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Paige Wiser

A 'won't tell-all' from Kate the Great

July 3, 2003


It was sad, but not surprising, to learn that Katharine Hepburn had died at age 96. She lived a full life, after all: She experienced the theater, fame, credibility, riches, true love and status as a legend. Even her death was an extension of the American dream. How many people these days die of "old age"?

Then came the news that Hepburn had left a little something behind: a book. Author A. Scott Berg had finished a biography of the actress, based on two decades of interviews. It wasn't to be published until her death. Now, wasting no time, Kate Remembered will be released July 11.

And here we thought that Hepburn was quietly tending to her roses all this time. That sly dog!

Of course, Hepburn has told her side of it before. Sort of. Her 1991 autobiography, Me: Stories of My Life, suited her public persona perfectly: candid, charming, strong and restrained. She wrote about her relationships with Howard Hughes and Spencer Tracy, but held back. Her life must have been complicated and painful, but you wouldn't know it from her writing. She put an upbeat, dignified spin on everything.

This is a woman who tore the backside of her evening gown in "Bringing Up Baby" and used Cary Grant as a stopgap measure ... and still seemed classy.

So what about this new book? Can we possibly hope for a little dirt? Will she reveal that she owed her lithe figure to an early, experimental form of liposuction? That Howard Hughes was a really good kisser? That Spencer Tracy wore a hairpiece? That Humphrey Bogart suffered from terrible body odor during the making of "The African Queen"?

From what we know about Hepburn, probably not. And from what we know about this author, almost definitely not. Berg has written serious biographies of Max Perkins and Samuel Goldwyn, and his book on Charles Lindbergh won the Pulitzer. I'm guessing there won't be any '40s-era orgies detailed in Kate Remembered.

This posthumous publishing is an interesting idea, though. I guess this is as good a time as any to disclose that I've been corresponding weekly with J.D. Salinger since the spring of 1987. The letters are poignant--and a little strange. We have an unspoken agreement that whoever doesn't die first, gets the book deal.

I'm rooting for me.

But what was Hepburn's motivation? Was she trying to protect someone? Does she have some profound message she wants to impart to the world? Was she just not looking forward to the book tour?

If you have a story to tell, where do you get the patience to wait until after your death? And where do you find the trust to leave the writing to someone else?

After all, Jesus Christ left the writing to others--and look at all the confusion that resulted.

I'm hoping that Hepburn isn't the only one with a last-minute surprise for the public. We like to gripe about having "too much information," but there are still quite a few personalities with compelling life stories not yet fully told. I would devour a no-holds-barred memoir from Elizabeth Taylor. Deep Throat. Pope John Paul II. Paris Hilton. Ted Kennedy. Casey Kasem. Bill Clinton. Johnny Carson. Queen Elizabeth. Francis Ford Coppola. Charles Manson. Liza Minnelli. Abe Vigoda. Prince Rainier. Arthur Miller. Winona Ryder. Woody Allen. Henry Kissinger. P. Diddy.

Celebrities have to decide every day how much of themselves to share with the world. I was watching "The View" the other morning when Catherine Zeta-Jones and Michelle Pfeiffer appeared to promote the movie "Sinbad: Legend of the Seven Seas." Zeta-Jones almost seemed like an animated character herself, babbling about her husband, her kids, her dexterity and her dream of putting together a '70s-style lounge act.

Next to her, Pfeiffer seemed to shrink back further and further into the couch's cushions. When she finally piped up, it was to say how much she hates the sound of her voice.

Actresses aren't the only ones struggling with full disclosure. How do you know how much to share with your family about your work week, or how much to tell co-workers about your personal life? Crime victims have to decide if it's better to heal in private or publicize their plights. Is it better to let it all hang out, or maintain a little mystique? Heck, I'm not even sure I've been fully honest with myself.

We can all probably learn a few things from Katharine Hepburn. Where to draw the line, for instance. Where to find balance, and how to be at peace with ourselves.

As far as her publishing motives, I'm guessing that she considered the book one last parting gift for her fans.

She was classy that way.


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