Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Celebrating Kate

I gave my wife a Mother’s Day card this year with the following saying on the front: “If you obey all the rules, you miss all the fun.”

Katharine Hepburn’s words. Today marks the 102nd anniversary of her birth. She lived to 96. I like thinking about her, about her films. And about her life.

I never loved Kate (pardon the familiarity) as an object of affection or lust—as Jimmy Stewart did in The Philadelphia Story. I always responded to her more in the Spencer Tracy fashion—a damn fine human to have in your corner and to have in your life. Kate never aspired to be an actress, and like Tracy never thought highly of acting as a living (“Acting is the most minor of gifts and not a very high-class way to earn a living. After all, Shirley Temple could do it at the age of four.”) But she was pretty good at it, as she was at everything she tried. And as much as I adore and admire her as an actress, it is how she tried to live her life that resonates for me.

Among the quotes gathered at About.com, I like this one: “Life is to be lived. If you have to support yourself, you had bloody well better find some way that is going to be interesting.  If you always do what interests you, at least one person is pleased.”

True enough. It’s a message I share with my students whenever I get the chance. You want to make films? Go to Hollywood. Go to New York. Or just go do it, wherever you find yourself. If that’s what interests you at 21 and 22, don’t be so easily turned toward cubicle work. It’s not going to be easy. And at some point you have to confront your own talent—you either have it or you don’t, kid. You can learn the mechanics of cinematography or sound, even of acting and writing. But you may be the last to know if you’ve got “it.” The gift that is unexplainable but, if you’re lucky, there it is. And then you have to take that gift and drive it to where you want to go, even when the wind is hard and straight in your face.

Kate said, “Everyone thought I was bold and fearless and even arrogant, but inside I was always quaking.” Quaking, obviously, is no reason to run or to hide from what truly interests you. Then, if you can look yourself square and say, You know what, I’m good, but not good enough … and can feel good that you gave your dreams, your interest, your passion, everything you had, then move on. To something else that interests you.

On Kate’s birthday, it’s worth remembering this: “Life can be wildly tragic at times, and I've had my share. But whatever happens to you, you have to keep a slightly comic attitude. In the final analysis, you have got to not forget to laugh.


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