Holliday began her career as part of a night-club act, before working in Broadway plays and musicals. Her success in the 1946 stage production of Born Yesterday as "Billie Dawn" led to her being cast in the 1950 film version, for which she won the Academy Award for Best Actress and the Golden Globe Award for Best Actress - Motion Picture Musical or Comedy. She appeared regularly in film during the 1950s. She was noted for her performance on Broadway in the musical Bells Are Ringing, winning a Tony Award for Best Performance by a Leading Actress in a Musical and reprising her role in the 1960 film.
In 1952, Holliday was called to testify before the Senate Internal Security Subcommittee to answer claims that she was associated with communism. Although not blacklisted from films, she was blacklisted from radio and television for almost three years.
In 1950 Holliday was the subject of an FBI investigation looking into allegations that she was a Communist. The investigation "did not reveal positive evidence of any membership in the Communist Party", and was concluded after three months. Unlike many others tainted by the Communist investigation, she was not blacklisted from movies, but she was blacklisted from performing on radio and television for almost three years.
Adam's Rib, Spencer Tracy, David Wayne, Judy Holliday, Katharine Hepburn, 1949
Judy Holliday and Marilyn Monroe
In 1952 she was called to testify before the Senate Internal Security Subcommittee to "explain" why her name had been linked to Communist front organizations. In spite of her high IQ, she was advised to play dumb (like some of her film characters) and did so. She acknowledged that she "had been taken advantage of".
Holliday died from breast cancer on June 7, 1965, two weeks before her 44th birthday. She was survived by her young son, Jonathan Oppenheim, and by her ex-husband, clarinetist, conductor and educator, David Oppenheim, whom she had married in 1948 and divorced in 1958. She also had a long-term relationship with jazz musician Gerry Mulligan who stayed and supported Judy until her death, but they were never married. Holliday was interred in the Westchester Hills Cemetery in Hastings-on-Hudson, New York.
Jonathan Oppenheim grew up to become a documentary film editor of note, editing Paris Is Burning, Children Underground, and Arguing the World.
Holliday has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 6901 Hollywood Blvd.
In the 1930s, Hepburn had alienated much of the public with her eccentric approach to gender, sexuality, and stardom. She dressed in old clothes, wore no makeup, and drove around in a truck. After a first halfhearted attempt, she refused subsequent efforts by studio publicists to link her romantically with men. Instead, she spent her time with Laura Harding, a Philadelphia heiress with whom she shared a house.
Hepburn and Spencer Tracy never lived together. The “twenty-six years together” Hepburn often referred to were mostly spent apart, separated by thousands of miles. For large segments of that time, they did not view themselves as a couple, and neither— as letters document— did their close friends. No matter the stories she told of “our house,” Hepburn did not make her home with Tracy but rather within a community of women. Laura Harding, Emily Perkins, Constance Collier, Eve March, Frances Rich, Phyllis Wilbourn, and finally Cynthia McFadden were the ones to provide anchor, solace, and family.
Sailing out of New York Harbor in March 1934, Kath was beginning to grasp that, if she was to survive and prosper in this new Hollywood, she would have to change, rethink, reinvent. Academy Award or not, Katharine Hepburn— with her men’s trousers, gibbon, and abandoned husband— was not going to sell tickets or attract media adoration. For the damage didn’t end there. Even more troubling than the discovery of Luddy were the stories about Laura Harding, whom some in the press were labeling “Hepburn’s other half.” The Hollywood underground buzzed with rumors that the two women were more than just friends.
Katharine Hepburn and Laura Harding conducted a closeted, long-term relationship from 1928 until Harding’s death in 1994, a relationship that overlapped with her seven-year “lavender marriage” to Luddy that began the same year. “’Laura Harding was the most important relationship in her life,’ said James Prideaux. Another friend echoed with an even more precise assessment: ‘If Kate had a great love other than herself, it was Laura.’ They fell in love – for that is how any great friendship begins – on a warm night in June 1930.” –William J. Mann
Katharine Hepburn and Laura Harding Unidentified artist, 1934 Gelatin silver print Billy Rose Theater Division, The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts, New York City; Astor, Lenox, and Tilden Foundation
Considering Laura a liability, Leland urged Kath to send her away. Yet such an action seemed inconceivable. Laura— polished, sophisticated Laura— from an aristocratic Main Line Philadelphia family, had been with Kath every moment since her arrival on the West Coast. Laura had taken charge of her career, designing Kath’s wardrobe, handling her press, even negotiating on Kath’s behalf with producers, directors, and— much to his growing annoyance— Leland himself. Not a few reporters wondered just what hold this Miss Harding had over Miss Hepburn. Setting tongues wagging, Laura had once answered an RKO official’s demand to know who she was by declaring curtly, “Miss Hepburn’s husband.” Gales of laughter had erupted over the comment when she and Kath returned to the house they shared in Franklin Canyon. But at the studio there were no guffaws. “What kind of queer arrangement is this?” asked one newspaper caption, juxtaposing photos of Kath and Laura with images of “Hepburn’s forgotten husband.”
Laura Harding was the most private and most enduring of all of Hepburn’s relationships, and the one that, in 1930, made all the difference to a wayward, weary, lonely young woman. “I think it’s fair to say,” Kath confided to a friend, “that Laura Harding saved my life.”
Laura Harding grew up in a six-story town house at 955 Fifth Avenue filled with gilded Louis XV antiques, Chinese porcelain vases, and paintings by such eighteenth-century masters as Joshua Reynolds, Henry Raeburn, and Thomas Gainsborough. “When they made the film version of Holiday” recalled Laura’s grandniece Emily King, “Hepburn used Aunt Laura’s life as her model. It was all Aunt Laura— the adult children living in the town house with the elevator and the butler and the organ and the children’s room upstairs.” With her family’s five personal maids, two governesses, three cooks, formal-dressed butler, and houseman-chauffeur, Laura was the perfect model for the film.
Five years older than Kath, Laura Barney Harding was born in June 1902 at her family’s estate on Philadelphia’s Main Line. Her mother, Dorothea Barney, was the granddaughter of Jay Cooke, the banker known as “the financier of the Civil War” for his handling of U.S. war bonds. Cooke’s daughter married Charles Barney, who founded the brokerage firm that later became Smith-Barney; Laura’s father, J. Horace Harding, would serve as senior partner for the firm.
Horace would, in fact, serve as director for many companies, but only one of them seemed to matter to Hepburn chroniclers from Lupton Wilkinson to Scott Berg. Through the years, writers would consistently attach to Laura Harding’s name the prefix “American Express heiress”— a nagging error that has annoyed the family for decades. “Whatever money my grandfather left,” said Robert Harding, Laura’s nephew, “only a very small amount of it ever came from American Express.”
No matter where it came from, J. Horace Harding’s wealth was considerable; at his death, the New York Times estimated it as “running into millions.” Kath was undeniably intrigued by the world from which Laura sprang; for all the socialist sympathies drilled into her by her mother and her friends, Hepburn would always be fascinated by, even envious of, the very rich. Like the unfolding of a fairy tale, the little details of Laura’s life held Kath rapt: summering in Santa Barbara; attending debutante parties at the Ritz-Carlton; organizing balls for charity; rubbing elbows with Mellons and Rockefellers at the exclusive Jekyl Island Club off the coast of Georgia. In 1921, Laura’s attendance at an exclusive dance given by Mrs. William K. Vanderbilt affirmed her place among the top two hundred in the first rank of society.
It wasn’t just around class that Kath and Laura gelled. They shared a very similar personal history. Harding family photographs give the impression that Horace and Dorothea had three sons and one daughter. Laura’s year-older sister Catherine, known as Cammie, stands demurely in a white lace dress and enormous bow. Only on closer inspection does Laura emerge, her short hair and pants making her resemble Jimmy Hepburn. “Laura wanted to be a boy,” explained Emily King, “because her father didn’t have time for girls.”
And so we meet yet another young woman unhappy in her girl’s body and craving attention from a strict, demanding father. Horace Harding would be described by family members as “mean,” more interested in acquiring art to add to the Henry Clay Frick collection, of which he was a trustee, than in building relationships with his children, especially his daughters. Compensating for her father’s disinterest— once more like a certain red-haired girl some hundred miles northeast in Hartford— Laura developed a strong exhibitionist streak. When not riding her pony or relay-racing her brothers through Central Park, she was organizing family theatrics; one 1914 photograph, when Laura was twelve, reveals the Harding children in a production of The Admirable Crichton, the very play she and Kath would giggle their way through sixteen years later in Stockbridge.
At age eighteen, Laura made her social debut, resplendent in a brocaded white gown, taking each step carefully down the grand staircase at the Plaza. As uncomfortable as she must have been in that dress, no doubt she loved the sheer spectacle of it all. Five hundred guests had taken over the Plaza’s first floor, decorated with palms, ferns, and hundreds of white chrysanthemums. As she shook hands with her guests, Laura reveled in being the star of the show— much as Kath had once enjoyed being the center of attention at her birthday parties. After supper, Laura led the dancing with her good friend Wilmarth Sheldon Lewis. Other society girls stepped aside in awe as she passed. From Laura’s neck, ears, and wrists dangled pre— Civil War jewelry passed down from Jay Cooke.
Her peers would often copy Laura’s style, considering her an arbiter of fashion, yet descriptions of Laura as a “clothes horse” and “fashion snob” are wildly off the mark. Her interest in style was never about the accoutrements themselves; in some ways, she didn’t give a hoot about clothes. What she cared about was her reputation as the final authority on what was socially correct, her ability to influence and persuade.
This inbred egotism, one more trait she shared with Kath, also compelled Laura’s desire for a stage career. But Horace Harding, like Thomas Hepburn, would never have countenanced such an ambition from one of his daughters. A daughter’s job, according to Horace, was to marry well, as Cammie did in 1921, marching down the aisle with Lorillard Suffern Tailer, a well-known polo player and scion of the British-American tobacco family. Yet Laura had steadfastly refused to get serious with any suitor, a fact increasingly troubling to her father, who fretted over an unmarried daughter now in her late twenties. But fate stepped in to offer an escape hatch for Laura Harding: soon after the new year of 1929, while Laura was away in Europe, a sudden bout of influenza took the life of J. Horace Harding.
Laura was the first and in many ways the most equal partner in Hepburn’s life. Other accounts have played up their dissimilarities in style and speech, but in fact their personalities and worldviews complemented each other perfectly. “Laura Harding was the most important relationship in her life,” said James Prideaux. Another friend echoed with an even more precise assessment: “If Kate had a great love other than herself, it was Laura.”
They fell in love— for that’s how any great friendship begins— on a warm night in June 1930, after considerable glasses of whiskey shared in Reverend Bradley’s living room, under a starry sky unobscured by the bright lights of the city. Outside in the surrounding woods, green tree frogs kept up their high-pitched chatter. Despite having been assigned her own room, Kath found she could not simply say good night to Laura and let it end at that. Rather, as Laura remembered in later interviews, Kath stepped quietly into her new friend’s room, closing the door behind her. There she’d remain for the duration of their time in Stockbridge; there, in effect, she’d remain for the next four years.
Several decades later, the author Charles Higham was ushered in to see Laura Harding at her swank, if small, Beekman Place apartment. He was writing the first book-length study of Hepburn’s life, and the screen icon herself had arranged this meeting. Seated by a window, Laura, now a silver-haired lady in her seventies, turned to face the young author. “I hope,” she said, raising an eyebrow, “you aren’t planning on making me a lesbian.”
“Only God can make one a lesbian, Miss Harding,” Higham replied cordially. A small smile crept across Laura’s face. She always did like witty men.
In Laura’s view, lesbian meant something very specific. It meant the outrageous Louisa Carpenter, a great-great-granddaughter of E. I. Du Pont who used her wealth and class to blatantly seduce beautiful young women like the French singer Milli Monti, promising to make them stars. As a young girl, Carpenter had moved in similar social circles as Laura, who had looked down her perky little nose at the other girl’s brusque mannerisms and masculine clothes. As an adult, Carpenter would fly her own plane, captain her own yacht, and stand beside the notorious Broadway star Libby Holman when she was indicted for murdering her husband. It was all just too terribly déclassé for Laura’s taste.
The most wrenching loss of Hepburn, certainly, was the death of Laura Harding in August 1994. Laura was ninety-two years old. For some years she hadn’t recognized anyone who came to see her. Her family liked to believe she brightened, however, when she saw Kate, who still regularly came to sit beside her bed.
Back in 1935, Kate had, in effect, exiled Laura from Hollywood, putting her career before friendship. But the two women had never completely severed their bond. At Laura’s funeral, her grandniece Robin Chotzinoff remembered “a flurry” as Kate made her entrance: “Everyone knew it was Hepburn arriving.” But, predictably, Kate was stoic. No overt expressions of grief for her. What she wanted, she told Laura’s family, was Laura’s pile of seasoned firewood. Could she have it? When the family agreed, Kate had her driver load it into the trunk of the car.
Source: Mann, William J. (2007-10-30). Kate: The Woman Who Was Hepburn. Henry Holt and Co.. Kindle Edition.
Days of Love: Celebrating LGBT History One Story at a Time by Elisa Rolle
Paperback: 760 pages
Publisher: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform; 1 edition (July 1, 2014)
CreateSpace Store: https://www.createspace.com/4910282
Amazon (Paperback): http://www.amazon.com/dp/1500563323/?tag=e
Amazon (Kindle): http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00MZG0VHY/?tag=e
Days of Love chronicles more than 700 LGBT couples throughout history, spanning 2000 years from Alexander the Great to the most recent winner of a Lambda Literary Award. Many of the contemporary couples share their stories on how they met and fell in love, as well as photos from when they married or of their families. Included are professional portraits by Robert Giard and Stathis Orphanos, paintings by John Singer Sargent and Giovanni Boldini, and photographs by Frances Benjamin Johnson, Arnold Genthe, and Carl Van Vechten among others. “It's wonderful. Laying it out chronologically is inspired, offering a solid GLBT history. I kept learning things. I love the decision to include couples broken by death. It makes clear how important love is, as well as showing what people have been through. The layout and photos look terrific.” Christopher Bram “I couldn’t resist clicking through every page. I never realized the scope of the book would cover centuries! I know that it will be hugely validating to young, newly-emerging LGBT kids and be reassured that they really can have a secure, respected place in the world as their futures unfold.” Howard Cruse “This international history-and-photo book, featuring 100s of detailed bios of some of the most forward-moving gay persons in history, is sure to be one of those bestsellers that gay folk will enjoy for years to come as reference and research that is filled with facts and fun.” Jack Fritscher
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