My 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.”
To 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.
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.
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.