The Great Kate on Stage: The Katharine Hepburn Papers

Before she became a movie star and international icon, Katharine Hepburn (1907-2003) was a powerful presence on the stage, and she continued to act and tour in plays throughout her life. Hepburn's personal collection of thousands of pages of notes, journals, photographs, cast lists, scripts, contracts, fan letters, and other documentation relating to her important but perhaps lesser-known theatrical career are now housed in the Billy Rose Theatre Division of The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts. This fascinating archive reveals new details about Hepburn's early performances and includes correspondence from such notables as Sir Laurence Olivier, Judy Garland, Charlton Heston, Henry Fonda, and Peter O'Toole.

The papers contain numerous delightful anecdotes about the legendary star and demonstrate her steadfast commitment to self-improvement, even after her reputation as one of the greatest actresses of the 20th century had been cemented. Hepburn's colorful descriptions of life on the road provide a fascinating glimpse into the workings of touring productions and confirm her reputation for fearless honesty. During the tour of the André Previn/Alan Jay Lerner musical Coco, she insists on using an expletive that she believes is true to character "” despite howls of protest from some members of the public. And in a typed account of the 1950-51 tour for As You Like It, she gives a hilarious description of her arrest in Kansas for speeding, admits to boasting about the cost of her coat ($5,500) in front of awed locals, and gleefully recounts standing up to the six-foot-five police officer, calling him, among other insults, a "moron" and a "dumbbell." She later told Dick Cavett that, looking back, she was rather embarrassed by her behavior.

Katharine Hepburn Papers, 1854-1997 (bulk 1928-1994). 30 linear feet (65 boxes).
The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts, Billy Rose Theatre Division.

Treasures Video: Watch a Short Film About the Katharine Hepburn Papers

Collection Guide: The Katharine Hepburn Papers, ca. 1854-1997

About the Billy Rose Theater Division

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