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The Question That Made Katharine Hepburn Snap at Barbara Walters

The movie legend had a biting response when she was asked a seemingly innocent question.

In 1981, Barbara Walters gave one of her most iconic interviews when she spoke to movie legend Katharine Hepburn. At the time, Hepburn was 74 years old and had just released On Golden Pond, the film for which she would win her fourth Academy Award.

Walters and Hepburn's interview—their first one of four over the years—lives on primarily because of an infamous question Walter asked about trees. But another moment from the interview is even more entertaining and shows Hepburn's quick wit, as she snaps at Walters in her response. Read on to find out what Walters said that made the beloved actor pull out a hilariously scathing reply.

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It all started when they were talking about women having careers.

Katharine Hepburn in London in 1951
AFP/AFP via Getty Images

Much of Walters and Hepburn's conversation was about the question of whether women can "have it all"—a successful career and a happy spouse and children, per The Hollywood Reporter. Hepburn explained that she didn't think it would be possible for her and the sort of career that she wanted. The Philadelphia Story star was married once in her early twenties and never had children.

Speaking about how many men might not have been happy with a woman who wanted to have a career, Hepburn said, "We're very confused, sexually. Very confused … I put on pants 50 years ago and declared a sort of middle road. I have not lived as a woman. I have lived as a man."

She then added, "Well, I've just done what I … wanted to and I made enough money to support myself and I ain't afraid of being alone."

Walters asked a follow-up question.

Katharine Hepburn sitting on a chair wearing an outfit with pants in 1940
Bettmann / Getty Images

Hepburn was known for wearing pants at a time when women primarily wore skirts and dresses. In response to Hepburn's statement that she lived more like a man, Walters said, "Is that why also you wear pants?" Hepburn replied, "No, I just wore pants because they're comfortable."

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Hepburn had a cutting response to whether she owns a skirt.

Walters continued the line of questioning and said, "Do you ever wear a skirt, by the way?"

"I have one," Hepburn responded.

"You have one?" Walters asked.

At this, Hepburn said, "I'll wear it to your funeral."

Hepburn cracked up at her comment, and Walters found it funny, too. "You'll wear it to my funeral?" Walters asked. "I'd be delighted to know you were coming. May I tell my friends?"

Another famous exchange had to do with trees.

Barbara Walters interviewing Katharine Hepburn in 1981

The most frequently mocked part of Hepburn and Walters' 1981 interview came when Walters infamously asked Hepburn what type of tree she would be. To be fair, it was Hepburn who brought up trees in the first place. When they were talking about how Hepburn viewed herself at this point in her life, she said, "I'm a very strong… I've become a sort of, you know, thing."

"What?" Walters said.

"I don't know what. A tree or something," Hepburn responded.

At that, Walters asked, "What kind of a tree are you? If you think you're a tree now."

"I hope I'm not an elm with Dutch elm disease, because then I'm withering," Hepburn responded, laughing. "Everybody would like to be an oak tree. That's very strong, very pretty."

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Walters loved interviewing Hepburn.

Barbara Walters at the 2012 Daytime Emmy Awards
Kathy Hutchins / Shutterstock

On the special Interviews of a Lifetime, Walters reflected on interviewing Hepburn four times. "If they said I could only interview one person over and over again for the rest of my life, I would pick Katharine Hepburn," she said.

During a 20/20 special in 2004, Walters played the clips about the pants and the tree and said, "By the way, at my funeral or perhaps in my obituary, it may mention that I once asked Katharine Hepburn what kind of a tree she wanted to be. Well, that's not exactly what happened … I didn't ask her, she brought it up. What was I to do?"

Lia Beck
Lia Beck is a writer living in Richmond, Virginia. In addition to Best Life, she has written for Refinery29, Bustle, Hello Giggles, InStyle, and more. Read more