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Katharine Hepburn

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Overview

At last, the definitive biography of Katharine Hepburn—the story she herself has never told. Hollywood has produced many stars, but no one compares to Katharine Hepburn. She is the last of the great ones: a celebrated actress, a brilliant personality, an original. In more than sixty years of public life, countless men have fallen in love with her, women have admired her, and yet only a handful have ever known the real Kate. What drove her? Why was she so loved? How could such a fiercely independent woman have ...
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Overview

At last, the definitive biography of Katharine Hepburn—the story she herself has never told. Hollywood has produced many stars, but no one compares to Katharine Hepburn. She is the last of the great ones: a celebrated actress, a brilliant personality, an original. In more than sixty years of public life, countless men have fallen in love with her, women have admired her, and yet only a handful have ever known the real Kate. What drove her? Why was she so loved? How could such a fiercely independent woman have given up her life to one man—Spencer Tracy—to the point of curling up on the floor outside his hotel room while he drank himself into unconsciousness behind a locked door? Barbara Leaming has discovered never-before-seen documents that finally illuminate the mystery of this enigmatic, fascinating woman. Growing up in a family shadowed by suicide and madness, young Kate was unaware of her family's tragic history until the day—she was thirteen—she discovered her brother hanging dead in an attic. His death, and the heritage that might have explained it. was never talked of again, leaving Kate with unresolved questions that have haunted her ever since. It is a love story, though not the one you would expect. It is also a family story that brings alive three generations of fearless women, personal and political crusaders who shaped the history of women in our century.

Katharine Hepburn is truly a rare breed in a world of manufactured glamour. Now Barbara Leaming has discovered thousands of never-before-seen documents that finally illuminate this enigmatic, fascinating woman. Controversial and compelling, this biography reveals Katharine Hepburn with the intimacy of a close friend.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Leaming's subjects are screen giants: Orson Welles, Rita Hayworth, Bette Davis and, now, Katharine Hepburn, the only Hollywood star to win four Oscars for best actress. Her biography is a full, insightful portrait, not only of the actress herself but also of her family and its heritage. The competition here is tough: Hepburn herself has written two idiosyncratic memoirs The Making of the African Queen and Me: Stories of Myself and has been the subject of endless articles and at least one other full-length biography Anne Edwards' A Remarkable Woman, 1986. But Leaming has dug deeply and reconstructed a fascinating era from primary sources. The Hepburn family story resembles a modern Greek tragedy, full of complex characters who were inspired yet doomed. The often harrowing relationships between the actress's grandparents and parents reverberated through her own childhood as well as the devastating effects of five hushed-up suicides within the family. Katharine as a child discovered her brother Tom's body hanging in the attic. Hepburn men were fierce and domineering, the women intellectual and courageous. Katharine's mother was a nationally known birth control crusader when the very idea was considered dangerously radical. Katharine's acting career and her eccentric love life are gently but perceptively dissected here. The honor roll is platinum: the movies include: The Philadelphia Story 1940, Woman of the Year 1942, Adam's Rib 1949, The African Queen 1951, Guess Who's Coming to Dinner 1967, The Lion in Winter 1968 and On Golden Pond 1982; the men: John Ford, Leland Hayward, John Huston, Howard Hughes and, of course, Spencer Tracy. Hepburn's mythic 26-year affair with Tracy, seen under Leaming's undaunted lens, is more sorrowful than romantic. His endless drinking, indecision and attempts to belittle his devoted companion-she received second billing in all their nine films together-make unappetizing fare even though they failed to alienate Hepburn. She ``seemed oblivious to anyone or anything besides Spencer'' as he preempted her career for a time and isolated her from friends and family. Significantly, only one of her Academy Awards was for a film made with Tracy, awarded after his death, Guess Who's Coming to Dinner. Leaming has sensitively and selectively captured her subject in good times and bad. Her superb biography measures up to the stature of its inimitable heroine. Photos not seen by PW. Author tour. Apr.
Library Journal
One might rightly wonder what there is left to say about actress Hepburn, since she has already been extensively written about and interviewed and has written her autobiography, Me: Stories of My Life Knopf, 1991. But biographer Leaming If This Is Happiness, LJ 9/1/89 has managed to add a whole new perspective to what is already known. Leaming starts this biography not with Hepburn's birth and early life but with her mother Kathy known later as Kate. Kathy's mother, Carrie, was forced to take charge of her three girls after the suicide of her husband, Fred. Carrie's courage, strength, and fervid desire for her daughters to be educated led Kathy to become a leader in the early women's movement. These role models together helped shape the woman we know as Katharine Hepburn. Leaming hypothesizes, however, that Hepburn was also driven by the shadow of suicide, which took her brother Tom as well. This is less a gossipy, glitzy celebrity bio and more an exploration of the New England social mores that shaped this living legend. Highly recommended.-Rosellen Brewer, Monterey Bay Area Cooperative Lib. Sys., Cal.
Booknews
Draws on private letters and interviews with Hepburn to tell the story of the celebrated actress' career and personal life. Includes many b&w personal photos, film stills, and photos from various movie sets. Leaming is author of a biography on Orson Welles, and she taught theater and film at Hunter College for many years. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)
From The Critics
To create an accurate, comprehensive, and revealing life story of Katharine Hepburn, biographer Barbara Leaming drew upon years of painstaking research that included her private correspondence and letters of her family and associates who knew her best. Her childhood was marked by the discovery of her brother Tom's suicide by hanging when she was 13 years old. But she was able to emerge from a troubled family background (her maternal grandfather also died a suicide in 1892), because of support from the strong women of her family, especially her mother who helped lead the women's suffrage movement of the time. This outstanding biography delves deeply into Hepburn's acting career from Broadway to Hollywood, her long affair with Spencer Tracy, and her relationships with John Ford, H. Phelps Putnam, and others. Katherine Hepburn is enthusiastically recommended reading for Hepburn fans and students of theatrical history and cinematic studies.
From Barnes & Noble
Based on letters & interviews with the star, her family, & friends, this book, as vivid & compelling as any novel, illuminates the real Kate Hepburn. Examines her tragic family history, her longtime affair with Spencer Tracy, more. B&W photos.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780879102937
  • Publisher: Hal Leonard Corporation
  • Publication date: 8/28/2004
  • Edition description: REPRINT
  • Pages: 592
  • Sales rank: 1,019,548
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 1.32 (d)

Meet the Author

Barbara Leaming is a New York Times bestselling author. Her biography of John F. Kennedy was the first to detail the extraordinary influence of Winston Churchill on President Kennedy’s intellectual formation and political strategies. She lives in Connecticut.

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Customer Reviews

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Sort by: Showing all of 2 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted January 6, 2003

    The worst biography ever written about Katharine Hepburn

    This is easily the worst biography ever written about Katharine Hepburn. It is full of inaccuracies and wild speculations. The author's central theme is that Ms. Hepburn had a life long, unrequited love for the director John Ford. Anyone who has read any of Katharine Hepburn's own books and her many interviews know that this is simply not true. Having fabricated the fictional relationship between Katharine Hepburn and John Ford, the author then uses it to denigrate Hepburn's real long time love, Spencer Tracy. Leaming makes incredibly scurrilous and completely undocumented statements about Tracy such as that his supposed veneral disease caused his son's deafness. Ms. Leaming fails to offer even one iota of evidence for this outrageous statement. Page after page of this book is full of wildly fanceful speculations passed off as fact. What are we to make of the following passage at page 393: "If Tracy wondered whether, or how Ford would react to news of the affair with Kate, he did not have to wait long to find out. On September 3, five days after shooting on Woman of the Year began, Ford suddenly left town under mysterious circumstances. . . .Ostensibly, Ford's sudden, rather theatrical departure had nothing to do with Kate. Still, there can be no question that it shadowed her relationship with Tracy from the start. A man of Tracy's tormented and deeply suspicious nature could never accept that Ford's timing had been purely coincidental. . . . " So, according to Ms. Leaming, John Ford left Los Angeles and joined the military because he was upset that Katharine Hepburn had become involved with Spencer Tracy and further she asserts that Spencer Tracy knew this and was 'tormented' by it. How silly can one author get? What I find passing strange is all the positive reviews that were given to this book by presumably reputable reviewers. I can only assume that the reviewers don't actually read the books they review or that they knew so little about Ms. Hepburn's life that they concluded that the book was accurate even though it has so many obvious inaccuracies.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 12, 2010

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