||A Review of: Kate Remembered
Scott Berg is a superb biographer. I first read his biography of
Max Perkins (1971), the brilliant Scribner's editor (Hemingway,
Scott Fitzgerald); and then Goldwyn which was followed by Lindberg
for which he received the Pulitzer Prize. Entering a twenty-year
relationship with Katharine Hepburn she promised to tell him
everything with one stipulation: he could not publish until she
had died-which she eventually did, aged 96, on June 29th this year.
Kate Remembered is his 318-page loving tribute to Hepburn. It is a
lighter but no less effective biography. "She wanted it published
as close to her death as possible" the author recently stated
in an interview with the Globe and Mail "because she knew
there'd be so much written about her, and she wanted one good record
out there of the truth, as she saw it." Berg started putting
his writings together; and didn't tell Hepburn in case she thought
he had betrayed her. "I just wrote it up, in 2000. And locked
it up." After the ageing actress died Berg completed the last
three pages of the book. Over half a million copies of the book
were shipped to bookstores in North America in July.
Katharine Hepburn was a dominant character in the popular culture
of the twentieth century and Scott Berg covers the seven decades
she reigned, first as an admired actress, then a loved movie star
and a figurehead of the modern American woman. Despite being one
of the most private of public figures she decided in 1982, when she
was seventy-five, to use Berg as her chronicler and confidant. As
the unique friendship developed Hepburn held back nothing and thus
we have, really for the first time, a true insight into this
independent and determined woman who spared nothing to carve out
and control her own extraordinary career. Berg believes "unabashedly
and without qualification" that Katharine Hepburn "established
the greatest acting career of the twentieth century, perhaps
ever." This book certainly reveals a life lived at the edge-but
always according to her own rules.
Berg quite obviously worshiped Hepburn. It is clear that she did
not suffer fools, had very strong opinions and didn't hesitate to
voice them. "She found most of the Merchant-Ivory pictures a
bore', though she delighted in Vanessa Redgrave's performance in
their production of The Bostonians-or any role she ever saw her in.
She had flipped for John Travolta in Saturday Night Fever, and she
greatly admired Sally Field in Norma Rae and Places in the Heart.
She liked Harrison Ford in The Mosquito Coast and again in Working
Girl. She said the new star of the picture Melanie Griffith reminded
her of Judy Holliday but feared her career would fade fast. She had
zero tolerance for Woody Allen movies and after seeing Julia Roberts
in Mystic Pizza she predicted her becoming the next big movie star',
the first she had seen in years'. Meryl Streep was her least favourite
actress on screen-Click, click, click', and Glenn Close was her
least favourite actress on stage (She's got those big, fat, ugly
feet'), and Jeremy Irons was all tricked up with mannerisms and
charm-like me', although his performance in The Real Thing was one
of the three greatest performances she had seen, ranking alongside
Brando's in Streetcar and John Lithgow in Requiem for a Heavyweight.
One of the most alarming revelations in the book concerns her great
love Spencer Tracy. "She proceeded to describe a fiendish night
at the Beverly Hills Hotel." As Hepburn tried to put the drunken
Tracy to bed "he smacked the back of his hand across her
face." Berg is amazed that the actress stayed for 26 years
with the man who was renowned as one of the biggest drunks and
womanisers in town. But most people in Hollywood contended that
despite the endless gossip about his escapades he had become the
finest actor in movies.
There are more observations by Hepburn in this loving insight into
the life of the movie legend who was described by Kenneth Tynan in
1952 as being "Bright, barefaced, scandalously bold, she begets
excitement wherever she travels. Her very nerve-ends tingle with
glee. She is an affirmation of life ...... Her aggressiveness is
that of the sun at high noon." She ridicules her co-star Bob
Hope in Iron Petticoat as "the biggest egomaniac with whom I
have worked in my entire life." She thought Lauren Bacall
". a good girl" but Judy Garland "a lost cause."
Montgomery Clift was "a psychological basket case" and
Henry Fonda "Cold. Cold. Cold. A strange man. Angry at
something. And sad." Hepburn enjoyed working with Laurence
Olivier. "A first rate actor. A second rate person."
Hepburn and Spencer Tracey did attend a wedding party for the
newlyweds Frank Sinatra and Mia Farrow (arriving in separate cars).
"Spence and Frank were friends, and he liked to go out, and
so we went to that wedding party'. I never really cared for Frank
..... and you must never ask me about the girl ...... There was no
way that girl could have any moral structure to her life."
The Hepburn biography makes excellent reading entertainment, revealing
something of the dedication and determination needed to get to the
top in show business and the harder business of staying there.
Talent and staying power were qualities Hepburn possessed. If
nothing else, her biography is a tribute to these extraordinary