Movie star stamps: USPS celebrates multiple Oscar winner Katharine Hepburn, pioneering black filmmaker Oscar Micheaux & four movie cowboys
The U.S. Postal Service has announced that commemorative movie star stamps – and a commemorative movie director stamp – featuring multiple Best Actress Academy Award winner Katharine Hepburn; pioneering black filmmaker Oscar Micheaux; and film cowboys William S. Hart, Tom Mix, Gene Autry, and Roy Rogers will be made available in 2010.
Katharine Hepburn is the latest addition to USPS’s “Legends of Hollywood” series initiated in 1995. Among the previously featured screen legends are Marilyn Monroe, Bette Davis, Cary Grant, Audrey Hepburn, Judy Garland, and Alfred Hitchcock.
Oscar Micheaux’s stamp is part of the “Black Heritage” series initiated in 1978. His predecessors include Hattie McDaniel, Paul Robeson, Ella Fitzgerald, Scott Joplin, Langston Hughes, Marian Anderson, Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X.
William S. Hart, Tom Mix, Gene Autry, and Roy Rogers will be featured in a “Cowboys of the Silver Screen” commemorative stamp, with one design for each Western star.
A film, stage, and television star for over six decades, Katharine Hepburn (1907–2003) was featured in more than 40 big-screen releases, a dozen plays, and eight TV movies.
In Hollywood, her star vehicles ranged from screwball comedies (Bringing Up Baby) to heavy melodramas (Alice Adams); from reverential stage adaptations (Long Day’s Journey Into Night) to blatant commercial fare (The Sea of Grass); from blockbusters (Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner) to bombs (Spitfire).
Until early 2000, Katharine Hepburn held the actors’ record for most Academy Award nominations: 12. That year, Meryl Streep tied with Hepburn, and in early 2003 – following a Best Supporting Actress nomination for Spike Jonze’s Adaptation – Streep surpassed her.
Hepburn, however, remained the top nominee in the lead categories until early 2009, when John Patrick Shanley’s Doubt earned the seemingly unstoppable Streep her 12th Best Actress nod. The following year, Streep once again surpassed Hepburn – and everybody else – with her 13th Best Actress nomination, for Nora Ephron’s Julie & Julia.
But Meryl Streep or no, Katharine Hepburn still holds the record for most wins by an actor, whether female or male – four in all:
- Lowell Sherman’s Morning Glory (1932–1933).
- Stanley Kramer’s Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner (1967).
- Anthony Harvey’s The Lion in Winter (1968) – in a tie with Barbra Streisand for William Wyler’s Funny Girl.
- Mark Rydell’s On Golden Pond (1981).
Oscar Micheaux (1884–1951) made more than 40 films, nearly all of them – titles include The Hypocrite (1921), A Son of Satan (1924), A Daughter of the Congo (1930), God’s Step Children (1938) – between 1919 and 1940.
These were almost invariably minuscule-budgeted productions – sometimes referred to as “race films” – screened at movie houses geared to black audiences in the United States, which helps to explain why he remains a little-known name in American film history.
Oscar Micheaux’s most celebrated efforts are two silent dramas:
- The socially/politically conscious Within Our Gates (1920), about a Southern black woman (Evelyn Preer) attempting to raise money for a local school, is the oldest known film directed by a black American filmmaker.
- Body and Soul (1925) stars Paul Robeson, making his film debut as a criminal successfully disguising himself as a Christian minister.
Micheaux stopped directing films following the release of the 1940 boxing/crime drama The Notorious Elinor Lee, toplining Gladys Williams as the titular gangster’s moll and Robert Earl Jones (James Earl Jones’ father) as a boxer.
Critical & box office bomb ‘The Betrayal’
Eight years later, Oscar Micheaux came back for one last effort, the critical and box office bomb The Betrayal (1948) – now a lost film – which he also adapted from his own 1943 novel, The Wind from Nowhere.
LeRoy Collins plays Martin Eden – an homage to Jack London’s tragic antihero – a successful South Dakota-based agribusinessman involved in a couple of complex relationships: one with his wife (Verlie Cowan); the other with the (purportedly) white object of his desire, Deborah (Myra Stanton).
‘Cowboys of the Silver Screen’: Movie stars stamps celebrate William S. Hart, Tom Mix, Gene Autry & Roy Rogers
Besides Katharine Hepburn, the U.S. Postal Service will be releasing another batch of commemorative movie star stamps featuring film cowboys William S. Hart, Tom Mix, Gene Autry, and Roy Rogers.
The stoic William S. Hart (1864–1946) – a tougher, rougher, more complex version of Clint Eastwood’s cowboy heroes – was a major box office attraction in the 1910s. In his day, Hart was so big he was to have been one of the founders of United Artists, along with Mary Pickford, Douglas Fairbanks, Charles Chaplin, and D.W. Griffith, but he bowed out before the deal was finalized.
In the 1920s, the flashier Tom Mix (1880–1940) – a more handsome, non-musical version of Roy Rogers – became the top cowboy star in films such as A Ridin’ Romeo (1921), Chasing the Moon (1922), and Riders of the Purple Sage (1925).
Although never a top attraction in major urban centers, singing cowboy Gene Autry (1907–1998) was huge in small towns and rural areas throughout the United States. The same went for Roy Rogers (1911–1998) – and frequent screen partner (and real-life wife) Dale Evans – in B Westerns such as Song of Nevada (1944), Bells of Rosarita (1945), and My Pal Trigger (1946).
The Texan Gene Autry, by the way, was the only one of these four movie cowboys to have been actually born west of the Mississippi.
More USPS stamp honorees: From Kate Smith to Mother Teresa
Others to be featured in next year’s U.S. Postal Service stamps are singer Kate Smith, cartoonist Bill Mauldin, and controversial Nobel Prize winner Mother Teresa.
Every year, USPS releases a series of commemorative stamps featuring people, places, and institutions. These stamps generally remain on sale for only a limited period, thus becoming collectors’ items.
Images of Katharine Hepburn (“Legends of Hollywood”), Oscar Micheaux (“Black Heritage”), and William S. Hart, Tom Mix, Gene Autry, and Roy Rogers (“Cowboys of the Silver Screen”) on USPS’s movie star stamps: © U.S. Postal Service.
“Movie Star Stamps: Katharine Hepburn & Black Cinema Pioneer Oscar Micheaux + 4 Movie Cowboys” last updated in March 2018.