Mildred Smith Hepburn
AGE: 94 • White Plains
Mildred Joanne Smith Hepburn, a Broadway and film actress, and teacher for the White Plains School System, died on July 19. She was 94. Born in Struthers, Ohio, Ms. Hepburn performed as Mildred Joanne Smith in fourteen Broadway productions. The New York Post's Richard Watts, Jr., referred to her as "one of the most beautiful and talented actresses on the American stage." In 1950, Hepburn would star opposite Sidney Poitier, Richard Wydmark and Linda Darnell in director Joseph L. Mankiewicz's No Way Out. As Cora Brooks, wife of Poitier's Luther Brooks, her character's strength and stoic grace was garnered universal accolades. The script, written by Mankiewicz, with roles that were a departure from the stereotypical parts written for black actors of the time, allowed for such honest portrayals and set the stage for a new generation of actors to represent African Americans as introspective, intelligent and complex. Hepburn had already broken the color barrier in the Broadway production of Beggar's Holiday, playing the love interest opposite Alfred Drake (who was white), and Forward the Heart, also on Broadway. She was lauded as a "show stopper of the first magnitude. In Cockles and Champagne, a musical revue created for the London stage she collaborated with Duke Ellington, Billy "Swee' Pea" Strayhorn and composer Luther Henderson. After recovering from a tragic plane crash in February of 1952, Mildred worked as woman's editor for Our World magazine, a black life-style publication. She married David A. Hepburn, a journalist and vice president with WNEW-TV, who predeceased her in 1985. In the early 1960's, at East View Junior High School in White Plains, Hepburn would become one of New York's most outstanding English teachers. Interviewed for a Columbia University publication, Hepburn was asked what she loved most about teaching, and she responded, "The children! They are always different, like audiences; they change, they're not set in their ways, they're flexible. Her success as a teacher has often been attributed to her stage experience and an ability to make learning fun and exciting. Mildred S. Hepburn is survived by her daughter, Vanessa Nina Hepburn; a son, David Blake Hepburn; a stepdaughter, Valerie J. Hepburn, MD; six grandchildren, Brandon, Chelsea, Cole, Kaleo, Sage and Koa. Her funeral will take place, Monday, July 27, at Grace Episcopal Church, 33 Church Street, White Plains, New York, with the wake at 9:30 a.m. and homegoing service at 11:00 a.m. Interment will follow at Kensico Cemetery in Valhalla. At her request, a scholarship in her name will be developed to support youth in the arts.