Katharine Hepburn: Overrated or Underrated?

Few actresses are accorded the kind of reverence given to Katharine Hepburn. (Though this was famously not always the case) Does the four-time Oscar winner deserve all that…or does she actually deserve more? Movie Irv assesses the Connecticut-born, Bryn Mawr grad’s legend and renders his verdict on the adoration of Kate:

You’ve heard from Irv; now take to the comments and submit your own evaluation of the sophisticated starlet’s work on the silver screen!

  • David Hewens

    I agree, underrated. But that said, the only nitpick I have is, like Cary Grant and Jimmy Stewart, she kind of played herself in all her movies, like the roles were written for her.
    Let the flames begin… hehehe

    • Bruce Reber

      KH starred with CG in one of the funniest screwball comedies ever – “Bringing Up Baby”, she was terrific with JS in “The Philadelphia Story”, and I love all of her movies with Spencer Tracy, except “Sea Of Grass” and “Without Love”.

  • Steve in Sacramento

    Good call, Irv. I also love THE PHILADELPHIA STORY, and other favorites include ADAM’S RIB, THE AFRICAN QUEEN, and LONG DAY’S JOURNEY INTO NIGHT. (Of the latter, I remember thinking that both Hepburn’s and Ralph Richardson’s performances were among the best I’d ever seen.)

  • MichaelTJ

    Katharine has always been my favorite actress for more than 60 years. I was privilaged to see her 3 times on stage. “Much to do about Nothing” on a snowy night in Boston in1959; Of course “Coco” in New york. It was her last play, “West Side Waltz” tha impressed me the most.You had to be there to appreciate. Should have gotten a Tony for that!

  • arguellogomez

    Although I’m a fan of Miss Hepburn, I consider her overrated. Only two actresses in history have deserved 4 Academy Awards: the great Bette Davis and Meryl Streep. Period.

    • SML

      Amen…which I could “fan and fave” you as they do on Huffington. My sentiments exactly. Exactly!

  • T M

    She was great but definitely overrated. How she got 4 Oscars and Barbara Stanwyck had to settle for a consolation Oscar I’ll never understand. I think it was Joe Mankiewicz (sp?) who called Hepburn the most experienced amateur actress in Hollywood. And someone else said she ran the gamut of emotions from A to B. It’s also funny that Bette Davis was bashed (deservedly so) for playing herself over and over later in her career, but Katharine Hepburn got away with it in 95% of her work. She deserved a lot of credit for choosing projects based on quality rather than the number of zeroes on the paycheck, though, which I think greatly contributed to her legend.

    • SML

      AMEN! KH DID play herself in most of her work. Can anyone name a film where Hepburn played a hooker or an alcoholic or an over-the-hill, physically-hideous former child star? I don’t think so…yet Davis tackled them all. For me, her William Wyler role in The Letter & her portrayal of Rosa Moline (“WHAT A DUMP!”)…not to mention all the other roles that gave young girls like me a positive, strong female role model who I could identify with (the “dahling” accent alone of KH was so foreign to me, I just tuned out).

  • Cara

    It wasn’t Katharine Hepburn’s fault that Bette Davis et al weren’t given the Oscars they deserved. Peter O’Toole should have won at least one Best Actor Oscar for Laurence of Arabia, which Premiere Magazine named the greatest performance by an actor in any film. Except, oops! The Oscar that year went to Gregory Peck as Atticus Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird, a role that has been named the most beloved among American audiences. In other words, don’t blame Katharine Hepburn for the Academy’s sometimes understandable, sometimes baffling Oscar choices.

    Katharine Hepburn had a 50 year film career filled with excellent performances, all the way from A Bill of Divorcement to On Golden Pond. By any standard, it is a spectacular, enduring career, which included great comedies, great melodramas (A Long Day’s Journey into Night is harrowing), timely dramas. She could do them all. It’s impossible to overrate Hepburn’s career. Her body of work ranks among the top ten or twenty by any American actor. It is a testament to her screen chemistry with her leading men, her incredible work ethic and her long-lived good health.

  • SML

    Okay, don’t everyone kill me at once…when it comes to the never-ending debate between Bette Davis & Katharine Hepburn, for me Davis wins hands down as best screen actor ever. Why? Bette wasn’t afraid to play hookers, wasn’t afraid to look hideous as in Baby Jane, could be evil, sympathetic…whatever. Hepburn, IN MY HUMBLE OPINION, always played the same role…classy, educated, whimsical, funny, strong (well not so strong in Adam’s Rib…which I find sexist in some ways), etc. Granted, I’ll give you she was as adept at comedy as she was in drama, where Bette Davis trying to play comedy is just painful to watch. Overall, I gravitate toward Davis…but again, this kind of survey also should take into account our own individual personalities & how even a small “tipping point” consideration has to do, perhaps, more with our individual circumstances, how we view life, etc., then a strict measurement of “who is better.” They both were, obviously, splendid, unforgettable actors…no question. Bette Davis, for me, is the better of the two.

  • SML

    The Hepburn film with Robert Taylor & Robert Mitchum is painful to watch; however, she quotes a RL Stevenson poem that I’ve always loved–so for that alone, I’ll watch it. The just-plain-weird film with Clift & Taylor…sorry can’t think of the name is one that is over the top for all of them. Again, the emoting by all 3 (but especially Taylor & Hepburn) is agonizingly self-serving and has the quality of “oh, look how well I’m emoting, Mr. Strasberg.” “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner” is also painful to watch–I think one minute after this film was released, people stop calling blacks “negros.” Yet, it still receives 3 stars simply because it was Tracy & Hepburn & Poiter…and Tracy’s final film. Such is the whimsy of the raters…

    • Cara

      The weird film whose title you can’t remember was Suddenly Last Summer. It was an adaptation of a play by Tennessee Williams. Not one of his best, but it dealt with homosexuality in a strange, 50s way. Williams was conflicted about his own sexual feelings. In the adapted screenplay, there remained a sub-sub text of homosexuality, but you had to have been familiar with the play to catch it. And yet, they had no problem with presenting cannabilism, albeit off camera! Ah, the production code in the 50s. All in all, Suddenly Last Summer was a bit of a mess as a movie, but I think Elizabeth Taylor gave one of her stronger performances in this film.

  • Harry Robbins

    Kathryn Hepburn gets her due praise.

  • 68pete

    Perfect as is.

  • Ozark Granny

    In my opinion, Kathryn Hepburn was very UNDER RATED. She was one of the most outstanding actresses of her time. I think her 2 greatest films of all times that she starred in were ROOSTER COGBURN in which she co-starred with John Wayne and ON GOLDEN POND in which Kathryn Hepburn co-starred with Henry Fonda, Although I’ve always been a John Wayne fan and a Henry Fonda fan, I strongly believe that both movies would have failed miserably if Kathryn Hepburn would not have been in them.

    • victor0630

      How can you say she was undertated? Did you count her Academy Awards lately?

  • ron a.


  • Yvette Fermiere

    Wonderful actress.