Saturday, 10 May 2014

Old Hollywood Closet

"But far and away the most fascinating of all of Hollywood's “New York Marriages” was of a couple who weren't married to one another at all - Katherine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy.

In 1942 Hepburn, the defiantly “unfeminine” unashamedly upper-class star of comedy and drama (once deemed “Box Office Poison” when she hit a bad patch in the 1930's) filmed Woman of the Year, a huge comedy hit in which she co-starred for the first of nine times with Spencer Tracy. On-screen chemistry was such that more than one film fan imagined them married in “real life.” But Hepburn who was married to a gentleman named Ludlow Ogden Smith from 1928-1934 was single - though she lived “quietly” (as the Hollywood Closet would have it) with several women over the years.

Tracy, who married Louise Treadwell in 1923 stayed married to her until his death in 1967. And it was at that point the myth-making apparatus of the Tracy-Hepburn “love story” switched into high gear. They were indeed “a couple,” Hepburn apparently willing to put up with Tracy's alcoholic abusiveness as his wife never did. But those closest to the couple doubt that there was anything sexual about their co-dependency.

Tracy needed “looking after,” and one of the best places to do so was the bungalow of George Cukor's home that the great gay director had set aside for him and Hepburn. It was ideal also as long-time Cukor friend critic Kevin Thomas notes “Tracy loved to hear gossip.” And where better than at George's. As for “Kate” while her dalliances with director George Stevens and entrepreneur Howard Hughes have been noted, her sapphic sorties haven't been given much attention at all, even by bio-hagiographer A Scott Berg, whose Kate Remembered ranks as one of the of the least-revealing books of its kind ever written. Still Berg manages to “drop a hairpin” via a quote from producer Irene Mayer Selznick, who knew La Hepburn all-too-well.

Recalling how she once found a mysterious young women a Hepburn's town house and saw “an exchange between the two of them that suggested a level of intimacy she had never allowed herself to believe. 'Now everything makes sense,' Irene said to me. 'Dorothy Arzner, Nancy Hamilton - all those women. Laura Harding. Now it all makes sense. A double-gaiter. I never believed that relationship with Spence was about sex.” Indeed. For what it was really about was an actress who knew Hollywood's “New York Marriage” game so well, she could play it without even “going to New York.”

Could a modern Hepburn get away with such nonsense now? That's open to question."

Excerpt from Faking It : Hollywood's "New York Marriages" by David Ehrenstein