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By JERRY TALLMER
Sixty-three years is a long time for a person to be in love. Sixty-three years is also a long time for a person to want to be somebody else.
Well, I have been in love for 63 years with Tracy Samantha Lord, the cool gorgeous privileged goddess with furnaces and floods of human emotion waiting to burst open within her, and for those same 63 years I have been wanting and trying to become Macauley (Mike) Connor, tough, cynical investigative
reporter with the soul of a poet. And not quite making it.
Mike Connor, that is to say James Stewart, didn't quite make it either, more's the pity. He awakened the frozen goddess with one passionate kiss, in the
garden, after the party (and a lot of champagne), but that's as far as it went. Tracy Samantha Lord, that is to say Katharine Hepburn, went back to, stayed loyal to, C.K. Dexter Haven, that is to say Cary Grant, and Mike returned to loyal, steadfast Liz Imbrie (Ruth Hussey), the girl with the camera, and everybody lived happily ever after, at least in the imaginations of millions of people like me.
I can still hear, as if it were yesterday, every well-bred, hugely desirable inflection of every line delivered throughout "The Philadelphia Story" in 1940 by Katharine Hepburn, who left us Sunday, at her home in Connecticut, in her sleep, at 96. In particular the lines that still dig deepest: "With the rich and mighty, always a little patience" (from Macauley Connor's short stories, repeated by her), and, once she has been touched by him into life, "The time to make up your mind about people is never." I suppose Philip Barry wrote all that in play and/or screenplay, but it's Hepburn I hear saying it, feeling it, and always shall.
One can also hear her, see her, in the varying but always Hepburn-at-the-core guises of all the movies in which she starred in the years when movies were
movies?- black and white, the color painted in, in your head -- and not artifacts. Just for a few:
As John Barrymore's vivid young daughter in "A Bill of Divorcement" (1932). As the bored small-town Alice Adams (1935) with hoity-toity aspirations
reaching out beyond the summer-sleepy family porch, to the undisguised scorn of the family maid (Hattie McDaniel). As screwball Susan Vance driving
begoggled paleontologist Cary Grant crazy as she brings down the whole huge dinosaur skeleton, him atop it, in "Bringing Up Baby" (1938). As rebellious
Linda Seton, the guilty ally of independence-minded Cary Grant in "Holiday" (1938), one of the enduringly deft Hollywood films about class values and false values. And, of course, as Rose Sayer, bedraggled, iron-willed lady missionary of "The African Queen" (1951) whose principal problems are her age (45 plus) and her virginity, presently taken care of by rough, gin-swilling Humphrey Bogart, much love from this quarter, forever, to both of them.
In "Holiday" the Linda Seton character has a spoiled older sister (Doris Nolan), the one Cary Grant was originally set to marry, and a walking-wounded
younger brother, Ned Seton (Lew Ayres, unforgettably), drowning his future family-firm fate in the bottle. He probably doesn't even have that future. It was only when I read the New York Times obit this morning that I learned, or was reminded, that Hepburn had had a brother of her own whom she, at age 14. found hanged from the rafters of a town house in New York City. Surely this gave added reality to the "Oh, Neddie!" she murmured once or twice to Ayres up in that old childhood playroom in the film so exquisitely directed, as always, by George Cukor.
One could go on. And on and on. Katharine Hepburn set a mark for all women, everywhere ?- a mark of freedom, intelligence, standing on one's own feet,
refusal to take bullying or bullshit. But it is also a mark for men. For myself, i.e., for Macauley Connor, I can still, with all the rest, hear her gasp just after the midnight dip in the pool and "Somewhere over the rainbow" and that deep kiss in the summer garden: "Mike, Mike, my insteps are melting." That's enough to live on for 63 years. [Tallmer]
This article originally appeared in the Villager newspaper.
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