Speaking Volumes: Discover Hepburn's life in book, film at library

Special to the HeraldMay 12, 2013 

Although it was not her final role, Katharine Hepburn's 1981 Oscar-winning performance in "On Golden Pond" lent her one of her most memorable lines. Speaking to her curmudgeon of a husband (an Oscar-winning performance by Henry Fonda in what was to be his last film), she tells him: "Listen to me, mister. You're my knight in shining armor. Don't forget it."

Today, on the 106th anniversary of her birth, we remember one of the most iconic actors of the 20th Century. For those interested in learning a bit about her, a good starting point is Hepburn's autobiography, "Me: Stories of My Life." Published in 1991, she readily acknowledges the inauspicious start to her career some six decades earlier. Dubbed "box office poison" after a short string of less-than-stellar stage and film performances, the spunky and determined young actress wasn't about to give up. It was the right decision: She brought home an Oscar for her portrayal of Eva Lovelace in her third film, 1933's "Morning Glory."

Of course, no discussion of Katharine Hepburn is complete without mention of her longtime companion and frequent co-star, Spencer Tracy. The latest biography of Tracy to hit the library's shelves is James Curtis's very well received "Spencer Tracy: A Biography," which naturally offers plenty of background on Hepburn as well.

A unique (and rather amusing take) on Hepburn's life can be found in "How to Hepburn: Lessons on Living from Kate the Great" by Karen Karbo. It's an homage to the great actress with chapters such as "The Importance of Being Brash," "The Impracticality of Marriage" and "The Necessity of Having an Aviator in Your Life."

If you would rather watch Hepburn in action, the library has a number of her films, starting with the 1937 Oscar-nominated movie, "Stage Door" in which she shares a boarding house with a group of other aspiring actresses. The Oscar-winning 1940 film "The Philadelphia Story" stars Cary Grant and Jimmy Stewart opposite Hepburn as a wealthy socialite about to be remarried following her divorce from a heavy drinker.

Set during World War I, but filmed in 1951, Humphrey Bogart received the best actor Oscar for his work in the classic, "The African Queen." Hepburn co-stars as Rose Sayer, a British missionary who finds herself falling for the rather loathsome riverboat captain portrayed by Bogart. Watch the movie, and then check out Hepburn's book (written nearly four decades later), "The Making of The African Queen, or, How I went to Africa with Bogart, Bacall and Huston and almost lost my mind."

In an era when most Hollywood films were shot on a set, the producers of "The African Queen" had the audacity to bring the entire cast and crew to some of the most difficult locations in Uganda and the Congo. It was far from easy, but lent credibility to the movie. Hepburn's vivid recollections of what they had to endure make for fascinating reading.

Speaking Volumes, written by Manatee County Public Library System staff members, is published each Sunday. Access the library online at www.mymanatee.org/library.html. Jonathan Sabin is the Information Specialist for the Manatee County Public Library System.

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