Katharine Ross: The Young 'Graduate' Star Who Was 'Too Pretty,' Then And Now

Entertainment | July 23, 2020

Left: Katharine Ross in 'The Graduate.' Right: Ross and Paul Newman in 'Butch Cassidy And The Sundance Kid.' Source: IMDB

With appearances in The Graduate (1967) and Butch Cassidy And The Sundance Kid (1969), Katharine Ross emerged as a versatile girl-next-door actress adept at comedy and drama. Her filmography stretches back to the '50s, when she established herself as a television actress, and her late-'60s heyday (which also included 1968's Hellfighters and 1969's Tell Them Willie Boy Is Here) propelled her career through the '70s with The Stepford Wives (1975) and The Swarm (1978). Ross, who turned 80 in 2020, has continued to act and do voice work in the 2000s and 2010s. 

Ross' Hollywood success story was certainly helped along by her looks, although her cover-girl beauty may have lost her a few roles. "I find it embarrassing and disgusting to ask to do a part and be told I'm too pretty," she once remarked. "How can I answer that?" It helps to have support in life, which she gets from her husband of 36 years, actor Sam Elliott.

It took a few tries but this beauty found her beast. (bestofcomicbooks)

Katharine Ross burst onto the scene in ‘67 alongside Dustin Hoffman in The Graduate. The role earned her an Oscar nomination, a Golden Globe for Most Promising Newcomer, and catapulted her past the smaller roles she previously played in such films as Shenandoah” and Mister Buddwing. Creating chemistry with Hoffman also gave her a chance to shine in two 1969 westerns, Butch Cassidy And The Sundance Kid and Tell Them Willie Boy Is Here, which together won her the BAFTA Award for Best Actress. Ross can also lay claim to perhaps the most successful celebrity relationship in history. She and Sam Elliot met in London on the set of The Legacy in ‘78 and to this day enjoy 36 years and counting of loving matrimony. 

Banned From “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid” Set

Hard to imagine banning that face from the set. (doyouremember)

During Ross’ time on the set of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, she dated cinematographer Conrad Hall. (In fact, the couple got married the year of the film's release, and stayed together for half a decade.) So naturally, Ross, who was interested in photography, took the opportunity to pick Hall’s brain and learn about cameras, shot framing, and everything that goes in cinematography. Hall, wanting to share his work with his lover, went as far as allowing Ross to operate one of the lesser cameras during a scene.

Of course, director George Hill, wasn’t exactly pleased with an amateur operating a camera even if the shot was unlikely to be used. Hill banned Ross from the set unless she was acting. That soured the experience for Ross, “It became a very difficult shoot for me. In fact, it took me a long time before I even wanted to see the film,” she recalled. Oddly enough, her true love, Elliott, also worked on the set but was too scared to interact with her, “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.”

Fourth Time’s A Charm

True love means posing for Playgirl, tastefully of course. (cleoroseelliott)

Prior to properly meeting in London, Ross was struggling to find the love she deserved. Married three times with none lasting longer than five years, Ross finally found her man while working on a horror movie. When asked if she was first attracted to his narrator’s voice, old-fashioned good lucks, or mustache, she responded, "Probably all that and more. We were working together and one thing led to another. And here we are."

The Couple That Works Together…

Stays together. (The LIFE Picture Collection)

Elliot must have realized he found the keeper to end all keepers while on their honeymoon. During their well-deserved sojourn in Hawaii, Elliott’s agent called and told the actor that he needed to cut the trip short to come back and test for what would be his breakout role in Mask (1985). Elliott declined, choosing his marriage over work. Ross called Elliott’s agent later that night and told him that she’d get him back in time for the audition. The L.A. Times wrote that Elliott’s “portrayal of the compassionate biker Gar has received nearly as much critical attention as the performances by the film's stars, Eric Stoltz and Cher."

Still Going Strong

The most successful celebrity marriage to date. (Joe Scarnici)

Celebrity couples tend to last about as long as milk in the sun but Ross and Elliott have defied the odds. For the pair, the enjoyment of their craft and respect for one another has allowed their love to thrive over 36 years of marriage. As Elliott sees it, "We have a common sensibility, but we also work at being together. You work past the s**t; you don't walk away from it. That's how relationships last. I think we just like making movies and having that creative experience together is the best. It's just fun. It's a whole different kind of energy to go home with someone you're working with rather than go home to somebody who isn't working. It's a totally positive experience."

“Sometimes that’s easier than real life,” Katharine said. “You’re [sic] got a script. You’ve got a part. You’ve got your creative juices flowing together. It’s not about the dirty dishes in the sink or whether you’ve picked something up at the laundry. 

Tags: Butch Cassidy And The Sundance Kid | Katharine Ross | Ladies | Sam Elliott | The Graduate | Then And Now

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Kellar Ellsworth


Kellar Ellsworth was born and raised in Hawaii. He is an avid traveler, surfer and lover of NBA basketball. He wishes he could have grown up in the free love era!