KATHARINE HEPBURN by Barbara Leaming


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 A psycho-bio of the actress and her mother that begins as riveting melodrama and turns into talk-show buffalo chips. Leaming (Bette Davis, 1992, etc.) deconstructs Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy: No longer the lovers we cherish, they're just another pair of dysfunctional codependents. Tracy was a self- loathing alcoholic who degraded Hepburn to prove his own worthlessness; Hepburn was a one-woman rescue squad who slept in the hallway outside his room at the Beverly Hills Hotel and fed him fudge sundaes to keep him sober. Why did she choose dark, self- destructive men (not only Tracy but also poet H. Phelps Putnam, Howard Hughes, and director John Ford, whom she almost married)? According to Leaming, it was because at 13 she was too late to rescue her elder brother Tom, whose body she found hanging from the ceiling of a New York City attic. The Hepburn family lived through five suicides: Tom's and those of Hepburn's maternal grandfather and three uncles. Leaming describes Hepburn as using her beauty and fabulous vitality to keep the life in the men she loved. Her well- known movie and stage career is sketched in mainly in the context of Leaming's psychological profile. More rewarding is the story of Hepburn's mother, Kathy, whose father, Fred, shot himself, leaving his wife, Carrie Houghton, and three young daughters to fend for themselves. Leaming, who was privy to newly discovered family papers, tells a Victorian melodrama to rival Little Women as a parable of family love and empowerment. After Carrie's death from stomach cancer, teenage Kathy shepherded herself and her sisters through Bryn Mawr against the wishes of her senior male relatives and the opprobrium of a society that believed higher education could destroy a woman's reproductive organs. The Ford gossip is news, but better than the psychobabble about Kate is the inspiring story of her mother, a strong, complex heroine if ever there was one. (32 pages b&w photos, not seen) (Author tour)

Pub Date: May 1st, 1995
ISBN: 0-517-59284-3
Page count: 560pp
Publisher: Crown
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1st, 1995


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