Call Me Kate: Katharine Hepburn biopic disappoints

Katherine Hepburn in Call Me Kate

Call Me Kate, directed by Lorna Tucker, used some audio tapes of Katharine Hepburn in various conversations to build up a story about her life and loves.

When Call Me Kate was finished, I was left dissatisfied. I didn’t feel like I learned a lot about Katharine Hepburn as a woman. There were lots of home movies from her childhood, a few film clips, some stories and interviews, and a good bit of information about her relationship with Spencer Tracy.

There was an actress playing Kate. We see her as blurred out or from behind with her hair swept up into the trademark Hepburn messy bun. She walked through places where Katharine Hepburn lived like a specter of the real woman.

Katharine Hepburn died in 2003. Not much new information about her has come to light in the 20 years since then. The unreleased audio tapes featured in the film should have been a great find, but they didn’t pack much punch. Unidentified people were shown listening to them. What did they have to do with the film?

Yes, she wore trousers. Yes, she had a long affair with Spencer Tracy. Yes, she made bold choices. Yes, she was unconventional. Yes, she created the “modern woman” on screen. But we knew all that already.

Katharine Hepburn was a brilliant woman, a good negotiator in business, and one of the most famous actors of all time. But you can learn more about her from her Wikipedia page than from this documentary.

Call Me Kate poster featuring Katherine Hepburn

Long ago I was briefly interested in handwriting analysis or graphology. There were many letters shown in the film, and I did find Katharine Hepburn’s handwriting interesting.

But overall the film was not nearly as good as some recent biopics like Lucy and Desi or The Last Movie Stars. I love Katharine Hepburn. She’s an icon. But this film isn’t iconic.

13 thoughts on “Call Me Kate: Katharine Hepburn biopic disappoints”

  1. Katherine Nelson

    I loved watching CALL ME KATE. Of course, I flew all the way to NYC to see her in the play, A MATTER OF GRAVITY at the Broadhurst Theatre in 1976. I have always considered her exceptional.

  2. It was a pleasant watch – reminded me to look up and add her films on my various “to watch” lists. My burning question after watching this one is WHAT IS A BRIMSL?!

    1. From the documentary: “My darling Brimsl, words can only skim the surface. The whole world must seem so odd and so strange. No one could have loved as much or half as much as you and Spence. God bless you. I love you so. Laura”

      The letter is signed Laura. Laura Harding was Hepburn’s close friend, and believed by many, to be Hepburn’s lover. If this ‘Laura’ is Laura Harding, then Brimsl appears to be a term of endearment Harding used for Hepburn.

  3. What to make of this documentary? I agree that it reveals nothing new; but far worse, in the face of what is more likely (fully) true, Call Me Kate stubbornly adheres to the Hepburn myth and legend – a fabrication largely manufactured by Hepburn herself. Call Me Kate is vague in its details and engages in outright obfuscations.

    The 2004 Hepburn biography written by William Mann, Kate – The Woman Who Was, is a thoroughly-researched rendering of Hepburn’s character and life. It also offers a credible account of the Tracy-Hepburn relationship. Another insightful (and myth-busting resource) is the Scotty Bowers memoir, Full Service: My Adventures in Hollywood and the Secret Sex Lives of the Stars. (The memoir is not as salacious as the title sounds.) I found Bowers credible, and the book a much-needed contribution to truth. There is (or was) a documentary based on the book on Tubi.

    With both the Mann and Bowers resources in mind, the most honest moment in Call Me Kate is when Hepburn says to Dick Cavett, ‘I am a great cover upper’. Boy, was she ever!

    The most compelling part of the documentary is when Spencer Tracy’s great grandson, Sean, talks about his grandfather living a life split in two. Sean Tracy makes his comments in the context of Tracy’s relationship with Hepburn; but there was more to their story, more context, secret places that Call Me Kate coyly points to but resolutely refuses to go. Sean Tracy goes on to say if we are to learn lessons from his grandfather’s life, ‘it is to figure out what you really want and just be honest. Communicate and live with truth and integrity; and don’t be crushed by guilt’. It’s a lesson that neither Tracy nor Hepburn learned or lived by. Understandable for their times, I suppose; but not altogether admirable.

      1. I confirmed that the Bowers documentary based on his memoir is still on Tubi. The documentary’s title is Scotty and the Secret History of Hollywood, which is different from the book’s title.

  4. Really disappointing for me. I had to stop watching because I couldn’t stand how boring it was. Somewhere between the uninspiring dramatizations of Kate and the dissimilar voice of the narrator, I realized I had enough. I guess it was very informative for someone who doesn’t know much about Ms. Hepburn. But it’s nothing more than a blunt chronological account of the events of her life. I just feel it was lacking the specific fresh perspective a documentary needs with the potential to make it interesting and enjoyable to watch. Unfortunately there’s hardly any new docs about golden age stars these days. Biopics is the way Hollywood goes.

  5. Just watched Call Me Kate & I’m convinced that Glenn Close provided portions of Katherine Hepburn’s voice at times. Can’t find any confirmation online anywhere. Am I a loon?

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