In the late 1980s I began a conversation with Katharine Hepburn to try to convince her to donate her portrait to the National Portrait Gallery. We talked about this possible acquisition for several years, and each time we met, I found her “as advertised”—feisty, outspoken, accustomed to having her way.
A bit shorter than in her prime, she still had penetrating blue eyes and a quick wit—her humor could be pointed and uproarious. Ego? Yes, very healthy, thank you: at our initial meeting, she reminded me that she had been a movie star from the very beginning of her Hollywood career. At her house in Turtle Bay, she always provided coffee, cookies, and conversation—not to mention a spirit of unabashed one-upmanship.
Once she noticed I was reading a best-selling biography that she was also reading, and she quizzed me about what page I was on. I said something like “page 157,” and she replied, “HA! I’m on 396!”
Over her long and legendary life, Hepburn’s iconic status lent itself to various sensibilities. For me, her appeal centered on her determination and independence. She never quit.
- Amy Henderson, Historian, National Portrait Gallery