You were expecting maybe Proust from Miss Katharine Hepburn? You were hoping for Virginia Woolf? You were anticipating piercing observations, hard-won insights, wrenching emotional catharses that reveal, finally, what the legendarily private Miss Hepburn feels beneath the legendarily plucky Hepburn persona?
”Oh dear. Bad luck. Well, never mind” is more or less what Hepburn would say of such fool anticipation. Not that Miss H. isn’t perfectly willing to tell you stories about her life. But she’ll do it her way. And her way is blunt. Jaunty. ”Well-I-didn’t-know-what-all-the-fuss-was-so-I-just-did-it.” In Stories of My Life her prose wears trousers. Her sentences wear flats. She strides through chapters as carefully casual as if she were curled up cross-legged in a wing chair, chatting to Barbara Walters. Here she is describing her first role in a college play: ”We were all introduced to one another. Then we sat around a big table and read the play. Thrilling! My part was really very nice. Wasn’t I lucky!”
Hepburn’s life, is, if you ask her, filled with luck, by gum. (She really does say ”by gum.”) Just don’t look for any average, messy, human longing and pain beneath the good fortune. She tells marvelous stories, oh my, yes, especially about her glorious career and the men she met along the way-George Cukor, Howard Hughes, Cary Grant, John Wayne. She’s insistently generous to her late ex-husband, Ludlow ”Luddy” Ogden Smith, in a way she rues she never was when they were married. (”Now as I write this, I am horrified at what an absolute pig I was.”) She’s gallant about old friends and stalwart about the new pains of old age.
But what is ultimately moving is the ”me” that Miss Hepburn did not, perhaps, intend to show in this sunny memoir — a ”me” evident in the chapters about her great love, Spencer Tracy.
”He didn’t like this or that,” she writes of ”S.T.,” with whom she shared a deep, complicated relationship of 27 years. ”I changed this and that. They might be qualities which I personally valued. It did not matter. I changed them.” She writes, ”I have no idea how Spence felt about me. I can only say I think that if he hadn’t liked me he wouldn’t have hung around.”
There is a poignancy in maintaining such a determined attitude of ”well- that’s-that-and-let’s-not-analyze.” That this proud woman — the daughter of impossibly ideal parents, the sister of an older brother who hanged himself, the longtime lover of a married man — should write of changing her qualities in the name of love with the same even tones she uses to describe jolly days at Bryn Mawr College is more affecting than all the ”dear Luddy” vignettes strung together. Oh, to know what sadnesses are covered by those trademark trousers of hers! To learn what compromises she has had to make as a woman to be Miss Katharine Hepburn! Oh, that she would really let us see her emotional gamut from A to Z!
Oh dear. Bad luck. Well, never mind. B