Katharine Hepburn’s relationship with Hartford was strong and deeply rooted; it was her birthplace, her hometown, and a place she both supported and to which she always came back.
Hepburn’s films and plays were always popular with Hartford audiences, who followed the progress of her career with avid interest. In 1932, Hartford society thronged to a special preview of “A Bill of Divorcement” at Hartford’s Strand Theater which featured floodlights and photographers and all the glamour excitement of a Hollywood opening. The proceeds of the special showing went to support the Junior League’s Day Nursery. When Hepburn’s first stage appearance at the Bushnell Memorial, in Phillip Barry’s “Without Love” took place in 1942, she took the opportunity to urge Connecticut’s women to do their part to win the war, by filling the places in factories, offices, stores and farms, left by men in the service. Hepburn herself purchased $30,000 in war bonds.
Hepburn’s philanthropic work in Hartford continued after the war. In 1947, she donated $10,000 to Hartford Hospital, in order to help to fund an operating room. Hepburn’s father, Dr. Thomas N. Hepburn, a pioneer urologist, was associated with Hartford Hospital throughout his fifty-five year career. When Dr. Hepburn died in 1962, the headline read “Dr. Hepburn Dies at 82, Father of Noted Actress.”
Hepburn returned to the Bushnell in 1971 in the road show of the musical “Coco,” reprising a role she originally created on Broadway in 1969. The performance was held in support of the Urban League’s Scholarship Trust Fund, co-founded by Hepburn’s sister Marion Grant, which endorsed continuing education for Hartford’s youth. And in 1988, “They Called Me Kathy,” a short documentary about Hepburn’s early years in Hartford written and produced by the actress herself, was featured in the program “Art for All” at the Wadsworth Atheneum and shown on Connecticut Public Television.
Excerpts from “They Called Me Kathy” may be viewed in the current exhibition at the Connecticut Historical Society, Katharine Hepburn: Dressed for Stage and Screen together with costumes, posters, playbills, and other artifacts of the actress’s remarkable career. On May 10, Kate Couture: A Hepburn-Inspired Fashion Show, will feature models from Miss Connecticut and fashion experts from Clinton Crossing Premium Outlets.