Katharine Hepburn Said This Co-Star Didn't "Have a Soul"
"What an interesting woman. I mean, we were not friends," said her On Golden Pond co-star.
Katharine Hepburn has more Best Actress Oscar wins than any other performer, and apparently, she was determined to keep it that way. In 1981, Hepburn starred in On Golden Pond alongside Jane Fonda. And as Fonda has explained, Hepburn was never a fan of hers. The older actor was candid about seeing Fonda as a threat and told someone else that she believed the Klute star "didn't have a soul."
Hepburn passed away in 2003, but Fonda has since shared some of her memories from the set of the film. Read on to see what Fonda has said about her co-star, including why she still has a lot of respect for the Hollywood legend despite her unwelcoming words.
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Their movie is now a classic.
On Golden Pond, which also co-starred Fonda's father, Henry Fonda, was a big success at the box office, as well as critically. The drama received 10 nominations at the Academy Awards and won in three categories: Best Actress for Hepburn, Best Actor for Henry, and Best Adapted Screenplay. The Oscar was Hepburn's fourth Best Actress win, earning her a record that she still posthumously holds.
The film is about a man (Henry) who has a strained relationship with his daughter (Fonda) but agrees to temporarily take care of her fiancé's young son along with his wife (Hepburn).
Hepburn thought Fonda was competing with her.
In a 2021 interview with Harper's Bazaar, Fonda talked about working with Hepburn on On Golden Pond. She shared that Hepburn saw her as competition despite their difference in age.
"What an interesting woman. I mean, we were not friends," Fonda said. "She was really competitive. She really thought that I was out to win more Academy Awards than she was, and when she won for On Golden Pond I called to congratulate her, and she said, 'You'll never catch me now.'"
Fonda has won two Oscars for Best Actress: one for Klute in 1972 and one for Coming Home in 1979.
Hepburn also supposedly said Fonda didn't "have a soul."
Fonda also said that she found out that Hepburn spoke negatively to writer Dominick Dunne about her. "She did not like me," Fonda told Harper's Bazaar. "She once told Dominick Dunne that I didn't have a soul."
Fonda has a theory about why Hepburn responded to her this way.
Speaking with fellow actor Marlo Thomas in 2012, Fonda said of Hepburn, "She didn't like me because I was married, because I had children. She thought actors never should have children, and I had a patch." Fonda has three children while Hepburn did not. The older actor also never remarried after a six-year marriage that began when she was 21. Fonda added with a laugh, "She preferred people who had absolutely no attachment—expect to her."
Fonda felt pressured by Hepburn to do her own stunt.
In her interview with Thomas, Fonda told the story of how she ended up doing her own dive in On Golden Pond—even though she had planned to use a stunt double—after an encounter with Hepburn.
"It all happened the first time I met her," Fonda recalled. "I came to where she lived in New York, and the first thing she said to me was, 'I don't like you.' And there were reasons why she said that. And once we got that out of the way, the next question was, 'Are you going to do the backflip yourself?' Well, following on the heels of 'I don't like you,' I was not going to tell her that 'No, I was not going to do the backflip, there was a double already lined up.' And, besides, I suddenly remembered her dive in The Philadelphia Story, so I said, 'Of course, I'm going to do the dive myself!'"
The actor rehearsed the dive for a month. "It was never a good dive, but she would hide in the bushes and watch me," Fonda said. "And when I finally did it one time—I did it better than it actually is in the movie—and she praised me and told me that I taught her to respect me, so that was real important."
She still had respect for Hepburn, however.
Despite their personal tension, Fonda had respect for Hepburn, particularly regarding the responsibility she felt as a Hollywood legend. What the Grace and Frankie star liked best about Hepburn was that she thought it was important to teach younger actors and share her wisdom.
"She took that very seriously about teaching to younger people. She took me—I can't say under her wing, she didn't like me very much," Fonda told Thomas.
Similarly, in the Harper's Bazaar interview, she said, "What I loved about her was that she took the job of being an elder very seriously. She was intentional about teaching me and talking to me, including giving me line readings, and I found that just wonderful."