Katharine Hepburn: An Absolutely Tender Violet of a Woman
edited: Friday, July 04, 2003
By Helga Ross
Posted: Wednesday, July 02, 2003
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Larry King's Interview with Katherine Houghton revealed a few glimpses that amaze and endear Katharine Hepburn, my personal hero, even more.
Helga’s Heartlines: A Journal
Sunday, June 29, 2003.
Admiring fans of Katherine Hepburn no doubt recall this unforgettable scene with Jimmy Stewart, from The Philadelphia Story (1940):
Mike: You're wonderful. (She laughs) There's a magnificence in you, Tracy.
Tracy: Now, I'm getting self-conscious. It's funny. I- (She looks up) Mike? Let's...
Tracy: I don't know - go up I guess, it's late.
Mike: A magnificence that comes out of your eyes, in your voice, in the way you stand there, in the way you walk. You're lit from within, Tracy. You've got fires banked down in you, hearth-fires and holocausts.
Tracy (turning toward him): I don't seem to you made of bronze?
Mike (takes her in his arms): No, you're made out of flesh and blood. That's the blank, unholy surprise of it. You're the golden girl, Tracy. Full of life and warmth and delight. What goes on? You've got tears in your eyes.
Tracy: Shut up, shut up. Oh Mike. Keep talking, keep talking. Talk, will you?
Ah, that captures the essence of her, doesn’t it?
The quintessential, incomparable Kate: Luminous; larger than life; oozing charisma; exuding strength; a vital female force. A most remarkable woman, a unique individual, a legend, an icon - Still, a standard not totally out of our reach - A mortal and flawed human being, of tough and tender contradictions, like the rest of us.
I started this piece over a week ago, and, in the way of we writers, only just got back to it. The subject had been fomenting in the back of my mind for a very long time, in fact, for many years. I knew I would write something about my regard for her when the time was right. I suppose because there was no apparent urgency, no particular prompting from my Muse. The impetus to finally get to work at last impressed itself thanks to a recent television show, which re-introduced her to the forefront in my thoughts.
'Larry King Live' was a real treat on June 19th, for viewers like me. His special guest was Katherine Houghton, actress in her own right, and niece of none other than my all-time favorite screen personality. The familial resemblance to her famous aunt is clearly evident for all to see; a fortuitous physical inheritance, strikingly manifest, thanks to the advantage of some very distinctive shared genes. But beyond such obvious attributes, she projects the same familiar patrician dignity, in bearing and demeanor, and the measured, clearly articulated speech.
I am unabashed to admit the great lady has always mesmerized me. I hold her in highest esteem. When she is in a scene, she was, and still is, what I first and most see. Riveting. I’ve watched her steal the screen from such lights as Humphrey Bogart, Peter O’Toole, Henry Fonda, John Wayne, and even those held in highest critical regard: John Barrymore, Sir Laurence Olivier, and her beloved Spencer Tracy.
No, that’s not quite right -- What I mean to say, to be fair to all concerned, she’s the one and only woman who is, at minimum, their match. She brings out the best in them; shows, as well as sets them off, magnificently. Hers have been the most marvelous pairings in cinema history. And for those who may have missed such feast, today’s hot and heavy couplings, in terms of conveying passion, have nothing on the on-screen, palpable chemistry between Hepburn and Tracy.
From the time I, as adolescent, saw 'Stage Door', 'Little Women', 'Bringing Up Baby', 'The Philadelphia Story', on my family’s first black and white TV, she made an indelible impression on me. She seized upon my budding self-image, provided vicarious outlet for my alter ego’s freedom from self-consciousness, awkwardness, and doubts, got hold of my fanciful, youthful hopes. She became my idol and role model for what it was possible for a female to be – independent, expressive, self-supporting, self-assured – all the while presented with gusto, but also, style and dignity. She’d paved the way, broken the mold, long before women’s liberation, for women to step out of the limited roles assigned them. She did so by simply daring to be her authentic, individualistic self. No bra-burning or crusading: She led the way by example, on screen and off, without intending to. That was a brave personal undertaking for women during the first half of the twentieth century in the face of entrenched social conformity.
Knowing she was an individualist and comfortably single woman in her private life, who didn't need to be married to be happy, reinforced the natural bent dictated early by my psyche. Having to help my mother with chores at home because she had to work in the days when most women didn’t, I abhorred the notion of housewife and had good reasons to be disenchanted with the primary goal of wife. I wanted a different kind of life. For the most part, I have lived the way I imagined, to some extent patterned by hers, but in my own unique, low-key fashion.
“During an ABC interview in 1981, Hepburn told Barbara Walters: "I have not lived as a woman. I have lived as a man. I've just done what I damn well wanted to, and I've made enough money to support myself, and ain't afraid of being alone."
I’m a kindred spirit, but I doubt I could have done it without her example. Insecure and shy, socially, I needed to know somebody else was out there to show me how and let me know it was okay. I feel like she’s family somehow, my inside sister or beloved Great Auntie. There a part of the inner me that’s very like her and a much bigger part that wishes it could be.
I’ve been out in the garden all afternoon this glorious day, enjoying the play of breeze, sunshine and shadow, and woodland wildlife, as I write this and leaf through several biographies. I read about Hepburn’s youthful exuberance, her passion to prove herself, and I can almost ‘feel’ her life. A sigh of satisfaction as I check my progress: A spontaneous rather than difficult write. I think maybe I'm nearly done!
I haven’t had the TV on in the background, a link to the world's lifeline, as I usually do, because I prefer quiet, to write. As I settle down at my computer and begin to type, my mother comes down to my 'sanctuary' via the steep flight of stairs and calls to me. She knows I’ve been blissfully oblivious, isolated and happily busy, outside.
“Katharine Hepburn died this afternoon,” she says, ever so softly.
Instantly, without even thinking, I start to cry.
Turn on TV, listen to the news, the tributes, the commentaries – More tears escape, unbidden, from my eyes.
Plan to search out her movies - the ones I’ve never seen; the one’s I seen many times; rent some, buy some more.
I always knew she would be leaving us one day, but not yet. No! Make it to 100.
I believed she would last, if anyone could.
I was not ready for this, right now.
Yet, I suppose I am.
Why did I write?
'Interview with Katherine Houghton' revealed a few glimpses that amaze and endear Katharine Hepburn, my personal hero, even more:
King: So this tough broad is a shy woman.”
Houghton: “A very shy woman. An absolutely delicate violet of a woman.”
King: “What was her weakness?”
Houghton: “ Maybe lack of self-confidence...”
King: “Really. Because no one gives an air of more confidence...”
Houghton: “I know. This is what’s so wonderfully interesting about her nature.”
What splendid and inspiring irony!
Katherine Houghton has suggested one day she may tell us more. She, who really knows...
I look forward to it.
Web Site: Passions in Prose.com
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|Reviewed by Josephine Locke
|No review, no comment other than Kathryn Hepburn is a good role model for attitudes of women.
To Helga Ross-- Is this book available from you and for a personalized autograph? Josephine
|Reviewed by James C Truman
|What a wonderful tribute to our beloved Kate for fans and lovers of her films everywhere!
|Reviewed by Donna Maris
|XCELLENT WRITE!! I Loved here madcap adventure loving character , the first I saw was "Bringing up Baby", like yourself on TV in B& W, The Philadelphia Story,Desk Set, The Lion In Winter,The Rainmaker,Long Day's Journey Into Night, Pat & Mike, Woman of the Year, Adam's Rib, Stage Door ( My favorite line: "The Calla Lillies are In Blooom - Again!") I loved her and Bette Davis, Connecticut natives, alog with Paul Newman..my father who was involved in the "industry" of Entertainment, knew them and people like producers Ray Stark, and Ken Hyman.(I grew up knowing the Hyman family).. she was wonderful and splendiferous - and I loved her attitude- indeed she lived as a "man" wearing pants on sets when other women of her time did not..
and women of her breed and defining cahracter,just simply are one in millions.. for me she made the world a brighter place, by breaking the mold and daring others to be the best they could in her presence..thank you for writing such a wonderful tribute. Donna
|Reviewed by Donna Maris
|Thank you for your tribute. I enjoyed so many entertaining hours with Katherine's movies. I loved the script, the part about she's not made of bronze. Didn't they have "brazen hussies" back then?|