Each and every great love story is unique. Though the message of true, passionate, undying love is constant, the tale of how this is reached is undoubtedly individual, and there is most certainly no ‘right or wrong’. Some love stories, perhaps, at the time, do not conform to what society describes as a ‘proper’ relationship — but years later, while looking back at the details and circumstance, it is discovered to be an undeniably great love story . . .
The romance of Spencer Tracy & Katharine Hepburn is one such story. Never confirmed publicly until years after Spencer’s death, their romance was an affair — but what makes it truly special is the fact that is spanned 27 years.
Spencer Tracy was the man of the moment — a top paid, much sought-after Hollywood actor. He was a terrifically hard worker — throughout his entire career making 75 films — and also a terrifically hard ‘player’. He enjoyed frequent nights out on the town and would never turn down a dry martini. It was during the filming of Woman of the Year that he met, who would ultimately be his soul mate, Katharine Hepburn.
Katharine was unlike any other actress of the time: she wore pants before they became fashionable, said exactly what she felt, and kept her private life just that — private. She was seen as unconventional and avant-garde, and became the epitome of the ‘modern woman’.
“I have not lived as a woman. I have lived as a man. I’ve just done what I damn well wanted to, and I’ve made enough money to support myself, and ain’t afraid of being alone.” –Katharine Hepburn
At their introduction on the set of Woman of the Year, Katharine famously quipped, “I fear I may be too tall for you, Mr. Tracy.” To which the film director, George Stevens, quickly retorted, “Don’t worry, he’ll soon cut you down to size.”
“I think most of the people involved in any art always secretly wonder whether they are really there because they’re good or there because they’re lucky.” –Katharine Hepburn
Perhaps it was this amicable beginning which lead them to immediately become so fond of each other — within one week they were calling each other ‘Spence’ & ‘Kate’, and would eat their lunch exclusively together in the parking lot of the studio, holding hands and talking and laughing. Though never discussed, the cast and crew knew to let them be — this was their private time together.
Although their bond was instantly recognizable, Spencer, however, was married to actress Louise Treadwell, and despite a public and mutual ‘trial separation’, he refused to confirm the affair, and as a devout Catholic, did not officially divorce Louise, despite their long estrangement.
“I’ve been loved, and I’ve been in love. There’s a big difference.” — Katharine Hepburn
Though their relationship was never confirmed, they were announced as a ‘couple’ by the media, and the public adored them. Careful never to be photographed together, except for promotional film photographs, they always stood steadfast by their statement that they were not romantically linked — but the sheer fact that they made nine films together, and the very obvious chemistry between them in each and every one, kept the world in doubt of their claims.
“Life can be wildly tragic at times, and I’ve had my share. But whatever happens to you, you have to keep a slightly comic attitude. In the final analysis, you have got not to forget to laugh.” –Katharine Hepburn
Above, in the film, “Woman of the Year”, 1942
In 1963, after years of partying, drinking and smoking, Spencer was hospitalized following a ‘severe attack of breathlessness’. After his release from hospital, Katharine moved into his house and cared for him around the clock. Over the next few years, his health improved and declined like a rollercoaster, but during a notably ‘better’ time in 1967, he was able to make his last film with Katharine, Guess Who’s Coming For Dinner. On June 10th, 1967, 17 days after filming completed, Spencer died in the early hours of the morning while making himself a cup of tea. In her autobiography, released many years later, Katharine described of the night, “Just as I was about to give [the door] a push, there was a sound of a cup smashing to the floor—then clump—a loud clump.”
Out of respect for Spencer & Louise’s two children, and for the fact that the two were legally still married, despite the many years of separation, and also, in an effort to not draw any negative media attention at a time of such sorrow, Katharine did not attend Spencer’s funeral service. However, she would later mention that she did follow the hearse on a six-mile journey through the streets of Los Angles, pulling away just as it arrived at the church, and whispering quietly “Goodbye, friend — here is where I leave you.”
“I loved Spencer Tracy. I would have done anything for him.” –Katharine Hepburn
It is a great love story such as this that does not need to be spoken of, does not need words, and can never truly, no matter how many times one tries, be denied. Most certainly not conventional or traditional, this great love affair is a testament to the power of true love and the notion that, once one has crossed paths with one’s soul mate, the force of that encounter may make it impossible not to be swept completely and utterly away . . .
“Love is nothing to do with what you are expecting to get – only with what you are expecting to give, which is everything.” –Katharine Hepburn
“You can’t change the music of your soul.” –Katharine Hepburn