Katharine Hepburn, Stage Door

Sunday, September 25, 2005

Otis Ferguson

"About Katharine Hepburn, it has been recently fashionable to wink, pull a face, and poor Kitty and tsk, tsk, tsk, Hollywood has ruined her and of course she never was more than a couple of mannerisms and a hank of hair to start with, poor Kate. As the spoiled rich girl she comes into this story cold, playing across the grain of audience sympathy. But she is the girl of that awful first night, and there is felt through her as she comes on that tension of the inexorable rising curtain and first cue, when the actor is isolated within the range of his devices and inner terror. And the effect in the audience is one of difficulties falling way in a command, faith, and purity of feeling that leave no room for a doubt or question anywhere."

The New Republic, October 27, 1937
The Films of Otis Ferguson, p. 202

Ferguson had been a particular (special) admirer of Katharine Hepburn. About her in Mary of Scotland he had written:

"....In her best moments (and this is one of her best) Miss Hepburn has and projects over to her audience a high measure of spirit--both in the meaning of essence and in the meaning of vitality, mortal spark, and force. We may stand off and scrutinize and come at length to the conclusion that this is not stage creation in the accustomed manner of ladies who have developed baritone voices and rolling r's and many interesting ways of plungin a rubber poignard into their bosoms, all with that special majesty which can blow a brace of Alexandrines up into two cubic minutes by the clock. We can say that Miss Hepburn is acting Miss Hepburn, too--and God knows how such a venerable pillar of platitude is to be cracked. But we can hardly fail to see that there is something else here, till inwardly untouched; that this screen is made bright and deep for us with the life of a characterr, it does not matter whose so long as it is not that of an actress with an entrance.

"For when the spotlights and scenic effects have faded, there still remains the fact that for all her digressions into mannerism and poor type parts as of the past, for all her naive reliance on her own resources and befuddled trying, this girl, with the curious wide mouth and eyes and flesh tight over her facial bones, is an artist in our theater by virtue of combining personal strength and fire with the grace of giving those out to the people. Her work is not in mimicry or in a sedulous building of many parts, but it is creative in itself, a sort of bright emanation; and to say it does not go beyond this is about as helpful as saying that music is music and only music, therefore it may not be served up hot for breakfast...."

(reprinted in Films of ...", p. 147-8.