Katharine Hepburn (screenwriter) ME AND PHYLLIS [ca. 1985] A Screenplay


[New York]: Joseph E. Levine, [ca. 1985]. Vintage original film script, 11 x 8 1/2″ (28 x 22 cm.), leatherette wrappers, brad bound, 119 pp. Wrappers lightly warped, final pages lightly dampstained, overall near fine.

A remarkable find — a screenplay written by Hepburn in which she portrayed her relationship with Phyllis Wilbourn, her longtime assistant, with whom it is now presumed that there was a long term same-sex relationship. The script is obviously written in a manner where the presumed sapphism of their relationship is glossed over, but nonetheless hints about the true nature of their connection do emerge in places.

Wilbourn had formerly worked with Constance Collier for two decades. Collier was a well-to-do British woman, a well-known lesbian, and a long-time friend of such other figures as Eva Le Gallienne and Mercedes de Acosta.

The following is from Elisa Rolle’s blog Queer Places. Rolle insists at one point below that Hepburn and Wilbourn were not lovers, if only because they maintained separate residences. However, given the mores of the times, if there was a romantic relationship between the two, that would have allowed Hepburn to more easily maintain a fiction about the two of them.

“When Collier died, Wilbourn’s world had come to a crushing standstill. Her grief was overwhelming. ‘I have never had any contact with death before,’ she wrote to George Cukor, ‘but now I find myself remembering the oddest little things and the wonderful wisdom and humor.’ What brought Wilbourn out of her depression was ‘a wonderful talk’ with Hepburn. ‘Greta Garbo wanted me to look after her,’ Wilbourn later told Scott Berg, ‘but then Miss Hepburn stepped in and swept me away, thank goodness.’

“Becoming a U.S. citizen in 1957, Wilbourn understood her life was now inextricably bound with Hepburn’s. She cooked, cleaned, and typed letters, and for miles and miles of highway she sat beside Hepburn and endured her moods. She was simply there for a woman who could not, ever, abide being alone. ‘She is a totally selfless person,’ Hepburn said in her memoir, ‘working for a totally selfish person.’ Hepburn wasn’t totally selfish — her ministrations to Spencer Tracy prove that — but once she’d made him his dinner and seen him safely tucked into bed, she’d come back home to Wilbourn and expect her own dinner to be waiting for her. And it always was.

“Hepburn and Wilbourn were not, as some have presumed, lovers. Though Wilbourn was with Hepburn from sunrise until late at night, she maintained her own apartment on East Seventy-second Street, which, at least for a time, she shared with another woman. When it came to the word lesbian, Wilbourn could be as touchy as Laura Barney Harding. Introducing Wilbourn to Scott Berg, Hepburn called her ‘my Alice B. Toklas’, prompting great umbrage from Wilbourn, who complained the description made her sound like ‘an old lesbian.’ Hepburn was amused. ‘You’re not what, dearie, old or a lesbian?’

“‘Neither,’ Wilbourn insisted. Those who remembered her relationship with Collier, however, thought she may have been protesting too much.”

The script itself takes place when Hepburn is on tour with a play, at first in Chicago. Scenes in this episodic script include:

— Incidents pertaining to her one husband who she is now in touch with as he is dying, though she divorced him in 1933 (giving the excuse it was because she was too ambitious);

— An amusing scene with the manager of the theatre regarding the AC system concluding with her telling everyone how it needs to operate;

— Candid moments when Hepburn talks directly to the camera about her thoughts;

— Hepburn dressing and making herself up for her theatre performance as she recites a monologue about her feelings of aging and continuing to be relevant in the acting world;

— Interacting with fans, all of whom she remembers, knows and acknowledges;

— Hepburn’s advice to the young actress in the show who has decided to have an abortion and Hepburn’s arranging that for her. In this storyline Hepburn displays her thoughts on sex, relationships, children and the thinking of oneself first in order to have a career, as well as women’s inequality.

Hepburn comes across much of the time as harsh, and she portrays herself in this unflattering way, hard on those around her. Though she is hard on the long devoted Phyllis, she openly acknowledges her and in an appreciative moment says that she could not do without her.

There are several scenes of banter between Hepburn and Phyllis. One is in which the two come back to their hotel suite after a performance as they quibble about mundane things such as where Phyllis likes to keep the room key, which according to Hepburn is the opposite of what she would do, and then what they are going to prepare and eat for dinner, which always ends up being exactly the same thing, all of it quite a bore in Hepburn’s opinion. They tend to bicker back and forth like a couple who have been together for a long time. There are several scenes in which this kind of relationship plays out.

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