Tuesday, September 02, 2014
Me: Stories of My Life
I was so damn happy to find this book, the memoirs of Katherine Hepburn, Me: Stories of My Life, at the recent book fair for Rs 20. More than the price, I always wanted to read the book. She is the on-screen idol I have always admired, from Bringing Up Baby to The Philadelphia Story to A Lion in Winter to On Golden Pond, and those movies she did with Spencer Tracy, Woman of the Year, Adam’s Rib. She was strong and funny, and opinionated and individualistic, a true feminist icon even before feminism was a discipline. She lived her life on her own terms and without apology. And her love affair with Spencer Tracy is the stuff of Hollywood lore. You cannot not love Katherine Hepburn!
On screen, she was played with wonderful empathy by another great actor Kate Blanchet, in Martin Scorsese’s The Aviator, the bio-pic of Howard Hughes, one of her suitors. But, how was she in real life?
This book, which is not really an autobiography, but memoirs, gives up a window to her exciting life, where she took control of it and ran with it.
What I liked about the book is that it is a real thing, written by her, not by a ghost, carefully chronicling a life lived. The details are scanty, and the author meanders in her telling and repeats what she has said before, but it’s all fun, because it is told by Hepburn herself, as she remembers. It’s as if she is sitting before you and telling the story of her life. At some point, perhaps, you want to ask the details of certain events. But you cannot. Because she is on the flow, and she knows what she is doing, and she will tell you the way she wants to.
What I like most about the book, more than her stories, is how, for a big star like her, she is so accommodating to the helps in her life. In a celebrity autobiography/biography, it’s all about the big people they have hobnobbed with, all the parities, travels, the big events they attended. There is very little about how these celebrities lived, what kind of house they had, what they ate and so on. But not Hepburn. She goes in detail about George Cukor’s house, as it continued to grow as he continued to find success in Hollywood. She also describes the house she shared with Tracy, with loving details, including a rocking chair she bought from a Chinese trader for Tracy. And most, importantly, she remembers her helps, her English driver David, and her personal secretary Phyllis. She actually dedicates a whole chapter on her; it is albeit small, but it speaks volumes.
Talking about the invisibility of domestic help in our lives, I am reminded of a great story by Asomiya author, Chradra Prasad Saikia, where a prospective bridegroom visits the house of a prospective bride and refuses the alliance. Because, the bride’s mother is unkind to their domestic help, something the bridegroom finds wrong, considering how his own mother is so loving to their domestic help.