A. Scott Berg

Kate Remembered | Synopsis

For seven decades Katharine Hepburn played a leading role in the popular culture of the twentieth century - reigning as an admired actress, a beloved movie star, and a treasured icon of the modern American woman. She also remained one of the most private of all the public figures of her time.

In 1983 - at the age of seventy-five, her career cresting - the four-time Academy Award winner opened the door to biographer A. Scott Berg - then thirty-three - and began a special friendship, one that endured to the end of her illustrious life.

From the start, Scott Berg felt that Katharine Hepburn intended his role to be not just that of a friend but also of a chronicler, a confidant who might record for posterity her thoughts and feelings. Over the next twenty years, Kate used their many hours together to reveal all that came to mind, often reflecting on the people and episodes of her past, occasionally on the meaning of life.

Here are the stories from those countless intimate conversations, and much more. In addition to recording heretofore untold biographical details of her entire phenomenal career and her famous relationships with such men as Spencer Tracy and Howard Hughes, Kate Remembered also tells the amusing, often emotional story of one of the most touching friendships in her final years. Scott Berg provides his own memories of Katharine Hepburn offstage - quiet dinners in her town house in New York City, winter swims (she swam, he watched) in the Long Island Sound at Fenwick, her home in Connecticut, weekend visits with family members and dear friends...even some unusual appearances by the likes of Michael Jackson and Warren Beatty. Finally, Kate Remembered discusses the legendary actress's moving farewell, during which her mighty personality surrendered at last to her failing body - all the while remaining true to her courageous character.

Kate Remembered is a book about love and friendship, family and career, Hollywood and Broadway - all punctuated by unforgettable lessons from an extraordinary life.

Kate Remembered | A Timeline

Katharine Hepburn arrives in Hollywood.


1932

By the middle of the next decade, Katharine Hepburn had won the Academy Award for Best Actress (for Morning Glory in 1933) and been nominated three more times (for Alice Adams, The Philadelphia Story, and Woman of the Year).


1945

She received a fifth Oscar nomination for The African Queen.


1951

After four more Best Actress nominations (for Summertime, The Rainmaker, Suddenly, Last Summer, and Long Day's Journey into Night), Katharine Hepburn received back-to-back Oscars in 1968 and 1969 for Guess Who's Coming to Dinner and The Lion in Winter. After fifty years in Hollywood, she received an unprecedented fourth Best Actress Oscar for On Golden Pond.


1982

Kate Remembered | Excerpt

I’ve never felt so intimidated ringing a doorbell. Even though she and I had become friendly in the past few months over the telephone and I was standing at her front door in New York City at her invitation, I was genuinely nervous about our first meeting. And I’ve never been especially starstruck. But this was different. Katharine Hepburn was the first movie star I had ever noticed, and she had been my favorite ever since—the only actor whose plays and movies I attended just because she was in them.

On that Tuesday—April 5, 1983—I arrived at Third Avenue and Forty-ninth Street with fifteen minutes to spare. So I walked around a few neighboring blocks until 5:55 p.m. Then I slowly walked east on Forty-ninth Street until I was a few doors from Second Avenue—number 244. I stood on the sidewalk for another minute and a half, until the second hand on my watch ticked toward twelve. I opened the little black iron gate, stepped down into the well at the curtained front door, and pressed the button. The bell let out a ring so shrill, I could practically feel all four floors of the brownstone shake.

Nobody answered. After a long pause, a short woman with black hair poked her cherubic face out of an adjacent door, the service entrance, and said, “Yes?”

I said I had a six o’clock appointment with Miss Hepburn. Was I at the wrong door? “No, no,” she said. “I’ll let you in.” She came to the front door, and I heard two heavy locks tumble. This was Norah Considine, who cooked and cleaned. She said Miss Hepburn was expecting me.

I entered the vestibule and left my raincoat on a bench at the foot of the steep, narrow staircase, with its metal pole for a handrail. Another woman appeared from the kitchen—gray-haired, bony, with a neckbrace; and we introduced ourselves. She was, as I presumed, Phyllis Wilbourn, Hepburn’s companion and majordomo. “Oh, yes. Go right up,” she said in a sandy-throated English accent. “Miss Hepburn’s expecting you.” At the top of the landing, I could look into the rear living room, where the last of that day’s light was coming in from the garden.

 Before I had even entered the room, I heard the unmistakable voice from inside. “Did you use the bathroom?”

“I’m sorry?” I said, now standing in the doorway and seeing Katharine Hepburn for the first time.

She sat to the right in a comfortable-looking chair, her feet in white athletic shoes propped up on a footrest. She appeared to be amazingly fit for a seventy-five-year-old then recovering from a serious car accident. She looked restored and relaxed, her skin tight against the legendary cheekbones, her eyes clear, a soothing pale blue, her hair a ruddy gray, all pulled off her face and pinned up into her trademark knot. She wore no makeup and flashed a big movie-star grin, exuding charm and energy. She was wearing khaki pants, a white turtleneck under a blue chambray shirt, and she had a red sweater tied loosely around her neck. As I approached her, I tried to take in as much of the room as I could—the high ceiling, pictures on the walls, a fire blazing in the fireplace, nothing ostentatious except for a huge bouquets of flowers everywhere.

“Did you use the bathroom?” She asked again, before I had reached her.

“No.”

“Well, don’t you think you should?”

“No, thank you. I don’t think that’s necessary.”

“Well, I think you should probably go back downstairs and use the bathroom first.” I repeated that I didn’t think it was necessary but that I would do my best.

Two minutes later I returned; and as I reached the top of the stairs, she asked, “Did you use the bathroom?”

“Well, actually,” I said, “I did, thank you.”

“Good. You know my father was a urologist, and he said you should always go to the bathroom whenever you have to . . . and you see, you had to. So how do you do? I’m Katharine Hepburn.”

Kate Remembered | Press

CBS NEWS - FEB 11, 2009

Just a few weeks ago, an American treasure, actress Katharine Hepburn, died at her Connecticut home. The four-time Academy Award winner's film career spanned more than six decades. 


In control to the end, Hepburn wanted a biography written about her, containing her personal thoughts and recollections, to be released soon after her death. 

The person she chose to tell her story is Pulitzer-prize winning biographer, A. Scott Berg, whom she met 20 years ago and who became a close personal friend. His new book of memoirs is titled, "Kate Remembered". 

Shortly after meeting him for a magazine interview that was never published, Hepburn decided that he was to be her biographer. 

People have described Hepburn from the outside, but Berg describes her in a different way, starting with their first meeting.

He tells The Early Show co-anchor Hannah Storm, "I had just gone to do an interview with her and we spent two days doing an interview. At the end of the interview she said, 'What are you doing for the weekend? She invited me up to the country house. We had five dinners in a row after that. At the end of the fifth dinner, she handed me the key to her house. I knew I was being let in, not just to a few hours, but to a life."

But he says she wanted the book published as soon as possible after her death because she wanted the truth out as soon as possible. He says that she didn't want the sensationalists spreading false accounts.

Berg, who has written biographies on Charles Lindbergh and movie mogul Samuel Goldwyn, says, "She was unfolding these extraordinary stories. I thought over the years as I was collecting them and knew I would be putting them in a book, I want to share them with everybody. Why not let everybody have the experience I had."

Berg notes that one of the reasons he wrote this book was "too give her fans closure". He wanted them to know what it was like to spend a weekend with her and have the intimate contact that he had with her. 

When Berg met Hepburn for the first time, she was in her 70s and he was in his 30s. He says, "Before I even got into the room where she was I heard the voice of Katharine Hepburn saying, 'Did you use the bathroom?' She sent me downstairs even though I didn't have to use the bathroom.

"Everything was by her rules. I realized that, at least in that first meeting, so much of that was about, 'You're on my playing field. My ball, my rules.'" He tells how she made him swim in the freezing waters outside her home. He says, "She never made me. She just sort of dared me or shamed me is what she did. It was never,'You don't have to come in. I'm an 83-year-old woman swimming out here. What's your problem?'"

And, of course, Hepburn gave him this incredible insight into her Hollywood career. At one point, she was labeled box-office poison. But she turned her career around with the movie "The Philadelphia Story." 

He says, "It's a great lesson not for just how business in Hollywood is run, but for any business. She had been in Hollywood for about six years and had a series of really bad pictures and was literally kicked out of Hollywood. There were posters saying she was box-office poison. She left town. She went back to her country house in Connecticut and was trying to figure out her life." 

So she bought the rights to this play, which was written for her. 

Berg continues, "She knew it was her vehicle back. She came back and literally produced it; put it together. Found the stars to be in it. Knew she needed great males around her to re-launch her."

One of the males she wanted for that movie, who didn't do it but subsequently became the key figure in her life, was Spencer Tracy. In "Kate Remembered" Berg offers insights into that relationship. Particularly the fact that Tracy was an alcoholic and it created a very difficult relationship.

He says, "It was known in Hollywood that Spencer was a heavy drinker. What I didn't know until I began to spend a lot of time with Katharine Hepburn was just the extent of that alcoholism. He was a really dark figure. And they really did have an important, meaningful, extremely loving relationship."

He says Tracy actually hit her. But she did not think of leaving him.

Berg explains, "She said, 'What would have been the point? I loved him. If I had left him, we both would have been miserable.' So she found a way to work it out. He was on his best behavior when she was around, as we all were. You were always on your best behavior with Katharine Hepburn." 

So why didn't they ever get married? 

"The reason she gave me several times was she didn't want to get married," Berg says, "There were other factors at work. She had been married once before. It was little known. Little known by the husband even. She was away a lot of the time. She liked the relationship the way it was. I think it worked the way it was." They lived together for 26 years, although Tracy was married. 

In the book, readers would learn what she thinks about modern film stars, such as Meryl Streep, Julia Roberts, John Travolta and old favorites such as Cary Grant and Clark Gable. They also will learn about her philosophy on life and about her final days. 

Berg says she wasn't much for philosophizing. When he asked her what life is all about, he says she kept it simple. She said, "Work hard, love someone, hopefully somebody will love you back." 

Berg says, "I think that's the secret to her life in a way, too. She had a very strong sense of self-identity, always knew where she wanted to go. She never got off that track. She kept moving forward."

CHICAGO TRIBUNE -

“The great heart-stealer does it again. A true gift for anyone who loved and admired the late Katharine Hepburn.”

LOS ANGELES TIMES -

“A graceful and affectionate portrait.” 

THE BOSTON GLOBE -

“Hepburn puts on a hell of a performance throughout.”

NEWSDAY -

“[An] affectionate, engrossing tribute. Leave it to Hepburn to make a grand exit.”

THE NEW YORK TIMES -

“Hepburn’s observations about everyone from Louis B. Mayer to Howard Hughes and Sean Penn are sharp, funny, and poignant.”

BOSTON HERALD -

“Readers of Kate Remembered…will learn about Katharine Hepburn’s meteoric rise, her slumps, her many affairs, her offbeat family, and what she thinks of everyone from Bob Hope to Meryl Streep. Mostly, they will get a chance to experience what the star was like, with an intimacy far greater than any dirt-digging tell-all.”

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY -

“Touching…[an] unusual and unusually fitting account…of a life lived outside the usual in virtually all things.”

PEOPLE -

“Hepburn sounds off plenty in Berg’s fond recollection of their close twenty-year friendship. The actress comes across as smart, feisty, independent…A worthy look at a candid Kate.” 

THE WASHINGTON POST BOOK WORLD -

Kate Remembered is her last performance, and one of her most touching. That it comes to us from beyond the grave should not be a shock. That’s the sort of thing a goddess does.” 

THE SUNDAY TIMES (LONDON) -

“Magnificent…A peach of a memoir. Berg and Hepburn have a similar chemistry on the page to Tracy and Hepburn on screen.”

SALON.COM -

“Intimate, thoughtful, and considerate. Kate Remembered is an intensely personal book, and that’s a good thing: This is Katharine Hepburn filtered through Scott Berg, and…part of the fun of the book is seeing how these two bright, confident personalities interact: The wisecracks fly like spitballs, but beneath it all, Berg and Hepburn are obviously simpatico.”

BOOKLIST -

“Berg’s writing is so intimate that readers may feel they are hiding behind a curtain as they listen to the stories he elicits from his subject.” 

RICHMOND TIMES-DISPATCH -

“[Hepburn’s legion of fans can spend some happy time with her in…Kate Remembered. It’s a work of love that…offers new insights into the kind, prickly, brilliant, brusque, beautiful, one-of-a-kind woman. [A] loving and generous memoir…The millions who loved Katharine Hepburn through her movies will love this book.” 

THE DAILY TELEGRAPH (LONDON) -

“A haunting insight into the twilight of fame, with shades of Sunset Boulevard, shades of The Aspern Papers. Berg is…an astute and subtle observer, always willing to take a back seat while greater egos strut their stuff. The result is a memoir with never a dull page.”

THE COURIER-JOURNAL (LOUISVILLE, KY) -

“By virtue of Berg’s access and his powers of observation, you are brought inside the home of Hepburn from the time she is in her mid-seventies. Through the strength of her personality, which shines even in print, you hear her speak her own lines in her own voice, not lines written for her. If you are a Hepburn fan you have to read this book.”

DALLAS OBSERVER -

“Fans will read Kate remembered…and find within its pages a woman very much like the actress’s on-screen persona: cranky and charming, tough and thoughtful, independent and in love with those who can keep pace with stiff drinks and stronger conversations.” 

THE BUFFALO NEWS -

“The unorthodox friendship between actress and writer—one of a number of close friendships that sustained Hepburn through her last years—is wonderful to read about, simultaneously relaxing, entertaining, and touching. The book is irresistible, and I see no reason to try to resist it…uproarious…nostalgic…charming…gritty.”

THE NEW ORLEANS TIMES-PICAYUNE -

“Exhilarating…Kate Remembered reads like an extended conversation with this remarkable woman…An engrossing, three-dimensional account of a contradictory woman who was determined to be a star while keeping the world at bay. Because of Berg’s extraordinary access, a reader is bound to feel the thrill of being able to enter Hepburn’s private realm.” 

THE HOLLYWOOD REPORTER -

“Katharine Hepburn had definite ideas about just about everything, including how to arrange logs in a fire. So reveals memoirist A. Scott Berg, who received these instructions from her: ‘Not too close to each other. Make them fight for the flame.’ Revealing words. For, as Berg shows…Hepburn had plenty of fire and plenty of fight in her, and she was notoriously careful in not allowing others to get close to the flame. [A] pleasant memoir….and it serves as a useful manual for any actor looking to increase his or her odds of survival in the business.” 

THE HARTFORD COURANT -

“A witty, gracefully written book about her life that is part biography, part memoir, and wholly a work of live. [Berg’s] familiarity with Hollywood and skill as a writer is evident in Kate Remembered, which seamlessly combines his personal reminiscence with fascinating details about Hepburn’s childhood, remarkable career, and final years.” 

FORT WORTH STAR TELEGRAM -

"A compulsively readable…look at an elusive legend.”

THE PHILADELPHIA INQUIRER -

“An affectionate, often affecting memoir.”

EDMONTON JOURNAL -

“Rebel, feminist, free thinker, recluse, survivor, great actress. A. Scott Berg attempts to capture all these descriptions of Katharine Hepburn in his mesmerizing account of an extraordinary life. In the end, she comes across as a fascinating figure with standards that guided her all her life. As for Berg, he is always in control, resulting in an ultimately satisfying style imbued with sincerity and complete honesty.”

BIRMINGHAM POST (UK) -

“A loving memoirs of someone who became a friend, a rare thing between biography writers and stars in this age of kiss and tell. It is also remarkably candid.”

PUBLISHER’S WEEKLY -

“Even those who’ve read many Hepburn biographies will find Berg’s immersion in the actor’s world engrossing, full of crisply voiced takes on old Hollywood and intimate looks at her everyday life.”