Happy Birthday to Katharine Hepburn, Who Liked to Set Sail on 'a Whim'

In Depth

Besides being a phenomenally talented and famous actress, Katharine Hepburn is perhaps best remembered for her incredibly straightforward delivery of her often borderline impolite opinions. But her blunt nature went even further than that, as seen via two short blurbs from 1934 editions of New York Times about her funnily quick travel decisions.

In her 20s at the time, Hepburn had just started her career, but had already been dubbed one of the “brainiest women in the movies” (“They know what they want, they know how to get what they want, and they know what to do with what they wanted when they get it,” said Max Arnow, a casting director for Warner Bros.). She’d also won an Oscar for her third film, Morning Glory, in 1933. Soon after, she was called a “flop,” but as the story goes, she’d rise above that label to win several more Oscars and make numerous other well-regarded films.

But in February of 1934, Hepburn’s career—which had started out more than promisingly—was about to see a few rocky years. It was reported that she would “take a European vacation” after a tour of her play The Lake was cancelled, which she departed for by boat on March 18, much to the chagrin of the press. In a short piece entitled “KATHARINE HEPBURN SAILS: Actress Voted Outstanding Film Star Departs with Secrecy,” the Times wrote:

Photographers obtained an unsatisfactory picture of the actress as she hurried aboard on the third-class gangway, which enters the ship from the pier’s lower level. Reporters were told through a closed door that they could not come in, as Miss Hepburn did not wish to be interviewed.

Hepburn wouldn’t comment further, but did say she’d be away for five or six weeks, vacationing in Paris and the French Riviera.

But on April 4, Hepburn was back, after spending only four days in France, telling the press she returned because she was homesick:

She explained that it was a whim to make these quick trips and added that on a previous occasion she had returned to New York after nine days on the continent.
“I can’t explain why I do it,” she said. “I just do it and that is all there is about it.”

Shortly after, in May, Hepburn was granted a quickie divorce in Mexico from her husband Ludlow Ogden Smith. She’d filed the petition on April 22, leaving it easy enough to speculate that perhaps relationship troubles, plus her burgeoning work concerns, were plaguing her, prompting her spur-of-the-moment trip.

But as the Times reported, regardless of the reason, Hepburn had the best answer ever for why she wouldn’t (and couldn’t) give them a reason for her flights of fancy:

She could not and never would be able to explain her temperament, she declared, adding:
“I had nothing to say when I left, and therefore I saw no occasion for saying anything. If I have something to say when there is a reason involved, I am perfectly willing to talk.”

Screenshot of Hepburn in The Philadelphia Story via Vickie Lester

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