3. Katharine Hepburn
THE AFRICAN QUEEN, THE PHILADELPHIA STORY, BRINGING UP BABY, THE LION IN WINTER, ON GOLDEN POND, GUESS WHO’S COMING TO DINNER
The golden age of Hollywood produced a lot of female stars with indelible, larger-than-life personas, but not many of them were as bracingly defiant as that of Katharine Hepburn. With her broad mid-Atlantic accent, patrician bone structure, and insistence on engaging in outré behavior like playing sports and wearing trousers in public, Hepburn made haughtiness look good. She was such a compelling presence that being a legitimately great actress almost seems like icing on the cake, but she was obviously that as well. She won an unprecedented four Oscars as Best Actress, the first in 1933 and the last in 1981. Over the span of that long career, you can see her transform from a spunky misfit in Alice Adams and Sylvia Scarlett, to a consummate screwball comedienne in Bringing Up Baby and The Philadelphia Story, to an arch authority figure in Suddenly, Last Summer and Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner?, but through it all she remained powerfully, singularly herself.