Cousin recalls Hepburn's many visits to Baltimore

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Beatrice Houghton Hooker Marty has many fond memories of her cousin, the actress Katharine Hepburn.

Their mothers, Edith Houghton Hooker and Katharine Houghton Hepburn, were sisters.

"Both ... were suffragettes, liberal and believed in birth control," said "Beatie" Marty, 84, of Sparks. "Aunt Kate graduated from Bryn Mawr College and Mother attended Johns Hopkins Medical School until she left to get married."

Kate Houghton, then a teacher at the Calvert School, and Thomas Norval Hepburn, a Johns Hopkins medical student from Virginia, were married June 6, 1904, at Christ Episcopal Church, St. Paul and Chase streets (now the New Refuge Deliverance Cathedral).

Katharine Hepburn was their second child. "We called her Kath to distinguish her from her mother," said Marty.

For many years, Hepburn was a frequent guest at her Aunt Edith and Uncle Donald Hooker's home at 1016 St. George's Road in North Baltimore. And, on summer trips to Maine, the Hookers stopped off at the Hepburn home in Connecticut.

Hepburn, who was 96 when she died June 29, had an acting career that spanned almost seven decades and included four Academy Awards. She began acting while a student at Bryn Mawr College in the 1920s.

"Kath came down to Baltimore to talk to Mother" about becoming an actress, Marty recalled. "The two of them were very close. Anyway, Mother was a frustrated actress who had wanted to go on stage but in those days, it wasn't considered proper.

"She encouraged Kath to follow her dreams and to continue to express herself. I think Mother was a great influence on her life. On the other hand, Uncle Hep, her father, was negative about her going into the theater. He really didn't approve of it, and didn't encourage her at all. He would certainly be pleased to see how well her career turned out," she said.

Four days after receiving her bachelor's degree in psychology in 1928, Hepburn arrived in Baltimore. The slender, striking young woman went to see Edward H. Knopf, director of a stock company that performed at the Auditorium Theater.

"In an odd little voice she confessed that she had arrived without an invitation, but she was eager to act and that she hoped he would give her an opportunity," wrote Gilbert Kanour, Evening Sun critic, in 1936. "The indulgent Mr. Knopf was impressed by the personality of the stranger, and she was hired and taken backstage and introduced to Miss Mary Roland, Kenneth MacKenna and others who were rehearsing for The Czarina."

Three weeks later, Hepburn left the company and went to New York where she made her debut that year in These Days, produced by Knopf.

The first Hepburn play that Marty attended was The Warrior Husband, in the early 1930s.

"I really liked all of her plays. She was always very relaxed and not the least bit pretentious," Marty recalled. Her favorite Hepburn film, however, remains The African Queen.

"There wasn't a great deal of difference in her acting and being who she was. She generally chose roles that reflected her philosophy of life," she said.

When visiting her Baltimore relatives, Hepburn particularly enjoyed the family's afternoon ritual of tea and lively conversation.

"We'd sit at her knee and listen to her talk. She was always so sincere and had quite an effect on me. She proved that women can be successful on their own and set a good example," Marty said.

There were other exciting and unexpected moments.

She recalled Hepburn's then-husband, Ludlow Ogden Smith, a Philadelphia socialite, arriving one day at the family's home in an expensive automobile. "Lud was very attractive and awfully nice." Another time, Hepburn arrived in a chauffeur-driven car with Howard Hughes.

"We were overwhelmed," Marty said, laughing.

When Hepburn went abroad and visited Paris couturiers, she'd bring the latest designs to Baltimore. "She'd let us try them on, but somehow or other, she just looked better in them than we did," Marty said.

"Even though she liked wearing trousers which she had made at Brooks Brothers in New York, no one ever suggested that she was less than feminine because she favored them," she said.

Hepburn also liked visiting Marty's brother, Dr. Donald Houghton Hooker, a thoracic surgeon, and his wife, Greenie, in Boca Grande, Fla.

"They always wondered why she was wearing turtlenecks and long sleeves. Such heavy clothes when it was so warm," Marty recalled. "To poke fun at them, she rang the doorbell one day wrapped only in a towel."

When performing at the old Ford's or Morris Mechanic theaters in Baltimore, or on Broadway, Hepburn always made sure that family members were invited backstage.

Sometimes Hepburn stayed at the Stafford Hotel in Mount Vernon Place, and during the run of Coco in 1971 at the Mechanic, she had a room at the Hilton (now the Wyndham Hotel) downtown. She generally liked to dine in the privacy of her hotel room but if she went out to eat, it was to Marconi's, Marty said.

Shortly before coming to Baltimore to open in Coco, Hepburn was attacked in her Hartford, Conn., home by a woman who had hidden in a closet.

In the ensuing melee, the woman was wrestled to the floor by Hepburn but not before she bit the star on the hand. Her physician recommended that she cancel her tour.

But she didn't, and Dr. Frederik C. Hansen, a Baltimore hand surgeon, cared for Hepburn during the show's run.

"She said she had 40 people depending on her and she couldn't cancel. So each day, she'd call me to tell me what time to come to her hotel room in the Hilton where I checked her hand and changed the dressing," said Hansen, now retired and living in Ruxton.

"We had wonderful conversations, and she talked a lot about Spencer Tracy, who had died a few years earlier. She asked me to bring my wife downtown to see the show and then come backstage," Hansen said.

"She was wearing a magnificent diamond bracelet, and when she said, 'Spencer gave me this,' I nearly fainted at her feet," Bobbi Hansen said.

"One day, I took a cake down for tea that I had baked, and she sent me a beautifully written thank-you note. I still cherish it," she added.

Hepburn called Hansen's office one day, and the secretary answering the phone asked when she was going visit the office at 10 E. 31st St., so the staff could meet her.

Soon after, Hansen said, Hepburn "walked into the office and shook everyone's hand. She knew how important she was but didn't need to milk it."

In New York City for a medical convention, Hansen decided to take a short walk and found himself on East 49th Street in Turtle Bay, where Hepburn lived in a brownstone.

"I saw a woman shrouded in a scarf get out of car and walk into the house. A moment later, the door of the vestibule opened, and she said, 'Is that Dr. Hansen?' She invited me in to show me how well her hand had healed," he said.

"Katharine Hepburn was one of the greatest thrills of my life," he said.

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