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- April 05, 2004
- Vol. 61
- No. 13
An Auction Uncovers Katharine Hepburn's Rich Life
"She is the greatest actress of our time," says Sotheby's collectibles head Leila Dunbar of Hepburn (in a portfolio shot by RKO's Ernest Bachrach in the 1930s), "and she affected several generations through her own style and the way she lived her life."
Though Hepburn was born on May 12, 1907, she shaved two years off her age and, to honor her older brother Tom—"her best friend," says Dunbar—who died after hanging himself at 15, she shifted to his Nov. 8 birth date. Her driver's licenses (including 1977's, above) reflect the switcheroo. She finally came clean in her 1991 book Me.
The bust Hepburn sculpted of beau Spencer Tracy in the '60s (estimated at $3,000-$5,000, it sits on his desk in 1967's Guess Who's Coming to Dinner) became her constant travel companion. "She always kept it next to her bed," says pal Cynthia McFadden. "I think it made her feel close to him."
"She traveled an enormous amount," says Dunbar of Hepburn, who left behind seven passports (including one signed Katharine Ludlow, her married name) and well-worn Louis Vuitton luggage ($5,000-$7,000), which is "so divine," says McFadden. "She said it didn't matter how beat-up things got as long as you had the right things."
A lifelong athlete thanks to her family's love of outdoor activities, Hepburn used her golf cart to play the nine-hole course adjacent to Fenwick, her Connecticut estate. "We backed it right out of her garage," says Dunbar of the cart, estimated to sell for $2,000-$4,000. "I had to avoid the temptation to pop a wheelie."
The actress divided her "KH"-stamped leather address books ($2,000-$3,000 each) into New York City, London and Los Angeles sections (the above page has Tracy's entry). "The covers are falling apart," says Dunbar, "because she used them all the time."
One of Hepburn's favorite creations was this oil painting, estimated at $2,000-$3,000. She nicknamed the piece Me and Phyllis, after Phyllis Wilbourn, her good friend and personal secretary.
Hepburn chose a Babani gown for her 1928 wedding to businessman Ludlow Ogden Smith (they divorced in 1934). "Something frilly and fluffy wouldn't have been her," says McFadden of the dress ($2,500-$3,500).
Hepburn "wasn't into having a lot of jewelry," says Dunbar, but accepted a diamond-and-sapphire brooch ($15,000-$20,000) from beau Howard Hughes (with her in 1935). She wore it opposite Tracy in 1945's Without Love (left).
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