Katharine Hepburn

Katherine Hepburn was the daughter of Dr Thomas Norval Hepburn, a successful urologist from Virginia, and Katharine Martha Houghton, a suffragette.

From an early age, her parents encouraged Katherine to speak her mind, develop it fully, and exercise her body to its full potential.

Tragedy struck in 1921, when Hepburn found her older brother Tom, whom she worshipped, hanging from the rafters of the attic by a rope, dead of an apparent suicide. Her family denied that it was self-inflicted, arguing that he had been a happy boy. They insisted that it must have been an experimentation gone awry. It has also been speculated that the boy was trying to carry out a trick that he learned from his father.

Katherine was devastated by his death and sank into a deep depression. She shied away from children her own age and was mostly schooled at home. For many years, she used Tom's birthday (8 November) as her own.

Katharine was involved in the theatre before arriving in Hollywood in 1932, when her first film, 'A Bill Of Divorcement', showed her to be an intelligent and compelling screen presence.

In 1933, she quickly secured roles in 'Morning Glory' and 'Little Women'. Her portrayal of Jo in the latter won her an Oscar, a taste of things to come.

At this point in her career she worked at a great pace. One of the most enduring films of her output at this time was the madcap comedy, 'Bringing Up Baby'. This saw her work extremely successfully in partnership with Cary Grant.

In 1939, Katharine returned to Broadway to star in 'The Philadelphia Story'. She secured her role in the onscreen version, which also starred James Stewart. Following swiftly on came another success, 'Woman Of The Year'. Spencer Tracey first shared the screen with Katharine in this picture.

Her on-and-off screen relationship with Tracey lasted until his death. The last film they were in together was 'Guess Who's Coming To Dinner', which earned Hepburn another Oscar.

She started to make films at a less breakneck speed from the late 1940s, with one of her most memorable films, 'The African Queen', directed by John Huston in 1951. Her performance was complemented by that of an unlikely companion, Humphrey Bogart.

The Seventies saw Katharine make some notable television appearances. 'Love Among The Ruins' of 1975 saw her act alongside Laurence Olivier; she was also acclaimed in the television version of 'The Glass Menagerie'.

'On Golden Pond', in 1981, saw her twelfth Oscar nomination and fourth Best Actress win.

In 1994, she made her last film, 'This Can't Be Love', and in 1999, the American Film Institute ranked her the greatest actress of all time.

Katharine Hepburn died aged 96, in the Connecticut home in which she was born, on 29 June 2003.