Of all the Hollywood beauties of her time, only Katharine Hepburn had the grace to be irritating. She was beautiful, but not always, her looks could change from shot to shot. She was oddly elegant, sometimes bouncy, sometimes brittle. She was mocking, brash, hoity-toity. What she never was, in her films, was silent. John Ford admired her 'strange, sharp face' which made Tennessee Williams think of 'a medieval saint in a Gothic cathedral'. Her voice has been described as 'nasal', 'metallic', and by one biographer as 'a cross between Donald Duck and a Stradivarius'. She has been nicknamed 'Katharine of Arrogance' and she reminded Tallulah Bankhead of 'a New England spinster'. Humphrey Bogart, her co-star in The African Queen, was clear about his first impressions: 'She won't let anybody get a word in edgewise and she keeps repeating what a superior person she is. Later, you get a load of the babe stalking through the African jungle as though she beat Livingstone to it ... About every other minute she wrings her hands in ecstasy and says, "what divine natives! what divine morning glories!" Brother, your brow goes up ... is this something from The Philadelphia Story?'
LRB 6 July 1995 | PDF Download