The Woman Who Was Hepburn
By William J. Mann
(Henry Holt and Co., Hardcover, 9780805076257, 656pp.)
Publication Date: October 3, 2006
Other Editions of This Title: Paperback
The first major Katharine Hepburn biography independent of her control reveals the smart, complicated, and sophisticated woman behind the image
Onscreen she played society girls, Spencer Tracy's sidekick, lionesses in winter. But the best character Katharine Hepburn ever created was Katharine Hepburn: a Connecticut Yankee, outspoken and elegant, she wore pants whatever the occasion and bristled at Hollywood glitter. So captivating was her image that she never seemed less than authentic. But how well did we know her, really? Was there a woman behind the image who was more human, more driven, and ultimately more triumphant because of her vulnerability?
William J. Mann--a cultural historian and journalist, a sympathetic admirer but no mere fan--has fashioned an intimate, often revisionist, and truly unique close-up that challenges much of what we think we know about the Great Kate. Previous biographies--mostly products of friends and fans--have recycled the stories she hid behind, taking Hollywood myths at face value. Mann goes deeper, delivering new details from friends and family who have not been previously interviewed and drawing on materials only available since Hepburn's death.
With affection, intelligence, and a voluminous knowledge of Hollywood history, Mann shows us how a woman originally considered too special and controversial for fame learned the fine arts of movie stardom and transformed herself into an icon as durable and all-American as the Statue of Liberty.
William J. Mann has written for The Boston Globe, the Los Angeles Times, The Hartford Courant, Salon, and other publications. He is the author of Edge of Midnight: The Life of John Schlesinger; Behind the Screen: How Gays and Lesbians Shaped Hollywood; and Wisecracker: The Life and Times of William Haines. He lives in Provincetown, Massachusetts.
"She wrote memoirs, she gave interviews, and she talked, talked, talked. We thought we knew everything about Katharine Hepburn, but we actually knew only what she wanted us to know. Kate, William J. Mann's exciting new biography, pulls back those carefully drawn curtains to reveal the real Hepburn--a different but far more interesting woman than the one we thought we knew."--Gerald Clarke, author of Capote "William J. Mann's biography of Katharine Hepburn deepens the focus on the singular life of this spectacular 20th century personality. An extraordinary job of research, and a tremendously satisfying presentation. This is solid craftsmanship, entertaining, well presented and completely satisfying."--Marc Eliot, author of Cary Grant
"Katharine Hepburn is a 10,000 piece jigsaw. I would have defied anyone to have assembled the puzzle as beautifully as William Mann has done. What a job! This is one of the best books ever written about a movie star and the complexities and compromises involved with fame and celebrity. It delves intimately, candidly, mesmerizingly, into Hepburn's 'dual' sexuality as a key to her persona. The reporting is fresh and persuasive, the tone intelligent and compassionate. This is the book that finally pierces the mystery of the human being behind the legend. I couldn't stop reading--or thinking--about it."--Patrick McGilligan, author of George Cukor: A Double Life and Alfred Hitchcock: A Life in Darkness and Light "The time is ripe, the author is right, for this eye-opening biography. With humor and a sympathy unclouded by awe, Mann dismantles the elaborate charade that went into the Katharine Hepburn mystique. Not least fascinating is the ambiguous sexuality that lay behind the deceptively straightforward image, carefully crafted by Hepburn herself with the eager compliance of reporters and fans."--Molly Haskell, author of From Reverence to Rape: The Treatment of Women in the Movies
"Kate is a fascinating exploration into the secret life of one of Hollywood's greatest icons. I thought I knew a lot about Katharine Hepburn until I read William J. Mann's stunning biography. He has explored and explained her vulnerabilities, her fears, and most of all her intense, passionate friendships with other women. The story turns out to be richer and more amazing than I could have imagined. Mann's account is mesmerizing and well researched; he is psychologically acute without ever being clinical, deeply respectful without being reverential. Plus, Kate is a wonderful read--I could not put it down."--Patricia Bosworth, author of Diane Arbus: A Biography "William Mann has produced a significant biography of a woman whose complicated personality ahs never been fully captured. He has presented not only an intriguing portrait of Katharine Hepburn but also an accurate picture of her Hollywood and the difficult business of stardom."--Gore Vidal William Mann's Kate promises and delivers "the woman who was Hepburn" as no previous book has done. Mann's research is awe-inspiring, but his wonderfully readable account of Hepburn's ambitions, personality, and needs adds up to much more than that. It makes vivid a life that is -- on the page -- like its subject: unflinching, clear-eyed, and compassionate. I doubt very much we will have a more authoritative or fascinating Kate.--Steven Bach, author of Final Cut and Leni: The Life and Work of Leni Riefenstahl "Biography is often the greatest form of fiction, pretending to do what only novels really can---present people all-of-a-piece. In that paradoxical sense, William Mann's "Kate" is a novel work of biography, indeed. Elegantly written, rich in detail, a model of thorough research, it dispenses with the need to turn an icon as complex as Hepburn into something black or white. This fullest-ever portrait of the lioness is painted in all the ambiguous shades of gray she shared with us lesser mortals. Careful and contemplative in separating life from legend, Mann sheds bright new light on both."--Barry Paris, author of Garbo, Louise Brooks and Audrey Hepburn "Mann makes major corrections to earlier Hepburn biographies, creating a picture of a complex woman rather than the icon she worked hard to become in the public's eye. Prepare yourself for Mann's shattering of the legend."--Publishers Weekly Book Life, Fall Harvest Best Books
"Mann considers the vibrant life of a 20th-century icon with encyclopedic scrutiny and a pinch of whimsy. . . . an engaging, comprehensive biography. Tapping into a wellspring of sources, the author has managed to reanimate with great skill and dexterity this shrewd, sophisticated woman. A sprawling salute to an awe-inspiring, world-class actor."--Kirkus Reviews (starred review)