Last year, blogger and classic film fan Margaret Perry decided to host a Katharine Hepburn Blogathon around the late actress’s birthday, which was May 12th, 1907. The blogathon was such a success that here is the second one and I am participating but not with a Hepburn movie review. I decided to take a different tack, and write a book review of a book I read 9 years ago, A.Scott Berg’s excellent, Kate Remembered. Be sure to visit Margaret’s site to read all of the other outstanding contributions to this blogathon!
Writer A. Scott Berg, a native and inhabitant of LA, in the early 1980s,, was busily working on a biography of movie mogul Samuel Goldwyn when Esquire magazine contacted Berg about contributing a piece for their upcoming 50th anniversary issue. Berg immediately agreed if he could write about a Hollywood icon, Katharine Hepburn. He had to go round and round with the editors and assistant editors because they insisted they didn’t want any articles about Hollywood;important Americans was their topic, and Berg countered that Hepburn was the lone actress still at work, in her seventies, who had done it all and done it well:stage and film and 4-time Academy Award winner. Reluctantly, Esquire relented and Berg began his task of contacting Ms. Hepburn in order to interview her.
Fortunately for Berg, when he was a college student at Princeton, he had written his senior thesis on editor Maxwell Perkins. After graduating, Berg decided to expand his thesis into a biography of Perkins, and the finished book, Maxwell Perkins: Editor of Genius, won a National Book Award. During his research on Perkins, he found out that Perkins and his family lived next door to none other than star actress Katharine Hepburn! Berg had always been a fan of Hepburn’s, and having written to the actress for any info she may have had about Maxwell Perkins, being that she was his neighbor for years, she did write Berg back, showed interest in his book about her former neighbor, so it was a natural plan to approach Ms. Hepburn again about letting Berg interview her for the Esquire article.
What began as several meetings at the actress’s brownstone home in the Turtle Bay area of Manhattan, and at the family’s seaside home in the borrough of Fenwick, part of Old Saybrook, CT. grew into a friendship of 15 years, right up to the passing away of Hepburn.
The book explores Katharine’s early life in Hartford, CT. Her father, Thomas, was a doctor and her mother, Katharine, or Kit, was a busy homemaker with 6 kids to raise, but she also found time to devote to causes: Suffragist Movement and Family Planning. Katharine was the second child in the family, she had one older brother, Tom, two younger brothers, Richard and Robert, and then two little sisters, Marion and Margaret. From Berg’s writings, I learned that these younger siblings were all in their teens and preteen years when their big sister was becoming famous due to her movie career. Sadly, her older brother, Tom, committed suicide at the age of 15 and Katharine was the one who found his body. Katharine loved her older brother very much and his death was a shock. Due to her parents extreme views on political issues, they didn’t have many friends in Hartford, and this attitude also spread to the way peers treated the Hepburn children. Sadly, her brother’s death added to the alienation, so the Hepburn family turned towards one another, were each other’s booster club, and Katharine shared she was so grateful that she had such a supportive family and she really believed that that love and support helped her reach her acting successes. Katharine finished up her high school years homeschooling, with a tutor, and then it was on to Bryn Mawr for college, her mother’s college alma mater.
After graduation it was on to the stage and eventually, on to Hollywood. Katharine’s first film, A Bill of Divorcement, was a star vehicle for John Barrymore. Katharine was cast to play his daugher in the film, George Cukor directed; he became a lifelong friend of Hepburn’s. A funny anecdote about Katharine and that first film, she was taking the Super Chief train from Chicago to LA and on her first night on that train, she went out onto a back platform to see the stars and something flew into her eye. Immediate pain, redness, and swelling in that eye made the rest of the trip miserable. As soon as the studio personnel met her at the train station in LA, she urged them to find her a doctor for her eye. First, the studio folks told her, she had to be whisked off to the studio to meet Cukor, costumers, make up , and John Barrymore. When she was introduced to John Barrymore, he assumed her red eye was due to too much alchohol and he offered her some eye drops that he often took for that very reason. Hepburn tried to explain that she hadn’t been drunk and that something blew into her eye while on the train trip, but the Great Profile didn’t believe her!
The book looks at a lot of her films; early successes, especially Morning Glory and Little Women, and then how she was box office poison until The Philadelphia Story. I love the slapstick, screwball comedy Bringing Up Baby and had no idea it had bombed at the box office in 1938! There is also, of course, the section of the book that covers her long relationship with actor Spencer Tracy. Hepburn shared with Berg that with Tracy it was “the first time I truly learned that it was more important to love than to be loved.” Hepburn and Tracy were together for 26 years, 1941-1967.
As the book nears its end, Hepburn is sadly nearing her mortal end, too. I liked the book for it’s actual discussions with the great actress, her insights, her looking back at her life. I found it quite a touching book to read. Two more anecdotes that I found charming and wise: Author Berg had been trying for months to get an interview with Irving Berlin for a book on Samuel Goldwyn. Berlin kept refusing, so Berg turned to Katharine, who had said she’d try to get Berlin to agree to an interview. One day Hepburn walked out of her brownstone and went just a few buildings over to Berlin’s brownstone. As she was explaining to Berlin’s maid who she was and that she wanted to visit him, she heard 100 year old Irving Berlin call out of a second floor window,”Kate, is that you?” To which she replied that yes, it was she. Berlin invited her in for a wonderful afternoon of tea and talk. Later that same day, Katherine told Berg that she got in to see Berlin and that they had a wonderful 3 hour chat, but she couldn’t remember anything that they talked about!! Wise words: Katharine sharing with Berg her thoughts about stage acting:”Nothing is as generous as an American audience…I’m always amazed at movie stars, especially those actresses who hit their 40s and 50s and complain that Hollywood isn’t writing any parts for them anymore, don’t take to the stage. If Broadway is too scary, there are hundreds of wonderful theaters all over this country who would be thrilled to have them. Actors should act.”
If you enjoy books about famous actors or actresses, written with their input, then seek out Kate Remembered-I highly recommend it!