Katharine Juliet Ross went from being a little-known actress to a big star overnight, earning an Academy Award nomination. You might remember her from her role as Elaine in the famous movie ‘The Graduate’ with Dustin Hoffman. People back then thought she was a Hollywood bombshell.
Her career has been very successful, but her personal life has had its ups and downs – she’s been married five times. Luckily, her fifth marriage to the beloved actor Sam Elliott has been a lasting one.
Although it’s been some time since Katharine Ross appeared on the screen, her life is more than just acting. Even at the age of 83, she remains a true beauty.
Katharine Ross was born in Hollywood, California, on January 29, 1940. Unlike many other Hollywood stars, her parents weren’t in the acting business. Her dad, Dudley, worked as a reporter for the Associated Press and as a commander in the U.S. Navy, so the family moved around a lot.
They lived in Virginia first, then Palo Alto, California, and finally settled in Walnut Creek, outside San Francisco. That’s 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 played a big role in her future. It was there that she first got into acting. Katharine Ross took part in her first theater productions, and that changed her life forever.
Katharine Ross found her passion for acting in high school after participating in a production of The King and I. Inspired, she decided to pursue acting seriously. After just a year in college, she dropped out and applied to The Actors Workshop in San Francisco. She moved into a small apartment above a grocery shop to chase her dreams.
During the next three years at The Actors Workshop, Ross worked hard to improve her acting skills. She honed her talent and landed minor roles in television shows. Not only was she a talented actress, but she also excelled in auditions. Ross shared in a 1968 Life Magazine interview, “I was queen of the screen tests,” describing her daily trips from San Francisco to Los Angeles for auditions. She played various roles, including hit-and-run drivers in different scenarios and a sympathetic crippled clubfoot on Gunsmoke.
In college, Ross met her first husband and college sweetheart, Joel Fabiani, whom she married in 1960. He was the first of her five husbands, but we’ll get back to that part of her life shortly.
The years following her marriage to Fabiani were significant for Ross. She gained recognition for her appearances in television Westerns, fitting perfectly into the genre with her beauty. However, despite the seeming glamour, Ross, like many in the industry, faced exploitation and challenges. The 1960s weren’t all fun and games for certain young TV stars.
Katharine Ross shared a memorable experience from her early acting days, recalling a screen test for “The Young Lovers,” the only film directed by Samuel Goldwyn Jr. It was supposed to star Peter Fonda, but since he couldn’t make it, Chad Everett filled in for the screen test. Despite knowing the role was already cast, Everett put in a tremendous effort, and Ross didn’t have the heart to break the news. The process involved extensive sessions with a hairdresser to achieve the desired look, but in the end, they cast someone else.
Ross reflected on the positive aspects of her entry into the film industry during a time when the old studio system was fading. She noted that the emergence of small budget films, like the $1 million budget films, marked the beginning of a new era that eventually evolved into the indie film movement.
Her television debut was in 1962 with an episode of “Sam Benedict,” followed by her first film role in the Civil War-themed “Shenandoah” in 1965, starring James Stewart. After signing a deal with Universal, Ross worked on her first starring role in the film “Games,” catching the attention of director Mike Nichols. This led to her most significant film role, playing Elaine in “The Graduate” alongside Dustin Hoffman.
Recalling her initial impressions of Hoffman, Ross described him as a New York stage actor with a pale appearance. Despite the unconventional first meeting, they grew to like each other. Interestingly, Gene Hackman, Hoffman’s one-time roommate, was initially cast as Ross’s father but later bowed out.
“The Graduate” turned out to be a masterpiece, propelling Ross to stardom overnight. She received an Academy Award nomination for Best Actress in a Supporting Role and a Golden Globe nomination for New Star of the Year.
The ending of “The Graduate” left many people puzzled. Benjamin rescued Elaine from her wedding, but the expressions on their faces as they sat on a city bus were not what most expected. The beautiful story of two people in love, separated by external forces, was thought to have a happy ending. However, the characters didn’t say anything to each other. According to Katharine Ross, who played Elaine, the ending wasn’t scripted. The director, Mike Nichols, didn’t say “cut” for a long time, and even though they ran out of dialogue, the camera kept rolling. Ross believes that Elaine got off at the next bus stop.
In 1969, Katharine landed another significant role in the legendary film “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.” She featured in one of the most iconic scenes, balancing on the handlebars of a bicycle pedaled by actor Paul Newman. Interestingly, by the end of filming, Ross had been in the same movie as the love of her life, although she didn’t know it at the time.
Ross’s private life has been quite a roller coaster, especially in the early days of her career. She has been married five times, with her current marriage lasting for more than 40 years, a remarkable achievement. Ross first got married in 1960 to Joel Fabiani, and their marriage lasted for two years. In 1964, she married John Marion, and that marriage lasted for three years. In 1969, Ross married for the third time to Conrad Hall, the cinematographer for “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.” They divorced in 1973, and a year later, Ross married Gaetano “Tom” Lisi.
In 1979, Katharine Ross and her then-husband went their separate ways. Little did she know that this was the year she would encounter the true love of her life.
Let’s dive into the love story of Katharine Ross and Sam Elliott. Back on the set of “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid,” Sam Elliott had noticed Katharine early on. However, as he was just an extra in the film, he decided not to approach her. In 2018, the now-legendary actor reminisced, saying all he could do was “just watch Katharine come and go.”
Reflecting on that time, Elliott explained, “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.”
Despite his role as an extra, it was a valuable opportunity for Elliott. Being a contract player with Fox allowed him to be on set and observe the filmmaking process. He spent a lot of time in a dark corner, captivated by watching Katharine and the rest of the cast work while they were in Los Angeles.
It took a decade for Katharine and Sam to cross paths again. Both were cast in the Gothic horror movie “The Legacy,” marking their first film where they interacted with each other. The film premiered in London, and initially, Sam Elliott was hesitant to go because he didn’t think the movie was great. However, what convinced him to make the trip was his admiration for the lovely Katharine.
According to Katharine, it was a combination of Sam’s distinctive baritone voice and rugged good looks that made them fall for each other.
Katharine Ross and Sam Elliott’s love story led to the birth of their daughter, Cleo Rose Elliott, on September 17, 1984, just four months after their wedding. Cleo later pursued a career in the entertainment business as a musician. In an interview with The Mercury News, Katharine hinted that their connection went beyond just working together. “Probably all that and more,” she mentioned, reflecting on how their relationship evolved.
Cleo Rose Elliott, born to the iconic couple, chose a path in the music industry, following her passion. Fortunately, her parents fully supported her decision. Speaking to The Malibu Times about her music career, Cleo expressed her gratitude, saying, “My parents are totally supportive of this. They’re just happy I don’t want to be an actor.”
Katharine Ross and Sam Elliott continued their on-screen collaboration beyond “The Legacy.” They appeared together in various projects, including television films such as “Travis McGee,” “Houston: The Legend of Texas,” and “Conagher.” For Sam Elliott, “Conagher” stood out as “one of the highlights of my career.” The couple’s professional partnership has been an enduring and successful aspect of their lives.
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.
Katharine Ross and Sam Elliott’s marriage has been a journey filled with hard work, but they both agree that it has been entirely worth it. The key to their enduring union, according to Sam, is a genuine love for each other and putting effort into their relationship. Sam emphasized the importance of wanting to be married, highlighting that having a successful family life and a thriving movie career were his two main aspirations. For Sam, the fact that he has both is like an “embarrassment of riches.”
In celebrating the remarkable Katharine Ross, it’s clear that her love story with Sam Elliott is a testament to commitment and dedication in a marriage. The couple’s willingness to work at their relationship and their mutual desire to be together have been the pillars of their long-lasting union. If you appreciate their story, feel free to share this article on Facebook with friends and family to honor the fantastic Katharine Ross!