“I was so tormented in the theatre. It frightened me so that I thought I must come back and overcome that. And it took me my whole life.”
Over the course of her long and sublime career, Katharine Hepburn was often quoted on the subject of the movies. She loved them, she said—she loved being an audience and she loved making them. “What is better than a good movie?” she once inquired rhetorically of writer Lee Israel in a late 60s interview for Esquire. The process of making pictures was easy, she said. And it was fun. And, as she told Dick Cavett in their legendary 1973 sit down, it was well paid. And you got to travel.
Katharine Hepburn and James Prideaux on the Vancouver set of Mrs. Delafield Wants to Marry.
In an interview with Geoffrey Guiliano for an audio tribute to Hepburn, writer and friend James Prideaux said, “Everything was interesting to her… she was always ready for an adventure.” Phyllis Wilbourn, Hepburn’s beloved right hand and majordomo, told Prideaux, “Whenever we get a script, Miss Hepburn and I, the first thing we see is where we get to go.” By that she meant, of course, to what new location was this project was going to take them, and what adventures awaited them there? When Prideaux presented Hepburn with a script he’d written expressly for her—the Emmy-nominated television movie Mrs. Delafield Wants to Marry
(1986)—that’s precisely what she asked: “Where are we gonna shoot this? Where do we get to go?” And where did they go? The movie was shot in Vancouver, British Columbia. “That was Kate’s idea,” said Prideaux. (That’s them below, in a snapshot taken on the set.)
But the stage was trickier. Where moviemaking was fun, the theatre, as she revealed to Dick Cavett in that 1973 chat, was torment. Where moviemaking suited her internal clock, allowing her to rise in the pre-dawn hours, as was her wont, the theatre was all about late hours and stamina. Her plays always toured, so that satisfied the wanderlust. But because of the energy required (which she had in abundance but which she also told an interviewer was not as easy to maintain on stage as it looked) and the commitment to eight shows a week, presumably for an extended period of time, it was not unheard of for her to liken appearing in a play to a jail sentence.
Still, throughout her career, Hepburn would frequently leave behind the lush life of sunshine, oranges and moviemaking to voluntarily incarcerate herself on stage and excel in everything from Philip Barry to Shakespeare to Shaw.
Coming up: Beauty or the Beast?
Till next time..
Judy Samelson/Editor, PLAYBILL®