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Kate: The Woman Who Was Hepburn

3.91  ·  Rating Details ·  1,043 Ratings  ·  72 Reviews
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
Hardcover, 656 pages
Published October 3rd 2006 by Henry Holt and Co. (first published October 1st 2006)
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The author states near the beginning of this book that he is not really a fan of Kate or her films. He doesn't come right out and say why he is writing this book. Several other reviewers here have pointed out that this author has also written a book about how homosexuals have shaped Hollywood. In this book he spends a lot of time speculating as to different people's sexual orientation. While it appears there are times he has solid evidence for his speculation there were several times where he se ...more
Malcolm David Logan
Dec 11, 2007 Malcolm David Logan rated it did not like it
Recommends it for: militant gay activists
I suppose every biography has some sort of agenda but really is the most important thing about Kate Hepburn her sexuality? The book seems bent on proving not only that Kate was by turns gay/bi/asexual, but also that everyone in Hollywood in the forties was gay, or at least seriously thinking about experimenting that way. Poor Spencer Tracy comes in for the harshest scrutiny with allegations that his well-known boozing was the result of not only being a blatant adulterer but a tortured closeted g ...more
Aug 09, 2008 lmc rated it it was amazing
Yet another book I couldn't put down - read the majority of it one night - finished up the next evening. Author does a great job of discerning between previous "facts" that have been published erroneously over the decades that are now considered the truth about who Hepburn was, her interactions with friends, family, associates, fellow actors, long term liaisons, and her extensive travels over her lifespan which encompassed nearly the entire 20th century.

I've read nearly every book published on
Lisa Findley
Aug 03, 2009 Lisa Findley rated it really liked it
Shelves: memoir-biography
I went into this book knowing the Hepburn myth: feisty aristocrat, tragic love affair with Spencer Tracy, always did it her way. Mann takes on this myth with gusto: her family eventually got rich, but started out basic middle-class; she had many more intense female relationships than her on-again, off-again relationship with Tracy; like every other movie star, she made many compromises to make it big. I appreciate the way Mann investigates the myth without chucking it all out as hooey, and the w ...more
Kathryn Shevelow
Apr 04, 2008 Kathryn Shevelow rated it it was amazing
I loved this biography--I don't often read Hollywood bios, but this one was fascinating for its account of the Hollywood world that Hepburn belonged to. But what I found most fascinating was the story of Kate's earlier history, with her feminist mother, her unusual (to put it mildly) father, and the radical-bohemian-lesbian-gay circles, especially in Greenwich Village, that Hepburn knew as a child. Mann's a thorough, careful researcher, and a good story teller. This is a long book, but I enjoyed ...more
Aug 23, 2011 Kevin rated it it was amazing
If you're reading this review, you must be a Katharine Hepburn fan. And if you're a Hepburn fan, then you've probably already read a number of biographies on her, or even her own two memoirs. What sets William Mann's massive biography apart from the rest is that he actually conducted research into Hepburn's life rather than relying on vintage articles and Hepburn's interviews that have been passed along from biography to biography as if they were fact, when, in fact, he discovered, there was a l ...more
Michael Burge
Jan 10, 2015 Michael Burge rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The best biography I have ever read, and a tough read at times (because Mann often makes his point gradually, but eventually you come to realise why), but if you stick with it, this book delivers in spades.

When Katharine Hepburn died I felt it would only be a matter of time before the truth about her sexual orientation emerged, and here it is laid bare. Importantly, considering both her achievements and her own myth-making, it's done in meticulous, credible detail. The chapter notes are worth re
Mark Gaulding
Dec 27, 2008 Mark Gaulding rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is a landmark book, in my opinion. I have never read a more compelling and convincing biography. I think this books was really the culmination and triumph because of the author's other two fantastic books: Wisecracker & Behind the Screen. The latter is a landmark book in and of itself, revealing the prominently queer Hollywood before The Code was instituted. Wisecrack, about silent film star William Haines, continued the scholarly study of this shameful period in Hollywood history. Ms. ...more
Apr 01, 2008 Jan rated it really liked it
Okay, even though I essentially love everything I read, this one was a little tiresome and repetitive at times. Nevertheless, I found it compelling enough to make it all the way through 500+ pages of details about Kate's love life and cantankerous ways. Seems she probably was at times a closeted lesbian (even to herself), at other times fairly asexual, yet other times dabbled in men. I can tell you this, she hung out with some really butch women for someone who wasn't a lesbian. The author seems ...more
Jul 27, 2008 Slincn rated it it was ok
Surprising. Evidence that Hepburn, like many of her Hollywood counterparts in fact lived private lives that general public knew little to nothing about. In that way, you almost feel like a voyeur reading these stories about Kate Hepburn's "true" life. But here is where I think the author toes perhaps a little too close to being a hypocrite. He says that Hepburn knew how to work the celebrity machine to say exactly what she wanted it to say, but there are numerous gleams in the text where it seem ...more
Jul 31, 2011 Tej rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I learned a lot, it was well-written, and well-researched, but it was so hard to stick with it. For one thing, he spent a lot of time giving mini-biographies about all of the people in her life. That's fine for her parents, but I really don't need the life-story of her college roommate. And as for the other famous people in her life, if I want to know about them I'll just read their biography. The other thing I didn't like is that despite always telling us that sex was not important to Kate and ...more
I loved the characters Katherine Hepburn made for the screen throughout her prolific career. and,even though I do love a behind the scenes biography, especially about who is in the closet and who will simply pretend they haven't had same-sex experiences, and the speculated reasons, and EVEN THOUGH the author warned on the beginning that (while he admired her ??) he is no fan of Kate's, it is really difficult to read such a BIG book by someone who obviously dislikes something very fundamental in ...more
Nancy Loe
Aug 04, 2007 Nancy Loe rated it it was amazing
Fascinating, well-reasoned, and beautifully written biography about someone who was rapidly receding into the mists of legend, much of it her own creation. I loved Mann's earlier book ( wisecracker) and he's exceeded even that fine book.

I love Katharine Hepburn's work and her screen persona, but I especially appreciated that he didn't produce another contribution to the hagiography about Hepburn.
Feb 18, 2008 Heather added it
Recommends it for: no one
This book was not the best biography I have read. It focused WAYYYYYY too much on the rumors of her being a lesbian. It seems like the author was trying to prove that she was and would tie each aspect of her life to show she was. I honestly had to stop reading it because that was the ongoing theme and it started to beat the dead horse.

The only interesting part was her childhood. And that is only because it didnt focus so much on her preferences.
Jan 14, 2011 Karin rated it did not like it
What a tour de force this was.The book says a whole lot more about the author than it does about Kate.Sure,there was alot of information,albeit, second hand,hearsay,conjecture etc.What the author apparenly wants us to know is that Kate and everyone who had anything to do with her throughout her life
was lesbian,homosexual or otherwise sexually challenged BFD.What Katharine Hepburn wanted us to know is:she was,is and always will be a STAR -END OF STORY
Jan 28, 2009 Rachel rated it it was amazing
A wonderful look into who she really was with the necessary question about her sexuality but Mann is wonderful at admitting that he doesn't always know everything. I think that is the best part of reading a Mann bio. He admits that some things are speculation and he refrains from assuming but instead mentions what conclusions other authors have made. Learned a lot and love reading a bio by this man.
Sep 28, 2008 Jen rated it it was ok
Shelves: already-read
I'm really not sure what to think about this book. The author seemed determine to prove that Katharine Hepburn was ambisexual (or bi or gay) - and much of the book seemed to focus on this aspect. The parts I did enjoy dealt with some of her travels, and how she ended up becoming the icon she is.
Mar 29, 2013 Jonathan rated it did not like it
Relies on insinuations for the bulk of interest, which clouds the truth of who this icon was.
Jan 07, 2009 Sarah rated it liked it
Too much focus on the "gay" thing. Otherwise, an interesting smack down of the currently understood legend behind the woman.
Sep 17, 2008 Erin rated it it was ok
The interesting portions of this book are spread so thinly through so much repetitive, speculative and (for me) tiresome filler that I struggled to finish.
Ghost of the Library
Aug 11, 2016 Ghost of the Library rated it it was amazing
oh my oh my oh my....katherine hepburn has always been a fav of mine, both for her acting and for her general atitude towards life and the humans around her so i cant begin to say how utterly pleased i was to bump into this book at my local library!
its a beast of a book, but it was soo worth the time and the trouble, even if it will no doubt turn out to be a love it or hate it kind of book!
i approached it having read no reviews on it, so i had only my previous notions of katherine hepburn and he
Nov 28, 2008 Annie rated it really liked it
Well, I finally made it! This book is seriously nearly 600 pages long (actually, it is longer if you include the references and index, which I totally did not read! It is meticulously researched and Mann backs everything up very thoroughly. I honestly felt like I was doing homework while I was reading this. "Gotta finish that Katharine Hepburn biography before the next class!" Thank God there was no deadline or I would've just given up.

Which isn't to say the book isn't enjoyable. I love reading
May 20, 2012 Sandra rated it did not like it
No es esta una biografía que precisamente ensalce la figura de Katharine Hepburn. Ni como actriz ni como persona. El autor lo advierte en el prólogo: no es un fan de la actriz ni tampoco fue su amigo. Es solo un “reportero e historiador cultural”. Como reportero, su labor en esta historia es desmitificar a Katharine Hepburn, convertirla en un ser humano egoísta, mentiroso y que vivió mostrando una doble cara durante toda su vida. Como historiador cultural, imagino que su intención es la de demos ...more
Shawn Thrasher
Mar 18, 2011 Shawn Thrasher rated it really liked it
Katharine Hepburn the book is great.. but Katharine Hepburn the actress gets a Bronx cheer from me. Wow, what an insufferably self absorbed, mean spirited, ugly person William Mann paints in this book. I'm not exactly sure this was Mann's intention (whatever did Kate Hepburn do to you Mr. Mann?) but that's certainly the impression I took away from the book. That, and also how Katharine Hepburn was a typical actor (how many synonyms for self absorbed can I come up with: egocentric, egomaniacal, n ...more
Lolly K Dandeneau
Oct 27, 2008 Lolly K Dandeneau rated it really liked it
There were quite a few things I did not know, specifically the lesbian undertones of her life (what rock have I been living under). With that aside, she seems (like most celebrities )to have invented an image of who she wanted people to believe her to be. On the other hand, her true character shined through the inventions. Definitly not one you could characterize as either male nor female, she was an entity unto herself. I always find it fascinating to read about people who have influenced the l ...more
Jade Dermody
Oct 15, 2014 Jade Dermody rated it really liked it
I choose to read this book as I love The African Queen and had read she was a witness at Vivien Leigh's wedding. She turned out to be much more interesting than I ever thought. She loved deeply both men and women, but had little interest in sex. The men she chose were all damaged and ultimately unobtainable and she refused to be labelled as a lesbian. Like Marilyn Monroe she created her own image-or "creature" as she called it and her true self is very hard to see. Always going against the grain ...more
Jan 13, 2017 Lauren rated it it was ok
Read this biography if you are predominantly interested in the sexual orientation/attitudes of Hepburn, Tracy, most of her directors, and most of the people close to her. That's basically all this book discusses. In the introduction the author lauds himself as being the first biographer to tell Hepburn's story outside of her direct control, but it ends up being a long, speculative account of focused on one aspect of her life. The author gives a caveat early on that he's not really a fan and not ...more
Aug 24, 2008 kristine rated it liked it
now, i didn't know ANYTHING about katharine hepburn before i read this. i was watching "the aviator" and decided HEY! I ALWAYS MEANT TO GET AROUND TO FINDING OUT ABOUT HER! so off i went to the library, where i picked up this book and her autobiography (which i might not end up reading).

it was really interesting how this author took a very strong KATHARINE HEPBURN WAS AMBISEXUAL stance in this--and even more interesting was the fact that he also wrote a book called "behind the scenes: how gays a
Feb 21, 2010 Debbie rated it really liked it
This book was an indepth depiction through letters and people that Katherine Hepburn knew, mostly people, of the myths vs. facts regarding her life. I learned she just as fragile in personal relationships especially with men as she was strong in her ground-breaking acceptance of women living on their on terms with a career in film/theatre. It was fascinating to watch this tomboy of a girl develop into one of the most influential and amazing actresses of our time and on the other side of it, her ...more
Joy H.
Apr 20, 2013 Joy H. rated it really liked it
Added 4/20/13.
I read this after I finished reading this author's bio of Barbra Streisand. I like William J. Mann's writing.

I've already read 2 other bios of Hepburn. I can't get enough of her. LOL

I could see that this book was thoroughly researched. The author points out throughout the book that Hepburn needed and craved success. She worked at it all of her life.

The book is quite a tome to get through.

PS-The Goodreads reviews of this book are excellent. Read them if you want to know more about t
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Also writes children's books under the pseudonym Geoffrey Huntington.
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