Though Hepburn emerges as a willful fame-seeker in Kate , Mann is never less than respectful and even-handed when discussing aspects of her life she may have preferred stay in the shadows. The sexual peccadilloes of Hepburn, Tracy, director George Cukor and their cosmopolitan circle could certainly be fodder for a more salacious account, but Mann handles the material with clear-eyed equanimity. Some of the most revealing passages of this biography have to do with Hepburn's remarkable third act, when in later life she exerted her indomitable determination to create yet another version of herself: not headstrong ingenue or glamorous star, but cherished American treasure. Mann offers a corrective to the hagiography that has often passed as her personal history (up to and including her own memoirs), but nonetheless manages to keep intact her image as rebellious icon, screen goddess and American original.
The Washington Post
Mann, a skilled chronicler of gay Hollywood (Wisecracker: The Life and Times of William Haines), says at the onset it doesn't make sense to try to pin down Katharine Hepburn with modern labels of sexual identity. Mann's careful research on the longstanding rumors about Hepburn's lesbianism suggests that the notoriously feisty and tomboyish actress lived her life as a man with little empathy for women's issues. This interpretation also shatters the legend of her romance with Spencer Tracy-instead, Mann establishes a pattern of relationships in which the sex-averse Hepburn played emotional caretaker to a series of alcoholic, closeted homosexuals that, in addition to Tracy, included director John Ford. Yet the portrait is constructed so carefully that it never feels shocking. Mann also devotes significant attention to Hepburn's rocky relationships with Hollywood studios and with the press, revealing that the self-styled renegade wasn't above collaborating to shape her public image, and depicts her final decline into alcoholism and depression with sensitivity. Hepburn's siblings and contemporaries (now free to speak after her death) make major corrections to earlier Hepburn biographies, creating a picture of a complex woman rather than the icon she worked hard to become in the public's eye. This will surely be the definitive version of Hepburn's life for decades to come, as it is an outstanding example of painstaking research matched with splendid writing. (Oct. 3) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
With her angular features, androgynous appearance, and distinctive voice, Katharine Hepburn (d. 2003) brought a new, more adult sensibility to American movies. Journalist and cultural historian Mann (Edge of Midnight: The Life of John Schlesinger) adds to the already crowded field of Hepburn biographies with this look at the complex, contradictory life of the actress, played out against almost a century of American social history. He presents Hepburn's long-lasting influences e.g., her "can-do" New England upbringing and her beloved brother's death. He also dispels myths surrounding her love affair with actor Spencer Tracy, myths that were embellished and passed along over the years by both Hepburn's biographers and Hepburn herself. Mann tries to get beyond the "Great Kate" image fostered over the decades, and though his book is well researched and written, he fails to present a detailed discussion of Hepburn's films, perhaps overemphasizing the sexual proclivities of the men and women in her life. Nevertheless, this is a compelling look at a larger-than-life film figure. Demand is likely to be stimulated when the book is excerpted in the October issue of Vanity Fair; recommended for public libraries. (Illustrations not seen.) Stephen Rees, Levittown Lib., PA Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Film biographer/historian Mann (Edge of Midnight, 2005, etc.) considers the vibrant life of a 20th-century icon with encyclopedic scrutiny and a pinch of whimsy. While the author states that he considers himself a fascinated bystander rather than a Hepburn fan, this engaging, comprehensive biography certainly gives the impression that he is quite enamored of the celebrated actress (1907-2003) who was immortalized in Mary of Scotland, Bringing Up Baby, The Philadelphia Story, The African Queen and dozens of other cinematic classics. Mann never interviewed Hepburn herself, but canvassed a bevy of directors, close friends and intimate acquaintances for their perspectives, in addition to utilizing his subject's newly available private documents. "I don't want to rehash the familiar," writes the author, who throws chronological logic to the wind and opts for a more textured approach. In his depiction, the fearless, eccentric actress eschewed classic Hollywood movie-star norms and tacitly challenged social, sexual and gender standards. An Oscar-winner at 26 (for Morning Glory), Hepburn nonetheless had an image problem; Mann's examination reveals a proud, private woman who throughout the early 1930s dared to continuously don trousers while never managing to completely embody the mass media's manufactured image of her. The author also takes risks, acknowledging the frequent speculations about Hepburn's lesbianism and the sexual ambiguity of her wide yet closely knit inner circle of friends. Mann, who's written several books about gay Hollywood (Behind the Screen, 2001, etc.), avoids labeling the actress and does justice to her odd marriage to Ludlow Ogden Smith. Mann recounts the untold storiesof Hepburn's life: her intrepid ascent from persnickety tomboy in Hartford, Conn., to performance royalty; her drinking; her loyalty to friends like lifelong confidante (and rumored lover) Laura Harding, among many others; and the ardent, transcendent affection she held for Spencer Tracy. Tapping into a wellspring of sources, the author has managed to reanimate with great skill and dexterity this shrewd, sophisticated woman. A sprawling salute to an awe-inspiring, world-class actor.
"A page-turner and a revelation."USA Today
"Not just the best on Hepburnit's a book that sets new standards in movie biography."The New York Observer
"While previous biographers may have added more embroidery to the accepted story of Hepburn's life, Mann pretty much blows everything out of the water."San Francisco Chronicle
"Mann handles the material with clear-eyed equanimity. . . . A corrective to the hagiography that has often been passed as her personal history."The Washington Post
"Certain to stand tall as the definitive biography of Hepburn."The Sunday Times (London)