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Kate : The Woman Who was Hepburn [Hardcover]

William J. Mann


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Book Description

Oct. 3 2006
The first major Katharine Hepburn biography independent of her control reveals the smart, complicated, and sophisticated woman behind the image

Onscreen she played society girls, Spencer Tracy's sidekick, lionesses in winter. But the best character Katharine Hepburn ever created was Katharine Hepburn: a Connecticut Yankee, outspoken and elegant, she wore pants whatever the occasion and bristled at Hollywood glitter. So captivating was her image that she never seemed less than authentic. But how well did we know her, really? Was there a woman behind the image who was more human, more driven, and ultimately more triumphant because of her vulnerability?

William J. Mann--a cultural historian and journalist, a sympathetic admirer but no mere fan--has fashioned an intimate, often revisionist, and truly unique close-up that challenges much of what  we think we know about the Great Kate. Previous biographies--mostly products of friends and fans--have recycled the stories she hid behind, taking Hollywood myths at face value. Mann goes deeper, delivering new details from friends and family who have not been previously interviewed and drawing on materials only available since Hepburn's death.

With affection, intelligence, and a voluminous knowledge of Hollywood history, Mann shows us how a woman originally considered too special and controversial for fame learned the fine arts of movie stardom and transformed herself into an icon as durable and all-American as the Statue of Liberty.

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From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. Mann, a skilled chronicler of gay Hollywood (Wisecracker: The Life and Times of William Haines), says at the onset it doesn't make sense to try to pin down Katharine Hepburn with modern labels of sexual identity. Mann's careful research on the longstanding rumors about Hepburn's lesbianism suggests that the notoriously feisty and tomboyish actress lived her life as a man with little empathy for women's issues. This interpretation also shatters the legend of her romance with Spencer Tracy—instead, Mann establishes a pattern of relationships in which the sex-averse Hepburn played emotional caretaker to a series of alcoholic, closeted homosexuals that, in addition to Tracy, included director John Ford. Yet the portrait is constructed so carefully that it never feels shocking. Mann also devotes significant attention to Hepburn's rocky relationships with Hollywood studios and with the press, revealing that the self-styled renegade wasn't above collaborating to shape her public image, and depicts her final decline into alcoholism and depression with sensitivity. Hepburn's siblings and contemporaries (now free to speak after her death) make major corrections to earlier Hepburn biographies, creating a picture of a complex woman rather than the icon she worked hard to become in the public's eye. This will surely be the definitive version of Hepburn's life for decades to come, as it is an outstanding example of painstaking research matched with splendid writing. (Oct. 3)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

When Katharine Hepburn's movie career began in the 1930s, people didn't know what to make of her. It didn't matter; she formed her own image: an iconoclast and a feminist, yet a woman who found her greatest happiness caring for--some would say subjugating herself to--her longtime love, Spencer Tracy. Since her death, there has been some revisionist history. In Kate Remembered (2003), author and friend A. Scott Berg seemingly confirmed rumors of Hepburn's bisexuality. Mann goes further, exploring Hepburn's liaisons with numerous women and even suggesting that the Hepburn-Tracy relationship was never really a romance, except perhaps at the beginning. Moreover, he posits that Tracy had sexuality issues of his own, which may have been the root of his excessive drinking. This gossip has been whispered about in the past, but Mann has done his homework, digging up sources who have never before spoken, finding new facts, revealing how both press and public played their parts in upholding Hepburn's carefully crafted persona. He also avoids the pitfalls of so many biographers: although he puts his subject on the couch, he lets her do the speaking. Rich and vivid, this will garner great attention--and deservedly so. Ilene Cooper
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

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Amazon.com: 3.4 out of 5 stars  69 reviews
66 of 83 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Really rather boring as well as pointless Dec 18 2006
By Loribee - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Unless the purpose of the book was only to "out" Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy, and, apparently, everyone else Kate knew, in which it tries very hard to achieve its objective.

I found the book to be difficult to read, and often difficult to believe. So many things didn't add up, and I often found myself thinking "now, how did the author know that?" Mann uses a lot of innuendo, and in order to actually KNOW the things he claims, he would have had to have been in the bedrooms of the people involved.

I read a lot of good reviews before purchasing the book, and can only say I was disappointed. After the first chapter I GOT the idea - Kate was gay or bisexual, at least in the author's opinion - so much paper could have been saved without the rest of the book.

When I was about 10, I was a tomboy. I wanted to be a boy. I buy and wear men's jeans because they fit better. I played with my brothers and their friends, not my sister or "dumb dolls". God only knows where the author could go with that information. When I was older, I had close female friends, and close male friends - with that information, the author could write a similar book about me, I think. Except I've never been sexually attracted to other women, and I'm happily married.

My real problem with the book, aside from the fact that it was not interesting reading, is that I couldn't understand why someone would write a book trying to prove a person was gay or bisexual. It just got tedious after a while.

One can always find "someone" who said "something", and the author did have an agenda. Whether or not Kate was bisexual or gay does not a book make. Speculation about it makes even less of a book.

This was not the definitive bio of Kate that people claimed it was. The author started with a thesis, or opinion, and set out to prove it - to me, not very successfully. Perhaps one day there will be a definitive biography of Hepburn. Possibly her sexuality will be part of it - the small part that it should be when one writes about a life. I look forward to that book.
19 of 23 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars It is way too easy Dec 30 2008
By C. Holden - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
for a biographer to come up with a 'theme', i.e. homosexuality/asexuality and run with it - in this case run with it far beyond any possible interest. Mann repeats his point about everyone in Hepburn's world being one or the other so often it is truly tedious. Spencer Tracy arrives on the page and you are simply waiting until he is outed too, which, of course, is not a long wait.
I do wonder , too, whether Mr Mann has ever taken care of a sick person for a long period of time, as Hepburn took care of Tracy. My guess is not, because if he had, he might not have dismissed the feelings she subsequently expressed about their relationship with such seeming triumph.
He has mined the sexual vein of all connected with Hepburn to such a degree, the book is bloodless and boring.
50 of 65 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Not Very Credible March 24 2007
By Rachael Crawley - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
Hi, the account-holder's daughter here. I do not reflect the opinion of the person who has this account.

I will not talk about Hepburn's sexuality, because the only person who knew for sure is dead. Instead, I will point out that this book makes many factual errors. It claims that Hepburn had a hysterectomy, ignoring the fact that Hepburn mentions having her period in 1951, eighteen years after the supposed surgery. It gets Spencer Tracy's drinking habits entirely wrong- he was a binge drinker, not a regular drinker. The author uses a witness, Scotty, who has said before that he has lied to biographers. Mann also takes comments out of context and manipulates them to suit his own purposes. An example here:

Mann told an interviewer that Hepburn told Dick Cavett she was a "missing link" between the genders, to support his theory that Hepburn was transgender. Wrong! Though she did say "missing link", it was to refer to her position in the family (her younger siblings were all much younger than she- thus a "missing link" between children and parents), not her gender at all.

Maybe Hepburn was bisexual, or lesbian. Maybe her relationship with Spencer Tracy was exaggerated. And perhaps she was, in fact, transgender. There's no problem in that. However, I personally would need a more credible source than what Mann has provided.
17 of 22 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars "I put on pants years ago and declared a sort of middle road." Nov. 17 2007
By Luan Gaines - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
Mann's take on Hepburn's life seems to be a love it or hate it proposition for many readers; however, approaching this book with no preconceived notions or expectations, I found this biography both fascinating and reflective of the complicated world of wealth, show business and the creative temperament. Movies have long been a great source of escape, but they do create passionate loyalty in fans as we project our own interpretations of great screen characters. Mann looks deeper into Hepburn's years onscreen and off, as well as her motivations, her cultural background and penchant for the bohemian lifestyle that so attracted to those who could indulge themselves, by virtue of entitlement and an appreciation of the arts.

During her youth, Hepburn nurtured a desire to be special, believing in her destiny, although the first years on the stage were not as successful as she hoped. Child of a distant, critical father, Kate was profoundly affected by her father's lack of affection, a gawky girl who later grows into a beauty, half tomboy, half girl, ever straddling the two. As a free spirit ("financial security was something she took for granted"), Kate had a strong drive toward independence, yet was drawn to older men, a recurring cycle of father figures who harbored some private sexual ambiguity. In the 30s and 40s, Kate was in a unique position to avail herself of the diverse lifestyles of Greenwich Village, enjoying the gender ambivalence that appealed to those not constricted by public sanctimony. Pre-tabloid times afforded more privacy; certainly in Hollywood's glory days, the stars were able to indulge their private interests without public scrutiny until the Legion of Decency reared its ugly head.

In that context, Hepburn appears more concerned with a career and the close friendships that would last throughout her life, both male and female, than with moral conventions. More interesting is Kate's lack of success on the New York stage, although always supported by enthusiastic friends, and her almost predictable choice of mates, allowing her private life a semblance of normalcy while preserving a strong need for independence. Hollywood was eventually more appreciative of the actress's talents, although the early years provided only sporadic success. Hepburn broke into mainstream popularity in her films with Spencer Tracy, their onscreen chemistry fueling the public's imagination throughout her life, albeit later revised by Kate herself. The much-touted romance between Hepburn and Tracy did much to repair an often confusing image, fending off rumors about Kate's relationships with female friends. Although the two stars did share an intense and long-lasting affection, it was perhaps not the romance of the century imaged by the public, Spencer devoutly depressed and often intractable, easily fitting into the stereotype of Kate's partners of choice- strong males with other, less acceptable (at least to them), sexual proclivities.

A deeply complicated woman whose personal life was defined by her childhood disappointments and ambition to rise above the ordinary, viewing this actress in a social context creates a much fuller and less biased image, her talent blooming on the screen, her personal demons, loves and friendships the fabric of Kate's identity. Perhaps truth, or perceived truth, is never as palatable as our definition of it; in the final analysis, the gods we create have little to do with reality. Luan Gaines/2007.
9 of 11 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Meh May 6 2008
By AAreader - Published on Amazon.com
Overly wordy and far too long this bio is often too speculative to be considered really credible. It's more about the author and his agenda than it is an honest, clear-eyed look at Hepburn's life and work.

More often than not I wanted to abandon this book. Reading it through to the end was a project not a pleasure.

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