Katharine Hepburn didn't mince words. "I hate to pose," she told Life magazine editor and photographer John Bryson when he arrived in Oregon to photograph both her and John Wayne during the 1974 filming of "Rooster Cogburn."
Bryson was relieved; he wanted action photos, not posed hokum.He got his pictures. Hepburn apparently liked them; the two became friends.
Bryson continued to visit the actress over the years, often to take pictures of her at work, at play and, most of all, at home in both Old Say-brook, Conn., and New York.
Hundreds of rolls of film later, Bryson's images have found their way into "The Private World of Katharine Hepburn," a backstage look at the woman behind the legend.
Some of the 165 photographs - all taken during the past 16 years - were shot on assignment for various magazines; others resulted from personal visits.
But whether made for hire or for fun, Bryson's fine images are made in the classic mold of Life magazine celebrity photojournalism - that is to say, they are professional, well-composed, well-lit, crisply focused photographs depicting the subject in credible action. Bryson's straightforward technique is devoid of artifice and gimmickry.
If at first glance the pictures look candid, upon closer inspection you might suspect a few instances of coaching on the photographer's behalf - you know: "Look toward the window, Kate" or "OK, now lean back against the hearth." Some are just too studied in their candor.
But it doesn't really matter; most of the pictures feel natural, even if they are not. What makes this Hepburn-Bryson collaboration unique is its attempt to portray the actress honestly rather than glamorously. There is no mythmaking here, no evidence of any effort to glorify or prettify.
Some shots depict a rather dowdy Kate, especially one pre-dawn picture of her preparing for a day on the set of "On Golden Pond."
In a few other pictures, her trademark oversize clothes give her the look of a sophisticated bag lady. At home, we see her outfitted in working duds, climbing trees and clipping branches, collecting wildflowers, paddling a canoe through the marshes, schlepping firewood into New York City.
Many photographs, of course, show the Hartford, Conn., native at her best, especially those made on or near the sets of such films as "On Golden Pond," "The Corn Is Green" and "The Ultimate Solution of Grace Quigley" or during rehearsals for stage shows such as "A Matter of Gravity" or "West Side Waltz."
And many of the at-home shots shine with the aristocratic actress's casually classic grace and beauty.
Bryson could never have captured the authentic Hepburn on film without her cooperation, and she deserves kudos for allowing him such honest access.
This warts-and-all portrait, divorced from movie-star mystique, is as close as most of us are going to get to the real Katharine Hepburn.
In the book's preface, Hepburn explains why the collaboration worked: "I just like him. I trust him."