Katharine Hepburn's counsel

By John D. Spooner, 7/2/2003

OU KNOW and I know that the one thing any woman must understand about men is that they are all little boys. Some more than others, of course, and some keep it hidden better than their buddies. But it's lingering there, like the pimple you know is going to be showing on your chin by tomorrow morning.

My wife has a great talent in this regard to cut through the nonsense. A few weeks ago I showed her a picture in a magazine. ''Look at this woman,'' I said, pointing at a model in an advertisement. ''I'm sure she's in her 50s, and she's got shoulder-length hair. Look how great it looks.''

My wife looked at the picture, then at me. ''Grow up,'' she said, and walked away.

She gets it, and, of course, this drives me nuts from time to time. But there was a moment in my life when it was OK for boys to be boys, even though they were dressed like girls. My senior year in college I was one of the female leads in the Hasty Pudding show, a musical spoof written, produced, and performed annually since 1868 by male students.

Jack Lemmon had acted in the show. And Fred Gwynne of the ''Munsters.'' Alan Jay Lerner wrote a show, as did Erich Segal of ''Love Story'' fame. Traditionally, men played all the female roles, and there was always a kick line number that was brought back for at least two, sometimes three encores.

For years there had been a tradition of choosing a ''Woman of the Year'' at the Pudding, usually a famous actress, to get publicity for the show and have an excuse for a party in the middle of the day. That year the honoree was Katharine Hepburn, who accepted her award (a small cast-iron pudding pot) on stage surrounded by selected cast members, including me in costume as my character, the Duchess of Wopping, complete with glamorous tiara set on top of golden curls.

Katharine Hepburn viewed the proceedings with wry amusement, the only real woman there and the only woman, fake or real, in pants. After the photographs, she watched us sing a few numbers, including my big hit song, done with my husband, the Duke of Wopping. It was ''The Abdication Waltz,'' and when it was over the great Hepburn took me by the arm and said, ''Young man, I strongly suggest, when you graduate, that you go to law school,'' which in more recent times would be, ''Don't give up your day job.''

I asked her, hoping for show business goodies that I could tuck away, if she had any suggestions for us playing female characters. ''Of course,'' she answered. ''Read the female roles in Shakespeare. Everything you want to know about character and the theater is in Shakespeare.''

The party moved into the bar for cocktails and music provided by the three-piece band whose members also played for the show's performances. Hepburn was surrounded by people at the party, all looking, like me, to impress her. The room was dark and oak-paneled, filled with old leather sofas and chairs sitting on even older oriental rugs. A long, curved bar dominated one wall facing a large oak walk-in mantlepiece that topped a fireplace. All the walls were covered with framed show posters dating back to the late 1800s bearing names like ''The Big Fizz,'' ''Love Rides the Rails,'' and ''Bobastes Furioso.'' Many of us in the musical had visions of show business careers after college, thinking that life, like the Hasty Pudding Club, would be all fun and games.

After a few drinks, the band blaring out ''The Lady is a Tramp'' and other songs likely played at coming-out parties, I decided to climb on top of the small upright piano. This would really let Katharine Hepburn see me strut my stuff so she would want to be my friend forever. The band struck up the kick line number, and two chorus members joined me on top of the small upright. The room was cheering up until one of my high kicks collided with a hip-check from the dancing neighbor and I was launched off the piano into the band - actually, through the bass drum with my head.

As I came up for air, the drummer began beating me with his sticks, yelling, ''My best drum, my best drum,'' until we were separated and held apart. After things settled down, Katharine Hepburn, ready to leave the event, came over to me and smiled the star's smile. ''I said Shakespeare's heroines,'' she counseled, ''not Shakespeare's fools... '' She gently tapped me on the hand with her little Pudding pot and was gone.

John D. Spooner is a money manager and author.

This story ran on page A19 of the Boston Globe on 7/2/2003.
Copyright 2003 Globe Newspaper Company.

 

Back to Everything Else Harvard