Katharine Hepburn-Me: Stories of My Life

Synopsis: Admired and beloved by movie audiences for over sixty years, four-time Academy Award-winner Katharine Hepburn is an American classic. Now Miss Hepburn breaks her long-kept silence about her private life in this absorbing and provocative memoir. (Adapted from Goodreads)

Themes Explored: biography, memoir, nonfiction, Hollywood, Golden Age of Hollywood, Howard Hughes, Spencer Tracy, Cary Grant, Katharine Hepburn, acting, theater, New York, women’s rights, political activism, glamour, Connecticut. 

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Review: The Golden Age of Hollywood characterizes American cinema between the 1910s and the early 1960s. During this time period the studio system controlled the film industry with an iron fist. The studio heads propelled American cinema into the most powerful and pervasive style of film-making worldwide. Before film, the only visual type of narrative storytelling was the theater. Around the 1890s, early film-makers sought to capture the emotion of live theatre onto a crude format of cinema screen. Most of these early cinema pioneers started as directors on the late 19th century stage, and a majority of silent film stars started out in vaudeville or theatrical melodramas. If an actor wanted a shot at the silver screen, they needed to begin on stage.

With a career that spanned nearly sixty years, four-time Academy Award winner Katharine Hepburn was an American classic. During her heyday, she was an electrifying presence on the international cultural scene. Despite the media’s best intentions, her private life remained obscured by mystery. Until, basically on a whim, Miss Hepburn decided to write a memoir. It reads more like a loosely connected stream of consciousness than a straight up autobiography.  Instead of a linear format, Hepburn chooses to arrange her life based upon themes and people. A lot of chapters time jump in between one another.

Unlike a large majority of women in the early 1900s, Hepburn attended, and graduated, from college. She attended Bryn Mawr College, just like her mother beforehand, and began acting in student productions. Her progressive parents encouraged her to pursue whatever made her happy.

The second of six children, Hepburn was born on May 12, 1907, in Hartford, Connecticut, to Thomas Norval Hepburn, a urologist, and Katharine Martha Houghton, a feminist campaigner. Both of her parents passionately fought for women’s rights and social change in the U.S. Thomas helped establish the New England Social Hygiene Association, one of the first organizations founded to educate the public about venereal disease. The elder Katharine ran the Connecticut Woman Suffrage Association.

Unsurprisingly, all the Hepburn children were raised to speak their mind and encouraged to think and debate on any topic they wished. Her parents were criticized by the community for their progressive views, which encouraged Hepburn to fight extra harder against the professional barriers she encountered. Throughout the book Hepburn notes that she was the product of “two very remarkable parents”, and credited them with providing the foundation for her success. She remained close to her parents and siblings throughout her life. Even her ex-husband hanged out at the family home long after their divorce.

Most celebrity autobiographies are rather pretentious and actually quite boring. I am a huge fan of Katharine Hepburn’s movies, The Philadelphia Story and Bringing Up Baby are two of my favorite films. While wandering through the library looking for a different book, I stumbled upon Hepburn’s memoir and decided to see what she had to say. I finished it in a day. Her writing style is very conversational, she actually just spoke the book aloud into a recorder.  The book reads more like a long form interview than a traditional memoir.

Over the course of the book, Hepburn reflects on the events, people, and places that shaped her life—her childhood and family, her early career in New York, and her political activism. Other chapters are devoted to the  ups and downs of her career, her “friendship” with Spencer Tracy, and the actors, directors, and producers that helped her career along the way. If you are like me and enjoy reading about the culture of Hollywood in the 1930s-1960s, then Hepburn’s memoir is an interesting snapshot of the time.

Me: Stories of My Life, 1996, Ballantine Books, ISBN: 9780345410092

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