The American Film Institute lists Katharine Hepburn as the greatest screen legend to ever live (Bette Davis is number two and Audrey Hepburn is three). For those who haven’t seen her films, there’s a plethora to choose from. Outside of her films, however, Ms. Hepburn is known for the way she lived. Refusing to get married, wearing suits and blazers and generally not giving a damn about anyone or anything, she made her off-screen life as interesting as her on-screen one.
Enjoying success during the golden years of Hollywood, Ms. Hepburn had no need to ever appear on network TV. In fact, throughout her entire career she had never done one TV interview. Until this one.
“One of the facts of life of doing a talk show is that some of the most interesting people in the world won’t do them. One of them is Katharine Hepburn,” television personality Dick Cavett said at the opening of his now famous two-part interview with Hepburn in 1973 on The Dick Cavett Show.
“She has spent most of her life avoiding the press and I wish I had a nickel for every time someone has said, ‘Wouldn’t it be wonderful just to sit and listen to that woman talk?’ Well, one afternoon recently, never having been on television, she agreed to come into my studio for a test only to check things out to see how it looked and felt. She checked the cameras, the lights, these chairs, the temperature in the studio, she pronounced the carpet ugly and then she surprised me by suddenly saying, ‘Why don’t we just go ahead and do it now?’ And we did.”
What followed was a lengthy, relaxed conversation that meandered through Hepburn’s life and career. What’s most interesting about the interviews are the way Hepburn articulates the meaning of living well. Why some people sleep well and others don’t. The purpose and meaning behind and life and life’s many failures. Watch the short clip below and follow it up with the lengthier one.
“I was so tormented in the theater it frightened me so that I thought, I must come back and overcome that. And it took me my whole life.”
“You only know the difference between right and wrong for yourself. I know this because wrong makes me very uncomfortable. I can’t sleep. And right makes me very happy and I don’t think it’s so very difficult to know when you’re doing the right thing and when you’re doing the wrong thing.”
“We must proceed. We must develop. We must improve ourselves.”