Katharine Hepburn: Rose Sayer vs. Jane Hudson

One actor. Two film roles. You tell us which portrayal was the best. The most memorable. Or iconic. Or simply your favorite.

But before you pass judgment, a few words defending the “character” of each…

The case for Rose Sayer

The missionary aboard The African Queen is the prim & proper yin to grizzled captain Charlie Allnut’s rough & tumble yang, leading (ok, bullying) him to embark on a dangerous yet noble mission. She may be a crazy, psalm-singing, skinny old maid but Rose Sayer more than makes up for that with guts, determination and good-heartedness.

The case for Jane Hudson

True this was another spinster role for Kate, but whereas her character in The African Queen was haughty and stiff, Hudson is warm and approachable. Her flaw is mistaking independence for loneliness. On holiday in Venice, Hudson is eager to experience life as she has not before, yet she is vulnerable (and she knows it). Ultimately she is able to overcome her insecurities and let herself be loved in her Summertime.

Now that you’ve heard the arguments for both it’s time to render your verdict!

  • Joel

    I am not a big Hepburn fan, but I do think these are the two best of her screen performances.

  • John George

    Also not a big Hepburn fan, but enjoyed her work in “The Lion in Winter” enormously. As an aside, isn’t “Jane Hudson” the same name as the role played by Bette Davis in “Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?”

    • Joel

      That’s right!

    • http://profile.yahoo.com/POLB6RPE2RBSDNCG46SW7OFZX4 Rick

      Absolutely agree about Hepburn in “The Lion in Winter”. I wish that had been one of the two choices. Given these two pics, I would have to lean towards “The African Queen”. A truly distinctive actress who always commands attention with her acerbic wit and cutting charm.

    • Mbrob

      I love Hepburn and when I hear the name, Jane Hudson, I too think of Bette Davis first and not Kate.  Although Kate the Great was great in Summertime, I must vote for Rosie Sayer. 

      I often wonder how Kate and Bette would have fared if they were cast in the same movie during their heyday directed by Wyler or Cukor.  I imagine it would have been explosive.

  • Frankiedc

    Finally, a real Hepburn fan speaks. I understand why people arent fans. She can be mannered and eccentric and far too often, she projects frigidity in her roles.  But “Summertime” breaks my heart. It is a beautifully made film in every respect, and she really captures the loneliness and vulnerability of Jane Hudson. Those opening scenes where she wonders wistfully through the  lover filled streets of Venice are truly touching. She morphs into a suspicious woman when she first meets Rosanno Brazzi but then totally wins us over as a woman experiencing love for the first time in her life

    On the other hand, her most disastrous movie role was the Chinese lead in “Dragonseed” a film which cannot be regarded as anything but high camp. How an intelligent woman like Hepburn got dragged into that piece of garbage is definitely a puzzlement..

  • Jrray85

    Summertime– hands down, Summertime.  Hepburn’s performance in David Lean’s ode to Venice remains a personal favorite and one in which she deserved to, but didn’t, win an Oscar (no disrespect to Anna Magnani).  She’s superb in African Queen– strong, rigid, yet brimming with enthusiasm and eventual tenderness.  In Summertime, however, Hepburn shows a rare vulnerability (a vulnerability that made her first Oscar-winning performance in Morning Glory such a delight) without too much of her usual eccentricities or stiff American Yankee Know-How .  The sincerity and emotion that comes across as this woman transforms throughout the film makes this more than just another “spinster” role for Hepburn.  It serves as a perfect example of Hepburn BECOMING the character, not the character BECOMING Hepburn– truly an unforgettable and indescribable cinematic experience.

  • Blair Kramer

    Rose was such an interesting character,  Ms. Hepburn actually played her in TWO movies,  THE AFRICAN QUEEN,  and ROOSTER COGBURN,  the sequel to the original TRUE GRIT (OK.  Technically speaking,  Ms. Hepburn doesn’t play Rose Sayer in “Rooster Cogburn.”  It’s supposed to be someone else.  But for all intents and purposes,  both characters are identical).

  • Bernard S.

    The two characters–Rose Sayers and Jane Hudson are VERY well developed and well written ,
    whether they exists on the printed page or as “personified” by actresses on stage or in film.
    Katharine Hepburn was a superb actress, she can have have “misfires” ( such as “Dragon Seed”,
    or “Iron Petticoat” ) but “African Queen” and “Summertime” were two of her BEST work, I never get
    tired of watching these two films, it enriches the soul and entertains at the same time !  I
    have also seen other actresses playing Jane Hudson– such as Carol Lawrence, Jean Stapleton
    the effect may not be as “immediate” as Katharine’s performance but all were just as moving
    and touching, emotionally.  Maybe I just love spinsters ( or old maid or independent woman)
    I  remember Maggie Smith in ” Love and Pain and the whole damn thing”, “The Loneliness of
    Judith Hearne”; Leslie Caron in “The L-Shaped Room”, Bette Davis in”The Old Maid”,
    Patricia Neal in “Hud”, —all these characters were made even more vivid by superb actresses.
    I hope someday moviegoers will be treated to performances by Meryl Streep, Jane Fonda ,
    Emma Thompson all playing either Rose Sayers OR Jane Hudson.

  • Isis

    She is fabulous in THE AFRICAN QUEEN. Love Rose Sayer.

  • Vlr1953

    The African Queen, of course!!!

  • Dana-thompson

    I just watched Summertime again, I must choose that, it’s just a lovely and heartbreaking role

  • El Bee

    I admire Hepburn a great deal. I believe it was she who said (of Jean Simmons, I think), “Show me an actress who is not a personality and I’ll show you an actress who is not a star.” And she is right. Hepburn, like Davis, Colbert, Stanwyck, Crawford, is that actress in a different set of circumstances with different restrictions on her personality or different expectations from her performance. Hepburn cannot get rid of her intelligence; Davis, her demanding assurance; Stanwyck, her down-to-earth directness. So, how they use them to satisfy what the role demands is what makes the difference.

    • tyrdofwaitin

      I like your analysis of the Silver Screen first ladies; spot on!

  • Giraffelady

    Of the two choices, Rose Sayer is my choice.  She really did justice to a many nuanced character.

  • Mlamone

    Not even close-Rosie


    I vote for her performance in AFRICAN QUEEN.  I thought her character was most interesting and conflicted, and developed over time, whereas in SUMMERTIME she played someone much more vulnerable than Kate herself coUld ever be.  One of your responders has quoted her as saying that it takes a strong personality to be a TRUE star.  In AFRICAN QUEEN she displayed a strong personality true to herself. In SUMMERTIME she portrayed a romantic not true to herself.  Therefore I vote for AFRICAN QUEEN.

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/PODTFFPVEUXYHXVGNS5G5FWKGI DIRK

    Good choices here, but I enjoyed ON GOLDEN POND where she did more great acting than Both Fondas!!

  • Gary Vidmar

    Her work in AFRICAN QUEEN towers above SUMMERTIME.  She was a far better spinster in THE RAINMAKER than in Lean’s SUMMERTIME.

  • WT

    I’ve become a Katherine Hepburn fan because of the strength of the characters that she portrays.  Although she was leading lady to Spencer Tracy several times, the characters that I liked most were the ones with leading men other than Mr. Tracy.  She was as tough as Humphrey Bogart in African Queen, as cynical as John Wayne in Rooster Cogburn, and as manipulative as Cary Grant in Philadelphia Story; however, she was also soft and nurturing to Henry Fonda’s callousness in On Golden Pond.  Ms. Hepburn, like Barbara Stanwyck and Bette Davis, had a range and depth in her acting that transcended age, and none of these women minded playing the witch or the plain Jane or the woman who would do anything to reach the top.  If range and depth are what makes a “STAR”, then these three have shone brighter and longer than any in Hollywood.

  • TruthFirst

    The Lion in Winter was Ms. Hepburn’s best performance and one of the best performances by any woman of all time.  A close second was Alice Adams.

  • Nils Goering

    Of the two choices given, I enjoyed K Hepburn’s Rose Sayer character far more than her Jane Hudson character.  Both characters were women who late in life discover their need and desire to be loved (which included releasing their femininity and sexual passions).  But I regard THE AFRICAN QUEEN a far superior film to SUMMERTIME.  The growing love and respect between Rose and Charlie is wonderful to watch. 

  • Moviephile


    I have to agree with TruthFirst that Lion in Winter is her best role ever.  But Kate as Rose Sayers wins over her portrayal of Jane Hudson.

  • Poppopfaber

     Rose Sayer in The African Queen

  • TruthFirst

    I’m a little confused with the Jane Hudson references – Bette Davis was Baby Jane Hudson in What Ever Happened to Baby Jane, not Katherine Hepurn.

  • Juliewatson527

    Summertime all the way.  This is a great movie.

  • Burt

    The Lion in Winter is without a doubt her best. She tied Best Actress with Barbra Streisand that year for Funny Girl. We will never see anything like that again. Hepburn also had some of her best lines in that as well.

    • tyrdofwaitin

      Spot on!  Not only her best lines, but some of the best lines on film.  She inhabited the character of Elinore to perfection.

  • Alvaro

    I never liked Katharine Hepburn. Her best roles to me are The Rainmaker, Undercurrent, Rooster Cogburn, but mostly because of her co-stars Burt Lancaster, Robert Taylor, Robert Mitchum, John Wayner. All the films with Tracy and Hepburn are unwatchable to me. She is one of the most overrated stars of all time.

  • Jeff

    Rosey Sayer, Grert movie with two legendary stars when Hollywood had stars

  • Peggy

    Summertime. I enjoy it every time it is aired. It is a warm romantic movie. The scenery in Venice is beautiful. It takes us the viewer on a holiday without leaving our comfortable modern surroundings.
    She likes to think that she is an independent woman, but, love seems to finally find her. Now she is about to experience what other people have talked about. Her leading man, so handsome, Rossano Brazzi, gave a wonderful performance.
    Put this on list of movies to see!

  • Carl-Edward

    I do not particularly care for: ‘The African Queen’: its characters are caricatures, and it has about it the aura of one of those ghastly, over-produced, international films. Neither do I like the screenplay or the direction.

    ‘Summertime’,  by way of contrast, is a gloriously beautiful and superbly realised version of the play on which it is based. Jane Hudson is one of Katharine Hepburn’s greatest roles.

  • Rjwidmann

    Sappy and insipid in “Summertime” ; most excellent as Rose in “The African Queen”

  • Makumba

    Easily African Queen for me.

  • Lisa

    The African Queen – my all time favorite!!

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Karen-Spisak/628003336 Karen Spisak

    African Queen

  • Gfkseratt

    BOTH single ladies are a ying & yang of the actress:  Miss Hepburn seems to be amazing in splitting herself between the two roles:  my opinion is they are BOTH good, from opposites of one personality. So, THE OUTCOME: a  tie !!

  • Pete

    I believe you got a better look into the character she played, Jane Hudson (not to be confused with the Bette Davis’ character by the same name)
    A lonely person who sought a little respite from it, and some excitement. Of course, she was disappointed that it wouldn’t be the true, lasting romance she yearned for, but she made the most of her moment, and yet she was able to walk away from it. It was typical Hepburn, showing all her strength in the face of the cards fate dealt her.
    BUT, you cannot take away from the great iconic performance she gave as Rose Sayer in “The African Queen’”. Perhaps a bit more cartoonish than in Summertime, but 2 terrific and totally enjoyable performances.

  • SoonerAlfie

    The role of Rose Sayer, in ‘African Queen,’ was a perfect role for Hepburn – her loud, sharp voice lent added credence to her prim, preachy spinster.  She and Bogart played off each other beautifully. Likewise, she and O’Toole were awesome together in “The Lion In Winter.”

  • Donnahartel

    The African Queen as Rose Sayer was a my favorite.

  • Alex in Decatur

    Add another point for Jane Hudson. As an aging “glamorized secretary” myself, I can identify with Hepburn so well in that romanticized story of a holiday in Venice. I feel her pain and relish in her happiness every time I see this classic film. The African Queen is an excellent movie as well, but since first seeing it years ago I have this phobia about mosquitoes.  

  • LordGooGoo

    I really don’t like premises such as this article is based on.  Does anyone think Hepburn herself compared her performances one to the other?  Both of these are brilliant, as are the vast majority of the performances she turned in over the course of her career.  Why have people try to pick one? 

  • Ellen Urie

    I have to say that Summertime is one of my all-time favorite movies. Katherine Hepburn was a wonderful actress though I did not like all of her films. This one is such a heart-warming story, done so well. What actually makes the movie so good is the beautiful music & scenery. But I like the character she plays. Telling my age, but I saw this movie with my Mom & sister when it first came out. We all three loved it. For many years I never heard of it again – not on TV or anywhere. Finally it came on a cable channel & I taped it. Now I have it on DVD.  I also like The African Queen. It’s really hard to choose.

  • Valjean1112

    I was planning on answering, but then I read Lord GooGoo’s response.  What a fine and learned fellow he must be.  Anyway, I think Mr Lord GooGoo should allow others to do as they please.  But then as Rose said, “Lord GooGoo, Mr Allnut, is what we were put upon this earth to rise above.”

  • Lady Lilac

    I like both movies,but Hepburn’s characterization in Summertime is especially moving.  My vote is for Jane Hudson.

  • Queenlewis15

    I liked her in African Queen best.

  • tyrdofwaitin

    I never cared for Katherine Hepburn.  But I loved her in Lion in Winter; pitch perfect casting and acting.

  • Jmarm

    African Queen but perhaps the Bogart/Hepburn thing has something to do with my choice.

  • Dryerf

    Katherine Hepburn is my favorite actress of all time. She was truly a “STAR”! I liked her best in The African Queen. But I love all of her movies.

  • Newellm

    I have never been able to warm up to these two movies. I liked Hepburn best in The Lion in Winter and best of all as Violet Venable in Suddenly Last Summer “Violet and Sebastian, Sebastian and Vi”.

  • Nicely

    Rosie Sayer of course.  She had a lot of moxie . . .

  • Glbyrd

    Jane Hudson, who else would have the grace to fall into the Grand Canal in Venice!

  • Avanschuylen

    …Rose Sayer, without a doubt!…Why?…Because she was a truly unique woman — one that we should be lucky enought to run across!…



  • Lahnee2004

    The Fighting Sullivans when the boys go up to Heaven in the end and wave good-bye.
    Hot Spell when Shirley Booth tries to hold on to her husband Anthony Quinn to no avail.
    Stella Dallas when she embarrasses her daughter at the resort and of course the ending.

  • NSG

    Jane Hudson.  She witnessed the death of her brother, withstood the enemy in WWI, and allowed herself to love and be loved (areas unknown to her previously), and was willing to make the ultimate sacrifice.

  • truth is power

    Loved African Queen but I also love “The Rainmaker” with Burt Lancaster.  Great supporting actors and a warm and charming story that has the feel of a play.  Just love it!

  • Cstars

    Loved Summertime, as I think Katie did some of her best work in this, because she was able to show so much of the turmoil that women feel being alone in the world. She was perfect as she is striking and not perfect but beautiful in her own way not in the Hollywood way. Of course Italy stole the movie but she made it all so fragile and strong all at the same time. I loved her in the African Queen but it was not as real to me as Summertime. I felt empowered by her. Just as I have in so many of the parts she has played.  She gives the strong woman a place to be seen just by what she did on the screen and stage.

  • Susanjohnston

    African Queen wins hands down.  There are other accomplished actresses who were warmer and more human (i.e. Jean Arthur, Betty Davis, Olivia De havilland, Joan Fontaine to name a few); and who were not so very prim and stiff in demeanor as Hepburn sometimes seemed.  The notable exceptions to the above and my favorite performances of hers would be The Lion in Winter and On Golden Pond.  I think she improved with age as an artist and was a significant actress.