Tuesday, May 12, 2015

The Kate Effect: Katharine Hepburn’s Lasting Effect on Connecticut

Connecticut. Aren't we lucky? We have wonderful wildflowers-parks-hills-lovely old houses. We have a pace that we like-sometimes slow-sometimes fast. Rivers-reservoirs- Long Island Sound. A wonderful climate-trees-gardens-snow-rain. And it's a good size-not huge-not small.
-Katharine Hepburn(Source: Me, Katharine Hepburn)

You're right, Kate, we ARE lucky. But you missed something we're lucky to have that no other state can claim (even if California and New York, especially, New York,  try!):


Katharine Houghton Hepburn (and the rest of her family for that matter) has had a profound impact on the state of Connecticut, even today, nearly twelve years after her death.

Whether it was Katharine M. (Houghton) Hepburn's involvement in the suffragist movement, Dr. Thomas N. Hepburn's involvement with Hartford Hospital (and eventually, Dr. Robert "Bob" H. Hepburn's involvement), or one of Richard Hepburn's plays...or Marion and Margaret's involvement with Connecticut's libraries and historical research-the Hepburn's had a profound impact on the history of Connecticut as it is today. Of course, Kate had her involvements too-her acting career took Connecticut and really made people notice it.

Katharine M. (Houghton) Hepburn (or Kit as she was known, and shall be known from here on out in this post) was inducted into the Connecticut Women's Hall of Fame in 1994 for her involvement in the Women's suffragist movement. Her eldest daughter, Kate, would also be inducted into the Connecticut Women's Hall of Fame in the same year. To my knowledge, Kit and Kate are the only mother-daughter pair to be inducted, let alone relatives in the same year. Kate's father, Thomas Norval Hepburn was a prominent urologist who fought for the prevention of sexually transmitted diseases at Hartford Hospital during Kate's childhood years. It was these two that Kate would praise immensely in her 1991 autobiography, Me, for raising her to think outside the box and speak her mind.

Kate's brothers and sisters all had their involvements in Connecticut's history, but Kate...Kate was a league of her own. Richard (or Dick as he was known, and will be continued to be known here) was a playwright, and often had plays produced at the Eugene O'Neil Theatre Center in Waterford, Connecticut. Dick raised his family in Old Saybrook, residing with Kate at Fenwick. Dick had four children-Tor, Kuy, Mundy and Alie, many of whom still reside in Connecticut in or around the Old Saybrook area. Dick died in October 2000. Robert (or Bob as he was known, and will be known as here), followed their father's footsteps, and went to Harvard to become an urologist. Bob would eventually end up at the same hospital as his father, in the same department (although, I don't think they were there at the same time), and would eventually be appointed as chief of the urology department at Hartford Hospital until his July 1973 retirement. Bob and his wife, Susanna would raise their son and daughter in Connecticut, who would in turn raise Bob's grandchildren (Bob would eventually move in with his daughter) in Connecticut. Bob died of a heart attack in November 2007. Kate's much younger sisters, Marion and Margaret (or Peggy as she was known, and will be known as going forward) also made their own marks on Connecticut. Marion attended Bennington College, studying creative writing and labor, government and sociology {Source}. She was the co-founder of the Urban League of Hartford, president of the Junior League and president of the Women’s Association of her church {Source}. But, her real passion was writing and it was in history that she found the most productive outlet for her diverse interests and passions {Source}. She penned three books related to Hartford, but she mainly explored the histories of Old Saybrook and Fenwick {Source}. For the 100th anniversary in 1971 of the founding of Fenwick, she agreed to write a book to mark the centennial of the borough and its influential inhabitants {Source}. Marion would marry future West Hartford Mayor (in the 1970s, I think) Ellsworth Grant; raise three children in Connecticut, two sons and a daughter, and eventually seven grandchildren (Schuyler Grant & Jason Grant {Jack's kids}, Daniel, Matthew & Joshua Jenkins {Katharine's  rumored stepsons, the sons of Ken Jenkins & Joan Patchen}, Jat and Tilly Hamachek {Toby's kids} ) and six great grandchildren. Eventually, all three of her children would pursue careers on the west coast, her eldest Jack would go on to become an environmentalist in California, middle child Katharine would go on to establish herself as an actress and playwright, and youngest son Toby would head north to Oregon where he became a property manager after studying naturopath studies at Evergreen College, sadly, Toby died in 2010 of heart failure. Marion died in August 1986. Youngest sister Margaret or Peggy as she was known (and shall be known as here), followed Marion to Bennington, and would eventually return to Connecticut and create a family of her own. She married Thomas Perry, and they would have five children together-Thomas, Margaret aka Nome, Robert, Scott & Lansford. Peggy lived her life quietly on a farm, and worked as a librarian for 35 years at the Canton Public Library. Sadly, Peggy's eldest son, Thomas would be lost in WWII and Peggy died in February 2006.

Kate grew up in Hartford, and West Hartford. She spent the summers from 1912 until her death in 2003 in Old Saybrook. During these childhood summers in Old Saybrook, she would pal around with a girl named Alice Barbour. Hepburn and Barbour were a dynamic duo, often causing mischief in the Fenwick neighborhood. The two were "secret housebreakers" as Hepburn put it in her autobiography, Me. During these adventures Barbour and Hepburn were never destructive per ce, but occasionally they would steal a small tokens, would feel guilty (or at least in Kate's case), and quietly return the item. These escapades went on for several summers, until one day when they got a third party involved. Bob Post, a boy that Kate's friend Ali had a flirtation with at the time. During what would be their final break in, the duo included Bob, which would turn out to be a mistake. The trio couldn't find an opening to their chosen spot, so Bob suggested they smash the back door with a six-foot log in order to gain entry. Of course, it made a racket and the cook next door witnessed the whole escapade. To add to it, when they got in, they found boxes of talcum powder with feathered puffs...which they caused damage with, and ended up getting caught. Of course, Dr. Hepburn paid for his daughter and her friends damages to their neighbor's property, and Kate and her friends felt so ashamed of themselves they never broke in anywhere again,  (at least in Kate's case anyway) nor had anything to do with Bob Post. Kate left Connecticut for university, and then went off to New York and California to pursue her career. Kate never forgot her Connecticut roots though, always returning for holidays, and even retiring to the state in the 1990s. In the 1990s, the town of Old Saybrook was going through some financial hardships, but was in need of a new fire truck...you know who bought them one? Yup. Kate. Even after her death, she remembered her home state, leaving a portion of her land in Fenwick to the Old Saybrook town nature preserve.

Kate also had a profound impact on a town a few miles away from Old Saybrook, the town of Ivoryton, Connecticut. It was here where Kate's professional acting career really started. One time, when attending a show at a venue called The Ivoryton Playhouse, Kate approached the director and asked him WHEN (that's right, not if, but WHEN) he would use her in one of his upcoming productions. Mr. Milton Stifel was a bit taken back by Miss Hepburn's direct approach, but eventually hired her to work on some of his productions in the 1930s. During the Ivoryton's troubled years in the 1960s and 1970s, Kate pulled up her sleeves with several members of the local community to form The Ivoryton Playhouse Players in order to save the theatre from becoming a convenience store. To this day, the theatre boast several photos of Kate (one of which happens to be signed) around the theatre and a bust of her head (one of five that were made-don't ask me where the other four are!). During the 1980s and 1990s, Kate would often return to the Ivoryton Playhouse to see productions at the theatre. Members of the staff at the Ivoryton have told me that she would call anonymously for tickets, and immediately hang up if someone she didn't want to talk to answered, and knowing who it was (how could you mistake that voice?), the attendant would inform the Executive Director who would call her to get her order.  Apparently, she also did this at the Goodspeed Opera House as well. At the Ivoryton, they would let her in through the side door for the performances. One other story I love to hear about is when the The River Rep at Ivoryton (a former Ivoryton Playhouse summer stock group-don't get me started.) did a production of The Dresser in 1989, their audiences were minimal...well...Katharine Houghton (who appeared in Blithe Spirit in the 1990 summer season and as Lettice Douffett in Lettice & Lovage  in 2002) attended a performance one night, and attended a second performance...with her aunt the next night...and the seats filled up on the third night...this is known as The Kate Effect (hahahaha...pun intended! You really didn't think I wouldn't put that in here somewhere, did you?).

Like Kate, I too, partially grew up in Old Saybrook and spent my early theatre career in Ivoryton. Sort of. Only my Old Saybrook summer upbringing was less...adventurous than Kate's was. During my high school years (and coincidentally when I truly became a Hepburn fan), my mom worked at one of the stores in Old Saybrook. During the summers, I would spend the days wandering around my mom's shopping center and the nearby Main Street shops. Of course, when Mom would take her lunch, she'd often convince me to go somewhere she wanted with the idea of driving by Kate's Old Saybrook home (a thrill that never got old, by the way, even to this day). During my university years, I also interned and ran the social media sites for the theatre in Old Saybrook that bears Kate's name, The Katharine Hepburn Cultural Arts Center for a few years. Like Kate,  I too spent time at the Ivoryton Playhouse, often seeing or being involved with productions during my high school and university years and often "joke" with the current artistic director, Jacqui Hubbard, when not if she will hire me someday (little does she know, I'm only about 10% kidding...). I remember on several occasions overhearing long time Old Saybrook residents telling tourists who were looking for Kate's private oasis of Fenwick "where to go" aka giving them the wrong directions. That still makes me giggle. Unfortunately, I never had a "Kate Encounter" during my time at the Ivoryton Playhouse or in Old Saybrook! However I did meet her niece, Katharine Houghton once...but that's another story for another blog entry, which I've told here.

New York tries to claim Our Kate in two ways. First, for Kate's 90th birthday in 1997, there was the creation of the Katharine Hepburn Garden in her Turtle Bay neighborhood and the proclamation of "Katharine Hepburn Day" in NYC. Next, in 2005, the city renamed the intersection of East 49th Street and Second Avenue “Katharine Hepburn Place” in honor of the famous actress who lived in a brownstone nearby {Source}. Nope. Connecticut wouldn't let them have it! We outdid them in 2009 with the opening of The Katharine Hepburn Cultural Arts Center in Kate's old stomping grounds of Old Saybrook. In 2010, on what would've been her 103rd birthday, the US postal service honored Hepburn with a stamp, unveiled in the town that meant so much to her, in a place named for her, The Katharine Hepburn Cultural Arts Center in Connecticut.

So NY you can stop trying to take Our Kate away from us anytime now...get over it, she chose Connecticut.

Kate and her family have had a profound effect on the State of Connecticut. Kate grew up here, never forgot her roots, retired here, had family here, and STILL has family here, several of her nieces and nephews still live in Connecticut with their own families.


  1. My family lives near Old Saybrook and when ever someone asks where that is we would say "that's where Katharine Hepburn lives." Thanks for an informative post about the place that fit her perfectly.

  2. You're welcome, glad you liked it! I agree-Old Saybrook fit her perfectly, and the townspeople respected her...to them, she was just the crazy old lady from Fenwick, not Katharine Hepburn, the actress.

  3. My Grandmother, Fanny Rivoire Ciarrier was Katharine's Governess and Cook for 45 years after answerring an ad from Dr. Thomas soon after she arrived from Marseille, France. I often visited her at Bloomfield Ave. and had many adventures with "Aunt Kate". (I also had a slight clkaim to fame, announcing that "I had slept with Katharine Hepburn several times - of course, I was 3 years old). She was vibrant and fun.

  4. Yes...I remember reading about Fanny in Kate's book ME (page 37, in a chapter called Hartford. There's even a photo of her with Kate's brother Dick). She talks very fondly of her.

    Very cool that you have memories of her! :)