It is almost unfathomable to believe the First Lady of Cinema, Katharine Hepburn, who has won four out of twelve Oscar nominations, was considered “Box Office Poison.”
After building an extensive theatrical background Hepburn at Byrn Mawr College and Broadway, Hollywood wanted Hepburn. She was given a screentest and immediately cast in “A Bill of Divorcement” (1932) with a demanding salary of $1,500 per week. Hepburn proved her worth when the film became a hit and RKO signed her to a contract.
Despite her growing popularity with hits such as “Little Women” (1933) and winning an Oscar for her performance as Eva Lovelace in “Morning Glory” (1933), Hepburn’s unconventional behavior confused both studios and audiences. It nearly led to her downfall with a slew of flops, such as “Spitfire” (1934), “The Little Minister” (1934), “Break of Hearts” (1935), “Sylvia Scarlett” (1935), “Mary Queen of Scotland” (1936), “A Woman Rebels” (1936), “Quality Street” (1937), “Stage Door” (1937) and one of which was recently considered by the American Film Institute as #88 Greatest Film Of All Time - “Bringing Up Baby” (1938). Hence, Hepburn returned to her theatrical roots.
But things started to turn around when she accepted the leading role as Tracy Lord in “The Philadelphia Story” on Broadway. It ran for over four-hundred performances. Hepburn bought the rights and sold the property to MGM Studios with the stipulation that she be able to choose the director and co-stars. Initially, Hepburn wanted Clark Gable and Spencer Tracey to act opposite of her, but they were tied up in other commitments. Cary Grant and Jimmy Stewart were cast instead. She chose George Cukor as director, who had directed her in her first film and in “Holiday” (1938). “Philadelphia Story” was nominated for six Academy Awards, including a nomination of Best Actress in a Leading Role for Hepburn. It would be her third nomination.
After the success of “The Philadelphia Story”, Hepburn’s career was revived. Hepburn would continue to excel as a one of the most revered film actresses for the next 54 years or as The Great Kate had once said about herself, “If you survive long enough, you're revered - rather like an old building.”