Just a few weeks after the death of Katharine Hepburn comes news of a revealing new memoir about her life. Pulitzer Prize-winning biographer A. Scott Berg has written "Kate Remembered," a book inspired by his 20-year friendship with the American actress. Drawing on his own memories and the stories she told him over the years, Mr. Berg had been writing the book since 1999. But publication was delayed until after Katharine Hepburn died on June 29, at age 96.
Mr. Berg was 33 years old when he first interviewed Katharine Hepburn for a magazine article. He was soon making extended visits to her country home, and she was introducing him as her biographer. Why would the four- time Academy Award winner, famous for her love of privacy, so quickly befriend a young writer?
"When I met her she was 75," recalls the author. "She had just been in a near-fatal car accident. She had really banged up her foot badly, so for the first time I think she was slightly immobilized, and I think she was beginning to review some of the pieces of her life. And into her house walks someone who for a living takes the pieces of peoples' lives, examines them and puts them in some book form, and I think she basically wanted that done for her."
In a stage and screen career that spanned seven decades, Katharine Hepburn carved out an imposing image for herself, as a strong-willed woman who spoke her mind with wit and assurance.
Katherine Hepburn's spirited performances had made her Scott Berg's favorite film star long before he met her in 1983. Once he got to know her, he came to appreciate other sides of her character as well.
"What I think I found was just a tender side that she really didn't reveal to most people, a really generous soul," explained Mr. Berg. "But make no mistake about it, I was always on very good behavior around Katharine Hepburn. She sort of shamed you into doing things. My first time when I arrived at her country house in Connecticut, it was a cold April afternoon. The sun was just going down. And there was Katharine Hepburn out in the Long Island Sound, swimming. And she came in and she said, 'You really should go in,' and I said, 'It's a little cold, it seems crazy to go in.' But there I'm looking at a 75 year old woman with a bad foot. And she did it, so I figured okay, I'd better do it."
Mr. Berg said some moments in his time with the actress stand out in his memory. "One was my first weekend with her when she roped me into a Parcheesi game, in which she spent an hour and a half basically just berating me as a total idiot, because I couldn't play Parcheesi as well as she and the rest of her family could," relates Mr. Berg. "But I think the one memory I always seem to fall back on is we were one day driving back to her house in Connecticut, and she'd just received an invitation from a fashion institute, and they were naming her the woman of the century or something. And I said, 'I think they meant to send this to [actress] Audrey Hepburn, not Katharine Hepburn,' and she got so mad at me she just took her ice cream cone and shoved it right in my face."
But the friendship survived, and over the years, A. Scott Berg believes Katharine Hepburn talked to him about subjects she hadn't before addressed in such depth, even in her autobiography.
"I think there were just certain aspects of stories that she didn't necessarily want in print while she was still alive, so I think she was perhaps a little more revealing with me and therefore my book is a little more revealing than she was able to be in her own book," said Mr. Berg.
For example, there was the suicide of her older brother Tom, who hanged himself as a teenager. The author said she was affected by that "very sharply, and I think that's a good example of a story that was dealt with differently in her book and in my book.
"She found her brother hanging from a rafter," explained Mr. Berg. "For years the family lore, and what she put out there, was that it was probably an accident. What she told me over the course of the years was that she believed it wasn't an accident, that he was probably suffering at least from anxiety, perhaps depression. And in her mind it was an intentional suicide. And what effect does that have on a 13-year-old girl, cutting her brother down from a noose, basically? I think it kind of doubled her energy in a way. It was almost as though she was living for two people."
Katharine Hepburn was linked romantically with her frequent co-star, Spencer Tracy, who remained married to another woman. Her biographer, Scott Berg, called it "an arrangement she was happy to live with.
"First of all, she was madly in love with Spencer Tracy, and I think she realized this would be the first and maybe the only relationship in her life where she would truly give more than she necessarily would get. As it happens, I think Spencer Tracy loved her back a lot, but that didn't matter that much to her. She never wanted to marry Spencer Tracy. She made it very clear to him. They were very happy with the arrangement as it was."
The last time Mr. Berg saw Katharine Hepburn was just four weeks before she died. "It was painful because, for the first time, I could see that Katharine Hepburn was about to die. The light was out in her eyes. She looked more frail than I had ever seen her. But she was still very much Katharine Hepburn. Her hair was done up great. She still had the great cheekbones. She still had a modicum of strength. And it was a very sad occasion for me. I told her how much she had meant to me, and when I kissed her goodbye I was saying goodbye. There was no question in my mind about that."
A. Scott Berg says he hopes "Kate Remembered" pays tribute to Katharine Hepburn's memory, and lets readers experience the pleasure of her company for themselves.
"Kate Remembered" is published by G. P. Putnam's Sons, New York