Several actresses have received more than one Academy Award for their performances in motion pictures. Some of them have awards split between categories. For instance, Helen Hayes earned a Best Actress Oscar for THE SIN OF MADELON CLAUDET as well as a Best Supporting Actress Oscar for her scene-stealing work in AIRPORT many years later. Ingrid Bergman was also a recipient of Oscars in both categories; overall, she had a total of three: Best Actress twice and Best Supporting Actress once; the same for Meryl Streep. Of course, Streep is still making films and could conceivably notch another Oscar or two before she’s done.
But there is one actress that currently leads the pack. Katharine Hepburn won four competitive Oscars. And in fact, this total is currently the most for any performer, male or female. That’s because Jack Nicholson and Daniel Day Lewis, who lead for the men, both only have (so far) received three Oscars. Like Streep, Nicholson and Lewis’ movie careers are not yet over, which means it is possible for any one of them to eventually tie with Kate or surpass her.
Since Kate’s achievement is still the record-holder, and since I have never met anyone who does not enjoy watching her in the four pictures that bring her this distinction, I thought it might be fun to discuss her Academy Award-winning turns. The first one, of course, was for her early role in RKO’s show biz melodrama MORNING GLORY (1933). She was fortunate to have a great cast to play off, with costars Adolphe Menjou and Douglas Fairbanks Jr. A few years later, Kate did another backstage drama at RKO with Menjou, the more well-known STAGE DOOR, but in MORNING GLORY she doesn’t have to share the spotlight with Ginger Rogers or the other girls. It’s her story all the way.
Kate’s second Oscar-awarded role did not occur until over three decades later. It was 1967 when she was named Best Actress for her sterling performance alongside Spencer Tracy in the social message drama GUESS WHO’S COMING TO DINNER. Was it a sympathy victory, because Spence died soon after the picture’s completion? Perhaps. But Kate’s performance is just as strong, if not stronger, than anything else offered up by women in film that year.
The late 1960s proved to be a creative period for Kate. The following year, she earned her next Best Actress Oscar. This time she played opposite Peter O’Toole in the lavish historical drama THE LION IN WINTER. In a rare situation, Kate tied (with Barbra Streisand) for the top honor. She had given a truly magnificent performance as the troubled royal matriarch, Eleanor of Aquitaine, and deservedly earned kudos for it.
The fourth and final Oscar for Best Actress that Katharine Hepburn was awarded came in the early 1980s. Her film career was winding down, though she would still do occasional telefilms. For the legendary actress, playing Ethel in the adaptation of the stage hit ON GOLDEN POND was certainly a part Kate could sink her teeth into…and wow, did she! All of the performances in the film are golden, but Kate’s is especially so.