In 1942, Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy co-starred in Woman of The Year, the first of nine films they would make together and the beginning of a romance that would become legendary.
Their backgrounds and upbringing so different, they seemed the most unlikely of lovers and yet their devotion to each other was undeniable. Smart, independent and strong, Katharine Houghton Hepburn was born in Hartford, Connecticut in 1907, the daughter of a doctor and a suffragette. She learned early to be an independent thinker. Hepburn, with her upper class Yankee beginnings, seemed unlikely to fall for the Irish working class Tracy, whose heavy drinking was well-known. The story of their first meeting on the set of Woman of the Year has become legend. Joseph Mankiewicz, the producer of the movie, introduced Hepburn and Tracy in the MGM commissary where Hepburn quipped, "I'm afraid I'm a little tall for you, Mr. Tracy." To which Tracy replied, "Don't worry, Miss Hepburn, I'll cut you down to my size."
Itís easy to imagine that when a woman with a determined nature makes up her mind to love passionately, that her passion would overcome all obstacles. Of love, Hepburn is quoted as saying: "Love has nothing to do with what you are expecting to get - only with what you are expecting to give - which is everything."
And she did give everything. Perhaps she was the most likely woman to remain devoted to Tracy. A devout Catholic, he never divorced his wife although they were estranged for many years. Because she didnít care for tradition or social pressure, she was able to love him ardently without ever being resentful of not being able to become his wife. The usually liberated Hepburn adored Tracy and uncharacteristically strove to be what he wanted her to be, even trying to change aspects of her personality he might dislike. Of Tracy, she once said she never knew how he felt about her, he didnít discuss it.
Perhaps it was simply a case of the other supplying what each needed. We cannot know what they found in each other that fulfilled and completed them, only that great love is often made greater by challenges and the overcoming of obstacles in its path. The chemistry between them is evident in their films. Yet it seems so out of character for such an early feminist and independent woman as Katharine Hepburn to devote her life to a man who could not bring himself to divorce a wife because of his religious beliefs. She never interfered or flaunted their affair although she cared little about scandal for herself. She did not even attend his funeral out of respect for his family. She said she had never watched Guess Whoís Coming to Dinner, their last film together. Tracy died a few weeks after filming was completed.
It may be in this last film that we see true love. Tracy looks all of his 67 years but Hepburnís love and devotion to this now ill and elderly man is clear. They easily play the long-married couple. They fit each other well, and so it should be; by the time this film was made, they had been together 27 years.
"I have loved and been in love. Thereís a big difference." -Katharine Hepburn, 1993
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