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Podcast: Katharine with a side of Bette!

In this special edition of the podcast, Nathaniel welcomes two Katharine Hepburn buffs Nick Davis and Anne Marie Kelly to talk about their (shared) first Actress Obsession. Naturally Kate the Great isn't the only diva that finds her way into the conversation. Expect supporting roles or cameos: Bette Davis, Cary Grant, Barbara Stanwyck, Tennessee Williams, Deborah Kerr, Spencer Tracy, Audrey Hepburn, George Cukor and more...

You can listen at the bottom of the post or download the conversation on iTunes. Continue the conversation in the comments.

00:00 Intro. Plus Middle School drama: Hilariously "intense" early obsessions
13:00 Types, Genres, and Suddenly Last Summer
17:00 Her autobiography and films she loathed like Dragon Seed
22:00 Chemistry and co-stars
33:00 Revisiting unsatisfying movies -- raise a cocktail to this peculiar cinephile habit
40:00 The Spinster & The Magic Penis
47:00 Bette Davis and why we compare them. Silliness before the sign off.

Further Reading
Hit Me With Your Best Shot: Summertime 
Nick's Hepburn Oscar Profile
A Year With Kate: Pat & Mike
A Year With Kate: Dragon Seed 
A Year With Kate: Christopher Strong
Me: Stories of My Life (Book)
The Making of the African Queen (Book)
Alex Von Tunzelmann & Self Styled Siren (Twitter) 

Kate with a side of Bette

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Reader Comments (23)

Listened to this on my way to work this morning. Brilliant as usual! Thanks so much, guys. My favorite bits were the magical penises, fizzy cocktails of entertainment and Anne Marie's and Nick's random childhood traumas :)

July 14, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterCarlos

This is one of the best episodes yet. Not only because of Anne Marie's comment on the life affirming possibilities of Burt Lancaster's magic penis, but because it's a true actressexual exercise in the ouvre of Katherine Hepburn, a performer whose acclaim masks the divisiveness of the actual work.

If I can put on my two little cents, I would very much like to see more special podcasts like this one, focused on the movies through the prism of an actress's career and abilities, rather then movies as they premiere, be it festivals, or Oscar season, or just the big release of the week. We don't even have to stick simply to classic Golden Age actresses! I think Kathleen Turner would be a great actress to feature in one of those, or Winona Ryder, or TFE favorites like Laura Dern and Laura Linney.

Now, down to actressing:

I was introduced to Kate Hepburn with A Long Day's Journey Into Night, and shortly after The African Queen. I loved her in both movies. I later saw her in The Glass Menagerie (a TV adaptation of Tennessee William's classic), which I still liked, but not over the moon about it. Little Women followed and then Lion in the Winter, and from that two-punch on I was Team Hepburn all the way. When I visited Chinon Castle in the Loire Valley, I spent the whole day quoting from the movie, so I can relate to Anne Marie's monologuing on the elevator.

Audrey Hepburn is lovely and a much better actress than people give her credit. I know it's not a good time to say so, coming right out of the week in which people were forced to sit through My Fair Lady (not her shiniest moment, let's put it mildly, with the lip-syncing controversy and all), but I stand by happily as an apologist! :)

I have very little knowledge of Bette Davis' filmography, but of what I have seen, All About Eve is the be all end all of bettedavising. It should be a verb actually. Whenever someone shows up, get's right in your face, roughs you up, ties you down, kisses you, steals your wallet, smacks your bottom, winks and leaves, and you love them for it, it should be called bettedavising. I wish I got bettedavised more often!

And Barbara Stanwyck!! I hold my fire on that one, in hopes Anne Marie truly does follow this year's work with a Stanwyck retrospective! I propose her filmography + Thorn Birds (guilty pleasure of mine).

July 14, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterCarmen Sandiego

She's so beautifull i Like... It :)

July 14, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterPlace2

Hey thanks for sharing... WOW really awesome...!!!

July 14, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterVipin

Love this. Suddenly Last Summer to the top of my queue.

July 14, 2014 | Unregistered Commentereurocheese

Wow, that second picture. How did that miss the head dress discussion?

July 14, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterHenry

Nathaniel & Nick, thanks for having me on the podcast! I had a wonderful time. And Nick, I bet you made an incredible Mary Tyrone in middle school.

Carmen Sandiego - I confess I'm as unfamiliar with Stanwyk's filmography as you are with Davis's. But that's actually the appeal. Who knows? 2015 is still 5 months away.

I hope everyone joins in HMWYBS for Suddenly, Last Summer. Obviously, Nick, Nathaniel, and I are all highly biased towards Tennessee Williams, but it really is a movie that must be seen to be believed. And we didn't even touch on Liz Taylor and Montgomery Clift!

July 14, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterAnne Marie

Her interview with Dick Cavett is one of the greatest things ever. They finally convinced her to do it, but when she came in to see the studio before hand, she just decided they should do the interview right then. So it's her and Cavett in an empty studio that keeps getting more and more full as people who work in the building start hearing about it.

July 14, 2014 | Unregistered Commenterwill h

I love what you discuss near the beginning about watching a major actress come into her persona.
Although it's not the same as a 52-week project, I was lucky to do a course on Von Sternberg in university, and had a similar pleasure watching Marlene Dietrich go from great start to Von Schtupp to holy eff in a few short weeks.

July 14, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterMike in Canada

Really enjoyed the discussion, it was great to hear everyone's favorites also least favorites and why they feel the way they do about them.

I'm really loving the series. I've always been a fan even though she's never been my absolute favorite and as you were saying reviewing her films in chronological order does give a different perspective on her as an actress and when certain of her well known traits first showed up or how she refined them to work for her.

It's great and exciting that Nathaniel is looking at possibilities for the next series. I can imagine that it's got to be challenging since the person chosen can't have too many or too few credits and those have to be more or less readily available. I thought of so many and then why they might not work without some kind of qualifying deletions.

As you said Bette Davis has a huge amount of credits and some of her most interesting work came in her TV movies late in her career. Joan Crawford made so many silents, some that I think are lost, and did a bunch of TV towards the end of her career and her final movies are dreadful. Even without the TV movies I think Barbara Stanwyck has well over 70 credits although remarkably I think most of them are still shown from time to time. I thought of Ingrid Bergman but a great deal of her work is in either Swedish or Italian and the Swedish films except for June Night and Intermezzo are all but impossible to find.

If it's not too presumptuous of me I did come up with four I'd like to suggest, all major stars with distinctive personalities and about the proper number of credits most of which are easy to find:

Olivia de Havilland-One of the last remaining goddesses of the Golden Age it would be great to give her career an overview. With her mini-series appearances and a very few guest spots she did taken out her credits ran to about 56.

Rosalind Russell-She might have started out as MGM's threat to Myrna Loy but she became a fully formed and distinctive star who once she hit the top rarely stepped back into support and worked mostly in theatrical films. Again she made a few minor TV appearances but with them subtracted her credits total 53, almost perfect.

Jane Fonda-I was actually shocked when I looked on IMDB that she doesn't have more than 52 credits she's been a prominent figure for so long, era spanning actually. Her career has had such distinct periods too, sexpot, serious actress, activist star and now as a returning star, who unfortunately hasn't been handed a role worthy of her gifts yet. Since she newly active again though a career overview might be premature.

Susan Hayward-Of the four the one with the strongest similarity to Davis, Stanwyck, Crawford etc. Not counting uncredited bits and shorts she has 57 credits. Unlike the others, even Roz who started in spotlight supporting roles, she worked her way to the top the hard way through bits, small supporting roles, girlfriend roles then B movie leading ladies and finally the star spot, even after she moved to the star supporting roles it was always in quality productions, even Valley of the Dolls train wreck that it is was a big budget affair.

July 14, 2014 | Unregistered Commenterjoel6

Loved this podcast and love Tennessee Williams, Suddenly Last Summer, Lion in the Winter and Bette Davis. I'm still discovering K Hepburn. Love her in Suddenly, Last Summer, Lion in The Winter and, maybe, The Philadelphia Story.
@Anne Marie : Your passion and exuberance in the podcast were a joy to experience!

July 15, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterJames T

Belated, but I finally got to listen to this and it was wonderful as expected. I was devoted to Katharine Hepburn when I was little too, but I only watched young Hepburn movies for the same reasons you all talk about here. I liked that she was unyielding and I liked when the movies thought she was magnificent. Kate Hepburn, spinster, just didn't fit with what I wanted to see from her. So this is a good motivation now that I've grown up a bit that there's no reason to keep putting off Lion In Winter or Long Days Journey Into Night (I know, I know, sacrilege). The more Hepburn, the merrier.

July 15, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterTB

It amazes me how much I agree with Joel6. I vote for Rosalind Russell. It is most important that Anne Marie find an actress that is inspirational and has for her an emotional connection. 52 weeks of anything can blur the best of enthusiasm

July 15, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterLeslie19

This was great! I was introduced to Kate with On Golden Pond. It's interesting that no one mentioned it considering how popular it was. I must agree that her books are great reads too.

It never occurred to me that she was better in the one-on-one scenes, but it's absolutely true! Also, the whole theory of the magic penises is fascinating and it even works with recent films.

July 15, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterPeggy Sue

Does anyone know whether Kate and Bette had ever considered acting together in the same movie?

July 15, 2014 | Unregistered Commenterjans

jans-I don't know how close it came to actually happening but Bette Davis wanted to co-star with Kate in The Whales of August. She was approached and turned it down although the producer had always wanted Lillian Gish, who initially demurred too. Once Lillian said yes Bette was not shy about showing her displeasure that it was she opposite her and not Hepburn who Bette had always wanted to work with.

July 15, 2014 | Unregistered Commenterjoel6

joel6 - thanks for the insight:)

July 15, 2014 | Unregistered Commenterjans

I'm enjoying the Year of Kate so much, even when I don't get to see the films, and this podcast was icing on my weekly slice of cake.

Can we start a club for all the Anne Marie fans? We can call ourselves the Fan-Maries!

July 16, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterSan FranCinema

Alright. I know it will sound crazy since she's not that iconic and I haven't seen anything by her but I'm going to duggest A Year with Ida (Lupino) just so that I'll get to know her.

July 16, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterJames T

What a great podcast, thank you to Nathaniel, Anne Marie and Nick for being so honest and bringing out the highs and lows of the great Katharine Hepburn. Most of all you touched on the qualities that have timeless appeal; the charisma of great physical beauty along with her sheer exuberance for life.
I fell under her spell when I was in middle school, watching Philadelphia Story and Lion in Winter in particular. Later in my 20's I found her spinster films very trying, they seemed so unfair and mean. Anne Marie, you aren't the only one who took them personally. As a woman I find the confines of Hollywood scripts so unjust to many actresses. Hepburn survived them, and became an icon, but her career is a testament to the restrictions that were very real. Loved the funny comments about magical powers, and look forward to seeing the rest of your series.
Last Word- Her films in the 30's are very uneven, but the moth costume is fabulous. Christopher Strong may not be a good film, but you can't argue with "The Silver Moth".

July 16, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterLadyEdith

San FranCinema - Thank you. That comment was the icing on the cake of my week.

Really though, the readership is making this series what it is. You're all not just engaged; you're smart. I read every comment (I know Nathaniel does too) because I know you're going to pick up on something I missed or come out with some great story or analysis or random thought.

I love you all. Thank you for reading every Wednesday. ESPECIALLY during the bad movies.

July 16, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterAnne Marie

Great fun listening to this. Like with Nick, Katharine WAS cinema to me so around the same time I was getting into movies as a serious art form I was getting into Katharine Hepburn and I think (know) I'll probably always be fiercely protective of her even as I acknowledge her limitations and foibles. But, that's part of the fun of having a "favourite" anybody.

But she really is an anomaly in so many ways. I love that Anne Marie points out that there's no Kate genre which is why I always mention how surprised I am that considering how much Oscar loved her she's never been in an Oscar best Picture because she's done light comedy, romantic comedy, farcical comedy, straight drama, relationship drama, camp drama, quasi-action films and even as I love her sometimes it's as difficult to explain why she's GREAT in a movie and why she's not great, but even when she's not great she's so fascinating to watch. It's interesting the point about her not being an actor in visual films, because on the flipside - bad movies and all - I think she has a good track record with well written films. Like even if the movies didn't always turn out well, you can see the script was trying for something new, or fresh.

But, God, I was obsessed with Katharine. Consumed ever biography, autobiography she ever featured in to read. I think I've been unable love any other star from that era as much just because I feel like I'd be betraying Kate. Childhood obsessions are so weird.

July 16, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterAndrewK

They might not be the obvious choices, but I would like to suggest for the next series two actresses whose brilliance has sadly been forgotten--Jennifer Jones and Greer Garson. Since childhood, they have been my two favorites. Jennifer would have been much more famous had she not been so private, and her list of classics and acclaimed films stands on its own. She had an astonishing versatility, and an ethereal presence on screen. Greer's filmography shows a long list of steadfastly heroic roles, but no matter now similar the parts, she always brought an amazing intelligence and inherent elegance to everything she did. Today's audiences need to know what they're missing, because these ladies' legacies deserve recognition.

Anne Marie, this has been a staggering achievement...can't wait to read your book of this series!

July 16, 2014 | Unregistered Commenterbrookesboy

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