A very young Katharine Hepburn had a phenomenal start in movies. For her first screen performance, as aspiring actress Eva Lovelace in Morning Glory, she won the Best Actress Academy Award. Her next three movies, Little Women, Alice Adams, and Stage Door, were instant classics all nominated for Best Picture. In the first, she had the lead as aspiring writer Jo March. In the second, she earned her second Oscar nomination as the title character, Alice Adams. In the third, she delivered what became for many decades her most famous line of dialog, “The calla lilies are in bloom again.” Despite following up those dramatic performances with a spot-on flair for comedy in Bringing up Baby and Holiday, poor public response to the comedies branded her “box office poison”, leaving her without work during the restrictive days of studio domination in the film industry.
The fiercely independent Hepburn didn’t wait for opportunities—she created them. She headed to New York and connected with playwright Philip Barry, who wrote the play The Philadelphia Story specifically for her. Savvy businesswoman that she was, Hepburn backed the play financially, and sacrificed a salary for a percentage of the profits and exclusive rights to adapt the play to film. From the beginning, Hepburn decided that this project would bring her back onto the Hollywood A-list. After the play proved a Broadway hit, she returned to Hollywood and lined up the crew and cast herself. She got revered director George Cukor to direct and screenwriter Donald Ogden Stewart to adapt the play for the screen. Hepburn hand-selected her costars, eventually securing Cary Grant to play her ex-husband and James Stewart as the reporter.
The film was an immediate hit. It broke the box office record at Radio City Music Hall in only six weeks, erasing Hepburn’s “box office poison” stigma. Its success also paved the way for her next triumph, and next Oscar nomination, for Woman of the Year, which teamed her for the first of nine times with Spencer Tracy.
Whenever you find yourself at a crossroads in your personal life or career, don’t slow down and wait for life to bring you an opportunity. Make a plan—preferably a new, untried one—and move forward in bold faith. Life doesn’t just happen to those who experience continual success. The most accomplished people change gears during a setback and reshape their destiny.