Calm and Coiled: Musings on the Lolling styles of Hepburn and Garland

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Director Vincente Minnelli, newly web vistor Judy Garland, and star Katharine Hepburn on the set of Undercurrent (1946).

Back in 2010 and 2011 I played with a theme, a meme,  of “lolling” through two of my favorite film divas  Lolling served as a way for me to select among thousands of colleted images (stills, on set candid images, posed production photos) from the movies and performances of Katharine Hepburn and of Judy Garland I have been collecting from fan sites and other means for over a decade.

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Judy Garland on set of A Star is Born (1954).

selectively have now made my way through the Hepburn oeuvre, then the Garland oeuvre, movie by movie (with the occasional stage play thrown in for Hepburn), in alphabetical order.  I focused on image quality and indulged my preference for black and white. For this run through the riches, it’s all about the lolling.

“lolling — present participle of loll (Verb)1. Sit, lie, or stand in a lazy, relaxed way: “the two girls lolled in their chairs”.2. Hang loosely; droop: “he slumped against a tree trunk, his head lolling back”.”— Merriam-Webster – The Free Dictionary

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Katharine Hepburn on location in Venice during filming of Summertime (1955)

I have been playing with the idea that in these publicity portraits, production stills, screen captures, on set encounters something might be revealed about each actress.  Perhaps.  Lolling between takes and at rest and posing and chatting with colleagues.  Moments of repose in public by two women who lived very public lives.  Two icons, two women I greatly admire for their talent and in part how they each quite differently lived their lives.  One was present and reserved.  One was present and may have given, willingly given, a great deal of herself away.  In Anna Deavere Smith‘s show Let Me Down Easy (her musings through multiple characters on health and culture and end of life), she quotes the DC sports writer Sally Jenkins on the nature of athletes and their attitudes towards their mortal coil:

“Athletes aren’t happy unless they’re actually used up.”

I wonder whether this personality attribute might relate in different measure to Hepburn and Garland.  Long-haul, family home to visit then live in, paced life style with consistency of routine and sense of place versus shifting residence, performance focused.  I refrain from further assertions or conclusions, but the concept is for me evocative.

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Katharine Hepburn on set of Bringing Up Baby (1938).

We have beauty.  Check.  We have presence.  Check.  We have focus.  Check.  We have intensity.  Check.  And here we may be venturing into the areas that, from our vantage point outside the lives of these outsized characters …  I’ll reach for quotations by others now to elaborate some thoughts.  Then leave this post with some final images.

Hepburn’s great friend Garson Kanin, for a time estranged and finally reconciled, wrote of her and of her several-decade relationship with Spencer Tracy in 1971’s Tracy and Hepburn: An Intimate Memoir.  (The fact of this book, that Kanin would dare to write about the open secret of their relationship, caused the estrangement from Hepburn.  At some point after  Ruth Gordon passed away and Kanin was married to Marian Seldes, there was a “life is too short” moment and all parties decided to forgive and be friends again.) Observations by a witty and fine writer about several witty and fine human beings, creates quotable language on almost every page about Kate.  Each word relates to the “lolling” meme in my mind: Hepburn had her own style in every moment, and a lanky ease.   Tracy and Hepburn, p. 152:

“In the largest sense, Katharine Hepburn’s popularity has never waned because people know (magically, intuitively) that she stands for something, even if many of them have no clear idea as to what that something is.  They recognize that in a time of dangerous conformity, and the fear of being different, here is one who stands up gallantly to the killing wave.”

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Judy Garland on set of In The Good Old Summertime (1949).

Several contemporaries and colleagues of Garland provide reflections on her style, focus, intensity. John Fricke’Judy Garland: The World’s Greatest Entertainer (1992) features a range of intriguing commentary from the era of A Star is Born. including a lovely observation by Doris Day (p. 145):

“Some Hollywood faces seem to have been made for cameras.  Judy had such a face — right, left, up, down, it didn’t matter…. She was one of the funniest, wittiest ladies I have ever known, a marvelous conversationalist who would set me laughing until I actually doubled over…. [Garland was] the most tightly wound person I ever knew…. She kept so much of herself locked up, but what she did let out was beautiful.”

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Doris Day visits Judy Garland and James Mason during a break in filming A Star is Born (1954).

© Martha Wade Steketee (May 20, 2019)



Categories: film + television, theater (dramaturgy), theater (general)

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