Writer 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 And The Secret Sex Lives Of Stars, which I read in just two sittings in 2012. Vidal had flown in to Los Angeles to be part of Bowers’ book release event. He wanted to assure attendees that Bowers is totally telling the truth in his tell-all memoir. In a speech, he told party-goers he had never caught Bowers in a lie in the 60+ years he had 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 to someone who has never told a lie, so I am going to take Vidal and Bowers at their word: Hepburn was very sexually active with women. I have also been told by several people in showbiz that Hepburn really did dig the girls. I am certain this post will spark some outrage, but let’s go ahead and open-up her closet door a bit, shall we?
If you don’t wish to believe Bower’s version, try film historian and novelist William J. Mann‘s highly readable Kate: The Woman Who Was Hepburn (2004). Mann claims that the famous romance between Hepburn and Spencer Tracy was a tale tended by Hepburn to hide both of their bisexuality. The two stars were, in fact, sexually complicated screen legends that had an enduring companionship, but they were only romantic for a brief moment and never lived together intimately.
Hepburn swung both ways is not too big a bombshell. She called herself “Jimmy”. She won her first golf tournament when she was 16-years-old. She spent three decades with someone called Phyllis. At 70-years-old, she said:
I put pants on 50 years ago and declared a sort of middle road.
There were other hints, too. Hepburn insisted:
I wouldn’t give you 10 men for any one woman. All men are poops.
Except for her very short-lived industrialist husband, Ludlow Ogden Smith, all her boyfriends were bisexual, including Howard Hughes, John Ford and Spencer Tracy.
Hepburn helped keep alive the story that she and Tracy could never marry because he was a devout Catholic committed to his wife of four decades and the mother of their deaf child. Mann used letters and interviews with people who wouldn’t dare talk while Hepburn was alive. Who can blame them? Who would want this formidable woman as an enemy?
Mann reports that Hepburn’s notorious relationship with American Express heiress Laura Harding wasn’t exactly “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 of their love affair were simply too obvious and boring to belabor.
Her platonic pals were gay, too: Binkie Beaumont, Bobby Helpmann, Noel Taylor and Hepburn’s longest-standing male chum, George Cukor.
It’s not so surprising that Hepburn actually liked women, yet it is a shock just how many of them she managed to experience. Her first affair was at college with a devoted girl called Alice Palache. She quickly moved on via a few men to Harding. There was Nancy Hamilton and Frances Rich, Constance Collier and Elissa Landi. How on earth did she keep all this from the press? Apparently: “lesbian” was, for Hepburn, a specific term to describe a very butch woman, not her type at all.
In the 1930s, Hepburn dared to challenge the male studio execs that controlled her career and she made it work for her. She became a businessperson, negotiating a better salary and better roles at a time when that sort of thing just wasn’t done. She was a true American original who could accomplish anything, and a role model for women.
Hepburn was helped, too, by the fact she did sometimes go for guys, and by her general dislike of sex the chasteness of almost all her relationships meant she didn’t have to lie too much about them.
Hepburn’s career spanned six decades. Her range was astounding, especially considering that the roles were always secondary to her own personality. She celebrates her 112th birthday today, May 12.