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MOVIES | CINE FILE

Kate Hepburn, star of a century

July 15, 2007|Susan King | Times Staff Writer

KATHARINE Hepburn was always punctual. Sometimes a bit too punctual -- a fact Joanna Miles learned as a young actress on location in London with Hepburn for the 1973 ABC movie version of Tennessee Williams' "A Glass Menagerie."

Save for Hepburn, the cast was living in a little town house decorated with window boxes. One day, she was supposed to pick up Miles for lunch.

"I had taken a nap," recalls Miles. "I had set the alarm to wake up on time, but Katharine was always early. I heard outside the window 'Joanna, where are you?' I looked out the window and she had climbed up on window boxes of other people's homes looking in their windows for me."

Hepburn had strict rules on set. ""If a fellow was reading a newspapers up in the rafters, he got fired because she wanted people to really concentrate on what we were doing," says Miles.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Tuesday July 17, 2007 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 34 words Type of Material: Correction
Katharine Hepburn: The Cine File column in Sunday's Calendar section noted that Katharine Hepburn had appeared in a 1973 TV version of Tennessee Williams' "A Glass Menagerie." The correct title is "The Glass Menagerie."
For The Record
Los Angeles Times Sunday July 22, 2007 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 35 words Type of Material: Correction
Katharine Hepburn: The Cine File column in the July 15 Calendar section said Katharine Hepburn had appeared in a 1973 TV version of Tennessee Williams' "A Glass Menagerie." The correct title is "The Glass Menagerie."

It's been four years since the four-time Oscar-winning actress died at age 96. And there have been books that have offered revisionist views of her personal life, most notably William J. Mann's "Kate The Woman Who Was Hepburn," which raises questions about her sexuality and her 26-year relationship with Spencer Tracy.

Miles believes the two were in love. When Hepburn would be in Los Angeles, Miles would visit her at the house in Beverly Hills she had shared with Tracy. "She had many, many cupboards filled with photos of him. She had his chair ... she would talk about their life together."

But whatever her private life, her power as an actress remains. Some of her best films, including her Academy Award-winning turns in "Morning Glory," "Guess Who's Coming to Dinner," "The Lion in Winter" and "On Golden Pond," will be featured in the Los Angeles County Museum of Art celebration of her 100th birthday with a monthlong retrospective, "The Late, Great Kate" kicking off Friday.

In honor of her centenary, several people who worked with her -- many of whom called her a friend -- offered their impressions of working with the complex actress.

The wrong foot

HEPBURN loved to test directors and writers by challenging their authority. Anthony Harvey, who directed her to her third Oscar for 1968's "The Lion in Winter" as well as "Glass Menagerie," "Grace Quigley" and one of her last TV movies, 1994's "This Can't Be Love," describes Hepburn as a great friend. But they didn't quite begin that way.

Harvey recalled that he and Hepburn had a terrible first meeting. "I took her a bunch of roses and she threw them on the floor," he says. She said, " 'They're ghastly and they've got wires in them.' "

Things didn't improve between them when production began. "We had a big sort of difference of opinion about the scene in which she looks in the mirror," says Harvey. Hepburn thought that her character, the embittered Eleanor of Aquitaine, would never let down her guard.

"I said it was the one chance for her to be vulnerable. She said 'OK, we'll try it.' She did -- it was absolutely terrific. She pushed a little bit of Kleenex under my door [after the scene] and it said 'I hope the sun, the moon and the stars are with you. Come have dinner.' That was the beginning [of our relationship]."

The actress also put Mark Rydell, who directed her and Henry Fonda to Oscars in 1981's "On Golden Pond," through a series of challenges. The filmmaker had rented a fire house on location in New Hampshire rehearsals. But Hepburn insisted that the cast rehearse at the house she had leased by a lake.

"I thought, 'This is her attempt to kind of control things,' but it seemed innocent enough, so we all met at her house," says Rydell. "She brought out cookies and there was a table that she had set up for everyone. She sat at the head of the table. I knew this was a significant moment so I politely said, 'Katharine. I think you are in my seat.'

"She looked at me kind of astonished that I had the temerity to insist on being at the head of the table. She got up and moved to the side and we conducted the rehearsal. Henry winked at me.... "

Harvey and Rydell say that once you passed her test, Hepburn was a dream to direct. "I think like all great actors, she really longed to have direction," says Harvey. Rydell describes Hepburn and Fonda as behaving like eager 20-year-old acting students. When they finished their first scene together "they turned to me like children. Their faces were eager for my approval.... At that moment, I was comforted by the realization that they needed me."

Duane Poole, who wrote and produced her last two TV movies, "This Can't Be Love" and "One Christmas," says Hepburn had an amazing sense of humor even at 87 and could poke fun at her own regal image. At one point while touring the garden of her New York town home on their second day of meetings, Hepburn took Poole by the hand.

"She was very short," says Poole. "I looked down at her and she looked up at me and said, 'Well, did you find me fascinating?' "I realized she had been playing Katharine Hepburn ....She knew what people expected her to be like."

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