- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 1, 2007


Picture this: Katharine Hepburn and her chauffeur stopped for speeding in the tiny town of Blackwell, Okla. Miss Hepburn berates the strapping young officer as a “moron” and “dumbbell,” then adds, “If I ever found an Oklahoma car in Connecticut, I would flatten all the tires.”

What could be a scene from a screwball comedy is actually drawn from Miss Hepburn’s life — at least her version of it.

A typed, single-spaced account of the arrest during a 1950-51 tour of Shakespeare’s “As You Like It” was in one of 22 boxes of papers from Miss Hepburn’s theater career that have been donated to the New York Public Library. They will be available to scholars and fans after they have been cataloged.

Cynthia McFadden, co-executor of Miss Hepburn’s will, says the arrest story is written in the voice of the woman she loved: “impatient, funny and occasionally just a little high-handed.”

“I suspect she was driving,” Ms. McFadden adds. “She frequently drove her driver.”

When Miss Hepburn died in 2003, the trustees of her estate chose to donate papers from her film career to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences’ Margaret Herrick Library. They decided to donate papers from her extensive though less-known stage career to the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts at Lincoln Center.

“Miss Hepburn didn’t throw away much, so there are boxes and boxes and roomfuls of material,” Ms. McFadden says.

Curator Bob Taylor says the library’s archivists are still going through the papers, which include scripts, photos, letters and scrapbooks.

Mr. Taylor says the materials will be indexed by early February, at which point, members of the public will be able to check them out and read them — while wearing white gloves in a special reading room.

Highlights from the collection were displayed last week on a table at the library.

There were fan letters from Judy Garland and from Charlton Heston, who wrote in 1981, “You have made all our hearts tremble, one time or another.”

There was a speech Miss Hepburn delivered after a May 1970 performance asking for a moment of silence in memory of the four students shot by Ohio National Guardsmen at Kent State University.

A packet of correspondence from 1971 concerns Miss Hepburn’s use of a four-letter word in “Coco,” a play based on the life of designer Coco Chanel. Her latest collection having bombed, the character utters the profanity.

With the play headed to Los Angeles, Miss Hepburn was contractually forbidden from using the expletive.

Her letter begging to have it reinstated is an eloquent plea for free expression.

“First we have tried everything that anyone can think of to use instead,” she wrote. “Nothing works — the sadness — the finality — the clarity and the brevity of this expression coming from the lips of a highly respectable old lady — who is alone — and who is in tears over the total failure of her show — strikes the audience as funny then as she runs up the stairway — curiously gallant.”

Miss Hepburn got her way. Edwin Lester of the Los Angeles Civic Light Opera Association responded that the letter “was sufficient for us to acquiesce, particularly if acquiescence would make you happy.”

He added, “Again let me tell you how much we are looking forward to your visit with us, even though you bring that naughty word along with you.”

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