Closer Weekly - - Contents -

Forty years after the hit sit­com’s de­but, stars shares their top be­hind-the-scenes mem­o­ries.

There’s a fa­mous story about the first time Katharine Hep­burn met Spencer Tracy. The Os­car-win­ning ac­tors were set to star to­gether in 1942’s Woman of the Year, TCM host Ben Mankiewicz tells Closer: “My great un­cle, [pro­ducer] Joe Mankiewicz, in­tro­duced them. And Katharine says, ‘I’m afraid, Mr. Tracy, I’m a lit­tle too tall for you.’ And then Joe says, ‘Don’t worry Kat, he’ll cut you down to size!’ ”

That turned out to be true. At the time, Katharine was at the top of her game com­ing off of The Philadel­phia Story. She was also known for hav­ing “pure de­ter­mi­na­tion and sheer force of will,” says her nephew Mundy Hep­burn. But when Kate met Spence, as she called him, and em­barked on a 27-year love af­fair with the mar­ried ac­tor, it changed her. “I loved Spencer Tracy,” she wrote in her mem­oir, Me: Sto­ries of My Life. “He and his in­ter­ests and his de­mands came first.” Even though he re­fused to leave his wife, and de­spite his al­co­holism, Katharine stood by her man. “The re­la­tion­ship be­tween them was fas­ci­nat­ing. They were kin­dred spir­its,” Christo­pher An­der­sen, au­thor of An Af­fair to Re­mem­ber, tells Closer, mar­veling that they kept it se­cret for so long de­spite the fact that they were so fa­mous.

Katharine had al­ready dated fa­mous men, in­clud­ing Howard Hughes, when at 33 she met Spencer, 41. “I found him ir­re­sistible,” she said. She called him “the per­fect ac­tor,” but he also made her laugh. “He had the most won­der­ful sense of hu­mor,” she raved. Ben Mankiewicz cred­its her with broad­en­ing Spencer’s ca­reer. “She ex­posed his abil­ity to do com­edy,” he says, as can be seen in many of their nine films to­gether.


“I could never have left him. He was there — I was his.”

— Katharine

Spencer, how­ever, was an al­co­holic. And he’d been mar­ried to ac­tress Louise Tread­well, with whom he had two chil­dren, since 1923. He re­fused to divorce. “He felt guilty be­cause he had a deaf son,” says An­der­sen. “He also didn’t want to put his wife through scan­dal.” So he and Kate “had to sneak around,” adds An­der­sen. He would spend week­ends with his fam­ily and the week­nights with Katharine. “He would come back on a Sun­day and Kate would have din­ner ready for him.”

She was de­voted to his hap­pi­ness. “When they were around other peo­ple, she sat at his feet and wor­shipped him,” says An­der­sen. Still, “on the big is­sues,” such as her want­ing to go film The African Queen in the Congo, Kate stood firm.

And they fought. “They had pitched bat­tles,” An­der­sen notes. When Spencer drank, “he threw chairs through restau­rant win­dows!” Katharine ad­mit­ted that he even hit her “once” in a drunken stu­por. She thought about AA, she said, but wor­ried it would de­stroy his ca­reer if news got out. And she re­fused to leave him. “If I had,” she said, “we both would have been mis­er­able.”

That be­lief kept her by Spencer’s side un­til his death from a heart at­tack 17 days after they fin­ished film­ing 1967’s Guess Who’s Com­ing to Din­ner. Even years later, Katharine, who died in 2003, in­sisted she had no re­grets. “Love has noth­ing to do with what you are ex­pect­ing to get — only what you are ex­pect­ing to give,” she said, “which is ev­ery­thing.”

— Lisa Cham­bers, with re­port­ing by Katie Bruno

Their life to­gether, “was, to me, ab­so­lute bliss,” Katharine

once said. “It is called love.”

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