Posts Tagged ‘Katharine Hepburn’

Judy Garland on set. A Star is Born (1954).

Katharine Hepburn on location. Summertime (1955)

Since mid December 2010 on tumblr — a blogging site that seems best suited to sharing images quickly and seamlessly as a  kind of “blogging lite” — I have been playing with a theme, a meme,  of “lolling”.  Lolling as a way of selecting (from thousands) and sharing images from the movies and performances of Katharine Hepburn and of Judy Garland I have been collecting from fan sites and other means over the past few years.

[My main tumblr page is at msteketee [dot] tumblr [dot] com.  My “archives” page which displays text and image entries like a proof sheet, is at msteketee [dot] tumblr [dot] com [forward slash] archive.  The site is like the wild west and I’m not sure I’ll keep a blog there, but for the time being, there it is.]

I selectively have now made my way through the Hepburn oeuvre, then the Garland oeuvre, movie by movie (with the occasional play thrown in for Hepburn), in alphabetical order.  I select for image quality, I prefer black and white, and for this run through the riches it’s all about the lolling.

“lolling — present participle of loll (Verb)1. Sit, lie, or stand in a lazy, relaxed way: “the two girls lolled in their chairs”.2. Hang loosely; droop: “he slumped against a tree trunk, his head lolling back”.”— Merriam-Webster – The Free Dictionary

I have been playing with the idea that in these publicity portraits, production stills, screen captures, on set encounters something might be revealed about each actress.  Perhaps.  Lolling between takes and at rest and posing and chatting with colleagues.  Moments of repose in public by two women who lived very public lives.  Two icons, two women I greatly admire for their talent and in part how they each quite differently lived their lives.  One was present and reserved.  One was present and may have given, willingly given, a great deal of herself away.  In Anna Deavere Smith‘s show Let Me Down Easy (her musings through multiple characters on health and culture and end of life), she quotes the DC sports writer Sally Jenkins on the nature of athletes and their attitudes towards their mortal coil: “Athletes aren’t happy unless they’re actually used up.”  I wonder whether this personality attribute might relate in different measure to Hepburn and Garland.  Long-haul, family home to visit then live in, paced life style with consistency of routine and sense of place versus shifting residence, performance focused.  I refrain from further assertions or conclusions, but the concept is for me evocative.

Katharine Hepburn on set. Bringing Up Baby (1938).

We have beauty.  Check.  We have presence.  Check.  We have focus.  Check.  We have intensity.  Check.  And here we may be venturing into the areas that, from our vantage point outside the lives of these outsized characters …  I’ll reach for quotations by others now to elaborate some thoughts.  Then leave this post with some final images.

Hepburn’s great friend Garson Kanin, for a time estranged and finally reconciled, wrote of her and of her several-decade relationship with Spencer Tracy in 1971’s Tracy and Hepburn: An Intimate Memoir.  (The fact of this book, that Kanin would dare to write about the open secret of their relationship, caused the estrangement from Hepburn.  At some point after  Ruth Gordon passed away and Kanin was married to Marian Seldes, there was a “life is too short” moment and all parties decided to forgive and be friends again.) Observations by a witty and fine writer about several witty and fine human beings, creates quotable language on almost every page about Kate.  Each word relates to the “lolling” meme in my mind: Hepburn had her own style in every moment, and a lanky ease.   Tracy and Hepburn, p. 152:

“In the largest sense, Katharine Hepburn’s popularity has never waned because people know (magically, intuitively) that she stands for something, even if many of them have no clear idea as to what that something is.  They recognize that in a time of dangerous conformity, and the fear of being different, here is one who stands up gallantly to the killing wave.”

Judy Garland on set. In The Good Old Summertime (1949).

Several contemporaries and colleagues of Garland provide reflections on her style, focus, intensity. John Fricke‘s Judy Garland: The World’s Greatest Entertainer (1992) features a range of intriguing commentary from the era of A Star is Born.  On page 145, Doris Day is quoted:

“Some Hollywood faces seem to have been made for cameras.  Judy had such a face — right, left, up, down, it didn’t matter…. She was one of the funniest, wittiest ladies I have ever known, a marvelous conversationalist who would set me laughing until I actually doubled over…. [Garland was] the most tightly wound person I ever knew…. She kept so much of herself locked up, but what she did let out was beautiful.”

Judy Garland and George Cukor on set. A Star is Born (1954).

And a final present.  Our women together on the set of the movie in which one starred, directed by the husband of the other.  Focus, intensity, beauty in repose.

Vincente Minnelli, Judy Garland, Katharine Hepburn on set. Undercurrent (1946).

© Martha Wade Steketee (January 24, 2011)


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Harvard Yard 1930.  Time stands still.

Harvard Yard 1930. Time stands still.

I plan next weekend to visit Cambridge for the first time in several years.  I have been back to neighboring Boston a few times since my graduation from Harvard in June 1981, and have even tramped through Cambridge’s Harvard Yard with various friends and acquaintances over the years, remembering dining halls and library stacks and coffee shops and seminar rooms (there I listened to Lillian Hellman or there I heard a lecture on Milton that changed my sense of the possibilities of poetry for life or in that projection room I saw Philadelphia Story five times in three days and cemented a lifetime love for Katharine Hepburn).  This trip with my husband I will be able to show him the theatre (the Loeb Drama Center) where I spend many hours on student productions before the institution was transformed into the American Repertory Theatre, and other points of pleasure.  At a remove of almost 30 years, the shards and mists of memory are varied and differently arrayed than in the past.

At the cross roads of two traditions, two institutions, one an offshoot of the other, twins birthed in separate centuries (Harvard founded in 1642, Radcliffe founded as the “Harvard Annex” in 1879 with instruction of women by Harvard faculty and chartered as Radcliffe in 1894) I attended Harvard-Radcliffe during the years of a merged admissions office and a certain confusion over which school controlled the men and women scholars in attendance.  In the late 1970s-early 1980s there remained a President of Harvard (male) and a President of Radcliffe (female) and both signed the diplomas of the women graduates, who were in the end graduates after 1977 of Harvard College.  It took some 20 plus years more for the corporate and alumni groups to establish a Radcliffe Institute of Advanced Study (so the name still lives) and clarify that women and men were now attending one college and graduating from that one college, holding the same diploma.  And within the past two years for the first time the President of Harvard University is a woman.  Ah, what we’ve witnessed.

I have had faculty in graduate school look at me (in the early 1990s) and tell me to “be proud of my school” when I said I graduated from Harvard, when they presumed for me to think that I was shading my own truth, not acknowledging my own diploma.  Their own ignorance of the morphing identify of Radcliffe and of Harvard led them to presume that I was not proud of my foremothers, and that I claimed an affiliation that I hadn’t earned.  How dare they.  Ah, Harvard.  Ah Radcliffe.  Ah the memories of thrill and fear, of exhilaration and insufficiency, of intellectual splendor and intellectual collapse.

During my final two years as an undergraduate I sang second alto in the Radcliffe Choral Society (see http://www.hcs.harvard.edu/rcs/index.html), an amazing single sex chorus among the single and mixed sex choruses on campus.  One of my cherished memories was singing a capella with these sweet voices the Radcliffe alma mater.  This tune, these lyrics, is a piece of the past, of a world of the Seven Sisters.  The romance of  the Ivy League, and an education I have never ever regretted, for all its pain and pleasures.

So as a daughter of Radcliffe and a graduate of Harvard, I sometimes raise my solo voice in song, in this song.  For the young woman I was and the now aging woman I am, full of hope and promise and a liberal arts brain that skitters hither and thither and sometimes still finds great inspiration.  I hardly know the Harvard alma mater (“Fair Harvard”) but these other sweet words and the accompanying charming tune continue to enchant and entertain.   Pride and solemnity in equal measure — of a bit of sisterly history that was recent history when I occupied student quarters in Harvard Yard, and is further receding into the distant past every day.

Radcliffe, Now We Rise to Greet Thee
Radcliffe, now we rise to greet thee,
Alma Mater, hail to thee!
All our hearts are one in singing
Of our love and loyalty.
We have learn’d to know each other
In thy light, which clearly beams,
Thou hast been a kindly Mother,
Great fulfiller of our dreams.
Radcliffe, now we rise to greet thee,
Alma Mater, hail to thee!
Alma Mater, give thy daughters
Each a spark from Truth’s pure flame;
Let them when they leave thy altars
Kindle others in thy name.
For our strength and joy in living,
Love and praise to thee belong;
Thou whose very life is giving,
From thy daughters take a song.
Radcliffe, now we rise to greet thee,
Alma Mater, hail to thee!
Words by Floretta Elmore, Class of 1909
Music by Emily Coolidge, Class of 1908

For the lyrics of both Radcliffe and Harvard alma maters, see: http://radcliffe61.org/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=46&Itemid=27

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Rick Blaine, Ilsa Lund, Casablanca (1942)

from Sidney Skolsky.  Don’t Get Me Wrong — I Love Hollywood (1975), p. 246

“That’s how it is, recalling scenes, having a movie memory.  It’s a game. You can play it by yourself and be amazed by what comes out of your past into the present.  You can play it with a group of people.  Throw them the lines or describe the scene and see if they can name the picture.  Try it and see.  It’ll give you a fast insight into people.”

Norman Maine, Esther Blodgett, A Star is Born (1954)

And this is how I live my life.  And it’s not a game.  The scenes from movies (and literature and stage moments, truth be told) inform my imagination and my every day speech and writing referents in equal measure.  Mrs. Norman Maine and Ilsa Lund and Tracy Lord and others are as essential to my intellectual and artistic life as any other elements in my basic building blocks of thought and image.  In fact, as prior blog entries tiresomely testify, these characters and the artists who create and embody them actually are for me some of the building blocks of my thought process.  There they are … myth and literature and fairy tale and spiritual concepts and lives created on page and stage and screen.  It’s all story telling.  It is all of a piece.

Tracy Lord, Macaulay Connor, The Philadelphia Story (1940)

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Katharine Houghton Hepburn 1960 passport at Sotheby's pre-auction exhibit June 2004

I have been a tourist and I have been a traveler.  I observe for brief periods as I pass through.  And I stop for extended periods of time in various cities as a full-fledged citizen inhabitant, setting down roots.

After a stable and stationary childhood and adolescence in one town in the middle of the American Midwest, I have lived in ten or so cities and scores of homes.  I have not yet allowed roots to fully take hold.  While I am in each place, however, I believe I am open to that locale being the homeland.  I’ve learned that it’s the intention that is the key thing. And I take lessons and images and wisdom from each place, and leave real and conceptual detritus behind.  Shards of my life in cities and apartments all across the United States and in several other countries around the world.

from The Sheltering Sky by Paul Bowles (1949)

“He did not think of himself as a tourist; he was a traveler. The difference is partly one of time, he would explain.  Whereas the tourist generally hurries back home at the end of a few weeks or months, the traveler, belonging no more to one place than the next, moves slowly, over periods or years, from one part of the earth to another …. [A]nother important difference between tourist and traveler is that the former accepts his own civilization without question; not so the traveler, who compares it with the others, and rejects those elements he finds not to his liking. “

I have just read a play for consideration in a play development conference that uses a similar construct in conversation between two characters yet focuses not on time or intention but on bravery and daring or the lack of same:

“I thought at first you were a traveler, but I was wrong.  You are a tourist — is plain — is simple. …  The traveler is brave, bold, daring.  The tourist — typical, scared.”

This idea of bravery versus fear to distinguish traveling from tourism is a new one to me.  The passage by Bowles that has spoken to me for decades speaks to openness to possibility and the immensity of time and space and inhabiting each stop along the journey.

I expect to pick up my actual and metaphorical passports soon and feed my traveler’s appetite.

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The Philadelphia Story (1940) is a source of endless gems of dialog and image and enviable lives and moral stances.   And goddesses.  And human beings.  And the Academy Award nominated performance of the beautiful, smart, and scrumptious second banana character and actress who is the woman of moment in this blog — Ruth Hussey.

It is important to note that the movie The Philadelphia Story is based on a play of the same name about “the Privileged Class enjoying its privileges” that was crafted for the woman, Katharine Hepburn, who portrays the character, Tracy Lord, who occupies the central space in this narrative.  It was built ON her frame, so to speak.  Kate will feature (and has indeed been featured) in rapturous prose from me with great frequency. But this is not her day.  Today — the Hussey.

She was born Ruth March in Providence, Rhode Island in 1914 and died Ruth Hussey Longenecker at age 91 in 2005 after 60 years of marriage to talent agent George Longenecker.  She attended Brown University and the University of Michigan; modeled for the Powers agency; played on Broadway (including originating the role of Mary Matthews in State of the Union, a role later played by Katharine Hepburn in the film version, see http://ibdb.com/production.php?id=1742); performed in numerous movies with A-list actors, and appeared in television occasionally in the 1950s through 1970s.

This is a woman whose rootedness, education, quick wit, and shimmery beauty animated every role she played.

Ruth Hussey was nominated for an Academy Award for her role as Liz Imbrie in the movie that is the current object of our affection and attention.  And now .. we quote from the artistic creation.  Because that’s what we do.

Liz Imbrie, photographer sent to cover a Philadelphia society wedding, and C.K. Dexter Haven, ex-husband of and still carrying a torch for the imminent bride, have been assembling facts that document the jerk-i-tude of Imbrie’s boss (Sidney Kidd) who holds some dirty laundry about the bride-to-be’s father.  Liz works with and carries her own torch for Macaulay (Mike) Connor, writer, who has been having his own flirtation with the imminent bride Tracy Lord.  Early the morning of the wedding, Liz and C.K. re-enter the Lord mansion.

Liz:  Well, home after a hard day’s blackmailing. When are you going to telephone Kidd?

C.K.: In time to get him here for the wedding.

Liz: Why?

C.K.: A sort of wedding present, if it works.

Liz: If  it works.

C.K.: I could still tear it up.

Liz: No.  Mike’s only chance to ever become a really fine writer is to get fired.

C.K.: You’re a good number, Liz.

Liz: Oh, I just photograph well.  I’m certainly out of focus now.

C.K.: Why don’t you take a swim?

Liz: A swim?

C.K.: Sure.  Tracy and I always took a swim after a party.

Li: Did you?

C.K.: Mm-hmm.

Liz: Bet it was fun.  I’ll have to try it with Mike sometime.

C.K.: Liz, why don’t you marry him?

Liz: You really want to know?

C.K.: Mm-hmm.

Liz: He’s still got a lot to learn.  I don’t want to get in his way for a while.

C.K.: It’s risky though, Liz.  Suppose another girl came along in the meantime?

Liz: I’d scratch her eyes out, I guess.  That is, unless she was going to marry somebody else the next day.

Philadelphia Story (1940).  Liz Imbrie and C.K. Dexter Haven

© Martha Wade Steketee (December 3, 2009)

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