Kate Remembered

Kate Remembered

4.1 36
by A. Scott Berg

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For seven decades Katharine Hepburn played a leading role in the popular culture of the twentieth century - reigning as an admired actress, a beloved movie star, and a treasured icon of the modern American woman. She also remained one of the most private of all the public figures of her time.

In 1983 - at the age of seventy-five, her career cresting - the… See more details below


For seven decades Katharine Hepburn played a leading role in the popular culture of the twentieth century - reigning as an admired actress, a beloved movie star, and a treasured icon of the modern American woman. She also remained one of the most private of all the public figures of her time.

In 1983 - at the age of seventy-five, her career cresting - the four-time Academy Award winner opened the door to biographer A. Scott Berg - then thirty-three - and began a special friendship, one that endured to the end of her illustrious life.

From the start, Scott Berg felt that Katharine Hepburn intended his role to be not just that of a friend but also of a chronicler, a confidant who might record for posterity her thoughts and feelings. Over the next twenty years, Kate used their many hours together to reveal all that came to mind, often reflecting on the people and episodes of her past, occasionally on the meaning of life.

Here are the stories from those countless intimate conversations, and much more. In addition to recording heretofore untold biographical details of her entire phenomenal career and her famous relationships with such men as Spencer Tracy and Howard Hughes, Kate Remembered also tells the amusing, often emotional story of one of the most touching friendships in her final years. Scott Berg provides his own memories of Katharine Hepburn offstage - quiet dinners in her town house in New York City, winter swims (she swam, he watched) in the Long Island Sound at Fenwick, her home in Connecticut, weekend visits with family members and dear friends...even some unusual appearances by the likes of Michael Jackson and Warren Beatty. Finally, Kate Remembered discusses the legendary actress's moving farewell, during which her mighty personality surrendered at last to her failing body - all the while remaining true to her courageous character.

Kate Remembered is a book about love and friendship, family and career, Hollywood and Broadway - all punctuated by unforgettable lessons from an extraordinary life.

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Editorial Reviews

The Los Angeles Times
The book is a graceful and affectionate portrait of a cranky old lady whose legend is of more interest than the suffocating reality of slow geriatric decline that Berg recounts with a self-effacing patience and kindness that never acknowledges the most obvious fact about their friendship: His appearance on her doorstep was a godsend to the actress, then 76. — Richard Schickel
The Washington Post
Kate Remembered is her last performance, and one of her most touching. That it comes to us from beyond the grave, and immediately, should not be a shock. That's the sort of thing a goddess does. — Dennis Drabelle
A worthy look at a candid Kate. — Aug. 18th, 2003
Entertainment Weekly
[an] unusual and unusually fitting "account"...of a life lived outside the usual...
July 25, 2003
Washington Post Book World
The central virtue of Kate Remembered is the author's generosity with his insider's privileges.
July 20-26, 2003)
Publishers Weekly
Even those who've read many Hepburn biographies will find Berg's immersion in the actor's world engrossing, full of crisply-voiced takes on old Hollywood and intimate looks at her everyday life. As a longtime friend and ardent fan, Berg (Lindbergh; Max Perkins; etc.) does not attempt an objective biography; instead, he aims to convey Hepburn's thoughts and memories. Framed by Berg and Hepburn's 20-year friendship, the book charts the inescapable subjects of Hepburn's life, such as her romance with Spencer Tracy and her assessment of her own performances. She considered Tracy the greatest American screen actor and her last years with him (in the 1960s) the happiest of her life. Among her movies, she spoke warmly of her films with George Cukor. As to Hepburn's sexual orientation, Berg notes that in the 1930s she lived with actress Laura Harding and decades later was rumored to have exceptionally close relations with a woman, but Hepburn reported nothing. Most interesting is Berg's depiction of Hepburn's early acting days: how she moved from Broadway to Hollywood, negotiated an outsized salary, and, after becoming box-office poison, fought her way back with The Philadelphia Story. Throughout those years, she was befriended personally and professionally by her husband Ludlow Ogden Smith and by industrialist Howard Hughes. Berg is true to his subject and lets her voice come through in every quote, whether she's pooh-poohing him for thinking the 50-ish-degree water near her Connecticut house is cold ("Only for the first few seconds. And then you're numb") or explaining why she never tried to marry Spencer Tracy: "I never wanted to marry Spencer Tracy." Photos. (July 11) Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Forbes Magazine
One of America's foremost biographers gives a moving, masterful memoir of his unique relationship with one of Hollywood's legendary giants, Katharine Hepburn. Berg first met Hepburn in the early 1980s, when he was assigned to write a magazine article about her. Berg became something of a James Boswell to Hepburn, and they spent many an evening together, with her recounting incidents and personalities in her life. (5 Sep 2005)
—Steve Forbes
Library Journal
The life of the late, great Katharine Hepburn has been accurately and thoroughly preserved in print by her friend Berg. Released upon her death in June 2003, Kate Remembered not only captures the amazing history of Hepburn's life and career, but Berg manages to capture her personality, her passions, and her dry wit. The author, who met the actress in the early 1980s, had unprecedented access to her, and his friendship and admiration for her are evident in his writing. In addition to telling the life story of the incomparable actress, the book even serves as a history of early Hollywood and Broadway. Masterfully read by actor/director Tony Goldwyn, the audio version gives an entirely new dimension to Berg's already visual narrative. His interpretation of Hepburn's trademark voice is endearing and adds depth to the clean and flowing production. Recommended for most collections, especially those strong in biography and movie history.-Nicole A. Cooke, Montclair State Univ. Lib., NJ Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
From the Publisher
"Hepburn sounds off plenty...A worthy look at a candid Kate." —People

"Engrossing...leave it to Hepburn to make a grand exit." —Newsday

"Sharp, funny, and poignant." —New York Times

"Intimate, thoughtful, and considerate...an intensely personal book." —Salon.com

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Product Details

Penguin Publishing Group
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Penguin Group
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Age Range:
18 Years

Read an Excerpt

A Private Function

I've never felt so intimidated ringing a doorbell.

Even though she and I had become friendly in the past few months over the telephone and I was standing at her front door in New York City at her invitation, I was genuinely nervous about our first meeting. And I've never been especially starstruck.

But this was different. Katharine Hepburn was the first movie star I had ever noticed, and she had been my favorite ever since-the only actor whose plays and movies I attended just because she was in them.

On that Tuesday-April 5, 1983-I arrived at Third Avenue and Forty-ninth Street with fifteen minutes to spare. So I walked around a few neighboring blocks until 5:55 p.m. Then I slowly walked east on Forty-ninth Street until I was a few doors from Second Avenue-number 244. I stood on the sidewalk for another minute and a half, until the second hand on my watch ticked toward twelve. I opened the little black iron gate, stepped down into the well at the curtained front door, and pressed the button. The bell let out a ring so shrill, I could practically feel all four floors of the brownstone shake.

Nobody answered. After a long pause, a short woman with black hair poked her cherubic face out of an adjacent door, the service entrance, and said, "Yes?"

I said I had a six o'clock appointment with Miss Hepburn. Was I at the wrong door? "No, no," she said. "I'll let you in." She came to the front door, and I heard two heavy locks tumble. This was Norah Considine, who cooked and cleaned. She said Miss Hepburn was expecting me.

I entered the vestibule and left my raincoat on a bench at the foot of the steep, narrow staircase, with its metal pole for a handrail. Another woman appeared from the kitchen-gray-haired, bony, with a neckbrace; and we introduced ourselves. She was, as I presumed, Phyllis Wilbourn, Hepburn's companion and majordomo. "Oh, yes. Go right up," she said in a sandy-throated English accent. "Miss Hepburn's expecting you." At the top of the landing, I could look into the rear living room, where the last of that day's light was coming in from the garden.

Before I had even entered the room, I heard the unmistakable voice from inside. "Did you use the bathroom?"

"I'm sorry?" I said, now standing in the doorway and seeing Katharine Hepburn for the first time.

She sat to the right in a comfortable-looking chair, her feet _in white athletic shoes propped up on a footrest. She appeared _to be amazingly fit for a seventy-five-year-old then recovering from a serious car accident. She looked restored and relaxed, her skin tight against the legendary cheekbones, her eyes clear, a soothing pale blue, her hair a ruddy gray, all pulled off her face and pinned up into her trademark knot. She wore no makeup and flashed a _big movie-star grin, exuding charm and energy. She was wear-_ing khaki pants, a white turtleneck under a blue chambray shirt, and she had a red sweater tied loosely around her neck. As I approached her, I tried to take in as much of the room as I could-the high ceiling, pictures on the walls, a fire blazing in the fireplace, nothing ostentatious except for huge bouquets of flowers everywhere.

"Did you use the bathroom?" she asked again, before I had reached her.


"Well, don't you think you should?"

"No, thank you. I don't think that's necessary."

"Well, I think you should probably go back downstairs and use the bathroom first." I repeated that I didn't think it was necessary but that I would do my best.

Two minutes later I returned; and as I reached the top of the stairs, she asked, "Did you use the bathroom?"

"Well, actually," I said, "I did, thank you."

"Good. You know my father was a urologist, and he said _you should always go to the bathroom whenever you have to . . . and you see, you had to. So how do you do? I'm Katharine Hepburn."

"Yes, I know you are." We shook hands, and from her chair she looked me up and down and smiled. "You're tall." A little over six feet, I told her. "Tennis?" No, I said, but I swim regularly and work out with weights at a gym. "Boah." A little boring, I concurred, adding that it was the most time-efficient form of exercise for me.

"Do you smoke?" she asked.

I started to laugh-feeling as though I had walked into a production of The Importance of Being Earnest-and said, "No, Lady Bracknell, I don't." She laughed and said, "I used to. Gave it up. Disgusting habit. Well, I hope you drink."

"Fortunately," I said, "I do." With that, she sent me to the table behind her, on which sat a wooden African mask of a woman with unusually large, wild eyes and prominent cheekbones. "Somebody sent me that," she said. "It looks just like me, don't you think?" Except for the tribal paint, it did. Next to it sat a large wooden tray with several bottles of liquor and three thick glass goblets. "Do you see anything there you like?" I did-a bottle of King William IV Scotch. She asked me to make two of them, according to her specifications-which meant filling the glass beyond the brim with ice, pouring a shot of the whiskey slowly over the cubes, then topping it with soda. She directed me to sit on the couch to her right, white canvas covered with a red knit throw. She took a sip, then a gulp of her drink and said, "Too weak." I doctored it. "Yours looks too weak," she said. Fearing a replay of the bathroom episode, I stood my ground, saying, "I feel the need to stay one ounce more sober than you."

While we discussed the interview I had come to conduct with her, Phyllis Wilbourn climbed the stairs. I started to get up, as the neck-braced septugenarian appeared a little wobbly; but my hostess assured me she was just fine. "You've met Phyllis Wilbourn?" Miss Hepburn inquired, as the older woman passed a tray of hot cheese puffs. "My Alice B. Toklas."

"I wish you wouldn't say that," Phyllis insisted. "It makes me sound like an old lesbian, and I'm not."

"You're not what, dearie, old or a lesbian?" she said, laughing.

"Neither." With that, Phyllis fixed her own drink, a ginger ale, and sat in a chair opposite us; and I continued to soak up the room. Hepburn watched me as I gazed at a carved wooden goose hanging on a chain from the ceiling. "Spencer's," she said. Then I noticed a painting of two seagulls on some rocks.

"Do you think that's an exceptional picture or not?" she asked.

"It's amusing," I said. "Fun."

"Me," she said, referring to the artist.

The fire was dying, and Hepburn asked if I knew anything about fireplaces. I told her I was no Boy Scout but that I could probably kick a little life into it. "Let's see," she said, preparing to grade me in what was clearly an important test. I used the pair of wrought-iron tongs to turn a few logs over, and they went up in a blaze. She was visibly pleased. "How about those on the mantel?" she asked, referring me to a pair of small figurines, nude studies of a young woman. "Me," she said.

"You sculpted these?" I asked.

"No, I posed for them." Upon closer scrutiny, I could see that was the case and that she was pleased again.

Over the next few minutes, we made small talk-about my hometown, Los Angeles, our mutual friend director George Cukor, who had died there just a few months prior, and our impending interview. She asked how much time I thought I would need, and I asked, "How much have you got?"

"Oh, I'm endlessly fascinating," she said, smiling again. "I'd say you'll need at least two full days with me."

As my fire-tending had made the room warmer, I stood and removed my blue blazer, which I set on the couch. "I don't think so," said Hepburn gently but firmly. "Now look, I want you to be as comfortable as you like. But look where you've put that jacket. It's right in my sight line, and it's, well, somewhat offensive."

"Yes," I said, "I can see that." As I started to put it back on, she said that wasn't necessary, that there was a chair on the landing and I should just "throw it there"-which I did. Upon re-entering the room, I instinctively adjusted a picture on the wall, a floral painting which was slightly askew.

"Oh, I see," said Miss Hepburn with great emphasis; "you're one of those." She smiled approvingly and added, "Me too. But nobody was as bad as Cole Porter. He used to come to this house, and he'd straighten pictures for five minutes before he'd even sit down. Listen, while you're still up, I'm ready for another drink. How about you?"

Again I made mine the weaker. It was not that I was afraid of falling on my face. It was more that I felt as though I were now walking through an RKO movie starring Katharine Hepburn, and I didn't want to miss a single frame of it.

As the clock on the mantelpiece bonged seven, Miss Hepburn said, "Look, I only invited you for drinks tonight because I wasn't sure how we'd get on, but you're more than welcome to stay for dinner; there's plenty of food. But I can tell by the way you're dressed, and I must say I like that tie, you've got another date. It's probably better if you go anyway because we're starting to talk too much already, and then we won't be fresh for the performance tomorrow. Shall we say eleven?" I explained that I did, in fact, have a dinner date; but for her I would happily break it. "No," she said, "we don't want to run out of things to say to each other." We shook hands goodbye, and I exited the room, grabbing my jacket from the chair.

When I was halfway down the stairs, I heard her shout, "Use the bathroom before you leave!"

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What People are saying about this

From the Publisher
"Hepburn sounds off plenty...A worthy look at a candid Kate." —People

"Engrossing...leave it to Hepburn to make a grand exit." —Newsday

"Sharp, funny, and poignant." —New York Times

"Intimate, thoughtful, and considerate...an intensely personal book." —Salon.com

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