“I have not lived as a woman. I have lived as a man.” Hep, in Sylvia Scarlett (1936).
KATHARINE HEPBURN: REASONS TO BE QUEERFUL
- Bi-sexual. Having declared, “believe me, I’m NOT a lesbian”, her long-term loves included a 26 year relationship with American Express heiress Laura Harding, Spencer Tracey (some claim this was a disguise for his homosexuality) and director John Ford.
- Rejected marital norms, going on honeymoon in a ‘lavender’ foursome with her only husband ‘Luddy’ Ogden Smith, his boyfriend Jack and her lover Laura Harding.
- Maintained affairs simultaneously while passionately attached to a primary lover. She offered Mrs. John Ford $150k for a divorce and Ford’s favourite child, his daughter.
- Possibly didn’t have much sex at all (see ‘Cold Egg’, below).
- Iconic wearer of trousers. When the Studio’s wardrobe mistresses confiscated her slacks, Hep walked around the set in her knickers until they were returned.
RESISTING GENDER ROLES
- Dashing masculine tailoring that emphasised shoulders and legs, a boyish jaw that spat sarcasm and relished a return batting… Katherine made her own image.
- An indomitable quality, despised generally as unfeminine, had audiences cheering on Hepburn – until they hated her. Some critics lambasted her performances as pompous and unnatural.
- As in our #MeToo, times, patriarchal producers ruled women. Dubbed ‘box office poison’, Hep quit her contract with RKO and went back to the stage to play her greatest role as Tracy Lord in ‘The Philadelphia Story’, bought the rights (or had a lover buy’em for her) and sold them to MGM, on condition that she play Lord – restarting her career.
- In the words of John Ford, she was “a split personality, half pagan, half Puritan.”
- In the words of her own character, Tracy Lord: “I don’t want to be a goddess… the time to make your mind up about people is never.”
EASTER EGG OR EASTER BUNNY?
- Shy Egg: possibly never consummated affairs with Ford or Tracey; confessed to feeling love, admiration and devotion for both men but not sexual attraction.
- Cold Egg: suffered the suicide of her close brother Tom when she was 13. Spent years emulating his behaviour and scientific studies, ‘becoming’ Tom, swapping her May birthday for his November date. Her grief and guilt possibly made it hard to sustain intimacy in a measured way.
- Good Egg: Katharine was a caretaker of men she described as possessing an ‘oversensitivity to life’. You can see her covering for the alcoholic Spencer Tracey, clearly drunk in many scenes in the torpid (if Oscar-winning) ‘Woman of the Year’.
- Easter Bunny: ten-day flings with actors Greta Garbo, Billie Burke, and Elissa Landi, film editor Jane Loring, writers Suzanne Steele and Ernest Hemingway, directors George Stevens, Jed Harrism – and more.
- Good Egg: Tracey’s depredations, lying in his own shit, having other affairs and criticising Katharine, who nursed him devotedly – were not much fun. It’s notable that when reporting her own words of love for Tracey, she always referred to him as ‘friend’. Walking his hearse to the churchyard, after he died of drink-related causes, she whispered, “here’s where I leave you, friend.” Katherine seemed invincible but was bound by her sense of generosity, especially to Tracey: “Love has nothing to do with what you are expecting to get – only with what you are expecting to give – which is everything.”