Katharine Juliet Ross went from an unknown actress to an Academy Award-nominated star overnight. She famously portrayed Elaine in The Graduate alongside Dustin Hoffmann and over the years became what many at the time referred to as a Hollywood bombshell.
Ross’s career has been long and very successful to date. However, her personal life hasn’t been nearly so stable – she’s been married five times. Fortunately, her fifth marriage, with the beloved actor Sam Elliott, has proven to be worth waiting for.
It’s been some years since Katharine Ross has appeared on-screen, but there’s far more to her life than mere acting. To this day, she remains a true beauty. Here’s all you need to know about Katharine Ross – and what she looks like today at, age 83.
Katharine Ross was born in Hollywood, California on January 29, 1940. Unlike many other Hollywood stars, the young girl’s parents didn’t work in the acting business. Her father, Dudley, worked both as a reporter for the Associated Press and as a commander in the U.S. Navy. As a result, his family moved around plenty.
They lived first in Virginia, before moving to Palo Alto, California, and eventually settling in Walnut Creek, outside San Francisco, California. That was where Katharine grew up, and in 1957, she graduated from Las Lomas High School.
She went on to attend Santa Rosa Junior College, a place that would prove pivotal with regards to her future. It was at the school she was first introduced to acting. Katharine Ross took part in her first productions in theater, which would change her life forever.
She appeared in the school’s production of The King and I, and afterwards decided she wanted to seriously pursue a career in the acting business. After just one year, though, Katharine chose to drop out. Instead, she applied to The Actors Workshop in San Francisco and moved into a small apartment above a grocery shop.
Katharine Ross – early life & career
For three years, Ross became a better and better actress as she continuously refined her talent. Eventually, she was able to land some minor roles in television shows. Not only was she a good actress, but she also knew how to audition.
“I was queen of the screen tests,” Ross told Life Magazine in 1968. “Daily runs from San Francisco to Los Angeles and back in time for the Workshop’s curtain time. I played a whole string of hit-and-run drivers: an innocent hit-and-run driver, a hardened hit-and-run driver, a well-to-do, snotty teenage hit-and-run driver. On Gunsmoke, I was a sympathetic crippled clubfoot.”
While in college, Ross met her first husband in her college sweetheart, Joel Fabiani, whom she married in 1960. He was the first of five husbands, but we’ll return to that shortly.
The years after she and Fabiani tied the knot were crucial in Ross’ life. She became known for her many appearances in television Westerns. Being the true beauty that she is, she fitted perfectly into that genre.
However, though it might sound like a dream to be cast in many television shows, it wasn’t all sunshine and roses for Katharine Ross. Like many others in the business, she was exploited and taken advantage of.
Put simply, it wasn’t all fun and games for certain young T.V. stars in the 1960s.
“I remember doing a screen test for the only film that Samuel Goldwyn Jr. ever directed: The Young Lovers. It was to star Peter Fonda, but he wasn’t available to do the screen test with me, so they brought in Chad Everett. He didn’t know that the role was cast, and he was putting everything he had into the screen test. I didn’t have the heart to tell him the truth. I went through a series of sessions with a hairdresser to get my look the way Sam wanted it. When they were finished, they had hacked off all of my hair. And they wound up casting someone else,” Katharine told Variety.
Katharine Ross – cast as Elaine in ‘The Graduate’
“I’ll tell you what was great about it,” she continued. “It was a time when the old studio system was in its dying throes, and they were just starting to try new approaches, and the little $1 million budget films were being seen as the way to go. And that did turn out to be the progenitor of a great new era that eventually became the indie film movement.”
Katharine made her T.V. debut in an episode of Sam Benedict in 1962, and her first film role was in the Civil War-themed Shenandoah, starring James Stewart, in 1965. The year after, Ross signed a deal with Universal, and when she worked on her first starring role in the film Games, director Mike Nichols noticed that the young, talented actress had something exceptional.
He cast her in perhaps the most prominent of all her film roles: Elaine in The Graduate, also starring Dustin Hoffman.
“[Dustin Hoffman] was this New York stage actor. He looked like he had rolled out from under a rock, he was so pale. He just wanted to get back to some play off-Broadway he was doing. Although we ended up getting to know and like each other, what I thought that first day was, “Oh my God — this guy is dressed all in black, and he is white as a sheet,” Ross recalled in an interview with the Houston Chronicle.
“You know Dustin’s one-time roommate Gene Hackman was cast as my father. I don’t know exactly what the deal was, but he bowed out.”
The Graduate was a masterpiece, and Ross became a star overnight. She was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actress in a Supporting Role and a Golden Globe nomination for New Star of the Year.
The ending of The Graduate remains a mystery. Benjamin rescued Elaine from the wedding, but the expression on their faces, as they sat on a city bus was not what many had expected.
‘Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid’
Most believed that the beautiful story of two people in love, pulled apart by other forced before being dramatically reunited, would offer a happy ending. However, the two didn’t say anything to each other.
So what does Katharine think happened between the two characters? It turns out that the ending wasn’t scripted.
“You are always told you just keep going in a scene until the director says ‘cut.’ Well, Mike didn’t say it for the longest time. We ran out of dialogue, but the camera kept running. What do I think? I think Elaine got off at the next stop,” she said.
In 1969, Katharine landed another very significant role. She was cast in the now-legendary film Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, in which she featured in one of the most iconic scenes ever when she balanced on the handlebars of a bicycle pedaled by actor Paul Newman.
By the time they wrapped up filming, Ross had actually been in the same movie as the love of her life, although she didn’t know it at that point.
Ross’ private life has been quite the roller coaster, or at least it was in the beginning of her career. Katharine’s been married five times, with her current union spanning more than 40 years, a truly incredible achievement.
As mentioned, Ross first tied the knot in 1960 with Joel Fabiani. The couple was married for two years, and not long after, in 1964, Ross married John Marion. Their marriage lasted for three years. Then, in 1969, she married for a third time, to Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid cinematographer Conrad Hall. In 1973, the couple divorced, and Ross married Gaetano “Tom” Lisi a year later.
The couple went their separate ways in 1979 – the same year Katharine Ross would meet the true love of her life.
Katharine Ross & Sam Elliott’s love story
As early as the set of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, actor Sam Elliott had liked Katharine. However, he was just an extra in the film and, therefore, decided not to approach her. In 2018, the now-legendary actor said that all he could do was “just watch Katharine come and go.”
“My wife, Katharine Ross, and I both worked on Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, but I didn’t dare try to talk to her then. She was the leading lady. I was a shadow on the wall, a glorified extra in a bar scene,” Elliott told AARP The Magazine in 2015.
“It was a great opportunity, though, because being an extra on the show and being a contract player (with Fox) allowed me to get in and watch ’em make the film. I spent a lot of time over in a dark corner watching Katharine and the rest of ’em work while they were in L.A,” he told The Oklahoman.
It would be ten years before Katharine and Sam would meet again. The two were both cast in the Gothic horror movie The Legacy – the first film in which they interacted with one another. The film premiered in London, though Sam Elliott didn’t want to go as he didn’t think it was a great movie. In the end, what convinced to make the trip was that he was “smitten” by the lovely Katharine.
According to the actress, a combination of his distinctive baritone voice and rugged good looks made them fall for each other.
“Probably all that and more,” she told The Mercury News. “We were working together and one thing led to another. And here we are.”
Katharine Ross and Sam Elliott welcomed their daughter, Cleo Rose Elliott, on September 17, 1984, just four months after their wedding. Cleo would also pursue a career in the entertainment business as a musician. And in hindsight, maybe that was for the best.
This is Katharine Ross today
“My parents are totally supportive of this,” she told The Malibu Times of her music career. “They’re just happy I don’t want to be an actor.”
Katharine Ross and Sam Elliott’s career together on screen didn’t end with The Legacy. The two have appeared together many times, including starring together in the television films Travis McGee, Houston: The Legend of Texas, and Conagher. The latter one, Elliott has called “one of the highlights of my career.”
In 2017, the two starred together in The Hero, where Elliott starred as an aging Western film star and Ross as his ex-wife. It isn’t necessarily a representation of their ordinary lives – but for the couple, it’s all about trying out new things together.
“I think we just like making movies and having that creative experience together is the best,” Elliott told the Los Angeles Times in 2016.
“It’s just fun. It’s a whole different kind of energy to go home with some you’re working with rather than go home to somebody who isn’t working. It’s a totally positive experience.”
Ross and Elliott divide their time between homes in California and Oregon. Earlier this year, the two attended the Screen Actors Guild Awards together. Katharine has not featured as an actor in any films or television series for some years.
She has, however, become a prolific author, publishing several children’s novels.
She and Sam’s marriage has been hard work– but it has all been worth it. And it seems like there is one secret to their long-lasting union.
“I think really what it boils down to is we love each other, and we work at it. And I think more importantly than anything, it takes wanting to be married,” Sam explained. “The two things that I wanted in my life were to have a movie career and to be married, to have a family. And it’s an embarrassment of riches that I’ve got both.”
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