Literati and Glitterati Meet at
Hepburn Center Launch Gala
Lauren Bacall and Blythe Danner captivated an audience of more than 500 alumnae and friends of Bryn Mawr College as they accepted the inaugural Katharine Hepburn Medals at a gala celebration of the launch of the College's Katharine Houghton Hepburn Center at Philadelphia 's Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts last Saturday. The awards ceremony, hosted with enormous verve and good humor by ABC Nightline anchor Cynthia McFadden, was the capstone of a full slate of events that took place over the weekend, including a concert by Dar Williams, panel discussions of women's health issues by distinguished experts and a talk about the Houghton Hepburn women's legacy by actress-writer Katharine Houghton, the niece of Katharine Hepburn '28 and granddaughter of Katharine Houghton, Class of 1899.
Bryn Mawr President Nancy J. Vickers presented the awards; she and Hepburn Center Director of Planning and Development Michelle Francl both characterized the launch as a rousing success. "The energy was so wonderful," Francl said. At the gala, Francl announced the names of the first set of Hepburn Fellows, women who bridge academics and practice in nontraditional ways in any of the three broad areas the Hepburn Center supports: film and theater, women's health and civic engagement (see related story). The new fellows, who attended the event, are eager to work with Bryn Mawr students, Francl said.
Bacall, who became a protegée of Hepburn when the two met during the filming of The African Queen and remained a close friend throughout her life, delighted listeners with tales of their friendship, portraying the older actress as a strong-willed and perpetually surprising woman. She recounted one incident that, she said, left her speechless. She and Hepburn had both been nominated for the Tony Award for best actress in a musical. The night before the awards ceremony, Hepburn, who rarely attended such events, telephoned Bacall and said, "When my name is announced as the winner, would you mind picking up my award for me?" Bacall, flabbergasted, stuttered an assent.
"But," Bacall told the audience with the sardonic wit that has earned her legions of fans, "I got even with her. I won." Hepburn, she said, sent her congratulations in the form of a self-portrait whose surface was covered with encouraging and affectionate words for Bacall.
Danner, a native Philadelphian who grew up in Rosemont, and confessed that she had "always been in awe of Bryn Mawr," accepted her award with humility, saying, "I feel as if I still have a long, long way to go before I earn this." She praised Hepburn as a trailblazer whose influence was felt far beyond the world of theater and film. Hepburn, she said, had been an inspiration for her throughout her acting career, as evidenced by the number of Hepburn roles she has reprised (coincidentally, she is just about to perform in a revival of Suddenly Last Summer, a Tennessee Williams play made popular by a film adaptation in which Hepburn starred). Danner, an avid environmentalist, also cited the older Katharine Houghton Hepburn, an important early feminist activist, and applauded Bryn Mawr's commitment to women's education.
McFadden, who has been described as a surrogate daughter to Hepburn and is an executor of her estate, charmed the crowd with reminiscences of the star in private moments and with a crack Hepburn imitation — though she admitted that Hepburn had hated hearing herself mimicked. "Who do you think you're impersonating?" she had demanded of McFadden.
McFadden introduced seniors Betsy Gauthier, Laura Kramer, Adama Ordu, Gilda Rodriguez, Nora Sidoti and Laura Sockol, whose remarks on Hepburn's significance in their lives were greeted warmly by the audience. From the podium, McFadden acknowledged Katharine Houghton and ABC World News Tonight anchor Charles Gibson, who attended the event with his wife Arlene Gibson '65, a trustee of the College.
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