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Interview With Glen Gordon Caron, Jeanine Basinger

Aired June 30, 2003 - 19:44   ET


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Well for the last days of her life, Katherine Hepburn was unable to speak. That unforgettable voice has been stilled forever now but as Frank Buckley reports the echoes of that voice will live on in the roles that Hepburn played and in how she changed Hollywood to suit herself and generations to follow.

FRANK BUCKLEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): On the Hollywood Walk of Fame, flowers mark the star of one, Katharine Hepburn.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Like a queen like a goddess.

BUCKLEY: Independence and strength and talent mark the career of the person.

RYAN O'NEAL: She was such a giant.

HEPBURN: I could take defeats like yours and laugh. I've done it.

BUCKLEY: Hepburn didn't play the role of leading lady in the way most did in her day. A streak of feminism finding its way into many of her parts. She inspired women and fellow actresses. "I think every actress in the world looked up to her as a kind of reverence", is how Elizabeth Taylor put it, "A kind of sense of, oh boy, if only I could be like her."

DEBBIE ALLEN, ACTRESS: This classy, inner beauty who is a fighter, who is always a lady, but she could kick your ass.

DUANE POOLE, SCREENWRITER-PRODUCER: The fact that when the studio -- other studios -- were molding actors and actresses into almost stereotypical parts, she just said she wouldn't do that. She wanted to be her own person.

BUCKLEY: Dwayne Poole wrote and produced Hepburn's last two screen performances. Her monologue in "This One Christmas" written by Poole to be as much a comment on her life as it was her character's.

POOLE: She read it in front of the cameras the first time. And there wasn't a dry eye on the set. We were all sobbing. I'm not sure she realized that it was about her life, but it begins "I've always lived my life exactly as I wanted." HEPBURN: I tried to please no one but me, me, me. And I've pleased a great number of people in the process. But I'm highly content, can sit back in my old age. I'll grab single moment and won't change a single thing.

BUCKLEY: And in the rough and tumble of Hollywood, her toughness was always respected. The message to women who followed her, if she could make it, so could they.

TOM HATEN, ENTERTAINMENT REPORTER: No matter how many times you were told you're peculiar looking or peculiar sounding, if you want to sell you're -- what you've got, it can be done.

HEPBURN: You're talking to greatest actress in the world and I'm going to prove it to you.


BUCKLEY: We come back live here to Sunset Boulevard. If there is any doubt about the fact that Katharine Hepburn continues to live on as a legend here in Hollywood, all you have to do is look at the trade papers today here in Hollywood. "The Hollywood Reporter", their lead article about Katharine Hepburn. Right behind that "The Daily Variety" also focusing on iron willed presence and fused icons' film roles. And the hometown newspaper the "Los Angeles Times," also on the front page, an article about Katharine Hepburn, and again this is for someone whose last screen role was back in 1994. She's getting on the front page of all these local papers -- Anderson.

COOPER: As well she should. Frank Buckley, thanks very much. Liz Taylor also said, quote, "I'm so glad she and Spence -- Spencer Tracy -- are finally together again." A nice thought.

But Hepburn was an atheist who said she gave little thought to an after life or to death, for that matter. What mattered she said, is life. Glen Gordon Caron directed Hepburn's last theatrical release, that Frank mentioned, "The Love Affair" with Warren Beatty. That was in 1994. "The Love Affair" was almost 10 years ago. What was it like working with her?

GLEN GORDON CARON, DIRECTOR: Well it was -- we all knew it was historical. We also suspected it was probably her last film.

COOPER: Which is was.


COOPER: It was tough to get her, though. You began filming the movie before she agreed to do the role.

CARON: Yes, Warren was absolutely committed to the idea of getting Katherine Hepburn, but Katharine Hepburn wasn't so sure she wanted to do the film.

COOPER: So how did Warren Beatty get her to do it?

CARON: Well we suspended production, at one point, for a month and Warren came here to New York and wooed Katharine Hepburn.

COOPER: How do you woo Katherine Hepburn. That's got to be a tough sell.

CARON: Well we had a great script, Robert Town and Warren Beatty wrote it. And it's based on an age-old story. And I think, ultimately, she saw that there was a kind of importance to the role that only she could bring to it. It is -- she played Warren's aunt and a woman who brings...

COOPER: It was a pivotal role in the movie.

CARON: ...yes, she's the one who makes him understand that his meeting with Annette Bening is an extraordinary thing and that she's an extraordinary person and perhaps they're destined to be together.

COOPER: I understood that Warren Beatty brought her red roses.

CARON: Yes, he brought her many red roses. She looked at them and said roses are the most insincere form of flower. She gave him a hard time but ultimately he was able to convince her to come join the film.

COOPER: And another funny story you tell, which is after her last scene...

CARON: After her last scene she was saying good-bye to everyone. She did something that hasn't been done in Hollywood for a long time, she wrote checks to the prop lady, to her stand-in, to some of the other people on the set. She waved good-bye to everybody. She got in her car. She drove away. Warren turned to all of us and said, I'm not writing anybody any checks. But it was a very, very special moment.

COOPER: And, I mean, I think you probably realized at that time, as you said, it was her last.

CARON: Probably her last, yes, at that point, of course, ultimately her last.

COOPER: Your favorite film besides "The Love Affair" that she was in?

CARON: Two. "Little Women" and "African Queen" with Humphrey Bogart.

COOPER: Both excellent. Alright, Glen Gordon Caron, good talking to you. Thank you for being with us.

"The Love Affair", as we said, was almost 10 years ago. So why is every acting generation mourning her passing? Joining us to help us understand how powerful a force Hepburn was, we have Wesleyan film studies professor Jeanine Basinger. Jeanine thanks very much for being with us. First of all, I guess your favorite role of hers?

JEANINE BASINGER, PROFESSOR OF FILM STUDIES WESLEYAN UNIVERSITY: Well I love her in "Holiday". I love her in "Silvia Scarlet: and I love her in "The Philadelphia Story".

COOPER: She was, I mean, legendary for so many different reasons. But she was -- my understanding, and correct me if I'm wrong -- one of the first people who sort of really funded things on her own, projects she believes in. Is that correct?

BASINGER: Well, she was a person, first of all, one of the few women ever to get real control of her career. She bought out her contract of RKO. Which she had been given parts she didn't like and labelled box office poison. She simply paid them $220,000 and bought herself out of it so she could go away and get control of her career, which is very unusual.

COOPER: And that was a big sum -- huge sum -- back then.

BASINGER: Oh, yes, absolutely.

COOPER: She did nine films, I understand, with Spencer Tracy. What was it that was so special? Was it the chemistry, what?

BASINGER: First of all, you know, they really did have chemistry off screen as well as on showed and so it showed. People felt it. But he was one of those earthy, I'm a guy guy, I'm a people guy. And he brought her sort of down from her patrician cloud into the real world, and made her sexy, I mean, she was never presented as a sex symbol but she was sexy. She had warmth. He gave her life and they just worked together because he democratized her in a sort of wonderfully fun, cheerful, sexy way.

COOPER: Everyone talked her as an individual, a solo actress, but really, as her acting with others and that she was remarkable to work with in a pair.

BASINGER: She was generous. Two men, you know, really benefited from her. Spencer Tracy, of course, she was a fabulous partner. But Henry Fonda finally won his Oscar playing opposite her in "On Golden Pond". And a lot that had to do with the way she brought him along and responded to him.

She was a wonderfully generous co-star, one of those good listeners and one of those people who could match the need of the male actor to what she could give. I think she's a great player in a romantic relationship really.

COOPER: And she will certainly be missed. Prof. Jeanine Basinger, thank you so much for being with us.

BASIGER: You're welcome.


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