Katharine Hepburn: A Hollywood career

Emily Inverso

Time and memory united Saturday evening as if, for a few moments, it were joined in harmony with a similar evening in 1937.

“The calla lilies are in bloom again,” Katharine Hepburn said in her 1937 theater event “Stage Door.” “Such a strange flower, suitable to any occasion.”

Calla lilies, donning large, exaggerated vases, decorated the ballroom. This occasion was the celebration of the fashion school’s most recent exhibit, “Katharine Hepburn: Dressed for Stage and Screen.”

A selection of 50 pieces document Hepburn’s Hollywood career, from her early days of 1934 to her final Broadway production and last films nearing 1994. These pieces remain in the minds of countless fans and the hearts of those who knew her, many of whom were in attendance at the exhibit opening.

Her independent nature

“Katharine was unbelievable,” Ann Rutherford, who played Carreen in “Gone with the Wind,” said. “She never outgrew this thing, and she did anything she darn well wanted to do because it didn’t hurt anybody else. And she was right; she should. Two people can’t live one life. None of us were aware that she had written it into her contract that when a picture was over, anything that touched her body she could either have free or at a very low price. She wound up with 700 items.”

One youthful romance

At 18 Robert Osborne, now host of Turner Classic Movies, was in college. Hearing Katharine Hepburn was coming to Seattle for the stage production “As you like it,” he and a friend rented tuxedos, attended the event and waited patiently after the show to invite Hepburn to dinner.

While his plan failed dismally, they decided she must not have received their invitation. On night two of the production, they repeated their plan, minus the tuxedos. Again, she did not meet them for dinner.

“Well, we hated Katharine Hepburn,” Osborne said. “We hated her, but about a week went by and to the fraternity came a letter written to us:

Dear Robert Osborne and Bill Bowen,

Thank you for your flowers. They are particularly beautiful ones, and I thank you for your enthusiasm. It’s a quality I greatly admire. I never go to dinner after a performance; I go straight to my hotel; otherwise, I should die of exhaustion. More importantly, however, I don’t think it’s a good idea for two young college boys to go about asking a strange actress to supper.

Yours faithfully,

Katharine Hepburn

For this, Osborne said, “we loved her again.”

Contact Emily Inverso at [email protected].

Contact Emily Inverso at [email protected].

A final wish

“Katharine Hepburn stipulated in her estate plan that she wanted her personal collection of her performance wardrobe to go to an educational institution,” Shawn Gordon, director of advancement for the College of the Arts, said.

“So the executives of the estate were shopping it around, and the first director of the fashion museum has contacts with the Katharine Hepburn estate. She called our current director and said to Jean, ‘You need to contact the estate because they’re looking for a home for the Katharine Hepburn collection.’ And now we call the display our own.”

A tight fit

“Katharine Hepburn had a 20-inch waist,” Fashion Museum Director Jean Druesedow said. “After we got her clothes, we had to make a lot of mannequins because slook at the size of this creature. There is nothing front to back. There’s not a fiberglass humanoid anywhere that fits that, so for the early pieces, we had to carve our own.”

The evening tribute to Hepburn’s donation and career continued with an excerpted screening of her autobiographical film “All About Me.” Narrated by Hepburn, the movie documents her life and Hollywood experiences, at times specifically focusing on her professional wardrobe. Many of those pieces can now be found in the museum exhibit.

“I found it very fitting that these clothes should wind up here because God knows, this whole place is independent they’d fight a priest,” Rutherford said. “These are the nicest young people, and they are all artistically inclined. If I hadn’t come over with Noah on the Ark, I’d like to go to school here.”

As Hepburn’s film came to an end, a spotlight found its way onto Druesedow. Cradling a bouquet, her final words resonated those of the woman being recognized.

“Ah, the calla lilies are in bloom again.”

Contact Emily Inverso at [email protected].