Today is the birthday of my favourite movie related person of all time - the superlative Katharine Hepburn. Words, especially so late at night when I can't think clearly, cannot express how much I adore her). I've fêted her time and time again, so if you've been reading this space for more than a few months you already know that.
A post concerning Hepburn will be forthcoming in the new week, but I could not let her birthday past without something on her, and this is a re-publication of an excerpt from memoir by Garson Kanin I posted two years ago. I feel as if Kate is not as remembered today as much as she ought, but that case can be made for any classic performer. And, some who remember her might forget that even though her star shone for so long she had difficulties in her start with the box-office poison business and whatnot. Stage Door was actually something of a gamble because it was during the time when after her first Oscar for Morning Glory she seemed bound to be forgotten. Clearly, she wasn't.
In the RKO dressing hairdressing department, during the spring of 1939. I eavesdropped, over a half a wall, on a 6 A. M., over-coffee conversation, involving Lucille Ball, Barbra Stanwyck, Ginger Rogers and several unidentifiable voices. Lucille and Ginger were making Stage Door with Kate at the time. Barbara Stanwyck was on The Mad Miss Manton.
There was general studio agreement that Katharine Hepburn was a dazzling actress and a star, but there was some question as to whether she was going to become box office.
The voices said:
“She’s gorgeous. How can she miss?
“Takes more than gorgeous, sugar.”
“Yeah? Like what?”
“That’s it. Hits. Listen to her her.”
“So. She’s had hits.”
“What do you call ‘lately’?”
“What about Alice Adams?”
“Two years ago.”
“All right if she’d done nothing since, but she’s had strike-outs in the two years. Sylvia Scarlett.”
“Break of Hearts.”
“I liked it.”
“But Kokomo didn’t.”
“Mary of Scotland. Wasn’t that a hit?”
“A Woman Rebels.”
“She should’ve, before she said yes to that turkey.”
“They say she picked that one herself. Well, whoever. The people didn’t want it.”
“She’s gonna score in this one, though. Boy, is she ever great.”
“Yeah, but we’re talking about star. The ones people come to see, no matter what. Gable, Tracy, Harlow, Bette. Like that.”
“Maybe Hepburn’s too special.”
“What do you mean?”
“Too, like – well, like high-toned. Not like us.”
“I’m high-toned you pisspot!”
The unmistakable voice cut-through voice of Lucille Ball took over.”
The instinctively sagacious Lucille, who wound up owning that very studio, had recognized it. Call it news, hot news, call it “it,” as Eleanor Glyn did for Clara Bow, or call it, as we do these days, charisma. Katharine Hepburn had it and has it.
Kanin, Garson. Tracy and Hepburn: An Intimate Memoir. New York: Viking Press Inc, 1971
Lord knows what *it* was, but she certainly had it didn't she? Happy birthday, Kate.