A peek inside the private world of legendary actress Katharine Hepburn reveals a woman resembling the strong-willed characters she often portrayed.

A trove of personal documents going on display in February at the New York Public Library portrays Hepburn as the kind of woman who would call the Oklahoma cop who had arrested her a moron to his face and take a stand in defense of a vulgarity uttered in a Los Angeles stage production.

But she could also be insecure about her acting ability, documenting how hard she worked. There are copious notes Hepburn used for help with intonation, cadence or pitch.

The library acquired thousands of pages of notes, journals, annotated scripts, contracts and letters pertaining to Hepburn's stage career through the executor of her estate, journalist Cynthia McFadden.

The collection will be accessible to the public starting in February and spans the late 1920s to the early 1990s, including the handwritten letter of introduction to producer/director George Tyler in which the soon-to-be star is deemed a young actress of possibilities.

The four-time Oscar winning actress, who died in 2003 aged 96, comes off as determined and witty, sometimes arrogant, often imperious.

Yet the collection reveals little about her personal life. One leather scrapbook from the play Coco bears the monogram S.T., presumably that of her most famous lover, Spencer Tracy.

The catalogue includes dog-eared scripts with Hepburn's notations in the margins, pristine photos and well-worn correspondences. Apparently she saved pretty much everything.

Responding to what is in essence a fan letter from Charlton Heston during her final Broadway play, The West Side Waltz, she writes, What a nice letter. Many, many thanks.

One text details a speech to an audience on the 1970 campus killings of four youths at Kent State University during an antiwar demonstration. Hepburn, who generally eschewed politics in her public life, asked for a minute of silence.


Other papers reveal she sometimes doubted her abilities.

She was very nervous about doing 'Coco,' said Bob Taylor, curator of the library's Billy Rose Theatre Division, referring to the 1969 Broadway musical about the designer Coco Chanel.

She'd never done a musical ... It didn't always come easily to her. She worked very hard doing these vocal exercises, he said, pointing to her notes.

A 1950 journal entry from her tour in As You Like It recalls being arrested by an Oklahoma police officer she describes as handsome in a dull sort of way.

Hepburn recounts that she slammed the door in his face upon arriving at a lawyer's office, before boldly declaring: I have been arrested by this moron.

In 1971, Hepburn fought for her right to use the word s--- in the Los Angeles production of Coco, arguing for its artistic merit.

She describes the barring of the word as curiously head in the sand in an era of literature and cinema and theatre where every other expression is a four-letter word ... To me it is a seriously arbitrary decision and a false one -- and alas one which injures very much our play.

Hepburn prevailed, the expletive went back in, and to mark her victory, she saved a letter from the producers to one Miss Esther Mackrow of Los Angeles, who registered the first written objection over the matter. Miss Hepburn was quite right, the producers wrote.