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21 March 2013

Book Review: "At Home With Kate"

cover"At Home With Kate: Growing Up in Katharine Hepburn's Household: An Intimate Portrait" is a bit of a highfalutin title for this humble volume. The book is written by the daughter of Katharine Hepburn's cook/housekeeper at the NYC residence, so the author did not actually "grow up" in Katharine Hepburn's household. That's not to say she didn't accumulate a number of interesting anecdotes about the star, but let's just try and keep things in perspective.

In the early 1930s, after Hepburn had made her initial splash out in Hollywood, she and her husband Luddy moved into 244 East 49th Street, a brownstone in the Turtle Bay area of New York City. They rented the house furnished for $100 a month, and in 1937 Hepburn purchased the house for $27,500. 244 would be Hepburn's New York headquarters for the rest of the 20th century.

244 front
"It's handy and comfortable - faces south and used to be full of sunshine. Now the skyscrapers on the street behind me cut out a lot of the sun - too bad - but it's quiet and convenient and it's mine and I like it." (Me 152)
Katharine Hepburn hired Nora Considine as her cook/housekeeper in 1972. "She was the only applicant who stood up when I entered the room. Now tell me, how could I let her go?" Nora was in her thirties Irish, Catholic, and a mother of five children (the author of this book was her younger daughter). Nora was a fair cook, she was selfless, hard working, practical, warm-hearted, jovial, and she was usually discreet - all qualities Hepburn admired and demanded of her domestic help. She often solicited the help of her children when Miss Hepburn as entertaining, so they too were given a rare glimpse into the life of their mother's employer.
244 map
Unfortunately, the anecdotes Eileen Considine-Meara provides in this book are in no way profound. Because of her tangential relationship to Katharine Hepburn, the isn't much "intimacy" about her portrait of the star. Most of the stories come across like bad jokes that wouldn't seem significant unless you were actually there at the time. However, I will say that although these titbits don't offer any original insight into Hepburn's later years, they do serve to confirm what the more extensive biographies have said.

While the anecdotes themselves aren't much to write home about, the book does include some features that cannot be found elsewhere. For example, once you get past the publicity portraits we've seen a million times over, there are in fact some photos of the inside of 244 that I had never seen before. Considine-Meara also includes a layout for each of the floors in the house.
The book is peppered with a number of Katharine Hepburn's favorite recipes, prepared just the way she liked them: Flamande salad, chicken loaf, Dick's chicken salad, creamed chip beef on toast, rum cake, Laura's lemon gelatin dessert, Fenwick meat loaf, Irish soda bread, THE BROWNIES, Sondheim's gezpacho, Hilly's chicken piccata, lace cookies, beef stew, beet soup, hot toddy, etc.

Glancing at the table of contents, you will also notice a number of very big names. It is true that Miss Hepburn socialized with plenty of famous people while in New York, and stories about many of them can be found here: Irene Selznick, Stephen Sondheim, Jane Fonda, Barbara Walters, Michael Jackson, Robert Wagner, Sidney Poitier, Liz Smith, Lauren Bacall, Anthony Quinn, Warren Beatty, and Bob Dylan.
Nora and KH
You can also learn more about the members of Hepburn's intimate circle of friends and family: husband Luddy, brother Dick, friend Laura Harding, Spencer Tracy's daughter Susie, Cynthia McFadden, driver Hilly, and sidekick Phyllis Wilbourn.

All in all, I am glad that I finally let myself read "At Home With Kate." I had expected it to be a vulgar tell-all about her personal life, but Considine-Meara's distance from the star actually helped this book avoid the mire of a gossipy betrayal. You won't find any dirt here. In fact, the book tells us more about what it was like to work for Katharine Hepburn than it does about the lady herself. So maybe it can't be used for academic research -  it's a quick read, it's a cute read, so I have no qualms about recommending it as a bedside book.

Further reading:
Kate Remembered by A. Scott Berg
Me: Stories of My Life by Katharine Hepburn


  1. Whew! I'm glad to hear it wasn't a scandalous tell-all. There are enough of those.

    It looks like an interesting read even if, as you pointed out, it's not exactly research material.

  2. I'm glad it's not a gossip book, and yet it's not very deep, I have to say that I envy Eileen for knowing Kate in person, even superficially. Well, it looks like a fun read.


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