Three Answers today are from William Mann, whose biography, Kate: The Woman Who Was Hepburn, is published by Henry Holt.

PW: After A. Scott Berg’s highly regarded book on Hepburn, why do we need another biography of her?

WM: Actually, Scott Berg says in his book that this is really not a full-scale biography, and that Hepburn deserves one. So he actually put it right out there and I said OK, let’s see if I can do that. But beyond just telling her story I wanted to understand what made her so enduring—why the world came to see Katharine Hepburn as an archetype. And to do that I think we have to understand both the woman and the legend, and to understand where they overlapped and how they both informed each other. And that’s really not been done before; so much of what has been written about Hepburn has been written with her involvement. All of her previous biographers interviewed her, and they all seem to have accepted the legend on some terms. Then when I started doing my research I discovered that so much of what we took as fact was actually engineered by Hepburn and her publicists.

PW: Katharine Hepburn was rumored to be a lesbian. Do you out her in your book?

WM: One of the things I try to do up front—and I say in the introduction—is that I’m not going to use modern labels and contemporary definitions of sexuality. It’s just not helpful. Sexuality was once, at least in sophisticated circles, far more fluid than we’ve allowed for today. To say that someone was in the closet, or was openly gay, just doesn’t make sense when we’re talking about figures that lived 60 or 70 years ago…I said I’m not going to put a label on Hepburn. What I think I have done in the book, and what I’ve tried to do, is to understand her in the full context of her life. She has said many, many times, I lived my life as a man. And she actually saw life as a man, and she interacted with the world as a man. And when you understand that, you start to understand everything else about her.

PW: Did you wait until Hepburn died before beginning your book so people would feel freer to talk about her?

WM: To be honest I never expected to write a book about Katharine Hepburn; it wasn’t in my game plan at all. But I remember when she died, I was in San Francisco on a book tour and I noticed the enormous outpouring of grief over her death: people were gathering in my hotel lobby, a couple of women were crying, and I said who is this? Who died? Then I got back to New York and there was the Sotheby’s auction, and people were putting flowers in front of her townhouse. It was like she was Princess Diana; it was really amazing. I called my agent and said, You know, I think there might be a story here. It wasn’t so much a desire to tell her life, but I wanted to know who this person was. Why did she matter so much?

This article originally appeared in the September 18, 2006 issue of PW Daily. For more information about PW Daily, including a sample and subscription information,click here»