Katharine Ross — Celebrities We Love

By: Mike McCrann

Katharine Ross found eternal cinematic fame with her performance in the ground breaking 1967 comedy The Graduate. But in some ways this early fame was a curse as she is always referred to as "The girl from The Graduate." To be fair, Ross was lovely as Mrs. Robinson's daughter who falls in love with Dustin Hoffman after he has been having a sexual affair with her mother. Anne Bancroft and Dustin Hoffman got most of the attention, but Ross was also Oscar nominated for Best Supporting Actress.

Ross was one of the last Universal Studios contract girls. After some stage and TV work she made her film debut in the James Stewart Civil War drama Shenandoah. Her first really good part was in the 1967 mystery thriller Games starring James Caan and French legend Simone Signoret (1959 Best Actress Oscar for Room at the Top). In this stylish Diabolique rip-off, Ross was quite moving as the poor duped wife who pays with her sanity for the deadly doings of her two co-stars. Directed by Curtis Harrington (LA Confidential), Games not only gave Ross a good role but this led to her getting the part of Elaine in The Graduate. Actress Signoret was so taken by her lovely young co-star that she recommended her to director Mike Nichols and she was cast.

After The Graduate, Ross was the female love interest in the smash hit Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid with Robert Redford and Paul Newman. While her part was not great she was in another smash hit, and the year's Oscar winning song "Raindrops Keep Fallin' on My Head" is played as Newman rides her around on a bicycle. It was a lovely moment in a vastly overrated film.

At the end of 1969 there was no hotter actress in town than Katharine Ross. But at this peak of her career she married cinematographer Conrad Hall and took a work hiatus. Universal finally dropped her after she refused the bland stewardess role in the mega-hit Airport, and the Faye Dunaway role in the ghastly (but hugely profitable) disaster film The Towering Inferno. By the time Ross came back to films her light had dimmed. Then, as now, it was hard to get career momentum back when you have been off the screen for a time.

But there were still two great roles left in the '70s. In 1975 she took the lead in The Stepford Wives. The original version is a wonderful movie and a great showcase for Ross and the superb supporting cast. Paula Prentiss as her best friend Bobbie, and Tina Louise as one of the other imperiled wives, were truly first rate. For all the Sci-Fi and campy elements of men who want to turn their wives into glamorous robots, there is a genuine story of brave, lovely women lead by Ross, who finally learn their ghastly fate. British director Bryan Forbes created a true classic that rises above its genre beginnings—a novella by Ira Levin of Rosemary's Baby fame— to become a truly effective heart breaker. And at age 35, Ross never looked more beautiful.

She followed this with a supporting role in the message-laden, star-driven Voyage of the Damned, the true story of a ship full of Jewish refugees fleeing Hitler who are turned away in Cuba. Ross played a prostitute already living in Havana, the daughter of one of ship's couples, and she was magnificent in this part; she even won the Golden Globe for Best Supporting Actress. With all the higher paid stars like Faye Dunaway and Lee Grant chewing up the scenery in this well-intended but static drama, Ross is the one great memory you take away from the film.

Ross had three previous divorces when she married actor Sam Elliott (Lifeguard) in 1984. They have been married almost 30 years and have a daughter.

If you want to see Katharine Ross at her best, where she is the star of the movie, rent or buy The Stepford Wives. She and the film are classics.