'Golden' Years Katharine Hepburn: On the set of ''Golden Pond.'' As one of the last people to work with the Oscar-winning actress, director Mark Rydell reveals how she made his film special -- on screen and off By Josh Young
Katharine Hepburn won the last of her record four Academy Awards for ''On Golden Pond,'' the 1981 tear-jerker in which she played a saucy matriarch refereeing the war between her husband and their daughter (played by real-life father-daughter duo Henry and Jane Fonda). But beyond that remarkable performance, ''Pond'' director Mark Rydell remembers Hepburn the woman: her eagerness to learn, her tenacity, and the surprisingly soothing nature that eased tensions between the Fondas on set. Rydell (''The Rose,'' ''Intersection'') chatted with Entertainment Weekly about his experiences working with Hepburn on the film -- and what you might not know about Katharine the Great.
It must have been difficult getting the money to make ''On Golden Pond'' -- its two stars were well into their 70s at the time. It was hard to get the picture made, despite having Jane, who was a very big star. I had to beg for the money to make the picture -- literally beg -- because the financiers said, ''Henry Fonda hasn't had a hit in year, and Kate Hepburn is just a legend and she doesn't mean anything anymore. Jane would mean something but she's not in the lead. Who wants to see a picture about death?''
Once you got the financing, what were those first few days working with Katharine like? She was so startlingly remarkable, so heroic in many ways. For example, aside from being an extraordinary personality and a brilliant actress, she was also an athlete. About five weeks before the picture was to begin, she dislocated her shoulder while playing tennis and was taken to the hospital and operated on. Pins were put in her shoulder. I thought, Oh sh--, here goes the picture. I flew to New York and went to the hospital, and there she was in this hospital bed with her arm in a stand-up cast -- her shoulder was at a right angle and her arm was extended in front of it, and there was a rod down to her waist that kept it at that height. She said, ''Don't you worry about a thing.'' I said, ''We're supposed to start in five weeks.'' She said, ''I'll be there.'' Sure enough, this woman showed up. All the doctors told her that she was insane and there was no way. Of course, it was her tenacity and determination to play this part, which meant a great deal to her.
Was it daunting working with such a legend? I was somewhat intimidated. How do you direct Katharine Hepburn and Henry Fonda, two of the icons of American theater? She had a career that was unparalleled. I put them together and I thought, Gee, this is liable to be touchy. Forget it. They fell into each other's arms. They were remarkably supportive of one another.
What was her acting process at the time? Was she open to your direction? She had such an enormous personality. There was nothing wishy-washy about her. She had strong feelings but she was wide open to rehearsing, which was astonishing to me. We spent a week or two sitting with Fonda, Jane, and Katharine. We were rehearsing around a table and really working hard on the material, and she was like a 20-year-old acting student. She was so determined to do that right thing and to develop this relationship with Henry, which I encouraged during rehearsals. She was just available.
''On Golden Pond'' at times blurred the line between real life and art, in terms of the strained relationship between the Fondas. What was Hepburn's role in the on- and off-screen drama? She knew the picture was a form of reparation of Henry and Jane's relationship. She used to hide in the bushes -- she'd be over Henry's shoulder, behind him -- when Henry would work with Jane and encourage Jane so that when Jane looked at Henry, she would see her in the background. She wasn't in the shot. She would just be hiding in the bushes, in a sense, being a cheerleader to Jane and helping Jane to get through the more emotional scenes because Jane was very, very emotionally volatile. Jane was sick to have to work with him. She was so full of anxiety.
What might surprise people about Katharine Hepburn? Everybody thinks of her as a fiercely independent woman. She was a pipe-and-slippers woman. She would come and sit at my and Henry's feet. She felt that it was a woman's responsibility to take care of a man. It really blew me away. When my wife and I went to her house on Turtle Bay -- we had gone to see her in the theater -- we were upstairs, and she took my wife's hand and said, ''Let's go down and make some food. Let's see what I have.'' My wife told me later that she asked, ''What does Mark like to eat?'' and my wife said, ''I don't know. Anything.'' She was very angry at my wife for not knowing what I would want to eat. That's the opposite of what people would think of her.
Post by lionessinwinter on May 18, 2008 14:14:59 GMT -5
In my opinion no woman has looked more beautiful and in her own way regal than Kate did in this film. She was simple but tough and this is one of my favorites of hers that I like to watch when I get down in the mouth thinking about getting old I remember it isnt how long you live but how much you live while you are here that counts. She certainly put a lot into her 96 years on this earth and this movie is a treat from beginning to end
Judy: All has changed on the Proboard....Not sure my reply got posted. Anyway, thanks for the notice, Evelien. I'm unable to access it. I can watch the clip of the woman flipping through the Kate books and talking about fashion - one of which is Rebel Chic :-)
Feb 4, 2014 20:29:21 GMT -5
dreamer: Ok peeps have tried to figure this new board - with not much success In order to login - click at the upper right corner - use your name from the board and your password and it should be all right. If not - please let me know and I will try to help!
Jul 29, 2014 7:30:03 GMT -5
Judy: I can enter. But not sure how to post now....Although I have nothing exciting to say, except hello to everyone!
Jul 29, 2014 20:34:38 GMT -5
Sherry: Hello in return.
Jul 31, 2014 10:40:25 GMT -5
HollywoodHepcat: Awww, hiiii!! I'm randomly here in hope of sourcing a quote of Kate's about Joel Mccrea-- coming up short, though. Ah well, hope everyone is well!! FINALLY A RED AND WHITE BANNER. TOOK 8 YEARS, BUT... WE MADE IT.
Aug 5, 2014 20:43:01 GMT -5
Tracy Lord: Just wanted to say a big HEY to everyone! I would love it if this board was active like it once was. I've missed it!
Aug 6, 2014 17:23:36 GMT -5
evelien: Hi everyone, hope you're all fine. I'm still alive and kicking and still as big a KH fan.
Aug 12, 2014 12:09:24 GMT -5
evelien: Judy: to reply to an existing thread, you can post a message in the 'quick reply' box under the last post on the page. To create a new thread: click on the folder you wish to post a new thread in and on the top right side you can choose 'New thread'.
Aug 12, 2014 12:11:39 GMT -5
CFK: So we all heard about Betty Bacall, I guess? Pretty rotten news, especially following so closely on Robin Williams. What a lousy week. Watched To Have and Have Not as tribute tonight.
Aug 13, 2014 0:25:58 GMT -5
HollywoodHepcat: Oh my God. Betty. My heart's in my throat.
Aug 13, 2014 5:45:59 GMT -5
lomola : hello fellow KH fans Just stumbled upon this interesting board.. Does anyone have any video interviews with KH?? Or maybe transcripts of them? I´ve been especially looking for the full version of the famous Cavett one forever and ever...
Sept 15, 2014 16:06:41 GMT -5
lomola : the bits of it i found on youtube were just amazing..
Sept 15, 2014 16:07:35 GMT -5
Laura: Is there anybody here? My registration has been pending approval forever... Maybe this board has been abandonned by the owner..
Dec 15, 2014 3:40:49 GMT -5
Fran: I think the problem with actresses such as Bette Davis and Joan Crawford was that they played SEX SYMBOLS and did woman movies. They were sexy in their day and were the main love interests in the movie. When they got older those woman type movies were dead
Jun 26, 2017 16:56:41 GMT -5
Fran: Bette Davis made very different movies from Katherine Hepburn Hepburn. Bette was sexy. So was Crawford. They made woman type movies. Hepburn was the masculine feminist. When their looks went, so did their careers. Hepburn was never that type.
Jun 26, 2017 16:57:53 GMT -5
Angela: Personally, I like Bette Davis best she was "a woman for all season" she didn't mince words she did the role without having to apologize for creativity she musters to do the work. Also, she could look different without worrying about her appearance.
Mar 14, 2019 19:54:07 GMT -5
Angela: Personally, I felt Bette Davis was the "woman for all seasons" since she used all her creativity to make her artwork. As for Katherine she seems to sound the same - her voice didn't change. Granted she was good in Shakespeare which I give credit.
Mar 14, 2019 19:56:35 GMT -5
SJS: Bette had a mostly latent tendency to ham, and she admitted it. She really appreciated a director who could get her to tone it down. She lost respect for a director who would let her get away with it. But she took chances that most actresses wouldn't.
Apr 15, 2020 14:12:32 GMT -5