Kate Remembered

by A. Scott Berg
ISBN: 0399151648

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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 traits.

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