It was Orson Welles who, in 1984, suggested to his friend and biographer, Barbara Leaming, that Katharine Hepburn should be her next subject. "He called her the least understood figure in Hollywood, "says Leaming, "and he was 150 percent correct." But Hepburn refused interview requests until her brother Robert, a retired urologist who cooperated on the biography, persuaded his celebrated sister to see Leaming in 1993.
How did you finally meet?
It was typical Katharine Hepburn. I called her and she said, "Come! Now!" I was in my pajamas. I jumped into the shower, threw on some clothes and drove like crazy from Connecticut to New York City. I rang her bell, shaking, within 1 minute of our appointment.
What was your first impression?
I saw this tiny woman wearing pants and tennis shoes with a bright red sweater around her neck sitting in a reclining chair with her leg propped up. She was so smart and so perceptive, irresistible. She would go so far in the interview and then be deliberately contrary if she thought she wasn't controlling it.
How did it end?
Her cook made lunch and, when I got up to leave, I sensed that Kate didn't want me to describe her as an old lady in a recliner. She was obviously in pain, but she got up and suddenly she was Katharine Hepburn the actress. She said, "Now take the dishes downstairs," so I followed her and left with the image of Katharine Hepburn washing dishes, something I'm sure she never does.