May 12, 1907- Katharine Hepburn. Gore Vidal vouched for his buddy Scotty Bowers who claims that he set Katharine Hepburn up on dates “with over 150 different women” in his dishy juicy book Full Service: My Adventures In Hollywood & The Secret Sex Lives Of Stars, which I read in 2 sittings in 2012. Vidal had flow in to LA to be part the book’s release event. He wanted to assure attendees that Bowers is totally telling the truth. In a speech, he told party-goers he’s never caught Bowers in a lie in the 60+ years he’s known him, noting that in Hollywood “you can meet 1,000 liars a day”. I think there is a difference between never catching someone in a lie as opposed someone who has never told a lie, so I am going to take Vidal & Bowers at their word: Hepburn was a very sexually active with women. Let’s open her closet door.
If you don’t wish to believe Bower’s version, try film historian & novelist William J. Mann‘s excellent, highly readable Kate: The Woman Who Was Hepburn (2004). Mann claims that the famous romance between Hepburn & Spencer Tracy was a tale tended by Hepburn to hide both their bisexuality. The 2 stars were, in fact, sexually complicated screen legends that had an enduring companionship but were only romantic for a brief moment & never lived together intimately.
Hepburn helped keep alive the story that she & Tracy could never marry because he was a devout Catholic committed to his wife of 43 years & mother of their deaf child. Mann used documents & interviews with people who wouldn’t talk while Hepburn was alive.
Mann reports that Hepburn’s notorious relationship with American Express heiress Laura Harding wasn’t “lesbian,” but it certainly was sexual. Mann:
“Hepburn admitted as much to friends like James Prideaux, cutting him off with a shrill ‘Of course!’ when he asked about Harding … as if the subject were simply too obvious & boring to belabor.”
In the 1930s, Hepburn dared to challenge the male studio execs that controlled her career & she made it work for her. She became a businessperson, & negotiated a better salary & better roles at a time when that just wasn’t done. She was a true American original who could accomplish anything, a role model for other women.
Hepburn’s career spanned 6 decades & her range was legendary, especially considering that the roles were always secondary to her own personality.
Was there ever a gayer film than Stage Door (1937) where Hepburn as an ingénue utters the line: “The calla lilies are in bloom again”? Cast opposite Gay Icons Eve Arden, Lucille Ball, Ann Miller & Ginger Rogers, she played it broadly & autobiographically, as the daughter of a wealthy businessman who wants a career in the theater with no prior training. It remains one of my favorite Hepburn performances.
Hepburn was terrific in screwball comedies like Bringing Up Baby (1938) with Cary Grant who uttered the famous line: “I’ve turned gay all of the sudden!” Hepburn inadvertently developed an androgynous image in such roles like cross-dressing Sylvia Scarlet (1935).
After being badmouthed by studio brass & being branded “box office poison” by the press, Hepburn refused to be ignored. She starred on Broadway in Philip Barry‘s The Philadelphia Story, purchasing the rights to star in the film version. More than any other actress of that era, Hepburn had control her own career.
In the 1940s & 1950s, Hepburn launched a classical stage & film career, transitioning perfectly, at a point in her career when other actors might retreat to predictable projects that would showcase them. She tackled Shakespeare onstage in her 50s, at the same time becoming the First Lady Of American Film, eventually nominated for 12 Oscars & winning 4 times, at the time a record (Meryl Streep has 19 nominations, but 3 wins).
In the 1950s, risking guilt by association, Hepburn bravely stood by her friends Humphrey Bogart & Lauren Bacall during the trials of the Hollywood 10: screenwriters, actors & directors called before Senator Joseph McCarthy‘s House Un-American Activities Committee in protest of the unconstitutional Senate investigations in Communists in Hollywood. Together, Hepburn & Bogart made The African Queen (1951), which is not about RuPaul.
Hepburn is a true Gay Icon. She was a tough-minded, authority bunking, liberal thinker. Gay men & lesbians love her equally, if for different reasons. Even if she didn’t acknowledge her own gayness, it is impossible to ignore Hepburn’s impact on our Gay culture & Gay hearts. Hepburn was FIERCE.
“If you obey all of the rules, you miss all of the fun.”
I only saw her live once, in LA circa 1971, playing Coco Chanel in a mess of a musical Coco, with a book & lyrics by Alan J. Lerner & music by Andre Previn, with sets by gay Cecil Beaton, choreographed by gay Michael Bennett. To prepare for the role, Hepburn received singing coaching from MGM’s gay musical producer Roger Edens. She was simply brilliant & breathtaking in the role. I loved her & ran out to purchase the cast album immediately. I do a terrific imitation of Hepburn singing the title song. Ask me sometime.
My favorite Hepburn role is in Love Among The Ruins (1975) with Lawrence Olivier, although I have studied every moment of The Philadelphia Story (1940). The Husband’s choice is The Lion In Winter (1968). What is your favorite Katharine Hepburn performance?