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'Kate Remembered' By Her Own Rules

The Early Show co-anchor Hannah Storm interviews Pulitzer-prize winning biographer, A. Scott Berg
CBS/The Early Show
Just a few weeks ago, an American treasure, actress Katharine Hepburn, died at her Connecticut home. The four-time Academy Award winner's film career spanned more than six decades.

In control to the end, Hepburn wanted a biography written about her, containing her personal thoughts and recollections, to be released soon after her death.

The person she chose to tell her story is Pulitzer-prize winning biographer, A. Scott Berg, whom she met 20 years ago and who became a close personal friend. His new book of memoirs is titled, "Kate Remembered".

Shortly after meeting him for a magazine interview that was never published, Hepburn decided that he was to be her biographer.

People have described Hepburn from the outside, but Berg describes her in a different way, starting with their first meeting.

He tells The Early Show co-anchor Hannah Storm, "I had just gone to do an interview with her and we spent two days doing an interview. At the end of the interview she said, 'What are you doing for the weekend? She invited me up to the country house. We had five dinners in a row after that. At the end of the fifth dinner, she handed me the key to her house. I knew I was being let in, not just to a few hours, but to a life."

But he says she wanted the book published as soon as possible after her death because she wanted the truth out as soon as possible. He says that she didn't want the sensationalists spreading false accounts.

Berg, who has written biographies on Charles Lindbergh and movie mogul Samuel Goldwyn, says, "She was unfolding these extraordinary stories. I thought over the years as I was collecting them and knew I would be putting them in a book, I want to share them with everybody. Why not let everybody have the experience I had."

Berg notes that one of the reasons he wrote this book was "too give her fans closure". He wanted them to know what it was like to spend a weekend with her and have the intimate contact that he had with her.

When Berg met Hepburn for the first time, she was in her 70s and he was in his 30s. He says, "Before I even got into the room where she was I heard the voice of Katharine Hepburn saying, 'Did you use the bathroom?' She sent me downstairs even though I didn't have to use the bathroom.

"Everything was by her rules. I realized that, at least in that first meeting, so much of that was about, 'You're on my playing field. My ball, my rules.'" He tells how she made him swim in the freezing waters outside her home. He says, "She never made me. She just sort of dared me or shamed me is what she did. It was never,'You don't have to come in. I'm an 83-year-old woman swimming out here. What's your problem?'"

And, of course, Hepburn gave him this incredible insight into her Hollywood career. At one point, she was labeled box-office poison. But she turned her career around with the movie "The Philadelphia Story."

He says, "It's a great lesson not for just how business in Hollywood is run, but for any business. She had been in Hollywood for about six years and had a series of really bad pictures and was literally kicked out of Hollywood. There were posters saying she was box-office poison. She left town. She went back to her country house in Connecticut and was trying to figure out her life."

So she bought the rights to this play, which was written for her.

Berg continues, "She knew it was her vehicle back. She came back and literally produced it; put it together. Found the stars to be in it. Knew she needed great males around her to re-launch her."

One of the males she wanted for that movie, who didn't do it but subsequently became the key figure in her life, was Spencer Tracy. In "Kate Remembered" Berg offers insights into that relationship. Particularly the fact that Tracy was an alcoholic and it created a very difficult relationship.

He says, "It was known in Hollywood that Spencer was a heavy drinker. What I didn't know until I began to spend a lot of time with Katharine Hepburn was just the extent of that alcoholism. He was a really dark figure. And they really did have an important, meaningful, extremely loving relationship."

He says Tracy actually hit her. But she did not think of leaving him.

Berg explains, "She said, 'What would have been the point? I loved him. If I had left him, we both would have been miserable.' So she found a way to work it out. He was on his best behavior when she was around, as we all were. You were always on your best behavior with Katharine Hepburn."

So why didn't they ever get married?

"The reason she gave me several times was she didn't want to get married," Berg says, "There were other factors at work. She had been married once before. It was little known. Little known by the husband even. She was away a lot of the time. She liked the relationship the way it was. I think it worked the way it was." They lived together for 26 years, although Tracy was married.

In the book, readers would learn what she thinks about modern film stars, such as Meryl Streep, Julia Roberts, John Travolta and old favorites such as Cary Grant and Clark Gable. They also will learn about her philosophy on life and about her final days.

Berg says she wasn't much for philosophizing. When he asked her what life is all about, he says she kept it simple. She said, "Work hard, love someone, hopefully somebody will love you back."

Berg says, "I think that's the secret to her life in a way, too. She had a very strong sense of self-identity, always knew where she wanted to go. She never got off that track. She kept moving forward."