Kate Remembered

A. Scott Berg
Simon & Schuster. 2003.
Hbk. 318 pages.  £18.99.

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Most biographies of film stars chart their career and their lives through the use of library research, interviews and the odd bit of analysis. This tried and tested formula is jettisoned by A. Scott Berg in this book. He tells of his first tentative meetings with Katharine Hepburn and their friendship that continued until her death.

He had tried meeting her in April 1972 but this never transpired, and it was not until 1983, when Hepburn was aged 75, that he finally got to meet her. She had recently been in a serious car accident but this barely slowed her down. Her first words to Berg were “Did you use the bathroom?” And, she insisted he go before they continued their conversation. Her explanation was that her father was a urologist and it was his expert advice that you should go whenever there is the opportunity.

From this inauspicious beginnings Berg got to know Hepburn’s life with her constant companion Phyllis Wilbourn, and her brother, Dick. Many of his meetings were at her family home in Connecticut, where Dick would be constantly cooking things in his half of the kitchen.

Besides giving an insight into her life and character, and her relationship with Howard Hughes and Spencer Tracy, there are some rather surprising stories. I particularly like the story of Michael Jackson’s visit to her New York home for dinner. She had met him for the first time when filming On Golden Pond. She befriended him but she had to berate him when she found that he had never made a bed in his life. This made her conclude that “He’s E.T.!”. On the dinner date, which Berg attended, Jackson who was then 25 acted like a shy 10-year-old. He reluctantly took off his sun glasses but refused to drink anything. When the stilted conversation ground to a halt Berg asked Jackson about which Hepburn movies he liked best, but it was obvious he had not seen any of her films, not even On Golden Pond. He only spoke with any enthusiasm when someone asked him about his collection of animals. At dinner Hepburn was rather shocked to discover that Jackson didn’t know what cauliflower was. For her, and probably everyone else it was becoming an increasingly puzzling and exasperating dinner party. After the meal Jackson had a private chat with Hepburn. Berg overheard her saying “absolutely not” several times. A few minutes later Jackson was driven away in a television repair truck that had been waiting outside for him. Hepburn revealed that he had wanted to have his picture taken with her, and he wanted an introduction to Greta Garbo. She had refused on both counts. To cap the bizarre night when Berg left Hepburn’s home he saw four limousines all of which had the rear window down enough to give a glimpse of someone looking like Michael Jackson. Strange....

This is not so much a book as a love letter from a fan to a great film star.

Nigel Watson
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