Bradlee.

In her clear-sighted and unsentimental Pulitzer prizewinning autobiography, Personal History, Graham writes about the events of that time but the real story of the book is how a woman whose confidence had been destroyed built herself back up by finding her purpose in work and becoming, in turn, a legendary figure in American journalism.

Hadley Richardson with Ernest Hemingway. Photograph: AP
Hadley Richardson

My namesake and – perhaps more famously – Ernest Hemingway's first wife, therefore the only one who married him when he was unknown and humble as opposed to famous and arrogant.

Richardson was, by all accounts, quiet and kind, and recorded interviews reveal her to have had a cheeky sense of humour and a warm and ready laugh. She was also, judging from the photos of her, fond of culottes, and I approve of that.

The young couple moved to Paris and she was unimpressed by the famous people they met there – the Fitzgeralds, Gertrude Stein, Gerald and Sara Murphy – and these fame-dazzled narcissists were similarly not taken with her, dismissing her as dull and unworthy. Under the guidance of his tedious friends, Hemingway ditched his young wife and son at the first lick of a literary triumph.

But it was Richardson who had the better life, enjoying a contented marriage with the first winner of the Pulitzer prize. Hemingway realised his mistake too late, writing of Richardson in A Movable Feast: "I wished I had died before I loved anyone but her." Richardson was unencumbered with any such regrets. When a journalist asked if she missed her famous friends and glamorous Parisian life she replied: "No. I think I wanted something real."

George Eliot … brilliant. Photograph: Hulton Getty
George Eliot

Middlemarch aside, it has taken me a while to come round to George Eliot's novels. This is probably because I made the egregious error of starting with Daniel Deronda, her last novel and, by some measure, her dreariest. I spent more time studying the fascinating portrait of Eliot on the back of the book than I did reading the wretched thing: that thoughtful face, so endearingly plain with just a hint of a smile, gave a hint of her true nature. Namely, that Eliot was one of the sauciest and smartest women in the 19th century.

To the sauce first. Eliot fell in love with the married critic George Henry Lewes when she was 32, a hopeless spinster by the standards of the day. For the rest of Lewes's life, they openly had a relationship while he stayed married to his wife, and Eliot dedicated The Mill on the Floss to "my beloved husband, George Henry Lewes". Four years after Lewes died, the novelist, at the age of 60, embarked on a relationship even more scandalous when she married John Cross, 20 years younger than herself.

As for the smarts, Eliot was brilliant. Aside from her novels, all of which engaged in political issues of the day, she did translations, wrote philosophical essays and reviews. She was a woman who refused to be bound by the conventions of the day, doing the work she wanted and living with the men she wanted when few women could do either. She wrote novels for the mind and pursued love from the heart. That is a life well lived.

Monday, 7 December 2015

Katharine Hepburn, Spirited Actress, Dies at 96

Katharine Hepburn, the actress whose independent life and strong-willed movie characters made her a role model for generations of women and a beloved heroine to filmgoers for more than 60 years, died yesterday at her home in the Fenwick section of Old Saybrook, Conn. She was 96 and also had a home in Manhattan. 

Her physical presence was distinctive, her often-imitated voice filled with the vowels of a well-bred New Englander, and her sharp-planed face defined by remarkably high cheekbones. In her youth she did not have classical leading-lady looks, but a handsome beauty. In old age she was a familiar figure with her hair, gradually changing from auburn to gray, always in a topknot and her boyish figure always in the trousers that she helped to make fashionable. 

She played sharp-witted, sophisticated women with an ease that suggested that there was a thin line between the movie role and the off-screen personality. The romantic comedy "The Philadelphia Story" and the screwball classic "Bringing Up Baby" were among her best, most typical roles. But through 43 films and dozens of stage and television appearances, she played comic and dramatic parts as varied as Jo in "Little Women," the reborn spinster Rosie in "The African Queen" and Eleanor of Aquitaine in "The Lion in Winter." 

Her life and career were dominated by her love affair with Spencer Tracy, which created one of the great romantic legends and brilliant movie pairings of their day. Tracy was unhappily married and the father of two when they met, and he remained married until the end of his life. He and Miss Hepburn lived together for 27 years, until his death in 1967, and made nine films together. 
"Woman of the Year," "Adam's Rib" and "Pat and Mike" are typically bright and biting Tracy-Hepburn collaborations. She is wickedly smart, slightly aloof and emotionally vulnerable. He is commonsensical, down-to-earth and deeply decent. He manages to bring her down a peg; she never minds. 

Hepburn and Tracy, Vincent Canby wrote in The New York Times , "so beautifully complemented each other" that their relationship "never seemed to be a matter of capitulation." Rather, he added, it was "a matter of understanding and acknowledging each other's boundaries." 

The frisson of their off-screen romance, always hinted at but never acknowledged during his lifetime, followed them on screen and became especially poignant when they played a married couple in their last movie together, "Guess Who's Coming to Dinner." Tracy died just 17 days after they had finished filming it. 

Through most of her career, Miss Hepburn had a reputation for being private and elusive with the press. In fact, she frequently granted interviews, although she was reticent about her personal life. But after the death of Tracy's wife, Louise, in 1983, Miss Hepburn felt free to discuss the love affair. 

In later years she spoke openly about her life and career, especially in her 1991 autobiography, "Me: Stories of My Life" (Alfred A. Knopf). Although admittedly sketchy rather than a comprehensive memoir, the book captured the qualities that endeared Miss Hepburn to audiences: a conversational tone, a no-nonsense attitude and disarming candor. The autobiography became a best seller, a tribute to her enduring appeal across generational lines. 

In 1993 she appeared in an autobiographical television documentary, "Katharine Hepburn: All About Me," made for the TNT cable network. She began: "So this is about Katharine Hepburn, public, private. Can you tell which is which?" She added, laughing, "Sometimes I wonder myself." 

Longing to Be a Boy 

Katharine Houghton Hepburn was born into a close family whose comfortable social status and unconventional opinions fostered self-confidence and independence. Her father, Dr. Thomas Norval Hepburn, was a Hartford surgeon and a pioneer in fighting venereal disease. Her mother, Katharine Houghton, was a suffragist and a strong advocate of birth control. 

In "Me," Miss Hepburn finally revealed her age. "I was born May 12, 1907," she wrote, "despite everything I may have said to the contrary." For years she had said she was two years younger and had given her birthday as Nov. 8. That was the birthday of her older brother, Tom, who died at 16. Miss Hepburn, then 14, found his body hanging from the rafters of a house the family was visiting in New York City. The Hepburns said they never knew whether he had committed suicide and left open the possibility that he had been practicing a magic trick. 

Although the family always called her Kathy or Kath, one summer Miss Hepburn so hated being a little girl that she cut her hair and called herself Jimmy. "I thought being a girl was really the bunk," she said in an interview. "But there's no bunk about Jimmy." 

After graduating from Bryn Mawr College in 1928, she had small parts in stock theater companies. She was dismissed from more than one play when she was starting out, but she retained supreme self-confidence. Late in life, she laughingly said of her younger self, "I am terribly afraid I just assumed I'd be famous." 

She was first noticed professionally in her role as Antiope in the play "The Warrior's Husband," a Greek fable in which she entered by descending a narrow staircase, carrying a stag over her shoulder.
That role led to a Hollywood screen test and her first film role, as John Barrymore's daughter in "A Bill of Divorcement" (1932). It was directed by George Cukor, who become one of her dearest friends (she and Tracy lived for years in the guest house on Cukor's Hollywood estate) and the director of many of her films, including "Little Women." He once recalled of her screen test: "She was unlike anybody I'd ever seen or heard. I was rather moved by the test, although the performance wasn't that good. But I thought, `That girl is rather interesting.' " 

Fast Rise to Stardom 

Miss Hepburn became a movie star quickly. She won an Academy Award for her role as Eva Lovelace, the naïve aspiring actress who learns a tough lesson about survival, in the 1933 film "Morning Glory," only her third movie. Over the years she was nominated for a dozen Oscars, more than any other actress, a record unbeaten until Meryl Streep received her 13th this year. Miss Hepburn won three more, for "Guess Who's Coming to Dinner," "The Lion in Winter" and "On Golden Pond," but never showed up to collect any of them. 

When she was 84, she looked back at those early days and, with her trademark tough-mindedness, said: "In the beginning I had money; I wasn't a poor little thing. I don't know what I would have done if I'd had to come to New York and get a job as a waiter or something like that. I think I'm a success, but I had every advantage; I should have been." 

She also credited her husband with helping her get started in her career. For most of her life, the public thought she had never married. In fact, in 1928 she married Ludlow Ogden Smith, a member of a wealthy Pennsylvania family. She immediately made him change his name to S. Ogden Ludlow, partly because she didn't want to be known as Kate Smith. 

They led separate lives long before their divorce in 1934, but they remained friendly. The town house they bought together in the Turtle Bay section of Manhattan was Miss Hepburn's home until the end of her life (along with the family home on the Connecticut River, to which she returned often). 

In later years she expressed regret at the way she had treated her husband. In an interview that echoed what she wrote in "Me," she assumed a self-chastising, no-nonsense tone and said she had been "an absolute pig with Luddy, absolute pig." She continued: "He was an angel. I thought of myself first, and that's a pig, isn't it?" 

"I would have been terrified alone in New York City," she said. "We bought this house in '31, and then the minute I won the Academy Award, I got rid of Luddy." Many years later, not long before he died, "I tried to make up to him for the horror I had caused him," she added. "He was so generous-spirited that I don't think he considered it horror. He just considered it a kid who was wildly ambitious or something." 

Miss Hepburn is survived by a brother, Dr. Robert H. Hepburn, and a sister, Margaret H. Perry, both of Canton, Conn.; four nieces; and nine nephews. 

Trousers as a Trademark 

Despite her early success, reviewers in those days sometimes found her strident and mannered. In 1933 she returned to Broadway in a spectacular failure, "The Lake," which inspired Dorothy Parker to write her famous aphorism, "She ran the gamut of emotion from A to B." 

Of those early years, she said: "I strike people as peculiar in some way, although I don't quite understand why. Of course, I have an angular face, an angular body and, I suppose, an angular personality, which jabs into people." 

Over time her screen presence softened and became more likable; meanwhile, society was catching up to her willful, independent style. She had been wearing pants, then considered quite unladylike, since the 1930's. 

In her 1993 television autobiography, she recalled: "I realized long ago that skirts are hopeless. Anytime I hear a man say he prefers a woman in a skirt, I say: `Try one. Try a skirt.' " Although her choice was based on comfort, her trademark trousered look became so influential that the Council of Fashion Designers of America gave her a lifetime achievement award in 1986. 

Many of her early films are now regarded as classics. Playing a tough, determined actress in "Stage Door" (1937), she read a line from a play — "The calla lilies are in bloom again" — that became the all-time favorite of Hepburn impersonators. Life magazine said that "Stage Door" proved that she was "potentially, the screen's greatest actress." 

She played a free-spirited heiress in "Bringing Up Baby" (1938), opposite Cary Grant and a leopard. But the film, now treasured, was a box-office flop, and by then her career was in decline. In 1938 she appeared on a list of actors labeled "box-office poison" in a poll of movie exhibitors. 

Rather than appear in a film called "Mother Carey's Chickens," she bought out her contract with R.K.O. She made "Holiday," another classic romantic comedy with Grant, in which she was another high-spirited socialite. 

Then Miss Hepburn took charge of her career in a way few women dared in those days of the studio system. Philip Barry wrote the play "The Philadelphia Story" for her, modeling his heroine, Tracy Lord, on Miss Hepburn. Tracy Lord is a beautiful, high-spirited rich woman, about to marry her second husband, when her first husband and a reporter who is covering the wedding arrive to create an unexpected romantic tangle. 

The play was a hit, and Miss Hepburn owned the rights to it because Howard Hughes, a sometime beau, had bought them for her. She went to Louis B. Mayer, the head of the Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer studio, and sold him the property on the condition that she play the lead. She chose her friend George Cukor to direct. And she asked for Spencer Tracy and Clark Gable as her co-stars. She got Cary Grant as her former husband, James Stewart as the reporter, and a hit movie. She never lost control of her career again. 

Soon she went back to Mayer with another script, "Woman of the Year," the story of the unlikely romance between a hotshot political columnist and a sportswriter. She asked for Tracy, whom she had never met, to play the sportswriter. This time she got him. 

A Loving Partnership 

The success of "Woman of the Year" (1942) and the stars' off-screen relationship led to other Tracy and Hepburn films that followed a similar pattern. In "Adam's Rib" (1949), they are married, opposing lawyers, both nicknamed Pinky. In "Pat and Mike" (1952), she is a champion athlete, and he is her rough-hewn manager, with whom she falls in love. 

The film was devised to show off Miss Hepburn's well-cultivated athletic ability. Almost to the end of her life she played tennis and swam, and in earlier years she golfed. 

It was in "Pat and Mike" that Tracy spoke the often-quoted line about Miss Hepburn's figure, "Not much meat on her, but what's there is `cherce.' " 

Miss Hepburn often said Tracy was the best actor she had ever known and compared him in complimentary terms to a baked potato: solid, substantial stuff. "He's meat and potatoes, meat and potatoes," she would say. "I'm more like a fancy French dessert, I'm a little bit fancy, aren't I? But I wish I were meat and potatoes." Her other films with Tracy included the political dramas "Keeper of the Flame" (1942) and "State of the Union" (1948). 

One of her most enduring films without Tracy was "The African Queen" (1952), in which she played the straitlaced Rosie opposite Humphrey Bogart for the director John Huston. 

She wrote about it in her first book, published in 1987, whose title captures the direct, colloquial style of her writing: "The Making of the African Queen: Or, How I Went to Africa With Bogart, Bacall and Huston and Almost Lost My Mind" (Knopf). 

Later she achieved one of her great artistic triumphs in an unlikely role, as the 12th-century Eleanor of Aquitaine in "The Lion in Winter" (1968). There was still something of the typical Hepburn persona in the steely manipulation and breaking heart of the aging, dismissed queen, but none of the actress's contemporary mannerisms. 

Her versatility lasted well into her career. She played the distraught, drug-addicted Mary Tyrone in the 1962 film of Eugene O'Neill's "Long Day's Journey Into Night." She was a fair match in toughness for John Wayne in the western "Rooster Cogburn" (1975). And in "On Golden Pond" (1981) she starred opposite Henry Fonda as a feisty older woman coping with her husband's failing memory and insisting that they should go on and live life to the fullest. In that role, the on-screen and off-screen Hepburn seemed to meld as easily as they had in her youth. 

Her final screen appearance, in 1994, was a minor but tremendously emotional role in "Love Affair." Playing Warren Beatty's wise old aunt, she gave advice to the woman he loved, played by Annette Bening. Miss Hepburn's age gave the role the trappings of a farewell to movies, but if she moved more slowly than before, in demeanor she was as game and modern as she had ever been, even venturing an unprintable line about ducks. 

Throughout her career, she returned to the stage periodically. She appeared in "The Millionairess," by George Bernard Shaw, on Broadway in 1952. In the late 1950's she also appeared in several Shakespeare plays in Stratford, Conn. 

And in 1969, when she was 62, she made her singing debut on Broadway in the Alan Jay Lerner musical "Coco," based on the life of the fashion designer Coco Chanel. She also appeared on Broadway in 1976 in "A Matter of Gravity," by Enid Bagnold, and in 1981 in "The West Side Waltz," by Ernest Thompson, who had written "On Golden Pond." 

Her performances in all three of these plays were received with dazzling praise; the works themselves were treated more harshly. Walter Kerr of The New York Times wrote about her performance in "The West Side Waltz" in terms that reflected the general critical opinion: "One mysterious thing she has learned to do is breathe unchallengeable life into lifeless lines." 

A Beloved Aunt on TV 

In the 1970's she acted in television movies, including the Edwardian romantic drama "Love Among the Ruins" (1975), with Laurence Olivier, and "The Corn Is Green" (1979), both directed by Cukor. And in later years she kept busy with minor television movies. 

She played a fictional version of the typically feisty Kate Hepburn character in "Mrs. Delafield Wants to Marry" (1986), "Laura Lansing Slept Here" (1988) and "The Man Upstairs" (1992). 

In 1994 she appeared in a few scenes in the television movie "One Christmas," as yet another wise old aunt. Her tailor-made Hepburn lines included these: "I've always lived my life exactly as I wanted. I wouldn't change a single thing. No regrets." 

As she aged, she had some physical problems from which she recovered well. She had hip-replacement surgery and operations on both her shoulders, but she remained spry. Although her head shook visibly in television interviews from the 1980's on, she vehemently denied the rumor that she had Parkinson's disease, saying she had inherited her shaking head from her grandfather Hepburn. 

Her most striking television appearance was not in a dramatic role, but in a 1986 tribute to Spencer Tracy. Speaking openly about their relationship at last, she read a letter she had written to him, which she later included in her autobiography. She recalled their last years together, when he was ill and had trouble sleeping, and she would sit on the floor by his side and talk. She wondered why he drank.
"What was it, Spense?" she asked. It was an eloquent and sentimental performance that distilled the way her public and private lives blended. 

At the conclusion of "All About Me," her own television biography, she said: "In some ways I've lived my life as a man, made my own decisions. I've been as terrified as the next person, but you've got to keep a-going; you've got to dream." In typical Katharine Hepburn style, she faced the camera and, at the age of 85, tacitly acknowledged how close she had to be to the end. 

"I have no fear of death," she said. "Must be wonderful, like a long sleep. But let's face it: it's how you live that really counts."

Katharine the great

Katharine Hepburn
Picture: AFP
Katharine Hepburn.
The great Hollywood director Frank Capra once said: "There are actresses and actresses ? and then there is Hepburn." Bart Barnes recalls the life and times of the American legend who died on Sunday, aged 96.

Katharine Hepburn was an actress of breathtaking talent and unsurpassed durability. In a film and stage career that spanned more than five decades, she became a popular legend to millions.

Hepburn won four Academy Awards for acting, more than anyone, and she was nominated for eight others. Her Oscars for best actress were spread across a 48-year period from 1933 to 1981.

The first was for Morning Glory, in which Hepburn played a small-town New England girl who conquers the New York stage. The last was for On Golden Pond, a poignant drama in which she played� 69-year-old Ethel Thayer, caring for her ailing husband of� 50 years in the twilight of their life together, as they revisit the summer vacation home of their youth.

The others came for 1968's The Lion in Winter, in which she was King Henry II's ageing and troubled queen, Eleanor of Aquitaine; and for 1967's Guess Who's Coming to Dinner, where Hepburn and Spencer Tracy played a white liberal couple whose daughter brings home her black fiance.

That was the last of nine films in which Hepburn and Tracy played opposite each other. Off the screen, they had a warm and enduring personal relationship that began with their first film together, Woman of the Year, in 1942, after Tracy and his wife had separated. But he took the Catholic Church's admonition against divorce seriously. Although Hepburn and Tracy were frequent companions for 25 years, they never married or lived together openly, and they booked separate hotel suites when travelling together. He died soon after Guess Who's Coming to Dinner was released.

Over the years, Hepburn's theatrical roles ranged from such Shakespearean stage heroines as Portia in The Merchant of Venice and Cleopatra in Antony and Cleopatra to the society girl Tracy Lord in the film and play The Philadelphia Story.

She proved herself to be one of the great tragediennes of the screen in Eugene O'Neill's autobiographical Long Day's Journey into Night, a� 1962 film in which she played the tormented and drug-addicted Mary Tyrone, based on the author's mother. Many critics thought that to have been her finest role.

Unlike most of the motion picture industry's leading actresses of the 1930s and 1940s, Hepburn's artistic stature did not decline as she aged. If anything, it improved, and she continued to play opposite top actors and command the best scripts even into her 70s.

Neither beautiful nor sexy by conventional Hollywood standards, Hepburn had what she once described as an "angular face and body, and I suppose an angular personality". She had freckles and copper-reddish hair and a voice that Tallulah Bankhead said sounded like "nickels dropping in a slot machine".
But there was a mystique about her and a style and presence on the stage and screen that her fans found electric and captivating, and she could infuse the most ordinary of acts with drama and meaning.

Her first film director, George Cukor, spotted this quality in Hepburn's initial screen test simply by the way in which she bent down, picked up a glass of champagne from the floor, then turned and faced the camera. She had a sensitivity to the camera unlike anyone else he'd seen, said Cukor, who would direct Hepburn in films, off and on, for the next 50 years. David O. Selznick, the executive producer of her first movie, Bill of Divorcement in 1932, found her stunning in one of the film's early scenes when all she did was walk into a room, stretch out her arms and lie down in front of a fireplace.
Tennessee Williams said she was "a playwright's dream � a dream actress" after seeing her performance as the rich and possessive Violet Venable in the 1959 film version of his play Suddenly Last Summer, which also produced an Oscar nomination for Hepburn.

Frank Capra, the great Hollywood director, once said: "There are actresses and actresses � then there is Hepburn."

In all, she appeared in 42 films, and there was always a lively debate among her followers over which of her roles was the best. Long Day's Journey into Night and her four Oscar-winning pictures were among the perennial favorites, as was The African Queen, a� 1951 movie based on a novel by C.S.Forester.

In that film Hepburn played the part of Rose Sayer, a proper and middle-aged British spinster who falls in love with a gin-swilling, ne'er-do-well riverboat pilot, played by Humphrey Bogart, in German East Africa during the early years of World War I.

The African Queen marked a major turning point in Hepburn's career. Until then she had been known primarily for roles in which she played intelligent, independent, well-bred, well-connected and well-off young women. Her later roles tended to be more serious than those early in her career, and she was often cast as a middle-aged or elderly woman attempting to cope with a variety of cares and problems.
She shunned television until late in her career, then in 1975 won an Emmy Award for best actress for Love Among the Ruins, an Edwardian comedy about a former Shakespearean actress who is sued for breach of promise by a young man whose marriage proposal she had accepted. She played opposite Laurence Olivier, whose performance won an Emmy for best actor.

As a young Hollywood actress, Hepburn was often at odds with the major film studios, which disliked the fact that she would accept only the roles that suited her. She had an independent spirit that led some producers and directors to view her as "an ornery, opinionated snob". She never had a press agent, she often refused to co-operate with film studio publicists, and for years she did not grant media interviews.

If the bulb of a camera flashed from the audience when Hepburn was on the live stage, she would often stop the performance, deliver a sharp tongue-lashing to the miscreant and then begin the scene over again.

In her manner of dress, she was equally unconventional. Her customary attire was a turtleneck sweater, men's trousers and an odd black hat, and it often appeared that much of her clothing was 20 or 30 years old. The Council of Fashion Designers of America gave her an award in 1986 for demonstrating "what American fashion was all about even before any of us thought of designing it".
Hepburn's response: "Imagine, the original bag lady getting an award for the way she dresses."

A physical fitness enthusiast, she often played tennis before breakfast, swam outdoors regularly, even in the winter, and whenever possible rode a bicycle instead of riding in a car. She was once the runner-up in the Connecticut women's golf championship

She was often imperious, both on stage and off, but she could also be sensitive and considerate of others. In the summer of 1980, when On Golden Pond was being filmed at Big Squam Lake, New Hampshire, she became concerned that the activity might disturb the region's regular summer residents.

One day she walked over to the cottage nearest to where the movie was being filmed. "I'm Katharine Hepburn. We're making a movie next door, and I hope we're not ruining your summer," she told the startled occupants.

Her first movie role opposite Spencer Tracy came in 1942 in Woman of the Year and it brought a fourth Oscar nomination. In that film, Hepburn was Tess Harding, a smart, sophisticated but cold newspaper columnist who is humanised by Tracy, as the newspaper's down-to-earth sports editor.

At 170 centimetres, with high heels and a hairstyle that made her look even taller, Hepburn appeared at their first meeting to tower over the 175-centimetre Tracy. "I'm afraid I am a little tall for you, Mr Tracy," she is said to have observed at their first meeting on the set of Woman of the Year.

"Don't worry, Miss Hepburn," Tracy is reported to have answered. "I'll cut you down to my size."
There was an electricity and a rapport between them that was soon apparent to others on the movie set, and it would delight millions of moviegoers for the next 25 years.

Off the screen they were together often, if not constantly. Hepburn wrote daily letters to Tracy during a 10-week period in the jungles of what then was the Belgian Congo while filming The African Queen.

Over the years she tried to encourage and support Tracy in his frequent battles with alcoholism, and when his health began to fail in the mid-1960s she reduced her own professional commitments substantially in order to care for him.

"I have had 20 years of perfect companionship with a man among men," she said of Tracy in a 1963 interview.

After his 1967 death, Hepburn resumed an energetic and ambitious acting career, although afflicted with a palsy that made her head shake, and it was during this period that she recorded some of her finest performances.

The year after On Golden Pond, she did a play that also dealt with problems of growing old, West Side Waltz, in which she played an elderly pianist. The part required her to learn to play a piano well enough to look realistic at it on stage while the theatre sound system played the music on tape.

Two years later, she starred in a movie, The Ultimate Solution of Grace Quigley, a comedy about an elderly woman who hires a professional hit man to eliminate her ageing contemporaries who have lost interest in living.

Well into her 70s, she could easily have retired, but she preferred not to. "Work is the only thing that ever made anyone happy," she once said. "The notion that work is a burden is a terrible mistake."

Katharine Hepburn American actress

Katharine Hepburn, in full Katharine Houghton Hepburn   (born May 12, 1907Hartford, Conn., U.S.—died June 29, 2003Old Saybrook, Conn.), indomitable American stage and film actress, known as a spirited performer with a touch of eccentricity. She introduced into her roles a strength of character previously considered to be undesirable in Hollywood leading ladies. As an actress she was noted for her brisk upper-class New England accent and tomboyish beauty.

Hepburn’s father was a wealthy and prominent Connecticut surgeon, and her mother was a leader in the woman suffrage movement. From early childhood, Hepburn was continually encouraged to expand her intellectual horizons, speak nothing but the truth, and keep herself in top physical condition at all times. She would apply all of these ingrained values to her acting career, which began in earnest after her graduation from Bryn Mawr College in 1928. After scoring her first major Broadway success in The Warrior’s Husband (1932), she was invited to Hollywood by RKO Radio Pictures.

Douglas Fairbanks, Jr., and Katharine Hepburn in Morning Glory [Credit: Courtesy of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Inc.]

Hepburn was an unlikely Hollywood star. Possessing a distinctive speech pattern and an abundance of quirky mannerisms, she earned unqualified praise from her admirers and unmerciful criticism from her detractors. Unabashedly outspoken and iconoclastic, she did as she pleased, refusing to grant interviews, wearing casual clothes at a time when actresses were expected to exude glamour 24 hours a day, and openly clashing with her more experienced coworkers whenever they failed to meet her standards. She nonetheless made an impressive movie debut in A Bill of Divorcement (1932) and went on to win an Academy Award for her third film, Morning Glory (1933). Her much-publicized return to Broadway, in The Lake (1933), proved to be a flop. And while moviegoers enjoyed Hepburn’s performances in homespun entertainments such as Little Women (1933) and Alice Adams (1935), they were largely resistant to historical vehicles such as Mary of Scotland (1936), A Woman Rebels (1936), and Quality Street (1937). Hepburn recovered some lost ground with her sparkling performances in the comedies Bringing Up Baby (1938) and Holiday (1938), but it was too late: a group of leading film exhibitors had already written off Hepburn as “box office poison.”

Hepburn, Katharine: Stewart, Grant, and Hepburn in “The Philadelphia Story” [Credit: © 1940 Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Inc.; photograph from a private collection]

Undaunted, Hepburn accepted a role written specifically for her in Philip Barry’s 1938 Broadway comedy The Philadelphia Story, which proved to be a hit. She purchased the motion picture rights to the play and was able to jump-start her Hollywood career by starring in the 1940 film version. She continued to make periodic returns to the stage (notably as the title character in the 1969 Broadway musical Coco), but Hepburn remained essentially a film actor for the remainder of her career. Her stature increased as she chalked up such cinematic triumphs as The African Queen (1951), Summertime (1955), and Long Day’s Journey into Night (1962). She won a second Academy Award for Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner (1967), a third for The Lion in Winter (1968), and an unprecedented fourth Oscar for On Golden Pond (1981); her 12 Academy Award nominations also set a record, which stood until 2003, when broken by Meryl Streep. In addition, Hepburn appeared frequently on television in the 1970s and ’80s. She was nominated for an Emmy Award for her memorable portrayal of Amanda Wingfield in Tennessee Williams’s The Glass Menagerie (1973), and she won the award for her performance opposite Laurence Olivier in Love Among the Ruins (1975), which reunited her with her favourite director, George Cukor. Though hampered by a progressive neurological disease, she was nonetheless still active in the early ’90s, appearing prominently in films such as Love Affair (1994) and writing several volumes of memoirs, including her autobiography, Me: Stories of My Life (1991).

“State of the Union”: still with Hepburn and Tracy [Credit: © 1948 Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Inc.; photograph from a private collection]

Hepburn was married once, to Philadelphia broker Ludlow Ogden Smith, but the union was dissolved in 1934. While filming Woman of the Year in 1942, she began an enduring, intimate relationship with her costar, Spencer Tracy, with whom she would appear in films such as Adam’s Rib (1949) and Pat and Mike (1952). Tracy and Hepburn never married—he was Roman Catholic and would not divorce his wife—but they remained close both personally and professionally until his death in 1967, just days after completing the filming of Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner. Hepburn had suspended her own career for nearly five years to nurse Tracy through what turned out to be his final illness. In 1999 the American Film Institute named Hepburn the top female American screen legend of all time.

The Rise and Fall of Katharine Hepburn's Fake Accent

When Hollywood turned to talkies, it created a not-quite-British, not-quite-American style of speaking that has all but disappeared.

Katharine Hepburn in The Philadelphia Story. (MGM)
"Play it, Sam. Play 'As Time Goes By,'" purrs a moon-faced Ingrid Bergman in the now-famous scene from 1942's Casablanca. Staccato t's and accordion-stretched a's lend a musical flavor to Bergman's lilt. "Early" becomes "euh-ly" and "perhaps" unfolds as "peuh-haps.'"

The grandeur and glamor in her voice, though, is a sham.

No, really. That's not a real accent. It's a now-abandoned affectation from the period that saw the rise of matinee idols and Hitchcock's blonde bombshells. Talk like that today and be the butt of jokes (see Frasier). But in the '30s and '40s, there are almost no films in which the characters don't speak with this faux-British elocution—a hybrid of Britain's Received Pronunciation and standard American English as it exists today. It's called Mid-Atlantic English (not to be confused with local accents of the Eastern seaboard), a name that describes a birthplace halfway between Britain and America. Learned in aristocratic finishing schools or taught for use in theater to the Bergmans and Hepburns who were carefully groomed in the studio system, it was class for the masses, doled out through motion pictures.
There are many theories as to how it became any sort of standard. The most probable being that when the silent film era was bulldozed for the early talkies, so too were those films' famous faces, on account of their indecent sets of pipes. Silent movie star Gloria Swanson once notoriously quipped: "We didn't need dialogue. We had faces." Expression was paramount, and actress Clara Bow was master. Bow was born in a run-down tenement in old Brooklyn and withstood a dizzy ascent to stardom in films like It (1927) and Wings (1927). Her morose pout and slanted eyes took Paramount straight to the bank. People paid to ogle her. When she heard her voice recorded for the first time, she was appalled. "I hate talkies," she said in Elizabeth Goldbeck's The Real Clara Bow, "they're stiff and limiting. You lose a lot of your cuteness, because there's no chance for action, and action is the most important thing to me." In The Wild Party (1929), for take after take Bow's eyes would shift nervously to the microphone overhead, calling for another take.

This newfound pressure would ultimately lead to a downfall only Hollywood could trigger. Bow, crushed under the pressures of fame and work, was admitted to a sanatorium in 1930. At 25, her career was finished. But talkies didn't need Clara Bow.

Whether or not this transition from speechless to speech was a catalyst for an industry standard, Edith Skinner's Speak With Distinction—first published in 1942—crowned the high-society accent theater's common tongue. Skinner, born in New Brunswick, Canada, was a voice coach and consultant to Broadway actors. After studying phonetics at Columbia University, she began to assist Margaret Prendergast McLean, a leading stage-speech consultant. She soon gained a national reputation, becoming the go-to instructor for all things speech and diction.
"Your voice expresses you," Skinner once told The Milwaukee Journal. "You don't want to lose that individual voice God gave you. What I try to do is get rid of the most obvious regionalisms, the accent that says, 'you're from here and I'm from there,' the kind of speech that tells you what street you grew up on."

Katharine Hepburn's society burr was a perfect example of the Mid-Atlantic accent. "Come round about noon, tomorrow," Hepburn trills in The Philadelphia Story (1940), a full-bodied pronunciation that turned her "o's" into "ooh's" that tumbled from her mouth, a modulation honed by her acclaimed New York dramatic coach Frances Robinson-Duff. Hepburn sought her out after being fired from her first production in 1928, when she insisted on hurriedly bleating out her lines. In a 1935 New Yorker article, a profile on Duff's diaphragmatic methods reveals a bit more about Hepburn's deficiency: "Miss Hepburn neglected the Duff fundamentals. Moreover, having been in Hollywood and away from regular instruction, Miss Hepburn had allowed her diaphragm to drift. When she returned East to do 'The Lake,' it was maladjusted and her jaws and tongue were unfree ... But Miss Hepburn has character. She immediately returned to Miss Duff and the fundamentals."

The drift away from these "fundamentals" resulted in a potpourri of speech on the silver screen. Katharine Hepburn's put-on timbre is a higher percentage American than British. It's quite similar to that of Claudette Colbert's slightly harsher "r" in It Happened One Night (1934). Where the accent vastly differs is among men. Cary Grant, often said to be the blueprint of Mid-Atlantic English, was actually born in Britain. He came to America at the age of 16 as a stilt walker for the Bob Pender Stage Troupe, but abandoned his troupe after their two-year tour to stay on in America and pursue an acting career. This transatlantic trajectory resulted in an accent that couldn't be pinned to a map. It was of nowhere in particular, but rather handsome all the same. Strange, then, that other famed male actors at the time—Jimmy Stewart and Humphrey Bogart—had wildly unencumbered manners of speaking. Their accents were very much their own: the former's a rural dialect of Pennsylvania; the latter's a spin on a regional New York accent.

So how did the accent die? Thanks in part to these sharp-tongued headliners like Bogart, Americans began to see themselves better reflected in film. The Mid-Atlantic accent was very much in vogue until its abrupt decline post-World War II. Taught in finishing schools and society parlors, the accent had become common to off-screen America. But more people spoke as they do today, with regionally developed accents like Boston Brahmin or Locust Valley Lockjaw. The rejection of Mid-Atlantic was also a rejection of classicism. Highfalutin figures in American society who luxuriated in the vernacular were edged out by the everyman. "This idealization of the linguistic behavior of upper class Americans continued, in some Hollywood films, up to the late '40s and '50s," says Dr. Marko Modiano, senior lecturer in English studies at Gävle University. "It lost its position with the rise of a new generation of film stars who, like everyone else, were moving more and more toward the kind of neutral American English which we hear today in the US."

Rita Moreno, who started off on stage in Singin' In the Rain and later on screen in West Side Story (1961), told NPR, "I became the house ethnic. That meant that I had to play anything that was not American. So I became this gypsy girl, or I was a Polynesian girl, or an Egyptian girl. Finally, I decided by playing all these roles, I should have some kind of accent. But of course, I had no idea what these people sounded like, so I made up my own." What Moreno didn't realize is that her "ethnic" accent already existed, or at least, what she used as a foundation did. It was Mid-Atlantic English with ethnic injections and clipped delivery.

Nowadays, ethnic injections are only the result of behind-the-scenes training. Social media's ability to mass-ridicule a crummy rendition of a foreign accent means that speech coaches are written into contracts. Barbara Berkery helped concoct Johnny Depp's inebriated mumble for the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise, which has ruefully seeped into Depp's subsequent roles (The Rum Diary, The Lone Ranger). And just to confuse things, Brits have spurned typecasting for the role of butler and are increasingly putting on American accents to win over US markets. Henry Cavill, the Channel Islands chap who plays Superman in this summer's Man of Steel, did some heavy lifting to affect a Midwest manner of speech. "Doing an accent is like going into the gym for a workout," he tells Collider. "If you pick up the heaviest weight possible and try and clean and press it, you're going to pull something." For Emma Watson's Calabasas caw in The Bling Ring, she marathoned through several seasons of Keeping Up With the Kardashians to match the sisters' vocal fry.

Marathon as they might, though, few of today's actors will ever need to perfect a widely heard but invented dialect. Mid-Atlantic English defined an era on screen by lending films an escapist, more-refined-than-reality allure. As Hollywood's golden age was ushered out, the accent went with it.
Katharine Hepburn and Jimmy Stewart's romantic spat in The Philadelphia Story offered a metaphorical damnation of the high-society cinema accent. "Shut up. Shut up. Oh, Mike, keep talking. Keep talking. Talk, will you?" Hepburn pleads. To which Jimmy Stewart's character soberly states, "No, no, I've... I've stopped." And so, too, did Mid-Atlantic English.
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