Welcome back to our regular series on intriguing screen relationships over the years. As we grow, we learn so much about relationships from what we see on screen. Now, as over 50 dating experts, we think it’s interesting to take a peek behind the curtain about what was really going on in those relationships. This time, we’re taking a look at the story of one of the silver screens hottest love affair: Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn.
It is one of the most famous and forbidden Hollywood relationships; Katherine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy’s almost 30-year affair has sparked much controversy over the years so it’s no surprise that there is now talk now of a screenplay in the running based on their rollercoaster illicit romance.
Katherine was a confident, successful, ferocious actress who prided herself in “putting men in their places” by accentuating her intimidating height with high heels to tower over the opposite sex in order to get what she wanted.
In 1941 after nine years of being a highly respected and sought-after Hollywood actress, well known for her spirited character and strong female presence, Kate finally met her match when she began filming “Woman of the Year” with legendary actor and heartthrob Spencer Tracy. Their mutual professionalism, stubbornness and independence sparked an immediate chemistry which not only worked exquisitely onscreen but off screen too.
Spencer had married in 1923 to actress Louise Treadwell and had two children. During his marriage he struggled to stay faithful but being a devout Catholic -and blaming himself for his son’s deafness- he would not divorce his wife. Instead, he removed himself from the family home in 1933 and the couple openly told the media about their separation.
Eight years later, when Spencer and Kate began their first ever on-screen romance, it became clear to not just them, but the rest of the cast and crew alike that the attraction between the two was unstoppable. In a world struggling with the male/female power trip, Tracy and Hepburn explored the issues of their time both on and off camera in the roles they would ultimately play for the rest of their lives. They were nonetheless exceptionally secretive about their off-screen relationship and the public remained unaware about one of Hollywood’s biggest love scandals until Katherine came clean in 1983.
Kate had previously (and quite famously) turned down the advances of Leland Hayward and Howard Hughes causing gossip to circulate surrounding her sexuality; Spencer had therefore made quite an achievement in successfully wooing the untameable Miss Hepburn. Kate, on the other hand, was well versed in the public knowledge of Tracy’s relationship with Loretta Young and the fact that he refused to divorce his wife and remarry – but this was perfect for Kate who believed that an actor was too involved with themselves and unable to give the right amount of attention to a spouse. Their relationship seemed like the perfect match.
One of the secrets to their long-lasting love affair was the intense stimulation they provided one another- Kate and Spencer constantly challenged each other and encouraged personal growth. That’s not to say that their romance was all sunshine and rainbows, however.
It wasn’t long before Tracy’s drinking problem became apparent to Kate and she quickly realised that he was an acutely tormented soul and would need a lifelong carer which she dutifully obliged to be by being his chauffeur, his cook, his lover and his support worker. Kate was so dedicated in her role as Spencer’s caregiver that she put him before her acting career and only took on jobs that allowed her to be near him. This, the pair concluded was the only way to save him from himself.
When Spencer’s health eventually deteriorated in the 1960s, Kate continued her loyalty towards him and spent five years caring for him in his home until his death in 1967. Despite her long-running relationship with Tracy, she decided at the last minute to not attend the funeral out of respect for his family. She did, however, call his wife, Louise, shortly after the death to ask if she could help with the children to which she responded, “I thought you were only a rumour”.
Devoted mistress for almost 30 years, Katherine Hepburn finally spoke out about Spencer Tracy and hers intimate yet intense relationship in a biography which was released after her death in 2003. A secret romance story revealing shocking truths about what happens behind closed doors and the things we endure for love.