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.