Post Apocalyptic Bohemian favorite writer- Gore Vidal vouches for his buddy- Scotty Bowers, who claims that he set Katharine Hepburn up “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 last spring.
Vidal flew in to L.A. 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 partygoers he’s never caught Bowers in a lie in the 60+ years he’s known him, noting that in L.A. “you can meet 1,000 liars a day". I think there is a difference between never catching someone in a lie as opposed someone has never told a lie, but I will take Vidal & Bowers at their word: Katharine Hepburn was a very sexually active lesbian. That closet door is now open.
If you don’t want to go with Bower’s version, try noted film historian- William J. Mann's Kate: The Woman Who Was Hepburn, published in 2004. Mann tells that the epic romance of Katharine Hepburn & Spencer Tracy was a fable cultivated by Hepburn to hide their bisexuality. The pair of stars were sexually complicated screen legends that had an enduring companionship but were only briefly passionate & never lived together intimately.
Hepburn fostered the belief that she & Tracy could never marry because he was a devout Catholic committed to Louise Treadwell, his wife of 43 years & mother of their deaf child. Mann used documents & interviews with people who wouldn't talk while Hepburn was alive. & 8 years before Bower’s book, Mann insists that it was at gay director George Cukor's estate that he met a Hollywood hustler identified as "Scotty," a mechanic who staffed his gas station with "handsome young bucks, just home from the war" who for $20 were "happy to wash their hands (or not) & take a trip with a client to the back room."
Mann writes that Scotty related: "Tracy would always be drinking when I arrived. He'd get so loaded. He'd sit there at the table drinking from five o'clock in the afternoon until two in the morning, when he'd fall onto the bed & ask me to join him. ... & in the morning he'd act like nothing happened."
According to Mann, Hepburn's notorious relationship with American Express heiress Laura Harding wasn't "lesbian," but it sure 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."
There is a famous story about the making of the film adaptation of Tennessee William's notorious Suddenly, Last Summer that starred Elizabeth Taylor, the very gay Montgomery Clift & Katharine Hepburn. Hepburn, as Violet Venable was so obsessed with her dead son, Sebastian, that she wants to have her niece, played by Taylor lobotomized rather than have it revealed that he was homosexual.
Apparently Hepburn was clueless that this was a film about homosexual lust & the director, Joseph Mankiewicz, & screenwriter- the very gay Gore Vidal, had to explain it to her. Meanwhile, she nailed the role as the disturbed, evilly controlling mother.
This anecdote works against the image of independent, smart Hepburn, the Connecticut feminist Yankee who supposedly seduced Hollywood’s leading men- Spencer Tracy, Gary Grant, Humphrey Bogart & James Stewart. In her real life, Hepburn followed in the footsteps of her mother who pioneered reproductive freedoms & the right of American women to vote.
In the 1930s, where of the strict studio system made & crushed careers, Hepburn challenged studio execs & made it work for her. She grew as a businesswoman, commanding salaries & negotiating roles at a time when it was just not done. She was a symbol of a true American original who could accomplish anything.
Hepburn's career spanned decades & her range was legendary, even while her roles were always secondary to her own personality.
Was there ever a gayer film than the1937 camp classic- Stagedoor in which Hepburn perfected the screen ingenue, uttering the line: "The calla lillies 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 a favorite Hepburn performance at Post Apocalyptic Bohemia,
Hepburn excelled in screwball comedies like Bringing Up Baby with bi-sexual Carey Grant who uttered the famous line: "I’ve turned gay all of the sudden!" For gay audiences, Hepburn inadvertently developed an androgynous image in such roles as the cross-dressing Sylvia Scarlet.
After being victimized by studio mouthpieces & 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. More than any other actress of the period, Hepburn controlled her own career.
In the 1940s & 1950s, Hepburn launched a classical stage & film career, transitioning beautifully, at a time in her career when most stars would retreat to predictable vehicles that would showcase them. Among other things, she tackled Shakespeare onstage while in her 50s, at the same time becoming the first lady of American cinema, eventually nominated for 12 Best Actress Oscars & winning 4 times, a record.
She bravely stood with her colleagues Humphrey Bogart & Lauren Bacall during the trials of the Hollywood 10, screenwriters, actors & directors called before the Senator Joseph McCarthy's House on Un-American Activities Committee in protest of their unconstitutional Senate investigations, without risk of guilt by association. Hepburn made The African Queen (which is not about Ru-Paul) with Bogart.
Hepburn is a Gay Icon. She was a tough-minded authority as a liberal thinker. Gay men & lesbians love her equally, if for different reasons, & even if she didn't acknowledge he won gayness, it is impossible to ignore Hepburn’s impact on Gay culture, Gay minds & Gay hearts. Hepburn was Fierce.
I only saw her live once, in L.A. circa 1971, in a mess of a musical- Coco, playing Coco Chanel, with a book & lyrics by Alan J. Lerner & music by Andre Previn, with sets by the very gay Cecil Beaton, choreographed by the very gay- Michael Bennett, with a cast that included: René Auberjonois, George Rose, David Holliday, Bob Avian, Jon Cypher, Suzanne Rogers, Graciela Daniele,& Ann Reinking. To prepare for Coco, Hepburn received singing coaching with MGM’s very gay muscial producer Roger Edens. She was simply brilliant & breathtaking in the role. I loved her & ran out to by the cast album. I do a terrific imitation of Hepburn singing the title song. Ask me sometime.
My favorite Hepburn role was in 1975’s Love Among The Ruins with Lawrence Olivier, although I have studied every moment of The Philadelphia Story. The Husband’s choice is The Lion In Winter. What is your favorite Katherine Hepburn performance?