Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Kate Remembered - A. Scott Berg

 You know I'm absolutely ashamed to say I've NEVER watched a Katherine Hepburn film!! It's true! It is only through not having ready access to a DVD, or such thing that it has happened. It certainly isn't avoidance. Suffice to say though she is regarded as the greatest actress ever, and whilst I haven't seen her performances, a look at her remarkable record of 4 Oscars from 12 nominations speaks for itself. Only Meryl Streep comes close, even outstripping Hepburn nomination wise.

 Even more remarkable was her longevity in an industry where it is acknowledged that actresses have a finite shelf life. Hepburn was in the industry for over 60 years. She out lived all her contemporaries, and starred in her last screen film in her late 80's, before making two forgettable made for television films, that rounded out her astonishing career.

 I picked this book up with no real knowledge of Hepburn what so ever. For instance I never knew she had an affair with enigmatic billionaire Howard Hughes. And even worse, I didn't know she and Spencer Tracy were partners for 25 years! Possibly worse though is that after her first marriage ended in divorce, she remained Miss Hepburn for the rest of her life.

 A. Scot Berg was fortunate enough in the early 1980's to be granted an interview with the very private Hepburn in her New York. From it developed a friendship that endured for 20 years. At the time Hepburn was 75 and recovering from a broken ankle sustained in a car accident. Berg opens his book with this first meeting and ends it with the last time he saw her alive. He has written a book that is not a biography per se, but rather an insight into Hepburn from his own observations. But it also includes a huge amount of Hepburn's own reminiscences.

 In the space of 316 Berg shows us the blossoming friendship between him and Hepburn. In the process he shows the reader how she lived for the next 20 years. Hepburn had an ulterior motive in be-friending Berg as she wanted to tell him her thoughts etc on her life. Berg has written several biographies over the year, and with his unique insight, has produced a wonderful book. It swings between Berg's meetings with Hepburn and how she let him into her life. Through interviews and off the cuff conversations Berg gathered enough material in which to publish this personal look at Hepburn.

 The book is well constructed as Berg writes semi-biographically, and then uses Hepburn's conversations with him to fill in and expand. It is quite a personal journey, and I believe she reveals more about herself to Berg than she did in her auto-biography, Me. A book that remained on US bestseller lists for 12 months. If you have read that book, or any biographies on Hepburn, then there is probably nothing new here except for Hepburn's personal observations on the film industry, and herself.

 For me, a complete Hepburn  novice, this book was a good place to start when looking at her life . But what makes this book stand out, is that unlike most biographies, Berg actually met his subject. He lets her, through her own words, paint the picture of herself, and through it it lets the reader make their own judgements. I certainly did, and whilst I admire certain things about her ( especially her work ethic ), she was an incredibly selfish, bossy, opinionated, judgemental woman. She had her flaws like us all, and she doesn't hold back on herself. Revealingly she states she never had children as she felt she was too selfish  a person to ever care for them enough. That is an honest assessment of herself isn't it?!

 She also expresses her opinions on the film industry through the ages. Interestingly Meryl Streep was an actress she never liked, and she had 'zero tolerance' for the films of Woody Allen. But for me the most interesting thing she said was this on David lean, of who she worked with on Summertime. She said ' I've never worked with anyone in my entire career who understood film, really understood it, the feel of it, better than David'. High praise indeed as I'm a David Lean fan!

 The sad thing though with her life was how lonely she got as she aged. At 75 her circle of friends was small as most of them had died. Imagine what it was like into her late 80's! She became a lonely woman as she out lived all her contemporaries. But in her last years as her health deteriorated, she was never alone, and died surrounded by those who loved her at the age of 96.

 This is a good book and I thoroughly enjoyed it. At times I felt like kicking Hepburn through her behaviour! But that is the strength of the book, as it is a warts and all look at her by someone who knew her well. But Hepburn herself speaks up on her strengths and flaws, and through the pair we are left with a unique picture of her, not as the actress, but as the person.

 Not a biography as such, and those wanting a look into Hepburn's film career will find it lacking. But it isn't a look at her career as it is a look at her life, and personality, outside of film. For me A. Scott Berg has written a fine book that should be of interest to anyone with even a passing interest in this true legend. A wonderful insight of what, and how, a famous person is like outside of the limelight.


  1. Her best for me will be True Grit with John Wayne.

  2. Ah... the film you are thinking of was called Rooster Cogburn. It was a flop!! But in this book she states she enjoyed working with Wayne as he was thoroughly professional and one of the best in that regard she ever worked with.

  3. It's amazing how you power through all these celebrity biographies! I don't know much about Katherine's personal life but, like Bette Davis, she was an actress ahead of her time.

    And, please, watch a Hepburn film soon. lol.

  4. I'm a book-a-holic! This biographies are only a fraction of what I read! I'm getting through about 5-6 books a week at the moment!
    I really don't know why I have never seen a KH film yet. I know her reputation etc and she was a tough woman. She grew up a tomboy which I think helped her no end in dealing with the male dominated film industry.