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CNN LARRY KING LIVE

Interview With Katharine Houghton

Aired June 19, 2003 - 21:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

LARRY KING, HOST: Tonight, exclusive, a rare and intimate look inside the private world of a living legend, the one and only Katharine Hepburn. Learn all about the childhood tragedy that marked her for life, her enduring relationship on screen and off with Spencer Tracy, and what her life is like now. Katharine Hepburn's nice and "Guess Who's Coming to Dinner" co-star Katharine Houghton exclusive for the hour next on LARRY KING LIVE.
We have an extraordinary evening planned tonight. Our special guest is Katharine Houghton. She is the niece of four-time Oscar winner Katharine Hepburn, an actress in her own right, best known for her role as Auntie Kate's daughter in "Guess Who's Coming to Dinner."

It's always great to talk about the greats of our time, and Katharine Hepburn is certainly that. Thank you so much for doing this.

KATHARINE HOUGHTON, KATHARINE HEPBURN'S NIECE: It's my pleasure.

KING: Katharine, Katharine. Your mother is Katharine Hepburn's sister.

HOUGHTON: She's one of the younger sisters, yes.

KING: Were you named after your aunt?

HOUGHTON: Well, actually, my aunt and I are both named after my grandmother, Katharine Martha Houghton, who married a Hepburn.

KING: Ah! So Katharine was a Houghton.

HOUGHTON: Katharine -- the original Katharine was a Houghton. And the reason I'm Katharine Houghton is because I was born Katharine Houghton Grant, but there was already Katharine Grant when I came onto the scene, so...

KING: Really?

HOUGHTON: ... I just took my middle name.

KING: Was it a large family?

HOUGHTON: Yes, I'd say my family's fairly large, yes.

KING: First, your aunt is 95 now.

HOUGHTON: I would think about that.

KING: How's her physical condition?

HOUGHTON: She's really in remarkable shape. I know a lot of people ask me, Does she have Parkinson's? Does she have Alzheimer's? You know, all that sort of thing. She doesn't. She's never had Parkinson's.

KING: That shaking is not...

HOUGHTON: That shaking is not Parkinson's. In fact, I would say, if anything, her shaking is better now that she's not under the gun and in doing professional work. She's leading a very relaxed life and -- as many people in their mid-90s, there's a certain degree of old age. But she's very much who she is. And I was thinking the other day, when I was visiting her, that where she is, in Fenwick, Connecticut, that she is sitting in her living room, looking out the window at a view that she's looked at for 90 years.

KING: Really?

HOUGHTON: Isn't that amazing?

KING: That's where she grew up?

HOUGHTON: This is where she grew up. And her father bought the property and the house when she was 5.

KING: Will she like this? Will she like people talking about her in a favorable fashion?

HOUGHTON: She never liked...

KING: We're going to show clips of movies.

HOUGHTON: ... that. She never likes people talking about her. But you know, in the past five years or so, she's really enjoyed looking at some of her old films, especially the early ones like "A Woman Rebels." That's one of her favorites. And of course, "Little Women" and "A Bill of Divorcement" and "Morning Glory."

KING: But she's in good health.

HOUGHTON: Yes.

KING: Not Parkinson's.

HOUGHTON: No.

KING: So what is the shaking?

HOUGHTON: The shaking is a familial tremor. And my great- grandfather had it, and my uncle had it. And to a certain degree, some other people in my family who are still living have it, and I won't say who they are because then they wouldn't like that. But it's -- it's just something that happens. I suppose that in a matter of days, I'll start to shake, too.

(LAUGHTER)

KING: Does she get any exercise, Katharine?

HOUGHTON: Yes. She likes to walk about a bit, but it's -- it's not as much as she used to. And she adores to go for drives. And she has an infallible sense of direction.

KING: Really?

HOUGHTON: And when I go up there, if I talk to her about the old times, she's terrific. I had a letter just before the holidays from New York University, asking for permission to publish a letter that she had written to Margaret Sanger. And they said, Would you ask your aunt if she would give us permission to publish this letter in our momentous 10-year project that we've been working on to publish all of Sanger's papers? And I said, Sure. Of course.

So I said to my aunt, Do you remember Margaret Sanger? Yes. What did you think of her? She was a remarkable woman.

Now, you know, a lot of people say she doesn't remember things. Every time I ask her something about the past, she always remembers. I'm naughty sometimes, and I'll say, Wasn't it Jack Ford that directed "The Philadelphia Story"? No! Of course not! It was Cukor!

You know? Whatever, just -- just to see if...

KING: Have you always done her?

HOUGHTON: Oh, no. No. But we all sort of imitate...

KING: You do her...

HOUGHTON: ... each other.

KING: You do her superbly!

HOUGHTON: Oh, thank you!

(LAUGHTER)

KING: You were -- had you -- did you do a lot of acting?

HOUGHTON: Yes, I've done mostly theater acting. Everybody always says to me, What happened to you after "Guess Who's Coming to Dinner"? Why didn't you do more film? And I don't know. I just don't think...

KING: Prefer theater?

HOUGHTON: I was -- I don't think I was fashionable.

KING: Do you still act?

HOUGHTON: But I -- but I did do a lot of theater.

KING: Still do act?

HOUGHTON: Yes. Still like to act. It depends on the role. I'm fussy.

KING: What do you call Katharine Hepburn, Aunt, what?

HOUGHTON: Aunt Katty (ph).

KING: Katty?

HOUGHTON: Katty. And the reason why she's called Aunt Katty is because my mother, who is 10 years younger than she, and all of the younger kids in the family couldn't pronounce Kathy. They couldn't pronounce the "th."

KING: She used to swim in ice water, right?

HOUGHTON: Yes, we all liked to swim in cold water. It's sort of a family perversity.

KING: There's a lot of family weird traits. They shake, they swim in ice water.

HOUGHTON: Yes!

(LAUGHTER)

KING: This is a unique group.

HOUGHTON: Let me tell you the weirdest one of all.

KING: Yes.

HOUGHTON: Something that Spencer Tracy witnessed and really thought that he was in a madhouse. You want to hear that story?

KING: Please.

HOUGHTON: Well, when I was about 5, Spencer Tracy came to visit this same place, Fenwick. And I think he was a little nervous because he'd heard what crazy people we all were. And we were. But you know, when you're 5, you don't realize that you're crazy. You just sort of are used to all of the nonsense. And I remember he came in the front door, and we were all standing around. And he was very, very nervous, and he kept twisting his hat around -- you know, when gentlemen used to wear hats. And then we -- we said, Please come into the dining room and have lunch. And it was a rather fierce day, and...

KING: Weather-wise, you mean?

HOUGHTON: Yes. And the dining room faces the Long Island Sound. And we kept looking out and noticing that the waves were getting bigger and the wind was blowing more fiercely. And Spencer, who was not brought up by the sea, had no sense, really, of what was happening.

And all of a sudden, my aunt got up from the table and she said, Everybody drop your pants and follow me! And at 5, of course, we were not required do any of this, but -- so we stayed there. And Spencer didn't move, and we watched him. We didn't really know who he was. He was just a friend of Aunt Katty's, you know? And he said, This whole family is nuts.

(LAUGHTER)

HOUGHTON: So later on, my aunt was questioned by Spencer as to what the hell they were doing. And he thought that maybe it was some sort of Druid custom that every now and then in midsummer, you just got up and dropped your pants and ran out. But what was happening, of course, is the little boats that were anchored off the breakwater were pulling their anchors, and they were all about to crash into the rocks, so you had to save the boats.

KING: Our guest is Katharine Houghton, the niece of Aunt Katty, Katharine Hepburn. More on one of the great women in the history of American film. Don't go away.

(VIDEO CLIP - "GUESS WHO'S COMING TO DINNER")

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(VIDEO CLIP - "ON GOLDEN POND")

KING: We're back with Katharine Houghton, the niece of Katharine Hepburn. We'll, of course, in a little while get to Spencer Tracy, a major part of the story. But she was married when she was 21 to Ludlow Ogden Smith (ph), right? And is it true she asked him to change his name because she didn't want to be Kate Smith?

(LAUGHTER)

HOUGHTON: Of course. I mean, she was going to be a big star.

KING: And then she had a long-term relationship with Leland Heyward (ph).

HOUGHTON: She did.

KING: Was that a mad love affair, would you say?

HOUGHTON: No.

KING: What was it?

HOUGHTON: Not a mad love affair.

KING: Casual.

HOUGHTON: I think she liked Leland. I think she felt Leland was smart and funny, and I think she enjoyed his company. But there was only one mad love affair in her life. KING: Tracy?

HOUGHTON: Yes.

KING: What about Howard Hughes?

HOUGHTON: I think she was fascinated by Hughes because he was another maverick, and I think she admired his courage and his unusual personality.

KING: Was she surprised when he went totally out of it and left society?

HOUGHTON: Yes. Well, I don't know if she was surprised. Maybe she saw it coming. But I think that she was saddened by it.

KING: Now, in 1934, the Academy votes her Best Actress. Four years later, the American Theater Owners vote her "box office poison." What happened?

HOUGHTON: I think that my aunt wanted to do roles that she liked, and they weren't necessarily roles that the public liked. And this is part of the price one always pays for being maverick. But then look what happened.

KING: She came back. There was -- Andy Garcia is that way, the actor, William Hurt. They won't play a role just to play it. And they won't do this...

HOUGHTON: No. She didn't. She wouldn't. I think "Spitfire" perhaps was the only role that she did under duress, and I think she always regretted it. She thought it was idiotic.

KING: "The Philadelphia Story," though, brought her back, right?

HOUGHTON: Yes.

KING: And Howard Hughes -- she was seeing Hughes at that time.

HOUGHTON: She was.

KING: But that was not his movie.

HOUGHTON: No, it wasn't. I think that it's possible he was generous in helping her buy the rights for it.

KING: She owned the rights...

HOUGHTON: Yes. She knew that that would be her comeback, and she wanted to protect her rights for doing it because she thought, Well, I'll do the play, and then they'll get somebody else to do the movie. So I think perhaps Hughes also felt that that was intelligent thinking, and so they bought the rights.

KING: Did she do the play, too?

HOUGHTON: Oh, yes. She did the play first.

KING: Cary Grant wasn't in the play, though.

HOUGHTON: No.

KING: Nor was Jimmy Stewart.

HOUGHTON: No. Van Heflin, I think, did it.

KING: Wonderful actor. Did she have a say in the casting of Grant?

HOUGHTON: She did, I think, very much want Cary Grant do it, yes.

KING: And they worked together?

HOUGHTON: They had worked together on a wonderful film called "Sylvia Scarlet" that she says made Cary Grant a star. But I think she's so wonderful in it. It's one of my favorite roles. I love to see her playing a boy because...

KING: A boy?

HOUGHTON: She played a boy in it and -- a girl playing a boy. I think that the film and her whole ambience is in that film is just quintessentially who she is.

KING: Was she a movie-goer?

HOUGHTON: Yes. She loved going to the movies. She still loves going. She loves seeing movies. She doesn't go out to the movies anymore, but she loves to see films.

KING: OK, we come to -- oh, first, her interest in painting. That began also through Howard Hughes, right?

HOUGHTON: She started painting when she was told she was box office poison, and she thought, Oh, dear, it's going to be a long, sad period of life, and I've got to do something or I'll go crazy. So she went out and she bought some paints and some canvases and she started painting. And she kept that up really until just a few years ago. Have you ever seen her paintings?

KING: No.

HOUGHTON: They're wonderful!

KING: Does she sell?

HOUGHTON: No! No. The only painting that is not in her own collection she gave to George Cukor as a present.

KING: Really?

HOUGHTON: And it's a self-portrait. And it's of herself as a chair.

KING: Well, she's an abstract painter.

HOUGHTON: Oh, no! I mean, she...

KING: Of herself as chair?

HOUGHTON: She painted a chair, and it looks like Katharine Hepburn.

(LAUGHTER)

KING: Is she still fun to be around?

HOUGHTON: It depends on her mood. She can be.

KING: She can still be cantankerous?

HOUGHTON: Oh, yes! If I really want to provoke her...

KING: What would you do?

HOUGHTON: ... I walk into the room with my hair parted dead in the middle, sort of, you know, Civil War style. And she says, Do something about your hair. You look absolutely asinine! You know, and then right away, you just know you're going to have a great afternoon because it sort of gets her juices going, and you've provoked her and -- you know, she's fine.

KING: Do you know if she fears death?

HOUGHTON: Well...

KING: Can you talk about it?

HOUGHTON: ... I think that -- it's, of course, impossible for me to say what she really feels. But I think that there was a turning point. She had a very bad case of pneumonia, and it was very possible that she could have died. That was around '94, '95. And I think that for maybe 24 hours, she thought, Well, I think I'm going to die. And then I think she decided, No, I'm not going to die. The hell with it, you know? I'm just going to stick around and torment these people a little bit longer. But I think that what she seems to have been doing since that time is sorting things out. She's very busy.

KING: Doing?

HOUGHTON: This mysterious process, whatever it is.

KING: There is a process going on, though? She collecting things?

HOUGHTON: No. It's interior. It's interior.

KING: Oh.

HOUGHTON: Yes, I mean, collecting and filing, but all...

KING: In here?

HOUGHTON: Yes. Very definitely. And occasionally, she'll say to me, Where's Spencer? Or she'll say, Where's Tom? And then she's right back to the present. But it's little indications like that that I think, Oh, that's where she is. She's over there. Or she's over -- she's 14, or she's -- you know, different times in her life. But it isn't frightening or spacy. It's just a process.

KING: We'll talk with Katharine Houghton about Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy right after this.

(VIDEO CLIP - "THE PHILADELPHIA STORY")

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(VIDEO CLIP - "WOMAN OF THE YEAR")

KING: We're back with Katharine Houghton, the niece of Katharine Hepburn. By the way, is your mother living?

HOUGHTON: No, my mother's dead.

KING: Were the sisters close?

HOUGHTON: My mother was closest to her younger sister because there's only two years' difference. Kate was old enough to be almost their mother.

KING: All right, Spencer Tracy. He comes in to her life through making a movie with her?

HOUGHTON: Yes. They made...

KING: "Woman of the Year."

HOUGHTON: ... "Woman of the Year."

KING: And that's...

HOUGHTON: And by the way, that story about when they met and she supposedly said to him, Well, you're not very tall, and he's supposed to have said, I'll cut you down to my size -- you remember that story?

KING: Is that true?

HOUGHTON: No.

KING: Nothing...

HOUGHTON: No. Actually, she said -- she used to wear three-inch kind of platform shoes to make herself terribly tall. Again, I think that was a kind of a -- coming out of that youth of being a maverick.

KING: (UNINTELLIGIBLE) HOUGHTON: Yes, yes. And so she said something about, You're not as tall as I thought you were, or something like that. And Joe Mankiewicz said, Don't worry, Kate, he'll cut you down to his size.

KING: Did they hit it -- that was "Woman of the Year" in 1942. Did they hit it off right away?

HOUGHTON: No. No, he thought it was appalling that she had mud under her fingernails. This is what he told me. And he didn't know why she had mud under her fingernails. And he had great images of her going out and clawing in the earth, and he didn't understand -- well, of course, she was an avid gardener and she probably did have mud under her fingernails.

KING: So that turned him off?

HOUGHTON: Oh, yes. He thought it was terrible.

KING: What turned him on? What changed?

HOUGHTON: I think after they were together, they realized that they were just incredibly suited to each other.

KING: She was not married at the time, right?

HOUGHTON: No.

KING: But he was.

HOUGHTON: He was.

KING: And he remained married to his death, right?

HOUGHTON: He did.

KING: Catholic, no divorce. Was that the...

HOUGHTON: No divorce. No divorce. He was very, very adamant about that.

KING: So how long did Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn -- was that a love fair until his death?

HOUGHTON: Absolutely. Absolutely. They were very, very devoted to each other. And I'm not sure why he was in love with her, but I can see why she was in love with him.

KING: Which was?

HOUGHTON: He was a fascinating man. I'm kidding, you know, when I say that. But as a woman, I can -- I certainly understand.

KING: He was short, was he not?

HOUGHTON: No, not particularly. He was about 5'10".

KING: Oh, really?

HOUGHTON: Now, you know, by the time I knew him, he might have been a little shorter than that just because I think we all shrink a bit as we get older. But he was very, very brilliant. He was funny. He had tremendous wit. He was one of the best story tellers.

KING: Alcoholic.

HOUGHTON: Yes, he was. But of course, he wasn't alcoholic when I knew him. He'd been off the stuff for years. He was really a fantastically interesting person, and I think he's been vilified terribly in things that have been written about him.

KING: Bad things have been written about him? Where?

HOUGHTON: Oh, I'm glad you haven't read them.

KING: There was, I think, a book that was critical, I think.

HOUGHTON: Several.

KING: I think he's one of the idols of the American screen.

HOUGHTON: Well, I'm glad you feel that because I do.

KING: Maybe I missed something.

HOUGHTON: People attack him, his character, savagely and without any sense who he was. And it's very heart-breaking to me that they do that.

KING: Character in what areas, drinking?

HOUGHTON: You know, the drinking, and so on. And they don't take into consideration any of his fine points.

KING: How did -- was that love affair a secret?

HOUGHTON: It had to be, Larry, because of his being married. And I don't think that either one of them wanted to bring attention to...

KING: So how did they pull it off, for want of a better term?

HOUGHTON: Because they were very smart. And they weren't interested in bringing attention to themselves in a sort of "Look at me, don't look at me," way, the way some celebrities...

KING: Today it would have been murder...

HOUGHTON: ... do.

KING: ... through, right? "The Star," "Enquirer"...

HOUGHTON: Oh, today would have been terrible. But they -- they were -- they worked very hard at it, never saying at the same hotels, going in back doors. My aunt went up lots of fire escapes, climbed in and out of windows, across roofs.

KING: Did she ever try to force him to get divorced?

HOUGHTON: No! No.

KING: Did his wife -- did she live a long life, Spencer...

HOUGHTON: Yes. The wife outlived Spencer. And I think that...

KING: Did she know about Katharine?

HOUGHTON: She thought she was a rumor.

KING: She thought it was a rumor. Always as a rumor. And Katharine Hepburn did not go to Tracy's funeral, I'm told.

HOUGHTON: She did not. But she went to the funeral home before...

KING: The wake?

HOUGHTON: ... he was taken away, and she was with him. And I think she felt -- you know, there used to be such a thing as courtesy. And I think that she felt it was a courtesy not to go.

KING: True that in "Guess Who's Coming to Dinner," the movie you were in, she knew he was dying?

HOUGHTON: Oh, we all did. We all did. In fact...

KING: He had what, cancer?

HOUGHTON: No, no. It was sort of a general systemic breakdown. The first day of shooting "Guess Who's Coming to Dinner" -- in fact, it was the only shot that was not done in a studio -- Sydney Poitier were up in San Francisco, arriving at the airport.

KING: I remember the scene.

HOUGHTON: And we shot that whole scene. And we got back to the hotel, and we had calls on our hotel phones that the film had been canceled.

KING: Because of Tracy's illness? But it -- he held up through it, though, right?

HOUGHTON: Yes.

KING: Is it true that there's that great scene, he's making a speech to Sydney Poitier and the family, his father and mother, his bride-to-be, about life in America and what it means to be. And Katharine Hepburn's crying watching this -- that she really crying because she's crying because she's knows Tracy's dying?

HOUGHTON: It's very possible.

KING: You know the scene.

HOUGHTON: Oh, yes. Of course.

KING: You had to wear -- you had to stand on boxes in that movie?

HOUGHTON: Yes, I did!

KING: Why?

HOUGHTON: Because talk about tall, Sydney Poitier is so tall, and I'm only 5'5". So if I was going to be in the same shot that he was in, I had to stand on a box. I felt it was easier for me to stand on a box than for him to kneel, so...

KING: We'll be back with more of this delightful lady, Katharine Houghton, the niece of Katharine Hepburn, who is 95 years young. We'll be right back.

(VIDEO CLIP - "GUESS WHO'S COMING TO DINNER")

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

HOUGHTON: You know, when John's father first saw that I was a white girl, I thought he was going faint.

KATHARINE HEPBURN, ACTRESS: What about your own father?

HOUGHTON: Yes. That was funny, wasn't it? Oh, mama, isn't this thrilling? Aren't you just...

HEPBURN: Yes, darling, I am just...

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: We're back with Katharine Houghton. We have a still scene from the motion picture "Guess Who's Coming To Dinner" that you've never seen because it didn't make the movie. What was the story?

HOUGHTON: Well now, Larry, you know when I was a youngster I was politically liberal, and may still be. But, I thought it was terrible that my character never had anything to say for herself of a political nature.

And Bill Rose had written a wonderful, wonderful scene in which I talk to Spencer and I say -- I tell it really like it is. I really lay it on the table for him. And I got to say wonderful, wonderful things, all the things that I had been dying to say through the whole film.

And Stanley said before -- Stanley Kramer, the director, said before we shot the scene, he said, Now, Katharine, I just want you to know that we're going to shoot the scene just because I know you want to do this scene. But we may very well not use it in the film. And I said, What are you talking about? It's the only chance that I have of making my character intelligent enough for a character like Sidney Poitier to fall in love with. Otherwise he's just falling in love with a Pollyanna idiot. You have to make the audience believe that he would be attracted to me. And he said, My dear child, you do not understand the American public.

So we did the scene. You have a picture of it. And it never made it into the film. And he told me about, oh, I don't know, three, four months later, he said, I'm not going to use that scene. I said, why not? And he said, Because it's just -- your character becomes too intelligent. And it's important that you are a symbol of youth and loveliness and hope and so on. And for you to be too articulate is going to be...

KING: So they copped out?

HOUGHTON: Yes, they copped out.

KING: Some people said, now there's a lot of division over that movie. Here's a liberal white editor of a newspaper and his wife and their beautiful daughter, comes home in love with a black man who's only a heart surgeon, I think. Well, he's a doctor.

HOUGHTON: Well, he's a Nobel Prize winner. That's pretty good.

KING: His father is a postman I think. And his fathers are against this marriage, as is Spencer Tracy. And they said it was not -- it was -- some people wondered what did Sidney Poitier see in the girl.

HOUGHTON: Well I quite agree.

KING: So you think that was not major civil righting changing movie?

HOUGHTON: No. No, I don't think so.

KING: The characters were not atypical?

HOUGHTON: I think what it did -- and I have been doing a survey about this. I think that "Guess Who's Coming to Dinner" was very important for people. I don't think it did a thing for civil rights.

But I think that anybody who's ever been involved in an interracial marriage of any sort, or even a gay relationship, any kind of relationship that's not approved of, that movie became metaphor for those kinds of situations.

KING: It was a breakthrough in that regard.

HOUGHTON: It was a breakthrough in that regard. But I think it was a movie mainly for white people.

KING: Sure. HOUGHTON: Alas. And I think the fact that my character didn't appear to have a brain in her head was sort of an indication of the level of it.

KING: Did Ms. Hepburn like it?

HOUGHTON: Oh, we all liked it and we all felt it was very worth doing. But both she and I agreed it was very sad that my character had to be so one dimensional.

KING: How soon after the movie did Spencer die?

HOUGHTON: Three weeks.

KING: Three weeks? How did Katharine take his death?

HOUGHTON: Well, you can imagine. It was very, very difficult.

KING: She couldn't -- who was with him when he died? His wife?

HOUGHTON: No. She was.

KING: She was with him when he died? Where did he die?

HOUGHTON: In his house.

KING: Where was his wife?

HOUGHTON: In her house.

KING: They had two separate homes? So they were living a marriage just because it was Catholic church said you can't get divorced?

HOUGHTON: Well, yes. But I think also, he has two children, you know. And I think he felt that it was very important for them to feel that he was still their father. He adored them.

KING: After Tracy, did Katharine ever see anyone?

HOUGHTON: Not really. I think, you know, she's a very energetic and can be a very flirtatious woman. And I think there's certain men that she enjoys their company. But after Spencer, who could replace him?

KING: What was the most special thing about him that we don't know? Other than the great actor he was.

HOUGHTON: He had a great heart.

KING: Robert Wagner, of course, he was a great influence on Wagner's career. Wagner said he wouldn't have had a career without Spencer Tracy. And Spencer Tracy, he told me once, would visit the set of other movies being shot and root them on. He took an interest in every actor that worked there at MGM.

HOUGHTON: And he adored Elizabeth Taylor. He just adored her.

KING: He adored her.

HOUGHTON: He just thought she was a charmer. You know I had dinner every single night with Spencer during the filming of "Guess Who's Coming to Dinner." And dinner consisted of Spencer -- took place in his living room. And he would sit in his horsehair big black chair and I would sit to his right on the couch. And my aunt said, your job is to entertain Spencer every time I go out of the room.

So I would sit there and this is what would happen. She never knew about this. I was 21. I just graduated from college, oh about two years before this. And I was a philosophy and art major. So this is how it all began. He said to me -- he used to call me Kit. He said, Kit, you studied philosophy? Yes. Now, if your aunt comes back in the room, change the subject. I said, OK. He said, what do you think happens when you die?

And I said well, I can tell you what I don't think happens. And he said, What? And I said I don't think you go to hell or you don't go to heaven. He said, You don't think I'm going pay for my sins in hell? And I said, No. He said, What do you think's going to happen to me?

And I said, I think that your spirit will live on and all kinds of wonderful and mysterious things will happen to you. But I don't think it will involve any kind of punishment because I think that you've had that here.

He's like, Shh, here she comes. So then we'd talk about something else. And then she'd go out of the room again. And I said to him, why can't we talk about this in front of her? And he said, Don't you know what she thinks? I said, no. And he said, she thinks that when you die you just rot in the ground. So he wouldn't talk about it in front of her.

KING: More on one of the great women in the history of American film. Don't go away.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Guaranteed heart melter. A few female tears. Stronger than any acid. But this time they won't work. You can cry from now until the time the jury comes in and it won't make you right. It won't win you that silly case.

HEPBURN: Adam. Please, please. Try to understand.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

HEPBURN: You are the only man that I have ever loved. You don't know what nothing is. I want to die. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No, you don't.

HEPBURN: I want to die.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'll hold you.

HEPBURN: Henry, I want to die.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: There was tragedy in the family. Kate's older brother Tom hanged himself, right?

HOUGHTON: Well, did he or was it an accident?

KING: I'm just giving you what history says.

HOUGHTON: I know. I know. There's quite a story about that. My grandfather, Thomas Hepburn was brought up in the south. He was brought up in Virginia. He went to Randolph Macon College. In those days, they liked to torment the northern athletes when they came down to play football. By having mock hangings. They had some black friends who had perfected a trick of making a noose that really had a slip knot to it. And they would hang themselves and, of course, they weren't hung. But the northern athletes were so appalled at this behavior, that it completely undermined them and they would lose the games.

And my grandfather had talked about the famous hanging trick. And I am not at all sure he didn't demonstrate it for both Kate and Tom when they were kids. And the afternoon before what I call the accident, Tom and Kate -- Kate was 14 and Tom was 16, had gone to visit Aunty Toll (ph) in New York. And she had taken them and some other young people to see a movie of a Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's court. And in that story, as you may remember, the hero, in order to escape, performs this same trick.

KING: Right.

HOUGHTON: Well, that night after he went upstairs in a little attic that didn't have a ceiling. There were beams. I think what happened is he thought, oh, look, a beam, curtains. I think I'll use that muslin instead of a rope, see there was no rope. And he tried the trick with the muslin. A 16-year-old boy, you know, what does he know?

And it just didn't work.

KING: Her mother was a pioneer in birth control, right.

HOUGHTON: Yes. My grandmother fought hard for women to have the choice. She worked with Margaret Sanger.

KING: He talked about going around carrying balloons.

HOUGHTON: The balloons was with suffrage. KING: She was into that, too.

HOUGHTON: When my aunt was little she had to march in all the suffrage parades. And she had to dress up as a pilgrim and ride on a float for one of them. And I think that she did it because, again, she was very young and she just simply did what her mother told her to do.

KING: Did she like the image which was that of an outsider?

You didn't think of Katharine Hepburn as going to the Hollywood parties, playing the Hollywood game. Totally non-phoney -- True?

HOUGHTON: Well, yes. But I think you hit on something. Because I think that when she was a kid, my grandparents were completely socially snubbed in the Hartford community. Nobody would associate with them. Nobody would speak to them. Now, if you're a child of parents being snubbed, I think it's perfectly natural to develop a chip on your shoulder. And I think that my Aunt Kate was very, very wounded by the fact that they were snubbed. And I think that she really felt and still does feel very, very shy around people.

KING: Yes. Did she take direction well?

HOUGHTON: I think it would depend on whether she had respect for the director. If she had no respect, as I have been told on various occasions that she didn't. She would do things like go on stage with her costume on backward.

KING: So, she was rebellious in a Madonna sort of way?

Madonna like take people on. You don't think I can do this, I'm going to do this. She was that way.

HOUGHTON: I think so. I think a bit that way. Pugnacious rebellious.

KING: Was she -- did she ever act like a star?

HOUGHTON: I think that she always felt comfortable with what she called her group. And her group consisted of very wonderful people. Phyllis Willborne (ph), who was her secretary, and general (UNINTELLIGIBLE) for 40 years. And Nora Moore (ph), who was her housekeeper and best friend for many, many years, maybe 25, 30 years. And still is very close to her. These were her group, her people. And...

KING: Regulars.

HOUGHTON: Yes. But never publicists, agents. No.

KING: We'll be right back with Katharine Houghton. The niece of Katharine Hepburn. Don't go away.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I should have taken better care of you, not let you get lost.

HEPBURN: Let's not talk about that please. You must not think any more about it, really. It's been so beautiful just being.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm glad you feel that way about it.

HEPBURN: There's going to be so much more wonderful now. You'll be so proud of me. Really, you will. I can be so wonderful for you. You see your in my heart.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: We're back with our remaining moments with Katharine Houghton, a discussion about her delightful aunt, Katharine Hepburn.

You had dinner every night with Spencer Tracy during the making of "Guess Who's..." -- except one.

HOUGHTON: Except one.

KING: What happened?

HOUGHTON: Well, I think that you have to understand that the only time that my aunt ever played a mother was in "Guess Who's Coming To Dinner?" And she played a mother on stage and off stage. And one night, it was a Saturday night, I said to her, Aunt Kat, I'd liked to go out with some of my friends tonight.

She was furious. I don't know what she thought, that I was going get into some kind of trouble, or get into an accident and screw everything up or what. But she said, You come to dinner the way you've been coming to dinner and don't you dare -- you know, so -- and I -- you know, I'm a little bit of a rebel myself. So I said, "No, no." I said, "Tonight I want to go out with my friends."

Well, I went back to my apartment, and I got a call from Phyllis Wilborn saying, "Your aunt is very upset with you and not only that, Mr. Tracy is very upset with you." Well, I couldn't stand that. I mean, it was one thing for Kate to be angry with me. But I really couldn't stand it if Spencer was angry with me.

So I went up to the house before going off with my friends and my aunt came to the door. And I said, "Where's Spencer? And she said, "He's gone to bed," as if I had killed him, you know? So I just went right past her and went in to his bedroom. Can you imagine doing that? And I sat down by his bed. I said, "Spencer, I'm terribly sorry. I really don't want you to be angry with me, but I'm going to be very careful. We're just going to go to a party at a friend's house. They're very nice. We're not going to drink a lot of alcohol. And I'll be back by 11:00. And it's Saturday night." He said, "You go on, Kathy. You have a good time." He said, "Your aunt is a big fuss."

KING: She's 95. How will you remember her, do you think? What's her legacy going to be?

HOUGHTON: I think that she will be remembered as being the icon of the 20th Century woman. And I think that her becoming that icon is a long and wonderful story that some day perhaps I'll tell.

KING: In a book?

HOUGHTON: Maybe.

KING: Do you think someone will try to make her life story?

HOUGHTON: I think that there have been a few feeble attempts at it. I don't think anybody's told the story yet, because nobody's told it with any wit or imagination. But, of course, with somebody as glorious as my aunt, people always want to try.

KING: What's her weakness?

HOUGHTON: Maybe lack of self-confidence.

KING: Really? Becuase no one gives an aire of more confidence...

HOUGHTON: I know.

KING: ....than she does.

HOUGHTON: I know. This is what's so wonderfully interesting about her nature.

KING: So this tough broad is a shy woman.

HOUGHTON: A very shy woman. An absolutely delicate violet of a woman.

KING: How good an aunt?

KING: Oh, she was a wonderful aunt. I mean, before she became my mother, she was a wonderful aunt. Always coming back at holidays. And I really didn't know her that well as a child because she was so busy. But she'd come back at holidays laden with beautiful gifts. And a fairy tale godmother, really she was.

KING: Did she travel a lot?

HOUGHTON: Oh, yes.

KING: Did she like to experience new things?

HOUGHTON: Oh, yes.

KING: Did she stay politically active?

HOUGHTON: No. No. She really loathed politics of any kind.

KING: She liked causes though? HOUGHTON: Not really.

KING: She was raised with causes.

HOUGHTON: She was raised -- maybe that's why she didn't really liked causes.

KING: She never endorsed a presidential candidate, to your knowledge?

HOUGHTON: No. She really -- any -- Spencer loved politics. He used to love to talk about politics. She would always yawn. She was very, very uninterested in politics.

KING: You're grand to do this, and I hope you do write that book.

HOUGHTON: Thank you. It's a pleasure to be here, Larry.

KING: My pleasure.

HOUGHTON: Lovely to see you.

KING: Katharine Houghton, niece of the four-time Oscar winner, Katharine Hepburn. Actress in her own right from "Guess Who's Coming To Dinner?" and many stage offerings and a delightful look at a grand dame, a great lady. There was Auntie Mame. Now there's Aunty Kat.

Thanks for joining us. Stay tuned for "NEWSNIGHT WITH AARON BROWN." I'm Larry King. Good night.

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