If I were an autobiography in search of an excellent autobiography to emulate… Me (Stories of My Life) by Katharine Hepburn would be the book I’d turn to. It is the perfect, quintessential autobiography. Filled with stories, photos and “flashes” (much like my “snapshot memories”) that remind us how talented, witty, and intelligent she was, it also gave Hepburn an opportunity to be candid and vulnerable.
As I said… it is the perfect memoir.
The reason I’ve chosen Hepburn’s book today isn’t clear… but it’s getting clearer. Let’s see where this goes.
I first mentioned Hepburn in this review back in January, 2019. I’d meant to return to the subject but never did. You know how I feel about nudges. Today, I got the nudge.
To begin at the beginning… I appreciated Hepburn’s acting, sure. I thought it was kinda neat how she bucked the system back in the day. Wore pants. Smoked. Strong woman and all that. I knew a little about her, as we all did. She was, as you know, a HUGE movie star! I didn’t love her.
In the late 1980s, my (then) husband had several affairs, as has been discussed here before. Infidelity was a subject I knew too much about and when I realized that Hepburn had had a years-long affair with Spencer Tracy, well… !!!!! I would have NONE of it. I didn’t care to know the details and I thought of her as a home-wrecker.
In the early 1990s, we were involved in a fundamental Baptist church and my black-and-white (good-and-bad, angelic-and-satanic) thinking fit right in. I can’t stress enough how much I bought into the system, the “churchianity” (as I call it) and the notion that there were sinners and saints. Yes, the Bible said we all have sinned… but secretly?… I believed I was better than many. Especially my (then) husband.
So, I held myself to a much higher standard than the cad I was married to (name calling is always so helpful when talking about people you love who hurt you. Right?). I was… better than he was… and… better than anyone who found themselves mired in an infidelity situation. Especially the cheater. Super-duper ESPECIALLY the other woman. Sinners! One and all.
Side-note: So very Christian. Ugh.
Enter the late 1990s … and meet “the me” who found out what it was like to lower myself to The Cad’s level. My own infidelity (a one-night stand with a co-worker) led me to the depths of guilt, disgust and despair. Whatever I thought about infidelity before was NOTHING compared to how much I hated it – and myself – after.
I share this with you to give you a peek into my mind as I began to dig myself out of the pit I’d created.
In early 2003, I was temporarily living with my parents after my second husband and I lost everything. I felt I deserved it, plain and simple. I’d thrown a grenade into my first family with the affair and rebounded into my second husband in Canada. We literally lost everything – from our home to our vehicle to our minds – and yes, I have shared the story a few times… but it’s here if you feel so inclined to read all about it.
In 2003, my mom and I were working on our Comfort Books… sitting on the floor, cutting out photos and reading articles to add. We ran across an article about Katharine Hepburn and I told my mother how much I disliked her. Of course, she asked why… and boy, did I tell her!
Being honest, her face is frozen in my mind. She was shocked at the vitriol that spewed from my mouth.
After I was finished, she suggested several things…
- Do some research on what kind of woman Hepburn was and why she made the choices she did.
- Check out “black-and-white thinking” and what it might look like to allow for the grey in-between.
- Remember what kind of marriage I’d had… not to blame but to understand how I’d used the affair as an exit strategy.
The book I’m talking about today is one I read about Hepburn, along with articles and some things I found on the internet at the time.
My black-and-white thinking was another matter all together, as was the pit I’d dug and thrown myself into.
When I finally crawled up and out, I had a new appreciation for Hepburn’s choices and her heart. One story in particular stood out to me…
I am sharing this from memory. She may have related it in this book… I think she did… but not sure. I tried to find it and couldn’t. But you’ll get the drift.
What you need to know: The affair between Tracy and Hepburn was an “open secret” that lasted over 25 years. They lived together but also kept separate residences for appearances sake. Tracy never divorced his wife because he was Catholic and also wanted to keep an intact marriage for his children. Hepburn was single, having married and divorced once years before. She was known for her fierce independence.
Tracy died in the kitchen of the home he and Hepburn shared.
Hepburn was the one who called to share the news with his wife.
Hepburn did not go to the funeral out of respect for his wife. <<< I remember reading that and feeling a thud in the pit of my stomach. I thought, “Wow! That must have been torture.”
I will also add that while doing research for this post, I ran across a few stories that suggested the entire affair was a ruse to cover their (Tracy and Hepburn’s) homosexuality. Even if that were so… I believe they truly loved each other. This book, in fact, ends with a letter to Tracy from Hepburn that makes that clear. By this time in her life – and with Tracy gone – she’d have had no reason to lie.
What was it my therapist Amy used to say?
Relationships are messy.
And guess what? They are not black-and-white.
And of course, this was yet another time when Mom led me in the right direction.
Forgiving myself (and my ex-husband) only occurred after I could see myself in those grey spaces. Him, too.
Turns out that Hepburn had a lantern and led the way. I now respect her in a way I never thought possible.
Oh, and this book is phenomenal. Well-written, sudsy with lots of Hollywood tidbits, filled with love and laughter and tons of history. And photos… lots and lots of photos.
Thanks, Kate (and Mom) for the lesson in looking beyond those harsh black-and-white lines and seeing into the grey areas. That’s where forgiveness begins. At least, it’s where it began for me.