Jeff Selznick An Intimate Memoir by Garson Kanin - 1971
"Kate, I guess was the first girl I was ever in love with. I didn't seem strange to be because she never treated me as though I were young and she were older. There wasn't any of that adult-child nonsense. I was a boy and she was a girl and even though I don't think anybody could say I'd lived a sheltered live, I sure had never run into anything like her.
Once I was visiting Fenwick and we went out in a twenty-two-foot boat. There was Kathy Grant and one for the other nieces and we were going along fine, and don't ask me how it happened, but all of a sudden we lost the motor. I mean it just fell overboard. So I sat there looking down and the next thing you know, Kate dove right in. We were scare to death and kept yelling at her that we were in the marshes and that is was dangerous and please cut it out, but she kept diving over and over, getting madder and madder. She couldn't find it, so she got a fix on exactly where we were and the next day she got us all to go back there. Well, no. Not the girls. She got her brother, Richard and me, and we went back to the spot and she supervised the whole operation and got Dick and me to dive down, looking for the motor. I was terrified but since shed done it the day before it would've seemed sissy not to. After a while Dick found it, but he couldn't raise it. About this time, I was exhausted-breathing hard and gasping. She pulled me back into the boat. Dick was saying, 'The hell with it.' You know what she did? She pulled the anchor. Next thing you know, she'd hooked it. She started to pull on it and yelled for help, and we all pulled on it an pulled. All of a sudden, we had the goddam motor back in the boat!
'It means a lot to a kid growing up, hanging around with a dame like that.'"
Sarah Standing 'Shoot! How can you explore in a dress?' The Daily Telegraph, UK - July 1, 2003.
When Katharine Hepburn burst into the young Sarah Standing's world she became her godmother by proxy - and the excitement and friendship she offered lasted until the actress's death this week.
"Perhaps I might be excused for admitting I had no inhibitions about meeting Katharine Hepburn for the first time if I add that I was just eight years old when the meeting took place. My father, Bryan Forbes, was in France directing a film starring Kate The Madwoman of Chaillot and we were living in a rented villa.
My sister, Emma, and I were playing outside in the garden one Sunday morning when a woman appeared, dressed in baggy trousers, old tennis shoes and a man's sweater. Her auburn hair was swept into an untidy knot that seemed to be held in place by a single pin. On top of this, she wore a peaked cap with a scarlet, fraying scarf tied over it.
She got off her bicycle and walked towards us carrying a box of chocolates the size of a Monopoly board. As a child, I was restricted to one sweet after lunch; my radar immediately zeroed in and identified this stranger as a friend.
A quality I greatly admired in Kate was the way in which she never talked down to children - she treated them as superiors; a quality that, unsurprisingly, resulted in instant seduction. I quickly established that a) this woman had chocolates in abundance and b) she didn't mind sharing them. After recovering from my initial shock, I asked her how many she ate at once.
'Twenty,' she replied, opening them. 'But in order to do so properly, you have to learn the chocolate language. Every one of these squiggles on top means something. If you learn the language, you can stop eating the ones you don't like.'
'Take this one for instance' - she selected a glutinous monster and bit into it - 'not one of my favourites: I don't normally eat these. Try it.'
Apparently, I gave a brilliant performance of a sad child being forced to take disgusting medicine and my Sunday morning passed in an excess of bliss. By the time she was ready to leave, I was totally enslaved. 'You got a bike?' she asked. Stuffed to the gills with exotic chocolate creams, I could only shake my head.
'Well, you have from nine o'clock tomorrow morning, she said, as she rode off into the distance. 'I'll teach you to ride with no hands.' As I stared after her, my sister Emma, who was only three and desperate to crack the new code I had discovered, joined me. We stood in silence until she disappeared from sight.
'That lady,' said Emma after a long pause, 'she are nice, that lady.' She was right. The nice lady who just so happened to be Katharine Hepburn went on to become my friend, mentor and proxy godmother and has undoubtedly been one of the greatest influences on my life.
I don't know what it was about me that she found attractive, but from that moment onwards, I hero-worshipped her. Chocolates aside, I realised that, at a very early age, I had been fortunate enough to meet a real-life Mary Poppins. There was never a generation gap between us because her own life had a child-like simplicity about it.
Like a child, she had an instant disrespect for formality. I don't think that, in the 30-plus years I knew her, I ever saw her wear a dress off-screen. 'Shoot! How can you possibly explore in a dress?' she would ask. At eight, I was a tomboy, not caring what I wore so long as I could get it dirty, and I was amazed I had met a grown-up who thought exactly like me.
She taught me to be fearless of deep water, how to fly a kite, change a spare tyre, how not to wake up your hostess - her - in the middle of the night when going to the bathroom (don't tread on the floorboards, quietly jump from the bed to the sidetable, creep along the bookshelves, on to the armchair until you get to the bathroom and then never, ever flush before dawn).
She showed me the importance of making the perfect egg sandwich (a dash of paprika, finely chopped iceberg lettuce and heavy on the Hellmanns) the glory of The Hobbit, the absolute necessity of wearing old clothes at all times so that one could climb trees, and how to go through life with an open mind. She called me Skate, because my middle name was Kate and she once missed out the full stop between the S of Sarah and the K in Kate.
The aspect of film-making I like least is the impermanence of friendships it produces. A band of people are thrown together for a limited period of time, during which they live the most incestuous lives imaginable. When the film ends, so do the majority of friendships.
Kate was different. Throughout my childhood, she kept in contact from all corners of the world, sometimes calling, often writing. She was my mentor, my benchmark.
She was never impressed or interested in affectations of any kind: she loved the basics of life; the raw elements. Despite the fact that her chosen career invariably led her to a world renowned for its shallowness, her heart never strayed far from her Connecticut roots. In Fenwick, where she spent most weekends, she was known to the locals simply as Dr. Hepburn's daughter and, in the late Seventies, I spent many weekends there with her.
I was 17 and had recently had my heart broken for the first time. I was devastated. I loped around London consumed with teenage misery. My parents were in despair and rang Kate in New York. 'Put her on the next plane and I'll sort her out.'
She offered me the only bit of advice that really made any sense. 'Skate, you're like me; you love a challenge. But you can't sail a leaky boat. You either keep rowing or you sink. Swim to safety before it's too late.' She was right. My particular boat was drowning me.
I stayed with her in New York for three months and licked my wounds. We were strange bedfellows. She was nearly 70, I was 17. I was gauche, inexperienced, unhappy and unsure of what I wanted to do with my life. She was confident, forthright, inspirational and my salvation.
We had a routine. She would stay in bed until 10am, answering mail, reading scripts and making phone calls. I would quietly hop around the furniture on the floor above, being careful not to flush the 'john', as she called it, until 8am.
We would go for long walks in Central Park, which was always an adventure. People loved her, she was an institution. They treated her not in a mad, stalkerish way; her fans were always respectful and could never quite believe it was actually her. We would talk, or be silent, depending on our moods, returning to her brownstone in Turtle Bay in time for lunch.
Lunch was always prepared by her housekeeper Nora and was either zucchini or beetroot soup followed by meat and salad, brownies and ice cream. Evenings were often spent at the theatre, sometimes with her great friend, the director Tony Harvey. She once took me to see the controversial play Bent, starring Richard Gere. At one point, he stood stark naked, centre-stage and talks about masturbation. Kate wasn't remotely embarrassed. I was mortified.
On Friday afternoons, we packed up and drove down Route 95 to Fenwick for the weekend. Packing up took a long time. We always loaded the car with leftovers from the fridge, flowers were decanted into a bucket that I had to balance on my lap, a delicious picnic of devilled eggs and buttered milk bread was packed for the journey.
The house was divine: unpretentious and immensely stylish in a faded New England way. She had a picture above the fireplace that was captioned Listen to The Song of Life, and as a teenager I never really knew what it meant.
The house was right on the beach with a lighthouse you could walk out to. We used to chop firewood and have log fires at night and play Parcheesi - some weird board game that Kate taught me to play. Kate would swim every day in the sea. She'd jump right in, no matter what the temperature. 'It's sensational, Skate. Trust me,' she would shout. I'd eventually join her, and emerge blue with cold, but exhilarated.
There was a pond that froze over that we used to skate on. Kate was fearless, while I used a chair to prop me up.
After three months, I came back to England. I was no longer in a rut. Through her enthusiasm and lust for life I was beginning to vaguely hear the distant hum of the song of life again.
Although I've seen all her films, I only ever saw her once on stage. She sent me tickets to the first night of A Matter of Gravity on Broadway. I went with John Reid; the man whose leaky boat I'd once sailed. Afterwards, we went back-stage. There was a howling gale at floor level in her dressing room. 'What's that?' I asked.
'Shoot, this god-damned room is airless. I borrowed a hammer and knocked out a few bricks. Have to have fresh air.'
That was the Kate I knew and loved. A total non-conformist. A woman of paradox yet the most complete person I've ever come across. She wasn't self-obsessed at any level, yet she was a perfectionist. She once told me, in a typically self-deprecating way, that she was lucky enough to be born with a set of characteristics that were in vogue - yet her particular vogue never dated.
Although she set herself against modernity, she was utterly modern. Without a doubt, despite - or perhaps because of - her abhorrence of conventional ideals of prettiness, flounces and frills, she was the most feminine woman I've ever met. She used to talk about those who could 'charm the birds from the trees' but no one could do so more brilliantly than she.
I got married when I was 24 to the actor John Standing and had three children. Inevitably, our paths crossed less. I'm so thrilled he got to meet her, because she played such a huge part in making me the person I am today. We spent the weekend with her in New York about 10 years ago, and despite the fact she was well into her eighties, Johnnie fell head over heels in love.
'She's the least pretentious actress I've ever met,' he observed. 'Life and living itself are so much more important to her.' We went to see Porgy and Bess, came home for macaroni and cheese and dodged the furniture upstairs.
The last time I saw her was five years ago. We had a supper of beetroot soup and steak. She was frail. She wanted to know all about my children and what they were like, and why I didn't pin my hair up off my face.
She was dressed the same as she was when I met her first. Her freckled face still had that Sunday school scrub, her hair was still held up by one pin. She was old but she hadn't yet given up on life.
I heard about her death on Sunday and found it strangely unbelievable. She was the most alive person I've ever met. A one-off. She was 96 years old and listened to the song of life."
Sarah Standing Katharine Hepburn, the last true star The Telegraph, UK - October 23, 2008.
Sarah Standing remembers Katharine Hepburn and compares her to the sad specimens of tawdry celebrity who survive today.
Author Karen Karbo recently published a book called How to Hepburn: Lessons on Living from Kate the Great, which interweaves biographical fact with Katharine Hepburn's maxims on life, and then gives them a modern, analytical twist. Kate was my godmother, and the Kate I knew and loved paid scant lip service to self-analysis. Her thinking was much too selfless, clear, level-headed and straightforward to waste precious time pondering the "what-ifs" of the world. She was singularly unimpressed by our modern obsession with self-importance.
"What a bore," she'd drawl in her distinct New England/Bryn Mawr accent and then immediately move on to discuss or do something she deemed "really" important. Really important things to Kate were all do to with finding joy in the simple, basic elements of life. Chopping wood outside and then building a decent fire. Eating dark chocolate after dinner and drinking a strong whisky before. Always having three meals a day. Getting a good night's sleep. Having fresh flowers in the house because "you can't be miserable in a room full of flowers." Going to bed early and getting up at dawn "Why waste the day? So much to see." Swimming every morning in the ocean, regardless of the weather. Taking cold showers "Exhilarating!" She was the most self-disciplined woman I've ever met; yet she was a complete non-conformist.
We live now in an insidious age that glorifies the dubious culture of plankton-like celebrity. Fame carries a status that used to belong to people who did proper jobs. Today, notoriety and the kudos of notoriety is something irrespective of talent that many kids aspire to. It's a potential job opportunity, a career choice and I'm vaguely surprised it doesn't appear on the National Curriculum. Weekly, daily, hourly we are bombarded by nonsensical non-information about non-entities. Reality television participants are dubbed "stars" and thousands of words are devoted to their piffling once-private, now public, lives.
Katharine Hepburn was a star. A real, bone fide star. She was an intensely private woman who largely lived her life according to her own rules. She was never a celebrity she was far too stylish for that. She was an original, inspirational and unique woman. A one-off. A talented, outspoken, free-thinking, trail-blazing individual who spent the majority of her life actively avoiding the press and deliberately leaving a false paper trail of clues as to who she really was.
She was lucky enough to be born into an era that truly understood and embraced the notion of "getting a grip". Kate thought sharing emotions with total strangers was frightfully bad manners. She cleverly gave away just the barest-of-bare, homogenised facts and left her public guessing and intrigued. Her relationship with Spencer Tracey was widely speculated upon, but never sanctioned by either party until the very end of her life. Undoubtedly, Tracey was the love of her life but as he was both a Catholic and married, Kate would have considered their affair no-one's business except her own. It simply wasn't her style to air either dirty or clean laundry in public. And her lifelong reluctance to "play the game" has only served to increase and enhance her appeal, fascination and longevity.
The lessons on living I learnt first hand from Kate are numerous and seeped in practicality and old-fashioned common sense. When I had my heart broken at the age of 17, I went to live with her in New York for six months. She was then in her mid-seventies. "You can't sail a leaky boat. You either keep rowing or you sink. Swim to safety before it's too late," was her sage advice. "Don't ever commit to anything unless you're prepared to give it 100%," went another one of her mantras, "or else you'll just come across as a flake." She told me she always wore trousers, "because it's impossible to explore properly in a dress," and she found it very tedious if I didn't follow her example. We'd go on daily three-hour "adventure walks" across Central Park, and despite our vast age difference she expected me to keep up with her.
The most important gift she gave me was an enthusiasm for life. I remember her once saying with typical lack of sentimentality: "When you're dead, you're dead. Life is what's important. So live it." On reflection, I guess she taught me How to Hepburn. And nobody did it better than her.