Life Lessons from Katharine Hepburn

Me Stories of My Life by Katharine Hepburn 
Life is made up of strings of short stories. It’s fast-paced and meandering. That’s how Katharine Hepburn’s autobiography goes. I like that. It’s different than other memoirs, very befitting of its protagonist. I have recently found myself re-reading this book and I have realised that this second time around what I wanted to take away from it and pass on forward were the great life lessons that it is packed with. I am not into minutious recountings of actors’, director’, artists’ careers and creative process. And Katharine does nothing of the kind. She only talks about the things and people truly important to her – her childhood and parents, Spencer Tracy (she opens up about him for the very first time), a few close friends and fellow-actors, a few favourite directors, like George Cukor and David Lean. And when she does talk about her movies, it’s an entirely different aspect than what you would expect.

What I truly loved about the book though was that what shines through is Hepburn’s liberal point of view, her strong sense of right and wrong, her powerful bond with her family (the foundation for her strong personality, courage and determination), her bluntness and pragmatism, and, yes, her bigger than life persona. Katharine Hepburn fearlessly and uncompromisingly set out to become a star in an industry that wanted greatness on its own terms, an industry that often tried to destroy the original few. Katharine wanted greatness on her own terms, she wanted to be an unconventional movie star, she wanted everything to be about her. And it was – “me”.
 

Parents and childhood

 
Katharine Hepburn - Stories of My Life 
“Mother and Dad were perfect parents. They brought us up with a feeling of freedom. There were NO RULES. There were simply certain things which we did – and certain things which we didn’t because they would hurt others.”

“They took what life had to offer and they gobbled it up. Some send-off. A real set of values – and a sense of joy.”

“And I think, how I miss you two. I was so used to turning to you. It was heaven. Always to have you two to turn to in despair, in joy. There you were: strong – funny. What you did for me – wow! What luck to be born out of love and to live in an atmosphere of warmth and interest.”

“I got to thinking about Dad and all the tricks of this gymnastic nature which he taught us. […] The important thing was to try. We could use our bodies as instruments. Get up. Get down. Get over. It was exciting to be able to do all these things. We had great fun and a real sense of accomplishment as small kids. Thank you, Dad.”

“The greatest gifts Mother gave us was freedom to be noisy, to yell. No nags. Do it? Yes, do it! And tell me about it.”
 

Life & Work

 
Katharine Hepburn and Howard Hughes - Stories of My Life 
“As one goes through life one learns that if you don’t paddle your own canoe, you don’t move.”

“Thrilling is what we can do with ourselves if we really try.”

“I don’t think that work ever really destroyed anybody. I think that lack of work destroys them a hell of a lot more.”

“You must be very careful not to just go down a road because you had planned to. If you have a choice, be careful to be influenced only by what is best in the long run.”

“I don’t think that I would like to be tied up to anyone so that I couldn’t do what I wanted to do when I wanted to do it.”

“Don’t fight about things. Things don’t matter.”

“Well, that the style today – pipe things – can things – freeze things – computerize things. Have to be careful about that. You can’t develop a mind full of beauty or tender imagination and independence of spirit tearing along in a box without a lot of space and air.”
 
 

Love

 
Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy - Stories of My Life
 
“Love has nothing to do with what you are expecting to get – only with what you are expecting to give – which is everything.”
 
 

Attitude

 
Life Lessons from Katharine Hepburn
 
“What a tremendous opportunity it is just to be alive.”

“Courage. This is what you have to have to come out on top.”

“You’ve got to dream up everything. I believe in miracles.”
 
 

A Sense of Humour

 

Katharine Hepburn - Stories of My Life
 
“Laughter. A great gift it is. Lightens the load.”

“Just be careful what you say and to whom. You may not know whom you are speaking to.”

“It was the story of a woman’s last chance at marriage (she was in her late twenties).” (talking about a play she did, The Lake)
 
 
photos: 1-Classiq / 2-Katharine Hepburn archive (from the book) / 3-The Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences | Katharine Hepburn and Howard Hughes (from the book) / 4-Katharine and Spencer Tracey, publicity still for “Woman of the Year” (1942)/ 5-Hulton Archive, Getty Images / 6-Jack Grant (from the book)

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