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Bio of Katharine Hepburn is mostly in her words

The Associated Press, Sunday, February 28, 2010, 9:00pm (PST)

"I Know Where I'm Going: Katharine Hepburn, A Personal Biography" (Simon & Schuster, 368 pages, $26), by Charlotte Chandler: The latest biography of Katharine Hepburn is very close to an autobiography, since much of the book comes from a series of interviews that author Charlotte Chandler recorded with the actress during the 1970s and '80s.

The technique produces a book that offers some unique insights, but obscures other facets of Hepburn's personal life, especially her relationship with Spencer Tracy.

"I Know Where I'm Going" opens with Hepburn describing her relationship with her older brother and his unexplained suicide when he was 16. It was an event, she said, that remained with her for the rest of her life.

"I had a perfect life, a wonderful, wonderful life — until that day my brother died," Hepburn said years later. "After that, I've had a long and fine life, filled with accomplishments that made me feel worthwhile and gave me joy ..."

Hepburn also talks about her beloved family, especially her father, a doctor who wanted his children to be athletic, fearless and exposed to many ideas.

She appears to revel in the regime and her memories of her family, although later statements about never being able to please her father — and his forbidding anyone to speak of her dead brother — make readers wonder if life at home was as happy as she maintains.

Hepburn is quite candid about her relationship with Howard Hughes, who taught her to fly a plane and was "the best lover I ever had."

She is far more reticent about her relationship with Tracy, acknowledging their love affair and the appearance of propriety they always tried to maintain because of Tracy's marriage. There is little of what their lives were like together, however, and nothing of the interplay between them.

The book chronicles Hepburn's career and the problems she had when she was labeled "box office poison." You get a sense of Hepburn's dedication to her career and her determination to become a star.

Although Chandler has others, including George Cukor, Cary Grant, James Stewart and Ginger Rogers, talk about Hepburn, there is little feeling in the early part of the book of really knowing her.

Chandler overcomes that somewhat in later chapters, especially when she presents Hepburn's distress at being recognized in public and her techniques to avoid it.

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