Kate : The Woman Who was Hepburn Hardcover – Oct 3 2006
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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.
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
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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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