The Kate – The Katharine Hepburn Museum in Old Saybrook, CT

Just about two hours from New York in Old Saybrook, Connecticut, is a former theatre that has now become The Kate, the more informal name of The Katharine Hepburn Museum. It’s within a short drive of her beloved Fenwick, where she lived for decades as did her parents before her. Raised by parents she said were a “remarkable pair of people, brilliant, and left of center and full of excitement,” she remained in that house, visiting often, and in the years before her death in 2003, drove in on most weekends from her Manhattan townhouse.  

It’s a royal treat for either Kate fans, or classic movie enthusiasts, and as a Kate fan for as long as I can remember, I thrilled at seeing her handwritten letters, samples of her paintings, costumes, ancient bicycle, gifts from her leading men — including an exquisitely detailed painting of fishing hats by Henry Fonda given after their On Golden Pond was completed. We begin the museum tour at the beginning, Kate’s early days with her family, through her school days, auditions, and determination to become an actress. There are pictures, memorabilia, and letters. She was inspired by her parents who told their children to “move boldly through life.” That she was the one of the first actresses to wear pants, take charge of her own career, taking risky business chances, she did just that.

We see Hepburn’s Fenwick house after the devastating hurricane in 1938 and pictures of Kate digging through rubble before it was rebuilt. We heard about how a neighbor found a bathtub somewhere in the area after the storm and thought it was Hepburn’s. It was, and it’s on display, too. The remaining exhibit displays cover different phases of Kate’s career: the 1920 to 1940’s as she went from promising young actress to box office poison to back on top with The Philadelphia Story and the start of her successful movies with Spencer Tracy.  After Tracy’s death in 1967, Kate went on to tackle Shakespeare, Broadway productions, and TV films and continued working until the 1990’s. There are scripts, costumes, home movies, and interviews including her famous Dick Cavett appearance when she visited the studio without warning to see the space, and then suggested they might as well just do it. Clips are shown on a video monitor.

Every year, The Kate presents the Spirit of Katharine Hepburn Award to an individual who “embodies her bold spirit, fierce independence and distinctive character.” Among the recipients are Sam Waterston, Cher and recently, Candice Bergen, who was honored for her life’s work, but also for her wise-cracking, portrayal of the independent Murphy Brown. The bronze sculpture is a classic Kate pose, sitting cross legged with an open-collared shirt and her trademark slacks. 

Up the stairs to the second floor is the “performing arts” space that includes showings of movies —  Kate’s and other classics – concerts, comedy nights, and plays. 

Visit The Kate for museum details, calendar of events and ideas for dining, and lodging. 

Complimentary tours are given throughout the day so call ahead to confirm days and times.

Donations accepted. Gift shop on premises.  

Photos by MJ Hanley-Goff

About MJ Hanley-Goff (169 Articles)
MJ Hanley-Goff has been contributing to Woman Around Town since its inception in 2009. She began her career at Newsday in the early 90’s and has continued writing professionally for other New York publications like the Times Herald-Record, Orange Magazine, and Hudson Valley magazine. Former editor of Hudson Valley Parent magazine, she also contributed stories to AAA’s Car & Travel, and Tri-County Woman. After completing her novel and a self-help book, she created MJWRITES, INC. to offer writing workshops and book coaching to first time authors, and also college essay writing help to students. MJ has recently made St. Augustine, Florida her home base, and is thrilled and honored to continue to write for WAT and the amazing adventures it offers. Despite the new zip code, MJ will continue to keep a pulse on New York events, but will continue to focus on the creative thinkers, doers, and artists wherever they are.