A heavily conversational biography of the strong-willed film legend.
Katharine Hepburn (1907–2003) wasn’t the most conventionally attractive actress, but her no-nonsense attitude and deep intelligence helped make her a star. In a style similar to her other “personal biographies” (She Always Knew How: Mae West, 2009), Chandler largely constructs the narrative around extended quotes from interviews conducted in the 1970s and ’80s, with additional brief commentary from friends, directors and co-stars like George Cukor, Douglas Fairbanks Jr. and Christopher Reeve. Hepburn openly discusses her failed early marriage, her relationships (and sex life) with Howard Hughes and Spencer Tracy, her frustrations on the set of The African Queen (1951) and her reputation for being prickly and something of a chatterbox—Jimmy Stewart recalls a particularly exhausting plane ride with her while filming The Philadelphia Story (1940). Chandler’s approach has plenty of shortcomings. The text is needlessly littered with plot summaries of most of Hepburn’s films, with equal weight given to both major works like Bringing Up Baby (1938) and Summertime (1955) and minor ones like The Little Minister (1934). Inevitably, the relative dearth of traditional research makes the book feel more like an extended interview than a rigorously reported life. Hepburn emerges as a woman with a fair bit of baggage and a romantic streak that belied her sharp edges, but serious fans already know that—she brought a similar candor to her own memoirs, The Making of The African Queen (1987) and Me (1991). The best parts of Chandler’s book come in the final pages, as Hepburn engagingly speaks about how she enjoyed detaching from her film persona—which she called the “Creature”—to live privately, and how she would’ve liked to have played the lead in the 1945 film I Know Where I’m Going!, which gives this book its title.
A lively but incomplete biography, carried more by its subject than its author.