Joan and I read a lot of books. We buy a lot of books, in the course of a year—hundreds. When we are finished with them, we save some, give some away to friends and family, and then throw some away. To some people, to throw away a book is sacrilegious, but we know we’ll never read or refer to some of them again, and others are just plain bad books. We have a place in Boston and a house on Cape Ann, and each has a lot of bookshelves. She and I almost never read the same book, and we try to keep them apart. In addition to keeping our books separate, each of us tries to keep together books that are related either by subject or author. I recently decided it was time to clear out some of the books to make room for others, which are piled on desks, tables, and chests of drawers.
I have about three linear feet of books on Katharine Hepburn. These are books about her, for the most part, and a couple written by her. I have this collection not because I was a great fan of her movies, but because she and I were friends for many years, and I liked her and she liked me. How we came to be friends is a story for another day, and perhaps I’ll tell it here at some point. It all started with a book I sent her that I thought would make a good script for her. She didn’t agree, but I kept a copy of the book and put it in the collection with the other Hepburn books. I was looking through the Hepburn collection the other day, and I found one book that stood out from all the others because of its size. Actually, it’s not a book: It’s a catalog of 250 pages. On the cover is a picture of Kate; the title is Property from the Estate of Katharine Hepburn. It is a Sotheby’s catalog, and it also states that the property will be auctioned off in New York on June 10 and 11, 2004. I picked up the catalog, and the same feeling of anger came over me that I had felt when I first picked it up seven years ago. “Anger” is probably not the right word. I was outraged that the property of the most private person I ever met would be pictured and itemized, next to a suggested price for each item.
Katharine Hepburn spent her entire life protecting her privacy and creating the image she projected to the world. She lived to be ninety-six years old, and toward the end of her life trusted some people to manage her estate including the things she left behind. In my opinion, there was a violation of that trust when these items—many of them very personal—went up for auction. The Katharine Hepburn I knew was not the Katharine Hepburn she chose to present to the world in interviews with people like Dick Cavett and Barbara Walters. The Katharine Hepburn I knew was polite, a good listener (would never interrupt), self-effacing, quietly intelligent, very gentle, fun to be with. I never felt that I was in the presence of a big Hollywood movie star. But she was always a very private person. For a long time I urged her to show the real Katharine Hepburn—the one I and a few others knew—to the world. I suggested she write a book in her own words without any ghost writer or editor. She was certainly capable of doing that. We talked about it at some length. She actually made a couple of starts and finished a manuscript. Of course, it was published and was on the bestseller list. Its title was Me, and despite the fact that I had a big interest in Kate as a friend, I couldn’t finish the book because it was more of the same of what she gave Cavett and Walters.
At one point I even sent her a bunch of yellow ruled pads and a dozen sharpened No. 2 Dixon pencils because that’s the way she liked to write, jotting down what she called “bits and pieces.” She wrote me a letter about it, and I am going to reproduce it here. As you will see, she talks about the “personal, personal stuff.”
Well, a lot of the “personal, personal stuff” about Kate Hepburn’s life was revealed in that Sotheby catalog and subsequent auction. It is now in the hands of strangers. What follows is just a partial list of some of the things in that catalog (descriptions beneath each):
· Katharine Hepburn’s wedding dress from her marriage to Ludlow Ogden Smith, December 12, 1928. The dress is described in detail, is on a mannequin; the suggested price is between $2,500 and $3,500.
· A collection of Katharine Hepburn’s passports from over the years. We all know about passport photos, and some of the pictures are very unflattering. She was always very fussy about pictures of her and in life had final approval over what pictures would be released; not so in death.
· Leather-bound address books with addresses of friends, doctors, agents, etc. Incidentally, my name, addresses, and phone numbers were in one of them that was auctioned off, and at one point, someone called me up and asked, “Who are you?”
· A group of Kate’s hats.
· A sculpted bust of Spencer Tracy, done by Katharine Hepburn, which she liked very much.
· A picture of Spencer Tracy that had sat on a table next to her bed.
· A picture of Hepburn with no makeup on, her hair in rollers of different sizes made from rolled-up newspapers and used by her on a daily basis.
· a brush and hand mirror engraved “KHH.”
· A Victorian needlepoint runner that was noted as having been in the cottage she shared with Spencer Tracy in Los Angeles. There also was a picture of her standing in front of the needlepoint with a picture of Tracy in the background.