May 12, 2007

When the dead turn 50. When the dead turn 100.

This past Thursday, Sid Vicious, had he lived, would have turned 50. Ah, but it's not hard to picture druggy rock and rollers getting old. I remember when it was considered an impossibility. If you lived like that you couldn't get that old. But nowadays, we don't have to rely on our paltry imagination. We have an icon of old rock and roll drugginess:

But forget about Sid Vicious turning 50 on Thursday. Today, Katharine Hepburn turns 100!
She lived openly with a woman widely assumed to have been her lover, wore men’s trousers and aired unfashionably left-wing opinions that scandalized the fan magazines....

Hepburn became an American Rorschach test, mirroring the ways we wanted to see ourselves. Each generation redefined her, rubbing out and adding to her myth. In the ’60s, she fell into step with the counterculture, promoting interracial love in “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner” and exposing the folly of war in “The Trojan Women.” When the times took another rightward lurch in the 1970s, she made “Rooster Cogburn” opposite the conservative icon John Wayne, and told the press how refreshing it was to work with a “real man.” Hepburn had remade herself from a sexually and politically suspect outsider into an exemplar of true-blue Americana....

Hepburn’s drive for fame meant she would spend her life struggling between the demands of “the creature” (what she called her public image) and the more bohemian, unconventional life to which she was drawn. She was forced to invent a role for the kind of woman she was — her own kind. Labels — sexual, political, artistic — hold little meaning when talking about her. Sex, love and marriage were only the beginnings of the things she had to learn, re-make and often reject.

That's from an op-ed in the NYT by William Mann, who wrote "Kate: The Woman Who Was Hepburn." Hmmm, so what was the deal with Katharine Hepburn? Was she a lesbian? The Amazon page for Mann's book has this from Publisher's Weekly:
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.
Wow, I have not been keeping up with Hollywood gossip! Anyway, I'm interested in this whole private side of her, including the way she built and maintained her phony image. I listened -- like a sucker -- to her reading of her -- presumably Frey-like -- memoir, "Me." I even read Garson Kanin's "Tracy and Hepburn," which I thought she was all outraged about. Supposedly, she cut off her friendship with Kanin for revealing -- what? -- the story that wasn't true but that she wanted to promote as true? And part of that ruse was to appear to be suppressing it? Tricky. But when you're 100 years old and dead, you can do any damned thing you want.

I love Katharine Hepburn, even though she's terrible in a lot of movies. What do you love her in the most? "Bringing Up Baby," of course, but what else? Back in the days before VCRs, I once called in sick -- the only time in my life I've ever called in sick and lied -- because "Morning Glory" was on TV. We stayed home, felt guilty, and watched the movie, cut with commercials, on a crummy little TV we'd paid $15 for. A distinctive cinematic experience.


Freeman Hunt said...

Shock of shocks, another biographer follows the fad of trying to prove that his subject (and in this case, everyone she knows) is gay. Yawn.

boston70 said...

Interesting that you bring this up. I just watched Splendor in the Glass last night and was struck by how different it was especially for the year in which it was made-1959.

I found her fascinating in that movie. When we are introduced to her she comes down from an open elevator in her home in New Orleans spouting off this fascinating dialog. Then she shows Montgomery Clift her garden which is downright creepy. The script on that film is incredible-great lines written by Tennessee Williams. It doesn't feel like we have those kind of great dialogs in movies anymore which is sad.

She was riveting and downright bizarre in Splendor In The Grass. I actually really got into watching it last night.

I do think she was a fascinating character in real life.

The gay thing, who really cares-that's actually the least interesting to me.

I also watched Guess Who's Coming to Dinner last night (TCM was having a night of some of her pictures). I guess Spencer Tracey was dieing during the filming and she put up a bunch of money because of issues with insurance. In that movie you could really see that she loved him. If you look at her when he delivers his lines you can see her love for him. He died 17 days after the movie was finished and never saw it.

boston70 said...

OMG, I just did that whole post and called the movie Splendor in the Grass-my bad, I have a few glasses of wine when I watching it maybe that's why I thought it was so good.

I meant the movie I saw with her and Montgomery Cliff and Liz Taylor was Suddenly Last Summer.

So sorry!

Larry said...

Yeah - a tomboy living her life with another women - and now they're calling her a lesbian. Where do people come up with these crazy ideas????

Fen said...

My fav is The Lion in Winter [1968].

Just last week I remarked to my wife that I thought she was one of the greatest actresses. Wifey responded "not really, she always seem to play the same character", unlike a Dustin Hoffman [Tootsie, Rain Man]. Does that ring true?

[help me out peeps, I bet I would cook dinner all weekend if I couldn't counter her claim]

Zeb Quinn said...

Wow, I have not been keeping up with Hollywood gossip!

You certainly haven't! The hottest piece of gossip about the great Kate since her death is not her supposed lesbianism but rather is that she left a secret child, a love-child from her relationship with Spencer Tracey, none other than ABC Nightline anchorette Cynthia McFadden. McFadden does look eerily like a a near-perfect cross between Hepburn and Tracey. McFadden was handling Kate's affairs for the last few years of her life and was the executrix of her estate. And for what it's worth she named her own son Spencer. It all adds up.

MrBuddwing said...

Saw "The Philadelphia Story" when I was a kid. I found it doubly puzzling; not only did I have trouble following the oh-so-sophisticated dialogue, I was perplexed by the realization that Cary Grant's character was supposed to be ultimately right, and Hepburn's character was finally proven to be wrong - that Tracy Lord was meant to be a self-righteous, upper-class harpy who needed to be taken down a peg or two. What kind of non-threatening 1940s movie feminism was that supposed to have been, anyway? (The NY Times article was most enlightening - so I guess Hepburn was trying to soften her public image.)

I'm a bit deficient when it comes to Katharine Hepburn films - I really ought to see "Stage Door," for starters. But of the ones I've seen, I really liked "Summertime" - the Venice setting is gorgeous, and Hepburn doesn't seem as strident as she could be at times.

By the way, as long as we're into centennials, both Laurence Olivier and John Wayne will be turning 100 in the coming weeks. Now there's a pair!

michael farris said...

"What do you love her in the most?"


Long day's journey into night.


Pat and Mike (strangely enough)

Christy said...

Why do we care about her sexual orientation?

I, too, love Bringing Up Baby. Add to that The Philadelphia Story and Lion in Winter and several of the Hepburn & Tracey....

I started a Hepburn movie marathon a year ago and started with David Lean's Summertime. That was so awful I couldn't go on. She was terrible, the script was boring, but the cinematography was glorious. A valentine to Venice.

Christy said...

I see that Mr Budd liked Summertime. Therein may lie your answer, Fen. I thought it demonstated that Hepburn couldn't act as other than herself. Mr. Budd was convinced by the performance. So there you have it. Kate as not-Kate.

dick said...

I always thought her role in African Queen was one of her best. She and bogie seemed to have a good chemistry in that one.

johnstodder said...

Katherine Hepburn was no actress. She didn't need to be. She was a movie star. A true movie star is far preferable to an actress, assuming they are cast correctly. And, of course movie stars "play the same role every time." Otherwise, why hire them?

Yes, Dustin Hoffman and many other superbly skilled actors today can play anybody. But he can't develop a single persona that moviegoers will pay money to see time after time.

There are very few movie stars still alive: Clint Eastwood and Jack Nicholson come to mind. But we are in a golden age of actors in the mode of Dustin Hoffman.

Anyway: I am fascinated by this double-beard revelation about Spencer Tracy and Hepburn.

Perhaps it will also turn out that Rock Hudson in fact wasn't gay, but fostered the gay rumors to cover up his secret affair with...Nancy Reagan!

Jennifer said...

I've only ever seen her in Bringing Up Baby, but loved her in that.

So, now Spencer Tracy's wife is the old Dina McGreevey and Katherine Hepburn was just playing emotional caretaker to his closeted soul in the years they lived together before his death...? Of course, that doesn't really explain why Katherine chose not to attend his funeral and ol' Mrs. "Dina" Tracy did...

Call me a romantic, but I vastly prefer either lesbian Kate or long-time-affair-to-Spencer-Tracy Kate than sex-averse/closeted-soul-nurse Kate.

c327 said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Beth said...

I spent the day at a literary conference, and William Mann was there as well. It continues tomorrow; I'll have to ask him about the secret lovechild rumor.

ricpic said...

Spencer Tracy was a homo,!

Is nothing sacred?!?!

AHCB said...

Check out our 50th birthday tribute to Sid Vicious.

B said...

Adam's Rib.
Still glorious fun, and I love talking young kids who have never seen it into watching it - everyone who does just loves it.

Saw Hepburn live at the Ahmanson in the LA Music Center in the 70's in "A Matter of Gravity". She exited after the play into the crowd outside; she was magnanimous to a fault, the opposite of the "hidden Hepburn" that everyone talked about.

I always sort of saw her as a mother figure actually. Like my mother: beautiful, strong, opinionated, grab-em-by-the-balls-if-you-have-to womanhood.

satineenjolras said...

I have read the book in question and, without any research at all, have determined several errors as well as many ridiculous arguments and baseless speculation. His sources are extremely unreliable! Therefore I would not believe any of his ideas. Maybe KH was bisexual, but that book doesn't convince me.