There was good reason why the tome was being kept under wraps. Hepburn herself had stipulated that it could only be published after her death. Berg met the legendary actress and became a friend and confidante for the next 20 years, lovingly crafting this tale of their relationship. When she passed away this past June 29 at the age of 96, the manuscript was ready to go, which explains why it hit stores this past week, less than two from her passing.
“Kate Remembered“ is an account of quiet moments and intimate conversations shared by the writer and actress, and through them, there is very little that isnt revealed to us about a woman who was notorious when it came to the issue of privacy. Berg states upfront that its not a critical study of her life and career, but his documentation of Hepburn in some of the more reflective moments of her last 20 years. In doing so, he wanted to share more than his remembrances, but instead, convey hers.
In this excerpt from the first chapter, “A Private Function,“ the author describes his first meeting with Hepburn, which happened when she was 75, and in the twilight years of her remarkable career:
Ive never felt so intimidated ringing a doorbell.
Even though she and I had become friendly in the past few months over the telephone and I was standing at her front door in New York City at her invitation, I was genuinely nervous about our first meeting. And -Ive never been especially starstruck.
But this was different. Katharine Hepburn was the first movie star I had ever noticed, and she had been my favorite ever since - the only actor whose plays and movies I attended just because she was in them...After a long pause, a short woman with black hair poked her cherubic face out of an adjacent door, the service entrance, and said, “Yes?“
I said I had a six oclock appointment with Miss Hepburn...She said Miss Hepburn was expecting me...Before I had even entered the room, I heard the unmistakable voice from inside. “Did you use the bathroom?“
“Im sorry?“ I said, now standing in the doorway and seeing Katharine Hepburn for the first time.
She sat to the right in a comfortable- looking chair, her feet in white athletic shoes propped up on a footrest. She appeared to be amazingly fit for a seventy-five- year- old then recovering from a serious car accident. She looked restored and relaxed, her skin tight against the legendary cheekbones, her eyes clear, a soothing pale blue, her hair a ruddy gray, all pulled off her face and pinned up into her trademark knot. She wore no make up and flashed a big movie-star grin, exuding charm and energy. She was wearing khaki pants, a white turtleneck under a blue chambray shirt, and she had a red sweater tied loosely around her neck. As I approached her, I tried to take in as much of the room as I could - the high ceiling, pictures on the walls, a fire blazing in the fireplace, nothing ostentatious except for huge bouquets of flowers everywhere.
“Did you use the bathroom?“ she asked again, before I had reached her.
“Well, dont you think you should?“
“No, thank you. I dont think thats necessary.“
“Well, I think you should probably go back downstairs and use the bathroom first.“ I repeated that I didnt think it was necessary but that I would do my best.
Two minutes later I returned; and as I reached the top of the stairs, she asked, “Did you use the bathroom?“
“Well, actually,“I said, “I did, thank you.“
“Good. You know my father was a urologist, and he said you should always go to the bathroom whenever you have to...and you see, you had to. So how do you do? Im Katharine Hepburn.“
“Yes, I know you are.“ We shook hands, and from her chair she looked me up and down and smiled. “Youre tall.“ A little over six feet, I told her. “Tennis?“ No, I said, but I swim regularly and work out with weights at a gym. “Boah.“ A little boring, I concurred, adding that it was the most time- efficient form of exercise for me.
“Do you smoke?“ she asked.
I started to laugh - feeling as though I had walked into a production of The Importance of Being Earnest - and said, “No, Lady Bracknell, I -dont.“ She laughed and said, “I used to. Gave it up. Disgusting habit. Well, I hope you drink.“
There are scores of those sorts of reminiscences in the book, all of which allow the reader rare glimpses into the multi-faceted Hepburns personality. As her friendship with Berg deepens over the years, she reveals more of herself to him, resulting in previously untold biographical details of her career and her famous love affairs with the likes of Spencer Tracy and Howard Hughes. The book isnt a tell-all, by any means, but it does let you in on what happened at meeting with Michael Jackson and Warren Beatty, the deterioration of her physical and mental health in her final years, events surrounding some of her most memorable films, and much, much more.
Most touching of all, though, are the quietly effective passages of the friendship between Hepburn and Berg, and the storys enormously moving finale lingers with the reader long after the book has been completed. As noted, Berg is as good a biographer as any currently on the scene, but he made a unique and wonderful choice in shaping this work as he did. All of the loves and life lessons held dear by someone who came to embody the independent spirit of the American woman are told here, and in a way that is so personal and intimate. Ultimately, its hard to imagine a more fitting tribute to Great Kate.