For New Yorkers who summered in the city, the heat came in two types. The sticky, humid kind brought on by the Venusian weather conditions, and the withering belches of molten ire that New York Post columnist Liz Smith repeatedly launched at author A. Scott Berg following the July 11 publication of his Katharine Hepburn biography-cum-memoir Kate Remembered.
You weren’t around, you say? Well, here’s Ms. Smith in the Aug. 28 edition of her column: “YOU CAN read ‘Kate Remembered,’ the boring and self-referential Scott Berg memoir on Miss Hepburn, but why not instead read Town & Country this month, carrying its vintage Kate conversation with her pal, the late director George Cukor. (You may have gathered I don’t approve of the vain and narcissistic Berg, and I don’t believe for one minute Kate ‘collaborated’ with him on his self-indulgent little book).”
And in a quote that was picked up by a number of newspapers, Ms. Smith pronounced Mr. Berg’s book, “Self-promoting fakery …. Hepburn would have despised it and his betrayal of her friendship.”
Well, as you might have guessed, Mr. Berg noticed Ms. Smith’s dispatches. When The Transom attempted to contact the author to ask him why he thought the columnist had her knickers in a twist over his book, he issued a written statement via his publisher, G.P. Putnam’s Sons.
“Over the last two months, I have been truly shocked at Liz Smith’s professional behavior-or, more accurately, her lack thereof,” Mr. Berg wrote. “My family and friends have reacted with utter disbelief at the level of personal disdain conveyed by Ms. Smith toward someone she barely knows; (indeed, beyond my appearing at one of her Literacy Volunteer events, I’ve met her but a few times.) And I’ve heard that people I don’t even know are shocked by her personal assault on my reputation, one that stops just short of character assassination.
“I truly-evidently, naively-expected a higher standard from someone who allegedly shares my deep respect for my subject, especially as I wrote about Katharine Hepburn with nothing but the utmost love and admiration,” Mr. Berg continued, adding: “I am unaware of any personal ax Liz Smith has to grind; but her columns certainly make one highly suspicious of her motives in this matter. Whatever the explanation, she seems to have given me more ink this summer than she’s given Liza Minnelli and David Gest! And she’s spelled my name right.”
Mr. Berg may offer no motive, but speculation among followers of this brouhaha is that Ms. Smith’s anger toward Mr. Berg has something to do with Ms. Smith’s close personal friendship with Primetime Monday anchor Cynthia McFadden who, like Mr. Berg, and Ms. Smith, for that matter, was close to Hepburn. Some contend that Ms. McFadden wanted to write a remembrance of Hepburn herself. Others suggest that the contretemps stems from Mr. Berg’s portrayal of Ms. McFadden in the book.
There is one point in Kate Remembered where Irene Selznick, the widow of David Selznick, informs Mr. Berg that Ms. McFadden has “taken over” the room he stayed in when he stayed at Hepburn’s East 49th Street townhouse. And, indeed, there are moments in Kate Remembered when Mr. Berg seems to be bending over backward to show there was no rivalry between him and Ms. McFadden. He also chronicles Ms. McFadden’s 1989 wedding to Hartford Courant publisher Michael Davies at Hepburn’s childhood home, Fenwick. After the wedding, during which Ms. McFadden smeared the first-cut piece of wedding cake all over Hepburn’s face, Hepburn told Mr. Berg that “she thought it was unfair for Cynthia to marry Michael, that Cynthia was more concerned just then with her career than with pleasing a husband and that that was no way to enter a marriage.” Mr. Berg writes that the more Hepburn talked, “the more I felt she was talking about her own marriage to Luddy”-Ludlow Smith, her first husband-“And the more she talked, the angrier she got.” Finally, Ms. Hepburn utters a single word, “Pig.”
Earlier in the book, when Mr. Berg asks Hepburn why she married Smith, whom she largely ignored, she says: “Because I was a pig.” (Mr. Davies and Ms. McFadden have since divorced.)
When we reached Ms. Smith, she told us she didn’t want to hear Mr. Berg’s statement. “I’ll read it in your column,” she said. But she denied that her salvos at Kate Remembered had anything to do with Ms. McFadden. “My reaction to Scott Berg’s book has to do with my love for Ms. Hepburn, not my regard for Cynthia or her family or anyone else,” she said. “This is my supreme personal reaction. I think all of Ms. Hepburn’s close friends and intimates are dismayed by the book” in part, she said, because “no one in Ms. Hepburn’s group of friends even knew he was doing this.” She added: “I did what I think was the very last interview Ms. Hepburn ever gave, at the time of her book, Me. So I’m certainly entitled to be disappointed in a Pulitzer Prize winner whom I have admired in the past, writing such a boring stupid book of betrayal.”
Ms. McFadden, who has since been named the co-executor of Hepburn’s estate, could not be reached for comment, but a friend of the TV journalist told The Transom that though Ms. McFadden has “been approached numerous times through the years about writing a book about Katharine Hepburn, she’s made it clear that she has neither the time nor the inclination.” The friend also said: “Cynthia could care less about how she was portrayed in the book and like many of Hepburn’s close friends was only upset by the deceit that Scott engaged in with Hepburn about his intentions to write a book or biography.”
In his statement, Mr. Berg wrote that over the two decades that he kept in close contact with Hepburn: “Despite our deepening friendship-maybe because of it-she never lost sight of the fact that I was a professional writer, a biographer. Countless times she spoke of my writing a book about her, insisting only that it never be published during her lifetime. On several occasions she suggested that I publish my account of her life as close to her death as possible. I always thought that was because she wanted to set the record straight about her life right away, before other books put other versions out there.”
And though he could not be reached to respond to Ms. Smith’s comments, the final paragraph of his statement states: “I will long take comfort in my surety that Katharine Hepburn would have thanked me for my memoir-all the laughs and even the sad parts-because it is loving and honest … and because it preserves the stories of her life for generations to come.”
The League of Extraordinary Nerds
It’s a bird! It’s a plane! It’s … a group of crime-fighting Oxford dons!
November will see the debut of a new comic book from G.I. Joe publishers Image Comics. Heaven’s War focuses on the Inklings, the scholarly cabal that was centered around Chronicles of Narnia author C.S. Lewis, Lord of the Rings scribe J.R.R. Tolkien and poet and War in Heaven novelist Charles Williams. The group, which used to meet at the Oxford pub Eagle and Child, shared an interest in theology, philosophy and fantasy.
Heaven’s War imagines that the writers were up to something much more than Guinness-fueled navel-gazing. According to an advertisement in the Previews catalog published by Diamond Comic Distributors Inc., the book will be set in 1938, with the world hovering on the brink of World War II when “a secret angelic battle is waged in the heavenly realms to determine mankind’s fate.” The Inklings are pitted against the infamous occultist author Aleister Crowley, who “plans to manipulate those angelic struggles and thus shape the world according to his will.”
In order to stop him, the Inklings “must decipher a landscape of sacred geometry to intercept Crowley at the threshold of heaven.”
We’re not making this up.
What prompted the desire to turn a group of dead fountain-pen-wielding scholars into superheros? It could well be Image Comics’ attempt to cash in on the success of The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, Alan Moore’s D.C./A.B.C. comic about Allan Quatermain, Captain Nemo, Dr. Jekyll, the Invisible Man and Mina Murray (née Harker) from Bram Stoker’s Dracula, who band together in 1898 to save the British Empire from evil. Extremely successful as a comic, League was adapted into an eponymous movie starring Sean Connery that was released this summer to mostly negative reviews and bad box office.
Eric, a marketing manager at Image Comics whose voice-mail messages promised to return calls “as soon as superhumanly possible,” did not, in fact, return calls.
Annoyed With Lloyd
New York party-planners, don’t invite Susan Sarandon and new Daily News columnist Lloyd Grove to the same shindig just yet. The Transom caught up with Ms. Sarandon at the opening of fashion house Akris’ flagship store on Madison Avenue on Sept. 17 and asked what she made of former Washington Post columnist Mr. Grove’s move to her hometown. “It’s unfortunate that you have to start attacking people’s children in order to make a name for yourself,” Ms. Sarandon fumed, referring to a March 18, 2003, Post item Mr. Groves had written that quoted Ms. Sarandon’s mother, Lenora Tomalin. Ms. Tomalin mentioned a breakfast-table imbroglio in 2000 in which Sarandon’s 13-year-old son asked if she had voted for Bush. Ms. Tomalin told the reporter that she wouldn’t discuss politics with a 13-year-old that has been “brainwashed” by his parents.
The item prompted Ms. Sarandon’s other half, Tim Robbins, to approach Mr. Grove at Vanity Fair’s 2003 post-Oscars party and threaten, “If you ever write about my family again, I will fucking find you and I will fucking hurt you.”
“It’s a pathetic legacy to leave-that this would be your job,” Ms. Sarandon continued at the Akris party. “They must be such unhappy people. I feel bad for them. I don’t hold a grudge.”
Mr. Grove called Ms. Sarandon’s comments “nonsense.” “[Ms. Tomalin] had some things on her mind. Unprompted by me, she said them. Even though she’s not a celebrity she thought what she had to say was important and I agree,” he said. “She should take the issue up with her mother, not me.” After 19 years at The Post, where he wrote his column “The Reliable Source” from 1999 until almost two months ago, Mr. Grove’s News column will begin on Sept. 29. “At some point there will be peace, which is Susan’s hope, I think,” he said.
Bring the Pane
“I’ve lived in two different places in New York,” Drew Barrymore said at the premiere of Duplex, a comedy about living in New York City, on Sept. 18 at Clearview Beekman Theatre. “I tended to weirdly get places with no windows and I didn’t realize it in the beginning, and wondered why I was severely depressed by the lack of light in my apartment.” Ms. Barrymore is reportedly shacking up at the Mercer Hotel with Strokes beau Fabrizio Moretti while she awaits renovations-more windows?-to a new Union Square pad. But she wasn’t letting on to any of it. Wearing an off-white Chloé car coat with black trim to match her dyed-blond hair, she told The Transom: “The next place I get, hopefully, will be full of light.”