Katharine Hepburn was a rarity in Hollywood. With her headstrong personality and boyish fashion sense, she certainly wasn’t your typical starlet. Strutting around in trousers, Hepburn had a unique charisma that carried her through one of the longest careers in Hollywood. She was private and tight-lipped. But behind the scenes, Hepburn had a terrible penchant for secrets.
Plagued by her dark history and plunged into the most impossible romances, Katharine Hepburn’s celebrity life wasn’t always the fairy tale it seemed to be.
1. Her Family Was Scandalous
Born May 12, 1907, Katharine Hepburn grew up in a delightfully large and free-thinking family. But within her community in Hartford, Connecticut, the Hepburn family drew hateful whispers and condemnations. Her parents were shamelessly progressive, with her mother taking her to “Votes for Women” demonstrations, and her father speaking out about the spread of venereal disease.
Though the townspeople thought them scandalous, young Hepburn already knew that her parents were “remarkable.” In fact, the Hepburns encouraged their daughter to do something that would undoubtedly horrify their peers.
2. She Hated Being A Girl
Growing up, Hepburn despised being a girl. She identified more with the boys, and decided to chop off all of her hair, insisting that everyone call her “Jimmy.” Instead of persecuting her tomboy nature, her parents celebrated it, encouraging her to be her authentic self. Because of their unconditional support, she blossomed into a woman destined for greatness.
Hepburn became a talented golfer, but even more importantly, she began digging into her love of movies, putting on plays in her backyard. She had a healthy and charming childhood…But little did she know, her life was about to take an unbelievably dark turn.
3. She Thought He Was Happy
When she was 13 years old, Katharine Hepburn and her older brother, Tom, went on an exciting trip to New York during their Easter break. Staying with their aunt, the siblings seemed to be the very picture of happiness, with Tom insisting that this was by far one of the best experiences of his life. Hepburn could never have imagined how quickly this moment of euphoria would come crashing down around her.
4. She Made A Disturbing Discovery
The morning after a pleasant outing to the theatre, Hepburn discovered something so disturbing—it would haunt her for the rest of her days. She found her beloved 15-year-old brother, Tom, hanging from the attic ceiling by a curtain tie. By all appearances, he had tragically died by suicide. Hepburn was inconsolable—but her family’s reaction to the incident was downright chilling.
5. She Was Never The Same
Denial crept through Hepburn’s grieving family like a disease. They refused to admit that Tom had taken his own life, and kept insisting that it must have been some kind of botched experiment. Hepburn herself underwent a disheartening transformation. She became a more anxious person, distrustful of other people. And as time wore on, the loss of her brother continued to burden her—and she began retreating in unsettling ways.
6. She Turned Her Back On Everyone
Katharine Hepburn began isolating herself and had a hard time connecting with other children. This pushed her to a drastic decision. She ended up dropping out of school, earning her education through a private tutor instead. No matter where she went, the memory of Tom followed. It wasn’t until 1924 that she finally stepped out of the shadows.
7. She Was A Loner
Hepburn enrolled in Bryn Mawr college to please her mother—and at first, she was hesitant about mingling with the other students. She felt terribly self-conscious and awkward in class, and for a month, she refused to join the other girls in the dining hall. But her struggle to fit in wouldn’t last forever. After all, Hepburn was a born rebel, and she was about to make quite a splash…literally.
8. She Was A Rebel
In her second year of studies, Hepburn joined the drama group and ended up playing the leading man in one of the plays. It required her to dress up like a man, and it was a look that she often donned offstage as well. In one of her more wild moments, Hepburn even stripped off her clothes and bathed in the cloister pond—her every asset exposed to the open air. Oh, but that wasn’t all.
9. She Was Fearless
College opened up a whole new world to Hepburn, unleashing her risk-taking sensibilities. On one occasion, the school even suspended her for smoking in her dormitory. And then there were the boys. In particular, Hepburn sparked a flirtatious romance with one man, Ludlow Ogden Smith. And behind closed doors, these two lovebirds got up to some indecent shenanigans.
8. She Posed For Him
Hepburn’s lover, Ludlow Ogden Smith, or “Luddy,” was a socialite-businessman and her future husband. But as Hepburn later confessed in her autobiography, throughout their courtship, the couple never went all the way. Of course, she still undressed in front of her beau. Katharine Hepburn had no qualms about dropping her intimates in front of Smith’s camera, sometimes posing for him without wearing a stitch of clothing.
But like many cases of young love, Hepburn and Smith came together at the wrong time—and in the end, fate dealt them a brutal hand.
9. She Took A Risk
After getting a taste of theatre in college, Hepburn knew in her heart that this was her ultimate dream. However, this did not convince her father. Being an actress often went hand-in-hand with poverty, and he couldn’t envision her success. Forever strong-willed, Hepburn forged forward, and could only hope to prove him wrong—but it wasn’t going to be easy.
10. She Had An Annoying Voice
Believe it or not, Katharine Hepburn was not one of those actresses that made a sudden leap to fame. She started in theater and, at first, she stumbled in the most humiliating ways possible. Critics immediately nailed her for her piercing voice, and this harsh feedback sent her running straight to a voice tutor. But that was only a preview of the horrifying reviews to come.
11. She Faced Utter Humiliation
Only a month into her theatre career, Hepburn really dropped the ball. After the lead for The Big Pond got fired, Hepburn stepped up to the plate as the understudy. But when opening night arrived, her entire performance came apart at the seams: she showed up late, messed up her lines, rushed the dialogue, and even physically tripped over herself.
Unfortunately, the humiliation didn’t end there.
12. She Almost Gave It All Up
After being fired from The Big Pond, her failures just kept coming. Frustrated and vulnerable, Hepburn made a decision that shocked the theatre world: She decided to marry her college sweetheart Ludlow Ogden Smith. But after only a few weeks of playing the wife, Hepburn was over it. She ran straight back to her career while simultaneously fanning the fires of one of her biggest regrets.
13. She Took His Love For Granted
Through their six years of marriage, Hepburn exploited her husband’s deep devotion for her. Later, she admitted, “I wasn’t fit to be married because I only thought about myself.” To his credit, Smith was a doting husband, supporting his wife both emotionally financially. But his affections were never fully reciprocated. In her autobiography, Hepburn went so far as to call herself a “terrible pig” for carelessly toying with his love.
In the end, her heart was made for the theatre—a challenge she was determined to master.
14. Nobody Wanted Her
Truth be told, Katharine Hepburn couldn’t hold down a job. No matter how hard she tried, the theatre companies kept firing her. In 1931, she asked dramatist Philip Barry why he didn’t want her in his play. His response was so painfully honest, it cut her to the core: “Well, to be brutally frank, you weren’t very good.” But remember, Hepburn was never a fragile little flower.
Although the rejection threw her for a loop, she just kept trying. Good thing she did, because just as Hepburn began to flounder, she landed the role that would change her life forever.
15. She Got Lucky
By 1932, Hepburn was only a step away from the fame she craved…she just didn’t know it yet. Her big break was in The Warrior’s Husband, a Broadway show that finally reaped the positive reviews she’d been dreaming of. And like any proper Hollywood fairy tale, there was a scout in the audience who couldn’t take his eyes off of the magnetic lead.
16. She Was An Oddball
Hepburn’s role in The Warrior’s Husband led her straight to the threshold of RKO studios for a screen test. Director George Cukor warmed to the actress immediately: “There was this odd creature, she was unlike anybody I’d ever heard.” Hepburn captivated RKO studios with her forceful and fiery nature. She was different—and Cukor was willing to pay an unbelievably high price to have her.
17. She Didn’t Come Cheap
Although landing a role in A Bill of Divorcement was a chance of a lifetime, Katharine Hepburn laid down the law. She wanted $1,500 per week, which, for an unknown actress, was basically unheard of. The studio took a massive risk in casting Hepburn—but they wouldn’t regret it. She was the queen of mastering a challenge—and when she stepped onto set with the inimitable John Barrymore, she surprised them all.
18. She Broke Down The Doors
Although A Bill of Divorcement was Hepburn’s very first acting gig, she seemed completely unphased by the pressure of it all. She didn’t wilt, she blossomed. When her debut performance hit the big screens, critics were agog with delight, with Variety saying, “She has a vital something that sets her apart from the picture galaxy.”
But as Hepburn soon realized, the world of Hollywood was far more than just playing pretend. Behind closed doors, the personal lives of actors were filled with their own dramas—and before long, she, too, found herself swept up in scandal.
19. She Had An Affair
Hepburn’s move to Hollywood brought her failing marriage to its inevitable end. Not only because of her skyrocketing career, but because of the lurid affair she embarked on with the married agent, Leland Hayward. Surprisingly, Hepburn’s divorce ended on a peaceful note, and she and her ex-husband remained friends for the rest of her life.
But where one romance ended, some believe that Hepburn entertained multiple dalliances. While Hepburn fooled around with Leland Hayward, she also busied herself with falling for another man. And she kept this infatuation as quiet as possible.
20. She Fell For Another Man
According to controversial biographer Barbara Leaming, Hepburn also caught the attention of director John Ford, whom she worked with on the set of 1936’s Mary of Scotland. Ford, who usually didn’t care for directing women, took an obvious liking to Hepburn. Instead of ignoring her, he sought her out. During breaks, he’d sit next to her, the adoration practically spilling out from behind his round spectacles.
Some argue that they were just close friends…but there’s reason to believe that they were far more than that.
21. She Was One Of The Boys
Ford and Hepburn were like two peas in a pod: they joked, and played, and bantered with one another. There was an ease to their growing friendship, and more likely than not, it was because Hepburn fit in with the rest of the boys. She wasn’t dainty or shy, but instead, spouted her opinions and rough-housed like the rest of them. But that wasn’t all.
22. She Changed His Mind
Hepburn wanted to know everything about filmmaking and that drew John Ford like a moth to a flame…and yes, he was bound to get burned. By the time Mary of Scotland had wrapped, the director was head over heels for his tomboyish lead. In fact, he was so enamored with her that he twisted his plans around for her. As an alcoholic, Ford usually binged after finishing a film—but not this time.
23. She Took Him With Her
Instead of rounding up his cronies and heading out on his yacht to drink himself silly, Ford did something unexpected. He stayed with Hepburn, who’d offered to show him the delights of the sea in her hometown, Fenwick, Connecticut. But sadly, this unlikely couple had only the riptides of reality to look forward to…
24. She Was A Part Of A Twisted Love Triangle
Ford was a very religious man and, even in the face of Hepburn’s temptations, he refused to sleep with her. He had every intention of getting a divorce and marrying Hepburn, but he came up against his most ruthless rival—his wife, Mary. The second he tried to get escape her, she unleashed her most devastating trump card.
25. She Tried To Buy Him
Hepburn’s hopes of making a life with Ford all came crashing down when his wife threatened to take his daughter away from him. According to Ford’s niece Cecile De Prit, Hepburn even tried to sway Mary with a stunning sum of $150,000, hoping to free both Ford and his golden child in the process. But the actress sorely underestimated Mary.
After all, this was the same woman who had supposedly vowed, “I’m going to be John Ford until I die.” Sadly, this entire fiasco would lead to a horrifying climax.
26. She Came To His Rescue
Hepburn couldn’t believe it when producer Cliff Reid called her in a panic. Director John Ford had done something completely out of character: He’d gone on a wild drinking bender while in the midst of filming. Reid immediately called Hepburn for assistance. The actress rushed to Ford’s home where she found him alone and completely inebriated.
She whisked him back to her dressing rooms at RKO studios and tried to sober him up—but she made a horrifying mistake in the process.
27. She Made Things Worse
In an attempt to help him, Hepburn forced Ford to drink both whiskey and castor oil. She did not reap the desired results. To her horror, instead of making him feel better, the cocktail made the director grievously ill. Hepburn felt sure that she’d nearly killed him. But even worse? She realized she couldn’t save him from his self-destructive behavior.
But while the actress waited in vain for her tormented director, her other lover, Leland Hayward grew more and more impatient.
28. She Turned Him Down
After both Hepburn and Hayward secured divorces, it seemed like they were finally free to marry. But this was not what Hepburn wanted, and she dealt Hayward a heartbreaking blow: She turned down his proposal. Later, she explained, “I liked the idea of being my own single self.” But rejecting a powerful man like Hayward was a risky business. As she soon learned, the consequences were severe.
29. She Watched Him Marry Another Woman
Whether it was because Hepburn snubbed his proposal, or because of her affair with Ford, Hayward ended up giving the actress a cold shoulder. He’d originally promised her a part in the play Stage Door—but after her betrayal, he ripped it out from under her feet, offering it to Margaret Sullavan instead. Hayward rebounded hard, and after getting Sullavan pregnant, he married her.
His nuptials stunned Hepburn, who became increasingly aware of her uncertain love life and, moreover, her teetering career.
30. She Wasn’t Popular
By 1936, Hepburn’s acting career had taken a worrisome nosedive: She starred in four consecutive flops. To make matters worse, she turned the press against her with her prickly personality. Hepburn could be abrasive and downright rude. As a very private person, she hated doing interviews and refused to give autographs. This wasn’t winning her any popularity points, and soon, she’d earned herself an unfortunate nickname.
31. She Was Arrogant
The public gave Hepburn a stinging moniker—”Katharine of Arrogance”—but this only scratched the surface. You see, audiences were beginning to turn against her. She had catapulted to the top because of her unique qualities, but now, her questionable attire and manly attitude drew harsh criticisms. Hepburn wasn’t a demure lady, and never would be.
Aware of her falling star, Hepburn began to realize just how fickle Hollywood could be.
32. She Didn’t Get The Part
Failure quickly became a bitter pill to swallow. When Hepburn learned about the epic feature Gone with the Wind, she decided to go for the part, hopeful that this would be her next big project. As we know, she was in for another staggering disappointment. Producer David O. Selznick threw a dagger right through Hepburn when he outrightly denied her the part of Scarlett O’Hara.
Even more upsetting? He did in the most insulting way possible.
33. She Wasn’t Attractive Enough
Selznick’s reasons for icing Hepburn out had a touch of cruelty in them: He told her that she wasn’t sensual enough and that she lacked the character’s sex appeal. Allegedly, he said, “I can’t see Rhett Buttler chasing you for twelve years.” For a short while, Hepburn decided to run away from Hollywood and its barbed insults—and it led her straight into the arms of her next romantic conquest.
34. She Captivated A Millionaire
Stepping away from the film world, Hepburn starred in the theatrical play Jane Eyre. This job took her on tour, and in January 1937, she received a dinner invitation from the notorious rake, Howard Hughes. But this wasn’t the first time they’d met. These two celebrities had quite the mutual friend in Cary Grant, and after introductions were made, Hughes couldn’t get Hepburn out of his head.
When she landed in Boston for a two-week run of her play, Hughes jumped at the chance to take her out on the town.
35. She Was His Opposite
Hughes took Hepburn on a number of dates, and the two of them made quite the pair: the millionaire aviator and the glamorous actress. He was quiet, tall, and pale, with a haunted look in his eye. In jest, Hepburn said he resembled John the Baptist. She, on the other hand, rattled on into the night, effortlessly filling the gaps in the conversation.
Hughes certainly wasn’t your typical prince charming, but something in Hepburn balanced him unlike any other. Secretly, however, Hepburn still pined for somebody else.
36. She Moved In With Him
Although Hepburn still held a burning flame for Ford and hoped that he’d finally leave his wife, it never happened. By May 1937, she’d tired of waiting around and made a startling decision: She moved in with her new boyfriend, Howard Hughes. In many ways, it was an overwhelming kind of existence. Her beau was filthy rich, and with that, endless luxuries came hurtling her way.
37. She Had Every Luxury At Her Fingertips
For Hepburn, life with Hughes included yachts, airplanes, attention, and power. Her new home was just a stone’s throw away from a fancy country club where she could play as much golf as her heart desired. And, of course, her man was famous. While together, Hughes set a new record for traveling around the world. Hepburn and Hughes were flying high—but in the end, no amount of money could buy them true love.
38. She Tested Him
After his record-breaking success, Howard Hughes accompanied Hepburn on a trip to visit her family in Fenwick. Partway through their journey, he surprised Hepburn with the ultimate question: He wanted her to marry him. But Hepburn wasn’t about to give up her independence so hastily. She still had one more test for Hughes, and if he wanted her to be his wife, he’d have to pass it.
39. She Loved Her Family
To Hepburn, her family was one of the most important things to her. Before she could wed Hughes, she wanted to know that he loved what she loved; she wanted him to be as enraptured with her hometown as she was…It was never going to happen. Upon arriving in Fenwick, it became aggressively clear that Hughes detested the entire visit. But that wasn’t the worst part.
40. She Didn’t Marry Him
Hepburn’s family couldn’t believe Hughes’ behavior. He seemed completely uninterested in them, and overall, came off as arrogant and discourteous. That was it—the nail in the coffin. Hepburn would never marry a man who rubbed up against her home life like sandpaper. Eager to escape Fenwick, Hughes ended up returning to the West Coast…without Hepburn.
Luckily for Hepburn, her brief romance with Hughes wasn’t for nothing. In fact, it was he who’d bought her the film rights for her brilliant comeback.
41. She Was Box Office Poison
After starring in 1938’s Bringing Up Baby, Hepburn ended up being called “box office poison.” It was not a good look for the struggling actress. After buying out her contract for $75,000, she found herself back on the stage, touring The Philadelphia Story. The show was a huge success, and thanks to her generous ex-boyfriend, she had the film rights hidden in her back pocket…
42. She Held The Trump Card
Because Hepburn shined so brightly in The Philadelphia Story, Hollywood was eager to produce a film adaptation. This time, Hepburn called all the shots, and boy, did she aim high. Firstly, she sold the rights to the best studio in the business, Metro-Goldwyn Mayer. But she was only getting started. The feisty actress also had a strict set of conditions.
She wanted her Hollywood throne back, and she was going to do anything to get it.
43. She Picked The Best Of The Best
When it came to casting The Philadelphia Story, Hepburn knew exactly what she wanted. She was going to be the star (obviously). But she also picked two amazing actors to flank her—Cary Grant and Jimmy Stewart. The movie was tailor-made to restore Hepburn’s reputation. She needed audiences to fall in love with her all over again; they needed to “laugh at her enough that they would ultimately sympathize with her.”
This was a masterful plan, and only a sharp-minded actress like Hepburn could have pulled off one of the most impressive comebacks in Hollywood.
44. She Made Them Laugh
Hepburn gave the public exactly what they wanted. In the opening of The Philadelphia Story, Cary Grant’s character knocks her right over. This less-than-glamorous entrance lined up with Hepburn’s keen understanding of the public’s opinion of her: “A lot of people want to see me fall flat on my face.” She wasn’t wrong about that—and when the film hit the screens, her hard work reaped gold.
45. She Ran The Show
To Hepburn’s delight, her plan worked flawlessly. The Philadelphia Story was an absolute success. Her star rose once again, with Time magazine exclaiming, “Come on back, Katie, all is forgiven.” But Hepburn wasn’t done being a competent businesswoman just yet. This starlet was more than a pretty face, and she wasn’t done proving herself.
46. She Made A Life-Changing Decision
Hepburn was a fearless woman in charge, and most fittingly, her next project was a rom-com titled Woman of the Year. Once again, she got the ball rolling, winning herself a fair share of power in the process. She got to pick her director, George Stevens, and her leading man, Spencer Tracy. Little did she know, meeting Tracy would turn her life upside down.
47. She Met Her Match
Many believe that Spencer Tracy was the love of Katharine Hepburn’s life, and Woman of the Year marked the beginning of their tumultuous romance. Allegedly, on their very first day of working together, Hepburn told Tracy “I’m afraid I’m too tall for you.” His response was perfect. He quipped back, “Don’t worry Miss Hepburn, I’ll soon cut you down to my size.”
They shared chemistry right from the get-go, but it was so much more than that.
48. She Fell In Love At First Sight
Hepburn fell for Tracy the instant she laid eyes on him; she “knew right away that [she] found him irresistible.” But at first, Tracy wasn’t as equally enamored with his leading lady as she was with him. He eyed her dirty fingernails with disdain and even wondered whether she might be a lesbian. However, it wasn’t long before he fell under her spell.
49. Her Onscreen Romance Captivated Audiences
Hepburn and Tracy’s onscreen tension captivated the imaginations of their audiences, many of whom became convinced that Hepburn and Tracy revealed their real-life passion for one another in their scenes. Their popularity had studios casting them opposite one another time and time again. But in reality, their connection was far more complicated than it seemed.
50. She Had A Longstanding Secret
Hepburn and Tracy’s performances were so easy—so filled with meaningful eye contact—that audiences began to get suspicious. In order to keep their actors’ morality clauses in check, the studios were on the couple’s side and worked to bury their secret love affair. The resulting radio silence only bred rumors. Of course, almost everyone in Hollywood knew the scandalous truth.
51. She Followed Him Blindly
Fellow actor, Gene Kelly, fondly remembered Hepburn and Tracy on set. He recalled, “they’d just meet and sit on a bench on the lot. They’d hold hands and talk—and everybody left them alone in their little private world.” Even Hepburn’s close friend Lauren Bacall wrote about her blind passion for Tracy. Unfortunately, this “little private world” was a downright mess.
52. She Watched Him Spiral
Hepburn and Tracy were perfect for one another—but there was one huge problem standing in their way. Tracy was a married man, and as such, his dalliance with Hepburn only fed his growing Catholic guilt. His religion took him to the darkest places. When his son was born deaf, Tracy blamed himself. He felt like it was God’s punishment for his many sins.
As time passed, Tracy’s demons only stalked him harder, and as his lover, Hepburn was along for the ride.
53. She Would Never Be His Wife
Hepburn accepted that Tracy was never going to leave his wife for her. His devotion to his religion wouldn’t allow it. However, that didn’t stop his home life from becoming terribly unhappy. Tracy distanced himself from his wife and children, spending most of his time in rented spaces or motels. Not only that but his love for Hepburn could never be publicly celebrated.
Unfortunately, for Hepburn and Tracy, they were doomed to keep this secret forever.
54. She Wanted To Help Him
Tracy never lived with Hepburn and, while he and his wife were alive, Hepburn never acknowledged their long-standing relationship. But beneath the overarching silence, Hepburn’s lover circled the drain. Tracy battled anxiety, depression, and addiction. Hepburn herself called him “tortured.” As she witnessed his pain, all she wanted to do was heal him—but that was easier said than done.
55. She Made Sacrifices For Him
Although audiences adored seeing Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy together, their love significantly affected her career. By the 1940s, Hepburn began devoting large chunks of her time to helping her lover with his insomnia and drinking problem. She became utterly determined to see him succeed and even gave up a role in The Razor’s Edge so that she could better support Tracy’s moment on Broadway.
Whenever she was around Tracy, Hepburn became a chameleon. He brought out something in her that nobody else could—and sometimes that shift could be rather unsettling.
56. She Mothered Him
In many ways, Hepburn was a maternal figure in Tracy’s life. She wanted him “to be happy, safe, comfortable. I liked to wait on him, listen to him, feed him, work for him. I tried not to disturb him…I was happy to do this.” All this, and Hepburn still kept it to herself. She certainly had a motherly inclination toward her lover—but when confronted with the notion of becoming a mother, Hepburn had a brutal response at the ready.
57. She Didn’t Want A Baby
Katharine Hepburn freely admitted that she never wanted to have children. She’d gotten a taste of parenthood in being a sister to her younger siblings, and felt that that was quite enough. She also confessed, “I would have been a terrible mother because I’m basically a very selfish human being.” But if there was one contradiction to Hepburn’s self-proclaimed selfishness, it was her undying devotion to Spencer Tracy.
And when she wasn’t in his orbit, Hepburn continued to persevere in the dog-eat-dog world of Hollywood.
58. She Never Backed Down From A Challenge
During the decades she spent with Tracy, Hepburn also enjoyed a prosperous career. Unlike many of her contemporaries, she achieved the near-impossible: staying relevant even as she aged. She was flexible and moved toward the parts that interested her the most. In the 1950s, Hepburn even took a risk by dipping her toes into Shakespeare’s As You Like It.
Never backing down from a challenge, she said, “It’s better to try something difficult and flop than to play it safe all the time.”
59. She Became His Personal Nurse
The 60s presented Hepburn with some harrowing challenges. For one, Spencer Tracy’s health went into a rapid decline. She stepped away from acting for five long years just to care for him. In the end, they both returned to the screen for their ninth and final film together, 1967’s Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner. But it was an incredibly bittersweet experience.
60. She Feared For His Life
Throughout the filming of Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, Spencer Tracy chased his final days. Hepburn’s niece, Katharine Houghton, who played Hepburn’s daughter in the film, recalled how “extremely tense” her aunt was on set. For Tracy, there was no coming back from the heart disease that plagued him, and it was only a matter of time before Hepburn’s worst fears came true.
61. She Didn’t Go To His Funeral
On June 10, 1967—only 17 days after the film wrapped—Spencer Tracy passed. His secret partner and devoted love, Katharine Hepburn, was at his side—but she couldn’t grieve publicly. Still respecting the sanctity of their secret, she didn’t even attend his funeral. Hepburn let Tracy’s wife’s grief take center stage and stepped back into the shadows.
It would be a long time before she could finally proclaim her truth.
62. She Kept Her Lips Sealed
Hepburn waited until 1983 before she finally spilled the beans, confirming the rumors. Once Tracy’s wife passed, she was finally free to speak openly about her feelings for Tracy and share details about their unconventional relationship. When asked why she had decided to stay with him for so long, she delivered the most heartbreaking answer imaginable.
63. She Couldn’t Leave Him
Hepburn revealed that she couldn’t quite pinpoint her motivation to stay with an unavailable man. However, she knew in her heart that this was how it needed to be, even saying, “I can only say that I could never have left him.” But while this infamous Hollywood love story seemed like an open-and-shut case, some believed that there were secrets hidden behind the secrets.
64. She Might Have Been A Lesbian
Throughout her entire life, Katharine Hepburn faced criticism about her boyish looks and fashion sense, not to mention her masculine attitude. She had no real interest in marriage or babies, and as a result, the media began to wonder whether Hepburn was a lesbian. But it didn’t end there. Once linked to Spencer Tracy, the rumors expanded to include him as well.
65. She Sparked Debate
Just as there’s controversy surrounding Hepburn’s supposed relationship with John Ford, there’s also a great debate about her relationship with Spencer Tracy. Some believe that their affair was a cover for their true desires—that Hepburn was a lesbian, and Tracy was gay. The actor’s struggle with depression is often cited as a consequence of his repressed feelings for men.
In the wake of these rumors, multiple people have come forward with their own startling evidence
66. She Was His Cover
A male “madam” to Hollywood actors, Scotty Bowers, insisted that Hepburn and Tracy “were merely friends…They were not in the bed department at all.” He even goes so far as to claim that he was intimate with Tracy, and found partners for Hepburn. Additionally, in a 2017 documentary, one of Hepburn’s friends, columnist Liz Smith also shared the same belief. But not everyone agrees.
67. Her Niece Tells A Different Story
Hepburn’s co-star and niece, Katharine Houghton, responded to these rumors, saying, “I’ve never discovered any evidence whatsoever that she was a lesbian.” Whatever the case may be, the speculation could not detract from Hepburn and Tracy’s unique bond—an undeniable connection that survived the many barriers that stood between them.
Although the loss of Tracy left a burning void in her personal life, Hepburn handled her grief in a singular way.
68. She Faced Her Grief
Instead of shrinking away from the limelight, Hepburn raced toward it. She had many scripts presented to her and landed on Lion in Winter. When Hepburn portrayed Queen Eleanor of Aquitaine, she was actually portraying her own ancestor. She was descended from Eleanor through her marriage to Henry II of England and Louis VII of France.
Her devotion to the project paid off. After winning Oscar the previous year for Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, Hepburn won again (she won a total of four times). She held onto her fame with an iron grip, but as the actress aged, she changed in more ways than one.
69. She Opened Up
Hepburn had always been ambivalent of the press. As she grew older, however, she began to open up a little bit more. In 1973, she even graced Dick Cavett with a delightful two-hour interview which allowed her fun-loving personality to shine through. One thing was for sure: Katharine Hepburn certainly knew her own mind. Her opinionated nature never waned, and she certainly didn’t mind if her views ruffled some feathers.
70. She Didn’t Believe In God
Hepburn proudly advocated for birth control and the right to abortions. When asked about her politics, she didn’t clam up or give a vague answer. Nope. She frankly said, “I always just say be on the affirmative and liberal side. Don’t be a ‘no’ person.” Even her religious views were sure to disappoint some audiences. She was a firm atheist through and through.
71. She Had A Touching Reunion
In 1973, misfortune reunited Hepburn with one of her supposed flames, John Ford. Ford’s grandson, in writing a book about him, asked Hepburn to meet with his grandfather. He recorded her touching conversation with Ford—and got a lot more than he bargained for. You see, when he left to grab something from his car, he left the tapes rolling.
Hepburn and Ford and no clue they were still being recorded—and unwittingly, they revealed a heartbreaking insight into their relationship.
72. She Loved Him To The End
Alone in a room with the ailing John Ford, Hepburn tells him to take a nap, and that she’ll be back to visit him. Ford says “Okay…I love you,” to which Hepburn responds, “The feeling is mutual.” This stolen moment—private and bittersweet—is at least some evidence that Hepburn and Ford had a deeper history than most believed.
Sadly, in the August of that same year, the talented director, John Ford passed on. As Hepburn grew older, her contemporaries, friends, and lovers began to disappear. But still, she remained. Hepburn had a lot more living to get on with.
73. She Was Forever Young
Even into her 80s, Katharine Hepburn was a force to be reckoned with. Her athleticism didn’t cease with her old age and she continued to play tennis, almost daily. She even discovered new hobbies like painting. When confronted with notions of mortality, she stated, “I have no fear of death. Must be wonderful, like a long sleep.”
74. She Shared A Private Letter
Decades after Spencer Tracy’s passing, Katharine Hepburn revealed the contents of a letter she’d written to him. In it, she pondered the reasons as to why he had such a hard time sleeping, and even living: “Are you happy finally? Is it a nice long rest you’re having? Making up for all your tossing and turning in life.” And that wasn’t all.
75. She Had Unanswered Questions
In the letter, it’s clear that Hepburn grappled with understanding Tracy’s demons. To her, he was simply the best: “Here you were—really the greatest movie actor. I say this because I believe it…You were it in an instant.” But as much as Hepburn cared for him, her letter revealed that, in many ways, Tracy was still a mystery to her.
However, when it came to spilling old secrets, Hepburn wasn’t done yet.
76. She Revealed A Longstanding Secret
As we know, Hepburn’s brother Tom took his own life when he was only 15—a loss that shaped the rest of her life. After his passing, her grieving process drove her to do something quite surprising: She changed her birth date to his, making her two years older. Hepburn, the queen of secrets, kept this one lie alive until she published her autobiography, Me: Stories of My Life, wherein she confessed her real birthday.
77. She Suffered
In the spring of 1993, Hepburn’s health finally took a hit. Up until then, she’d continued to act, but after being hospitalized for exhaustion, her decline began in earnest. Three years later, pneumonia came for her in a brutal way, and by 1997, the outlook was bleak. Hepburn had very little energy and could barely talk or eat. But unfortunately, this was only the beginning of the nightmare.
78. She Outlived Most Of Her Contemporaries
Hepburn held on for six more years, but it was an incredibly difficult time. The actress struggled with dementia, and in 2003, a disturbing tumor appeared in her neck. The end was undoubtedly year, and in the summer of that year, Hepburn passed from cardiac arrest. But there was one silver lining. 96-year-old Katharine Hepburn had closed her eyes in the place she loved the most—her family home in Fenwick, Connecticut.