“Knowing Hepburn and Other Curious Experiences” by James Prideaux


knowing hepburnMy first contribution to the 2013 Summer Reading Classic Film Book Challenge (Out of the Past) will be about my least favorite Katharine Hepburn biography. Actually, “Knowing Hepburn and Other Curious Experiences” by James Prideaux is less a Hepburn biography and more a Prideaux autobiography.

The height of James Prideaux’s writing career was writing three made-for-TV movies featuring Katharine Hepburn. The self-obsession he displays in his memoirs does not seem to have accurately manifest itself in any real sort of professional success. He can only boast nine writing credits for television screenplays between 1954 and 1992. Yet he exudes a curious mix of enormous self-confidence and tricky personal insecurity throughout “Knowing Hepburn.”

MDWtMTo be fair, I do like two of the three films he made with Miss Hepburn. MRS. DELAFIELD WANTS TO MARRY (1986) is about a wealthy widow who comes across opposition from her family and friends when she falls in love and wants to marry the Jewish doctor her saved her life. Harold Gould is the perfect love interest for the almost-80 Hepburn and the two are absolutely adorable.

LAURA LANSING SLEPT HERE (1988) has Hepburn playing a successful author who must live with a family in Yonkers so that she can get back in touch with real people. Part of the movie’s charm is getting to see Hepburn play Hepburn – to the max. The film also features her grandniece, Schyler Grant, who also played Diana in the Anne of Green Gables series. The third and last movie Prideaux and Hepburn teamed up on was THE MAN UPSTAIRS (1992), a mediocre story about an old woman who finds and bonds with the escaped convict hiding in her attic.

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Hepburn babysitting in LAURA LANSING SLEPT HERE (1988)

Although the book is peppered with anecdotes about Prideaux’s professional relationship with Miss Hepburn, his stories do nothing more than confirm what other biographers have written about her habits, attitude, and general disposition. In this way it is similar to “At Home with Kate,” though it doesn’t even have the added attraction of Hepburn’s favorite recipes.

Prideaux might like to think that he shared a close personal freindship with Hepburn, it is clear that she did not consider him as close a friend as A. Scott Berg. Berg’s biography/memoir “Remembering Kate” is flawed as a historical account because of his personal relationship with his subject, but the stories he records of his relationship with the star are much more personal and tender than those found in Prideaux’s book.

James Prideaux

Prideaux comes across as little more than a wannabe Hollywood name-dropper. His observations of Miss Hepburn are not always shed in the most positive light, either. His vanity often gets in the way of his writing respectfully about the star he is clearly obsessed with impressing. I don’t wonder that she kept him just a little outside her inner circle of confidantes.

James Prideaux’s “Knowing Hepburn and Other Curious Experiences” it worth a miss unless you are really so desperate to spend just that much more time hearing people talk about her (as I was when I first read the book, admittedly). It really has nothing to offer that you could find in other more amusing, more personal, more accurate records of her life.


8 thoughts on ““Knowing Hepburn and Other Curious Experiences” by James Prideaux

  • Le

    Uhm, it seems like the author named the book “Knowing Hpeburn and other curious experiences” exactly to call the attention of Hepburn fans and people who may think he is a cool person because he met Kate. I’m sorry it’s somehow a disappointing book!
    Kisses!

  • Dr. Jim

    Just to correct a few little quibbles. (Disclaimer) Mr. Prideaux is an old friend and I actually read the first draft of his autobiography. The resultant book, which you review above, was never really intended to be a Hepburn biography because there here already several available. The publishers wanted her name and image on the cover because of the sales they would solicit. The book is actually more about his background and Theatre work than his Hollywood work. Yes, he is the only person to write three films for Kate, but he also had 3 Broadway plays (two of them starring Julie Harris). He has always considered himself a playwright first and foremost.

    • MargaretPerry Post author

      Thanks for the background. That really makes a lot of sense. Thanks for stopping by and filling us in!

    • Tom

      Jim, could you update us on James Prideaux. I came to this website because it’s one of the first things on the yahoo search with his name and Hepburn. I can’t believe there is basically no information on Prideaux on the net – he had several major credits on Broadway and television, yet seems to have completely disappeared after the book was published in 1996. His birth year is listed as 1935 on a few sites which would make him approx. 79 if he is still living. Hopefully he is but as I mentioned there appears to be no interviews or profiles on him online.

  • Tom

    I just read the Prideaux book and liked it although I had some problems with it – and occasionally, him – although he generally seems an engaging and sympathetic guy. I didn’t like his indiscretion about Hepburn’s mental capabilities which could have affected her being offered work – this was published in 1996 when she was still living and presumably still considering work as she filmed three other productions after his last work with her in 1992. Also didn’t like his blatant setting up the final shot of his THE MAN UPSTAIRS teleplay as a “final” shot of Hepburn (even at the time I first saw it two decades ago it was obvious it was written as a swan song goodbye shot, this clearly was NOT Hepburn’s intention). On the other hand, I found him basically good-humored and respectful of Hepburn and his book nowhere near as self-serving as Scott Berg’s which you seem to prefer (and Prideaux’s credits are vastly above those of Berg’s as a writer in my eyes.) Berg’s book puts a spin on his relationship with Hepburn as if he was indispensible to her – I don’t think anyone was except perhaps for Phyllis. Also found Berg’s suggestion that had he been younger or around when she was young, they would have been the perfect couple laughable.

    • MargaretPerry Post author

      I agree with you for the most part. Although, I’m not nearly as bothered by Berg as you seem to be. I would agree with your frustrations with Berg is he hadn’t been so transparent in his book about it not at all being a legitimate biography but just his basic adoration of his friendship. His fangirling can be taken with a grain of salt. I find Prideaux’s presumptions, on the other hand, totally offensive.
      Thanks for stopping by my site!

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