Scope and arrangement
The Katharine Hepburn papers consist of correspondence, scripts, photographs, scrapbooks, programs, promptbooks, contracts, financial papers, production materials, notebooks, sheet music, and clippings documenting the theatrical career and related activities of the legendary actress from the late 1920s through the mid-1990s. A few items from radio, television, and motion picture performances are also included, as well as several awards, costume designs, window cards, and books.
There are also a number of materials from her files relating to the theater, such as programs for performing arts events she attended, and memorabilia relating to 19th and early 20th century actors such as Maude Adams and Julia Dean. Copies of Frances Robinson-Duff’s acting lessons, Alfred Dixon’s vocal drills (kept in a leather folio with the initials “S.T.” engraved on it), as well as extensive research materials for productions, attest to Hepburn’s professionalism.
The star-studded correspondence is mostly related to productions in which Hepburn appeared, but also includes general correspondence and solicitations regarding potential appearances, as well as correspondence from fans and aspiring theater professionals. There is a significant amount of correspondence from Hepburn’s close friends and theatrical associates Constance Collier, Michael Benthall, and Robert Helpmann. Although there are numerous letters and drafts of letters from Hepburn, many of her replies are handwritten directly on the correspondence.
Post-1950 productions are more thoroughly documented than earlier shows. Hepburn’s handwritten notes and notebooks on blocking, script changes, casting, and other aspects of production provide valuable insight into her work process. There are also a number of sketches by Hepburn done on scripts and notes. Of particular note is her often-humorous history of the As You Like It tour (1950-1951) giving details for each venue played, as well as Hepburn’s impressions.
Congratulatory telegrams, notes, and floral cards abound from theater and film notables and other celebrities such as Lauren Bacall, Stephen Vincent Benet, Humphrey Bogart, George Cukor, Nancy Davis [Reagan], John Ford, Judy Garland, Charlton Heston, Joan Crawford, Lillian Gish, Ruth Gordon and Garson Kanin, Helen Hayes, Van Johnson, Corliss Lamont, Vivien Leigh and Laurence Olivier, Ethel Merman, Peter O’Toole, Michael Redgrave, and Ralph Richardson, to name only a few.
The Production files also contain several telegrams and floral cards from Spencer Tracy (using the alias “Pot”) sent to Hepburn during the London run of The Millionairess (1952). Hepburn’s As You Like It(1950) fan mail contains a handwritten note from “Howard” [Hughes], probably; throughout the papers, several other telegrams and floral cards sent under aliases such as “The Boss,” “Dan,” and “Stephen” are possibly also from Hughes. A number of telegrams are “Unsigned.”
The papers are rich in numerous versions of scripts for productions in which Hepburn appeared. There are also scripts sent to her by professional colleagues such as Zöe Akins, Philip Barry, and Chester Erskine. Several of the scrapbooks in the papers document Hepburn’s Australian tour with the Old Vic Company in 1955; one other, a gift from the Theatre Guild, contains historical lithographs of As You Like It.
Most of the photographs are production-related, but a small number of candid photos of Hepburn, as well as photos of her friends and associates, such as Michael Benthall, Constance Collier, and Robert Helpmann, are also found in the papers.
Oversized materials include artwork, photographs, research materials, window cards for A Matter of Gravity and The West Side Waltz, costume designs, and a 1906 souvenir of a British production of Cymbeline. Of special note are proclamations of appreciation by the American Shakespeare Festival cast of Much Ado About Nothing (1957-1958), and the Coco orchestra members (ca. 1970).
The Katharine Hepburn papers are arranged in seven series:
- 199410.5 boxes
This series is comprised of correspondence unrelated to a specific production and includes correspondence from friends, fans, and professional associates and organizations. The correspondence is mostly to Hepburn, but often contains her handwritten reply on the letter or envelope. Production-related correspondence from individuals and organizations is filed with the specific production.
- Sub-series 1 – General, 1932 - 1994 and undated
- Sub-series 2 - Solicitations, 1933 - 1994 and undated
- 1928 - 199431.5 boxes
This series comprises both productions (including a few for motion pictures and television) on which Hepburn worked, and several projects which never came to fruition. Included are correspondence, scripts, promptbooks, contracts, financial papers, Hepburn’s notes on various aspects of production, production materials, research materials, music, programs, and clippings covering some forty productions and projects.
With few exceptions, virtually Hepburn’s entire career in the theater is encompassed, from one of her first performances as Pandora in The Woman in the Moone at Bryn Mawr in 1928, to her 1994 appearance introducing the all-star cast of Yeats: A Celebration! at an Irish Repertory Theatre benefit. Productions following Hepburn’s 1932 success as Antiope in The Warrior’s Husbandby Julian Thompson, are (predictably) the most thoroughly-documented.
Throughout the Production Files, there is a large number of congratulatory telegrams, letters, and floral cards from theater and film stars, as well as other notables including Lauren Bacall, Stephen Vincent Benet, Jack Benny, Irving Berlin, Humphrey Bogart, Elizabeth [Taylor] and Richard Burton, George Cukor, Nancy Davis [Reagan], Margot Fonteyn, Meriel Forbes-Robertson, John Ford, Judy Garland, Betsy [Drake] and Cary Grant, Charlton Heston, Joan Crawford, Lillian Gish, Ruth Gordon and Garson Kanin, Helen Hayes, George Jessel, Van Johnson, Corliss Lamont, Vivien Leigh and Laurence Olivier, Ethel Merman, Dina Merrill, Peter O’Toole, Cole Porter, Michael Redgrave, Ralph Richardson, and Cliff Robertson. There are also letters from Hepburn’s numerous fans. Hepburn’s replies are usually handwritten on the letter or telegram.
The Millionairess London correspondence files contain several telegrams and floral cards from Spencer Tracy under the alias “Pot.” Also of note in The Millionairesscorrespondence is a letter from Lawrence Langner relating a conversation between George Bernard Shaw and Armina Marshall on Katharine Hepburn (June 27, 1950). There is also a handwritten note, probably from Howard Hughes, in the As You Like It (1950) fan mail. The Jane Eyretour correspondence (and other production correspondence) contains several other telegrams and floral cards from “The Boss,” “Dan,” and “Stephen,” possibly also from Hughes.
The American Shakespeare Festival correspondence illuminates how fundamental Hepburn’s performances there in 1957 and 1960 were to the theater’s development. Of special interest is a letter (Sept. 2, 1959) from the American Shakespeare Festival’s Acting Company protesting John Houseman’s resignation; the actors included Edward Asner, Barbara Barrie, Sada Thompson, Pirie MacDonald, Morris Carnovsky, Nancy Marchand, Dino Narizzano, and Inga Swenson. Also of note is a costume design by Rouben Ter-Arutunian for Antony and Cleopatra (1960).
Hepburn’s handwritten notes and notebooks offer a unique insight into her working process as an actress, as well as her opinions. Her “History of the As You Like It Tour” (1950-1951) documents specifics, such as stage dimensions and financial figures, for each tour stop, but also chronicles Hepburn’s sometimes humorous exploits and impressions. (For example, Hepburn’s description of her arrest for speeding in Kansas.) There is also a number of research materials, especially on Coco Chanel. Papers for later productions, including Coco(1969), A Matter of Gravity (1976), and The West Side Waltz(1981) include correspondence to from the authors and numerous versions of scripts, providing a window into a production’s evolution.
Numerous telegrams, cards, and letters from Hepburn’s fellow cast members and her crews give testament to the great regard they had for her. Some twenty years after Coco, members of the chorus requested a reunion (held at Hepburn’s home) and thanked her for treating them as equals. (These two letters are filed with General Correspondence.)
The papers contain a number of items for projects with which Hepburn was associated, but in which she probably never performed, including Divorce Me, Dear by Katherine Roberts (1931), The Loved and Enviedby Enid Bagnold (ca. 1970s), A Man and His Wife (a.k.a. Winston and Wife) by Guy Bolton (1972-1974), the musical Miss Moffat (1973) and the motion picture The Tudor Wench by Elswyth Thane Beebe (1934).
There are also a few papers relating to Hepburn’s radio work on the Theatre Guild on the Air, as well as to her television appearance on Night of 100 Stars III (1990). It is unclear if background material (1961 and undated) for The Corn Is Green is related to Hepburn’s 1979 television film directed by George Cukor.
- 1940 - 19952.25 boxes
This series contains scripts presumably sent to Hepburn. There are several scripts by colleagues such as The Human Element (ca. 1948) and I Am Different(adaptation) (undated) by Zöe Akins, Liberty Jones (ca. 1940) and Second Threshold (ca. 1951) by Philip Barry, and But When All’s Said and Done(1983) by Penelope Gilliatt. Catalina on a Clear Day(one of four plays found in the papers by Chester Erskine) appears to have been intended as a vehicle for Hepburn, as described by Erskine in his letter of May 27, 1958 (filed in General Correspondence).
There is also a script for a one-woman show about Hepburn, Kate: A Celebration by Don Hayes(1993).
- 1854 - 19975 boxes
This series spans materials from awards and related correspondence, to theatrical memorabilia and includes numerous programs, mostly for theater productions presumably attended by Hepburn. There are copies of acting and vocal lessons by Alfred Dixon and Frances Robinson-Duff. Awards (unrelated to a production) include Hepburn’s induction to the Theater Hall of Fame (1974 and 1979), and the Uptown Musicians Citation of Honor (1970). Among several books included in the papers are Harlequinade: The Story of My Life by Constance Collier (1929), The American Shakespeare Festival: The Birth of a Theatre by John Houseman and Jack Landau (1959), and The Importance of Wearing Clothes by Lawrence Langner (1959).
There is also a letter of introduction for Hepburn written to George C. Tyler by Dave Wallace (ca. 1928-1930), as well as a poem, "Kate," by Steven Honig (1982). Hepburn’s own writings include the tribute to Lawrence Langner read by Cyril Ritchard at Langner’s memorial service Jan. 10, 1963, as well as the manuscript of her plea to save the Morosco Theatre (ca. 1982). The numerous programs include a Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo souvenir program inscribed by Sol Hurok to “the greatest actress of today –and tomorrow!” Theatrical memorabilia includes programs and souvenirs for actresses Maude Adams, Constance Collier, Julia Dean, and Ellen Terry.
Of particular note is the program for the Spencer Tracy Tribute at the Majestic Theatre, Mar. 3, 1986.
- 1908 - 19955.25 boxes
This series contains photographs, slides, and negatives mostly from Hepburn’s theatrical productions, from The Big Pond (1928), one of her earliest ventures, to The West Side Waltz(1981), her last major stage performance. Most of the photos are production and publicity shots taken by noted theatrical photographers such as White Studio, Vandamm Studio, Friedman-Abeles, Angus McBean, Martha Holmes, Will Rapport, and Richard Tucker, but there are also some snapshots and candids.
In addition to production and publicity photos, negatives from the Old Vic Australian tour (1955) document Hepburn’s and Robert Helpmann’s travels. (Additional photos may be found in the three scrapbooks of the tour.) Photos from the American Shakespeare Festival include numerous production and publicity photos, but also several candids of Hepburn, and snapshots of “Kate’s Cottage” and the surrounding area. Coco photos (1969-1970) include production and rehearsal photos, as well as photos documenting the recording of the original cast album.
There are also some general publicity photos of Hepburn, as well as photos of other projects such as the album covers of Ben Bagley’s Cole Porter Revisited, Vol. IV (ca. 1979) and Ben Bagley’s Contemporary Broadway Revisited(1985).
Photos of some Hepburn friends and associates such as Constance Collier, Robert Helpmann, Arthur Hopkins, Lawrence Langner and Armina Marshall, and Hope Willams can also be found in the papers. Michael Benthall photos include personal childhood photos of him and of his family estate.
- 19695 boxes
This series consists of six scrapbooks, three of which document Hepburn’s 1955 Old Vic Australian tour. Clippings and photographs in these three scrapbooks cover both the three Shakespeare plays (The Merchant of Venice, The Taming of the Shrew, and Measure for Measure) as well as Hepburn’s activities. One clipping (July 18, 1955) mentions Hepburn phoning Spencer Tracy daily.
The As You Like Itscrapbook contains historical images of other productions; the inscription from “Terry – Lawrence – Armina” and date, Jan. 26, 1950, indicate it was probably an opening night gift to Hepburn from the Theatre Guild.
Of particular note is the boxed photo album of the London production of The Millionairess (1952) made (and signed) by noted British photographer Angus McBean for Hepburn. (There are also some loose photos from the album.)
There is also one general scrapbook (ca. 1969) containing mostly clippings of Hepburn, photos, poetry and captions, but also material from Coco and The Madwoman of Chaillot.
- 1906 - 19817 boxes
Included in this series are photographs, costume designs, artwork, testimonials to Hepburn, research materials, window cards, and theatrical memorabilia. There are numerous enlargements of production and publicity photos, as well as photos of costume sketches and research materials. Of particular note is a signed Cecil Beaton photo of Hepburn (ca. 1960s) and Hepburn’s annotated sheets of Alfred Dixon vocal exercises housed in a leather folio with “S.T.” engraved on it.
Costume designs include one for the 1955 Old Vic Australian tour production of The Taming of the Shrewand is signed by Ruth Dolgov (although Peter Rice is listed as scenery and costume designer on the program); the other is by Muriel King for an unidentified production, possibly a film (1936).
Also of note is a caricature of As You Like It by cast member Jan Sherwood, as well as a limited edition print of a Hepburn painting for The Fund for Animals. There is also an incomplete Coco scrapbook, probably belonging to Michael Benthall (1969–1970).