Katharine Hepburn is born in Hartford, Connecticut, 1907. Prior to her big comeback in The Philadelphia Story (1940), Hepburn was labeled “box office poison,” in no small part because of the John Ford-directed Mary of Scotland (1936), which opened to lukewarm critical response and disappointing box office. It was the story of Mary, Queen of Scots, and her return to an England under the reign of growing rival Queen Elizabeth I. Signing Hepburn to play Mary was the easy part. One of the biggest challenges was casting the role of Elizabeth, with Hepburn going so far as to suggest she tackle both parts, prompting costar John Carradine to ask her, “But if you played both queens, how would you know which one to upstage?” Bette Davis was mentioned, Ginger Rogers tested for it, and Ford campaigned for Tallulah Bankhead, but in the end it was Florence Eldridge, the wife of costar Fredric March, playing Earl of Bothwell, who nabbed the part.
Wrote critic Frank Nugent of The New York Times, “[A]lthough Katharine Hepburn's Mary Stuart shines brilliantly through most of the film's two-hour course, we were conscious of definite defects in her characterization…Miss Hepburn comes to it in a petitioning mood, pleads for justice and—even after she discovers Elizabeth's grim hatred—contents herself with a defy that is almost reproachful in tone. Mary Stuart was more inclined to show her claws than her tears…Miss Hepburn's performance is…at variance with the accepted notion of Mary in those moments where boldness, implacability and high resolve were needed; but she is altogether admirable in those scenes where the Queen was womanly, tender, impetuous and of high courage. Had she been able to meet both moods, she might have counted it her greatest characterization.”