Hepburn: A pack rat with panache
By SUSAN KING
Los Angeles Times
LA Times photo
The extensive collection of Katharine Hepburn film material impresses Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences library director Linda Mehr. “For an individual performer, it is quite rare,” Mehr says. “She was probably aware of her life's legacy.”
HOLLYWOOD — Katharine Hepburn was a pack rat with panache. She saved an amazing amount of material — letters, annotated scripts, fans’ scrapbooks, photographs of herself in evening gowns as well as in wide pants with anklets and wedgies.
The beneficiary of her steadfast personal archiving is the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences’ Margaret Herrick Library in Beverly Hills, which recently announced its acquisition of Hepburn’s collection of photographs, scrapbooks, scripts, and private and professional correspondence. The collection was donated to the library by the estate of the four-time Oscar winner, who died June 29, 2003, at the age of 96.
“ She saved a lot of material,” said library director Linda Mehr. “We have old scrapbooks that go back to the very beginning of her film career, even some including her early stage work along with the film work. They are quite unique. She saved a lot of her scripts — a lot of them have notations that indicate how she worked out the role she was to play. It is really an incredible record of her life —she is one of the most influential women of the 20th century.”
None of the material in the library collection is from the Sotheby’s estate sale of more than 600 items that took place in June and earned $5.8 million for the Hepburn family. The bulk of that material was more personal — jewelry, furniture, a bronze of Spencer Tracy, film contracts and a wedding dress.
Diving into this treasure trove of Hepburn material is exhilarating and exhausting. On a recent Wednesday, stacks and stacks of Hepburn photographs lined the tables in the main research area. Tables in the special collections areas of the library were filled with samples of her scripts, thick scrapbooks sent to her by fans, press books — where she is oddly described as the “screen’s most disturbing star” — and letters to and from the likes of her father, Thomas; Tennessee Williams; Peter O’Toole; John Ford; Huston; and Vivien Leigh.
Though her personal photographs haven’t arrived yet, the academy has received countless publicity stills shot by such glamour photographers as Clarence Sinclair Bull and Ernest Bachrach.
There are pictures of the haughty Kate from the early 1930s, the glamorous but carefree Kate of the early 1940s, Kate the fashion trendsetter in wide-legged pants, white blouses and tailored suits.
Hepburn also amassed countless photographs from all her movies.
“ There is coverage on everything but ‘Stage Door Canteen,’ which she only had a little bit part in,” said Robert Cushman, photograph curator. “Coverage varies from title to title, but usually it’s extensive. There’s even a good file on her first film, ‘(A) Bill of Divorcement.’ ”
The photographs from her films — Cushman has broken each film down by scenes — and off-camera stills are in generally excellent condition.
Hepburn didn’t have this material stacked up in her townhouse in New York. It was housed in a climate-controlled art warehouse.