Lively, entertaining reviews of, and essays on, old and newer films and everything relating to them, written by professional author William Schoell.

Friday, July 11, 2008

KATE: The Woman Who Was Hepburn


KATE: The Woman Who Was Hepburn by William J. Mann. Henry Holt; 2006.

A monumental, scrupulously researched look into the life of Katharine Hepburn. If you're looking for an analysis of her films or acting technique or a great many behind-the-scenes-on-the-film-set anecdotes, look elsewhere, because Mann says upfront that that's not the kind of book he's written. This is a frank, detailed look at Hepburn's single-minded drive to reach stardom, as well as a no-holds-barred examination of her sexuality and romantic life. Always an unconventional person in many ways, like many movie stars with secrets Hepburn became more conservative in her attitudes as she got older. Her contradictory nature is what makes the book so fascinating. Mann shows how Hepburn herself helped to turn a close platonic friendship with the equally ambiguous Spencer Tracy into one of the great "love stories" of the century -- but it was more about image than anything else. Mann seems to think Hepburn's relationships with men (many of whom were closeted homosexuals) indicate a bisexual nature, but it could just as easily have been internalized homophobia that had her desiring a "normal" relationship with a man, but Mann, surprisingly, never delves into this. Mann's book is not at all disrespectful to Hepburn, but he does tear away all the Hollywood publicist bulls--t and get at the truth behind the myths. (The passages about Hepburn's work on the Broadway musical Coco are alone worth the price of admission.)

Verdict: Fascinating! ***1/2.

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