Of the numerous cyber-eulogies one of the best is Colby Cosh’s, describing her beauty as “harsh,” which is exactly right, and the sense she gave of being “bound by no known rules, certainly not those of fashion or politesse,” which is true but incomplete.
Watching Hepburn in comedy is like watching a great athlete. Kobe, Jordan, Gretzky, seem to occupy some interstice of time, inaccesible to the rest of us, that gives them an extra half-second to decide what to do. Hepburn, in the same way, always seems to buzz in some strange interstice of social relations, as if she already knows what someone is going to say, pronounces herself bored with it, and goes off on a tangent before he even opens his mouth, leaving him gasping for air. (I’m thinking of Bringing Up Baby and, especially, Holiday.) The conventional characters call her dizzy, when in fact she is dizzying.
Colby also amusingly cites a report from a local AM station that Audrey Hepburn had died, for the second time. Well, I used to know someone who thought there were three Hepburn sisters — Audrey, Katharine, and Tracy.
Speaking of Tracy, I have to take issue with Colby’s parenthetical remark that he could be “trusted to be big-hearted enough to slump back in his chair and enjoy the show. He seemed perfectly comfortable in the presence of a female superior.” This is exactly backwards. No male lead could be perfectly comfortable in Hepburn’s presence, and Tracy least of all. The comedy, on the contrary, derives from his acute discomfort, from Hepburn’s awareness of it, and from her futile attempts to mollify him, like her disastrous essay in making breakfast in Woman of the Year. Tracy and Hepburn always make up in the end, of course, but it is an uneasy alliance, and Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner? gives a nice picture of what their marriage might be like, twenty years on.
Of her male leads it is Cary Grant, not Tracy, who is, if not exactly comfortable with Hepburn, at least insouciant and urbane. He makes a few half-hearted attempts to restore sanity to Bringing Up Baby, but about halfway through decides to throw up his hands and just watch the show, and by The Philadelphia Story he has stopped trying altogether. Grant is a peculiarly affectless male lead, always giving the impression that sex would be fine, only it’s so much bother and he might muss his hair. This lends a certain chilliness to his collaborations with Hepburn, brilliant as they are, and is why they will never be beloved, as Tracy’s are. He is only outrun, while Tracy, the endearing palooka, is outclassed, but neither one could keep up with her. No one ever could.