Thursday, August 09, 2012

Missing Spencer Tracy

    So I have just finished Katharine Hepburn's memoir, ME, the first book I have read in eons that I didn't write.  This is not so much ego, (I don't think,) as an ongoing flood of creativity which has yet to be rewarded with acceptance or approval from an official source, and the fact that I am not depressed by that is either a sign of great spiritual growth or the very sane realization that the book biz is no more.  Sad.  Borders on Broadway in the 70s, my last leg-stretch there, is a cheesy clothing store, and one has few options besides Amazon, where you cannot browse.  
   ME is, as the title would indicate, the work of a very self-centered person, but as she was one of a kind, why shouldn't she have been?  I met Katharine Hepburn when she came to Bryn Mawr, from which she had famously(to us) graduated, for the official beginning of a scholarship in her name, and came to speak at the Deanery, a quaint name for an even quainter place that, like Borders, is no more, to those of us who were interested (in my case, obsessed,) with showbiz.  She was patently frightened and uncomfortable, clad in her ministerial off-white collar, white jacket and trousers, standing in front of the fireplace holding a teacup which I helped her steady as she trembled, in this instance I believe less from the tremor she'd developed than terror at facing the small group of worshipful undergraduates.  
   "I suppose," she began, "I should tell you how Bryn Mawr helped me in the The-ah-tah... But I caahhn't."
    Of course we were all already in love with her, legend that she was, personal to us because it elevated everyone to have had her go to our college, coupled with the rumor that she had swum naked in the Cloister pool the night before her comprehensives, which, incidentally, all of us did or we were doomed not to pass.  But nobody ever said (or thought) that she had just done what was tradition for all Bryn Mawrters(that appellation the one thing I found cloying about my college), but only that it had, like everything else in her life, been rebellious and individual. Also she had been Lantern Girl-- the sophomores passed their lanterns on Lantern Night, when we sang Greek hymns and were veddy Bryn Mawr, to the freshman, and Katherine McBride, the formidable college president I loved who much enriched my life, passed her lantern to Katharine Hepburn, so I felt genuinely connected.   I saw Miss McBride in the Cloisters the Monday after my triumph in Junior Show, which I had written the book, music and lyrics for, and had the comedy lead in, with George Segal, then at Haverford, and my inane college crush, leaping up on the stage at the curtain to kiss my hands, and my friends from the Actors Studio, very hot at the time-- Brando was in his young, slender prime-- telling me I was wasting my time at Bryn Mawr, I should come work at the Studio, I told her: "Miss McBride, Shakespeare and Chaucer have given me all they can, and the theater needs me, so I'm leaving Bryn Mawr," she fixed me with her very steady eye and drawled "Well, Gwen, try to be back for exams."  So I was.  Bless her.  I was very lucky to have her for a guide, and so was Katharine Hepburn.
    Some years after Hepburn's talking to us, when they were assembling the great book that was to be Bryn Mawr's history, by which time I was more or less established as a professional writer, I called her and asked if I could be the one interviewing her.  "Why?" she asked, somewhat imperiously.  "Because we would have fun," I said, sure it would be livelier than what they would come up with in the way of an academic's writing it.  
    "Well, we're talking now," she said, "and it isn't all that interesting."
    She was really Katharine Hepburn, (which you had to spell with the second 'a' or she knew you weren't paying attention.)
     Anyway, I am reading about her great love of Spencer Tracy which, in spite of the recent scrofulous book by the pimp who serviced movie stars, I am sure was a great love.  And I am thinking about how much I wanted a Great Love, and started off my romantic quest by fixating on the young and very beautiful(which he was) Anthony Perkins, who was, of course, gay, and was gently put out on the back stoop like a misbehaving cat by my husband, who I never realized was my Great Love.  Don did that with all my infatuations, every one of which-- and there were several-- were childlike and foolish, never getting visibly angry, but, I would imagine, truly steamed.  My girlfriend Pat who had extensive experience with erotica, which I did not, told me early on "You are It for Don."  But I never realized until much later how right she was, and never knew until very recently, that Don was It for me.
     He died, as my friends know, very young, and to his surprise, I was steadfast as he disappeared in front of my eyes, eaten away by the cancer his doctor, who was supposedly his best friend, had failed to detect until just before the very early end. "You're still here," he said, looking up from between his knees, where his head was, to try and deal with the nausea.
    "Where else would I be?" I asked.
    "Well," he said.  "You could have gone to the south of France.  You could have gone to a Bryn Mawr Reunion."
     They don't make 'em like that anymore.  Or like Spencer Tracy.