Lilly Library Manuscript Collections


The Eichler mss., 1928-2002, consist primarily of letters between educator, journalist, and businessman David Kemble Eichler, 1913-2003, and actress Katharine Hepburn, 1907-2003. At the age of 26 with only a bachelor's degree from Franklin & Marshall College, Eichler was named head of the English Department at Chestnut Hill Academy in Philadelphia. In 1939 he enrolled at Harvard University for his doctorate in philosophy, but later transferred to the business school earning an M.B.A. in 1943. After a stint in Washington, D.C. where he worked for the State Department and as a free-lance journalist, he returned to Chestnut Hill in Philadelphia spending much of the rest of his life in the realty and construction business.

Eichler's friendship with Katharine Hepburn began in 1939 after seeing her in a Broadway performance of The Philadelphia Story. Eichler introduced himself to Hepburn and wrote a lengthy letter expressing his awe of her performance in this play and of her earlier role in The Lake. Hepburn responded with thanks. Further correspondence followed, resulting in a friendship that lasted until her death in 2003. Many of Hepburn's letters are brief thank-you's usually for flowers sent by him, but some discuss her latest projects. The collection contains about 95 letters from Hepburn to Eichler and about 80 copies of letters from him to her.

The correspondence is arranged in chronological order. Included are letters to Eichler from Enid Bagnold, Aug. 14, 1979 and Oct. 21, 1980; a note from director Anthony Harvey, June 1, 1995; letters from Hepburn's niece Catharine Houghton, Aug. 20, Sept. 24 and Oct. 18, 1977 and Sept. 22, 1985; and several thank-you notes from Hepburn's long-time companion Phyllis Wilbourn. Also present in the collection is a card from director George Cukor to Hepburn, probably sent in Dec. 1979. Filed with the letters are diary-like notes detailing Eichler's encounters and phone calls with Hepburn.

Among the many photographs are snapshots of Eichler's home in Philadelphia, Hepburn's home in Fenwick, Old Saybrook, Connecticut where Eichler was a guest from time to time and publicity shots of Hepburn, including one inscribed to Eichler. Printed items include magazines, clippings from magazines and newspapers concerning Hepburn, and a photocopy of her last will and testament. The collection also contains invitations to various functions concerning Hepburn, as well as programs and playbills for several of Hepburn's plays. Completing the collection is a Bryn Mawr College yearbook from 1928, containing photographs of Hepburn and listing her as a member of the swim team.

A box and folder list is available.

Purchase. 2004

Box/Folder List

  • Box 1
    • folder 1: Biographical material on David Kemble Eichler
    • folders 2-8: Correspondence, 1939-1985
  • Box 2
    • folders 1-5: Correspondence, 1986-2002 and undated
    • folders 6-11: Photographs
  • Box 3
    • folder 1: Printed: magazines and clippings
    • folder 2: Printed: photocopy of Hepburn's last will and testament
    • folder 3: Invitations
    • folders 4-5: Playbills and programs
    • folder 6: Bryn Mawr College yearbook, 1928

Collection size: 400 items

For more information about this collection and any related materials contact the Public Services Department, Lilly Library, Indiana University, Bloomington, IN 47405. Call (812) 855-2452 or send an email using our Ask a Question form.