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Interview With Katharine Hepburn Biographer A. Scott Berg

Aired July 14, 2003 - 20:56   ET


PAULA ZAHN, CNN ANCHOR: Just two weeks after -- a secretly written book is out with intimate details of her life never revealed before. It turns out writer. A. Scott Berg was Hepburn's confidant for 20 years. Their conversations resulted in a memoir she wanted published after her death.
And Scott Berg is with us to reflect on his book "Kate Remembered." Congratulations.

A. SCOTT BERG, AUTHOR, "KATE REMEMBERED": Thank you very much.

ZAHN: I don't think anybody in the history of publishing has ever seen a book written like this. How did you get her to trust you? Why did she like you so much?

BERG: Oh, I don't know.

ZAHN: She really, really liked you.

BERG: I think she really did. I really liked her a lot. It started with that. And 20 years ago, 1983, I showed up at her doorstep to do an interview for a magazine and we spent two days together and then we -- she asked me if I was free for the weekend. I went up to Connecticut with her. And then she asked me to dinner for the next five nights in a row and at the end of that she handed me the key to her house, and not only that the key to her life in many ways, because she really began just talking and telling stories.

ZAHN: And did you tape record stories? Or you took notes fast and furiously or how did that work?

BERG: Actually, I never took a note in front of her. What I would generally do is finish a meal or something or we'd stay up late and then she would say, You should write all that down. Why don't you just go upstairs and start writing? And that's what I would do.

ZAHN: And what was it in the end that she didn't want people to know while she was alive but that she wouldn't be horrified at knowing now is in print?

BERG: You know, I'm not sure there was that much stuff other than the fact that it was a private life. It was her personal life. And I think this was material she just didn't want to exposed as long as she was still living and as long as the story, the play was still going on.

ZAHN: I understand that at one point in your friendship she came to you and asked you to help her better understand why Spencer Tracy drank.

BERG: Yes, I mean, this is the way our conversations worked, actually. They were strange. You know, I mentioned in my introduction, that she -- I felt she wasn't using me as a sounding board so much as an anvil. She sort of brought out stories and sort of wanted to hammer them out, try to -- you know, she wasn't a reflective woman. She always lived in the present up to the future. And I think for the first time at 75, into her 80s, into her 90s, she was beginning to look back on her life and, here, a biographer walked in the door and I think she thought, Gee, maybe this is somebody who can sort out some of the pieces with me.

ZAHN: And she admitted to you she was attracted to men that in her words were unmarriable. What was it about Spencer Tracy? That he was unattainable in her judgment?

BERG: Well, in the case of Spencer Tracy, I think that was unique. I mean, I think she just truly fell deeply and madly in love with him. As she said, it was like getting hit over the head with a cast iron skillet. I think it was the real thing for her. And I think she decided to change her whole mode of living upon meeting Spencer Tracy.

This was the first time, I think, she realized that it might be more important to love than to be loved. And that lasted for 26 years.

ZAHN: And you have some very poignant parts in the book where you describe how, at times, this flamboyant independent woman, we thought we saw on the stage and screen was quite different at home caring for him.

Just a final thought of her observations of actresses today. Who did she like? Who didn't she like?

BERG: Well, she liked -- she liked Sally Field, for example, she thought was a wonderful actress. The first time she saw Julia Roberts in "Mystic Pizza," she said, Oh, now that's something new. That's a new look. That's a new attitude. She really thought that was a new star.

ZAHN: And who did she dis? You got about ten seconds left, so you only have to name one name.

BERG: Oh, I'll be really careful. Well, I'll name -- I mean, she did name Meryl Streep, whom she found a very internalized, kind of studied actress. But I don't know. I think if she had seen Meryl Streep's later work, especially her comedies, I think she'd have liked that a lot.

ZAHN: Well, the book is a beautiful tribute to her life, "Kate Remembered." A. Scott Berg, thanks for dropping by. BERG: Thank you very much.

ZAHN: And again, congratulations.


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