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Quod erat Hepburn

John Bayley, 3 April 1986

Katharine HepburnA Biography 
by Anne Edwards.
Hodder, 395 pp., £12.95, March 1986, 0 340 33719 2
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... or the greatest chariot-driver. And something a bit similar gives its interest to the career of Katharine Hepburn, making this biography of her as a film star more than readable. She was, as it were, born with a very definite and accepted self, the inherited and environmentally-conditioned personality of a ‘great lady’ on the eastern seaboard of ...

Only Incognito

Gaby Wood, 6 July 1995

Katharine Hepburn 
by Barbara Leaming.
Weidenfeld, 549 pp., £20, March 1995, 0 297 81319 6
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... Of all the Hollywood beauties of her time, only Katharine Hepburn had the grace to be irritating. She was beautiful, but not always, her looks could change from shot to shot. She was oddly elegant, sometimes bouncy, sometimes brittle. She was mocking, brash, hoity-toity. What she never was, in her films, was silent ...

‘Mmmmm’ not ‘Hmmm’

Michael Wood: Katharine Hepburn, 11 September 2003

Kate Remembered 
by A. Scott Berg.
Simon and Schuster, 318 pp., £18.99, July 2003, 0 7432 0676 2
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... the end. The snag is that the heroine can’t be just as human as the rest of us, because she is Katharine Hepburn. A goddess can be fragile, frightened and subdued, and Hepburn is. But not for long, and she certainly can’t be just another frail mortal. What’s more, the heroine can’t turn out to be merely human ...

At the Movies

Michael Wood: Katharine Hepburn, 5 March 2015

... On screen​ , Katharine Hepburn looks as if she has made a curious contract with time. She has promised not to change, and time has promised not to count properly. Of course time can’t halt entirely. It’s a long long way from May to December, as the song says, or from Bill of Divorcement (1932) to Love Affair (1994), and you can see much of the road in the current season of Hepburn films at the BFI ...

He could afford it

Jenny Diski, 7 April 1994

Howard Hughes: The Secret Life 
by Charles Higham.
Sidgwick, 368 pp., £16.99, September 1993, 9780283061578
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... in judgment and everybody gets their just deserts. You might think that a man whose lovers include Katharine Hepburn, Ava Gardner, Claudette Colbert, Bette Davis, Lana Turner, Rita Hayworth, Marlene Dietrich, Tyrone Power, Robert Ryan and Cary Grant must have had some kind of good time, but no one gets to have much fun in Higham’s book. Higham explains ...

Short Cuts

Andrew O’Hagan: The Oscars, 26 February 2009

... the money-shot, so to speak, was not Mike Nichols winning Best Director for The Graduate, but Katharine Hepburn winning Best Actress. Violence might be poetic, sex might be a form of loneliness, uh-huh, and racism might be a scar on the soul of the nation, but an elderly actress proving she’s still got the chops will get the tears flowing every ...

At the Movies

Michael Wood: David Lean, 3 July 2008

... an elegant and slow movie about the Italian romance of a no longer young American woman played by Katharine Hepburn. It was shot entirely on location in Venice, and Rossano Brazzi as the love interest comes a distinctly poor second to the city. Lean and H.E. Bates had taken an Arthur Laurents play and reworked it thoroughly until it began to resemble an ...
Cary Grant: A Class Apart 
by Graham McCann.
Fourth Estate, 346 pp., £16.99, September 1996, 1 85702 366 8
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... like an idiot and playing the piano like Chico Marx. A year later he made Bringing Up Baby with Katharine Hepburn, which was to make him a favourite of its director, Howard Hawks. Grant and Hepburn were prime screwballs, fast-talking hairbrains who took it in turns to play straight man to each other’s comic. They ...

Harrison Rex

Carey Harrison, 7 November 1991

Conversations with Marlon Brando 
by Lawrence Grobel.
Bloomsbury, 177 pp., £14.99, September 1991, 9780747508168
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George Sanders: An Exhausted Life 
by Richard Vanderbeets.
Robson, 271 pp., £15.95, September 1991, 0 86051 749 7
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Rex Harrison: A Biography 
by Nicholas Wapshott.
Chatto, 331 pp., £16, October 1991, 0 7011 3764 9
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Me: Stories of my Life 
by Katharine Hepburn.
Viking, 418 pp., £16.99, September 1991, 0 670 83974 4
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... heart. Much virtue in honesty: yet Me (subtitled Stories of My Life) provides an uneasy title for Katharine Hepburn’s memoirs, not least grammatically, since although ‘I’ seems even less viable an alternative, ‘me’ is after all the done-to rather than the doer, and Hepburn, a great doer, is never knowingly ...

Living for ever

Mary Renault, 18 September 1980

The Cult of the Immortal 
by Ange-Pierre Leca.
Souvenir, 304 pp., £8.95, July 1980, 0 285 62393 1
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... be put alongside their official portraits. Hatshepsut seems to have had a distinct look of Katharine Hepburn. ‘Mummie is become merchandise,’ wrote Sir Thomas Browne in the 17th century, ‘Mizraim cures wounds, and Pharaoh is sold for balsam.’ For physic, too, incredible as it seems that this horrible black human biltong was actually sought ...

At the Movies

Michael Wood: ‘The Big Short’, 18 February 2016

The Big Short 
directed by Adam McKay.
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... One of the things that screwball comedies teach us is that you have to be a little crazy, like Katharine Hepburn, to get things right. Or at least, like Cary Grant, attuned to someone else’s craziness. This is why it is so satisfying that Christian Bale, as Michael J. Burry, is central to the story. He has a glass eye because a childhood illness ...

Say thank you

Clive James: Witty Words in Pretty Mouths, 23 May 2002

Fast-Talking Dames 
by Maria DiBattista.
Yale, 365 pp., £19.95, June 2001, 0 300 08815 9
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... is of their number: Jean Harlow, Rosalind Russell, Irene Dunne, Barbara Stanwyck, Carole Lombard, Katharine Hepburn, Maria DiBattista. A professor of English and comparative literature at Princeton, and published by Yale, she is heaped with Ivy League credentials but laudably determined not to be stifled by them. Especially in its wide-ranging and ...

Audrey and Her Sisters

Wayne Koestenbaum, 18 September 1997

Audrey Hepburn 
by Barry Paris.
Weidenfeld, 454 pp., £20, February 1997, 0 297 81728 0
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... however careless and impromptu, into our own sightlines. The new biography of Audrey Hepburn, by Barry Paris, a writer already praised for his books on Louise Brooks and Garbo, is an acute, tender-hearted and entertaining dish of Hepburn facts – he interviewed friends and family, and has a sharp eye for her ...

Talking More, Lassooing Less

Michael Rogin, 19 June 1997

American Original: A Life of Will Rogers 
by Ray Robinson.
Oxford, 288 pp., $30, January 1997, 0 19 508693 7
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... declared their support for Sinclair. Some screenwriters and an occasional actor (James Cagney, Katharine Hepburn) defied their studios and supported Sinclair; Rogers managed to conduct a running commentary on the campaign without ever taking sides. Will Rogers was the friend of the New York immigrant Jewish blackface comedian Eddie Cantor (he ...

Outfits to die for

Gabriele Annan, 10 February 1994

A Woman’s View: How Hollywood Spoke to Women 1930-60 
by Jeanine Basinger.
Chatto, 528 pp., £14.99, January 1994, 0 7011 6093 4
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... with the biggest stars: ‘ferocious women like Joan Crawford, Bette Davis, Barbara Stanwyck and Katharine Hepburn’, on the one hand, and, on the other, excessively noble women like Loretta Young and Greer Garson. Garson was preceded by Norma Shearer and followed Deborah Kerr – ‘and lest anyone think we have left such female characters behind in ...

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