What I Learned from Katharine Hepburn
A college student finds her passion in old movies
“I was born on the side of a hill.”
This line from Bringing Up Baby often comes to mind when I think of my love of film history. The picture of Katharine Hepburn’s character Susan wearing a single heeled shoe, limping in a circle and saying those words has never failed to make me laugh. On the other end of the spectrum, watching Judy Garland inhabit Vicki Lester with the line “Mrs. Norman Maine” at the end of A Star is Born never fails to make me cry.
Memorable images like those and countless others still manage to impact me in very real ways. Films not only brighten my day but also remind me of our shared humanity and challenge me to explore cultures different from my own. Classic films like Stage Door and The Seventh Seal from my early forays into classic cinema are what continue to inspire me in my pursuit of a career as a film historian, archivist and preservationist.
I’ve been in love with motion pictures for as long as I can remember. My mother was a fan of the classics as well, and would sit with me and put on Shirley Temple when I was as young as four years old. A few years later, we graduated to The Sound of Music and 1940s MGM musicals. At the age of 13, I had been bedridden for about a year and a half with a poor immune system and several infections. My life consisted of weekly hospital visits and my mother was forced to homeschool me, as I could barely lift my head from the pillow.
I had almost forgotten about my love of film in this new world of chronic illness.
One day, I happened to find an old VHS copy of The Wizard of Oz and, feeling nostalgic, I plopped it into my 13” TV/VHS combo and watched it. I was as enraptured as I had been years earlier—and then I realized when it was made.
I never considered that these films, my favorites, were as old as they are because they always felt so fresh to me.
I grew up with them. This realization prompted a curiosity and love that has shaped my world.
As my love of film deepened, so did my research into the medium. I began to seek out anything and everything that I could find about old movies and the stars and films I felt connected to. I watched Turner Classic Movies religiously and would set alarms to wake me up for the 3 a.m. showing of The Philadelphia Story or the 2 a.m. showing of The Heiress. I’d sit close to the screen in awe of the clever dialogue and strong characters women like Katharine Hepburn and Olivia de Havilland could portray.
In my research, I discovered the National Film Preservation Board and their yearly inductees to be preserved in the film registry. I’d use all of my 50 votes and send them pages of reasons why my picks deserved preservation. In hindsight, it was probably annoying. Occasionally one of my choices made their list and I’d be proud.
In this process and my growing obsession with film, I learned that film archiving and preservation is a very real profession and exactly what I want to do.
If I had told my 13-year-old self that, today, I would be interning at the Academy Film Archive learning the skills necessary to preserve this beautiful history, I never would have believed it. Film is in my blood, and inspecting, cataloguing and watching film prints this summer has only confirmed my love of this field.
By Academy Gold intern Janet Reinschmidt
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