She was trying to act nonchalant. She even made a joke about his being too short for her. But when Katharine Hepburn was first introduced to Spencer Tracy on the set of the 1942 film Woman of the Year, she found it difficult to contain her true feelings. “It was one of those love-at-first-sight things,” Katharine’s friend and biographer Christopher Andersen tells Closer in an exclusive interview. “I don’t think it hurt that she admired him tremendously as an actor… [but] there was an instant attraction on her part.”

His as well. Yet while that attraction quickly blossomed into a romance that would continue until Spencer’s death of a heart attack at age 67, there was always something keeping this legendary leading man and lady from going public with their love: Spencer’s wife, Louise. Despite his feelings for Kate, he couldn’t bring himself to leave Louise and their children, and so he stayed married, spending weekends with his family and weekdays with his lover for the last 26 years of his life. “Everyone thinks it was because he was a religious Catholic, but that wasn’t it,” says Christopher, who is the author of An Affair to Remember: The Remarkable Love Story of Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy. “He felt that Louise was like a saint. He didn’t want to put her through any unnecessary scandal or pain.”

Kate accepted the arrangement, insisting to many — including Christopher — that she had no desire to marry Spencer or have children with him. And in some ways, she got the best of the acclaimed actor. “They were kindred spirits — soulmates in a way,” Christopher says. And, indeed, they truly enjoyed each other’s company and connected cerebrally, physically and emotionally. But Kate also went through a lot of heartache, bearing the brunt of Spencer’s “Jekyll and Hyde-like” rages and bouts of heavy drinking. “She had a streak of loyalty and caring, which helped in her relationship with him,” Christopher says, adding that when he asked why she put up with Spencer’s often bad behavior, Kate replied, “‘You don’t pick who you fall in love with.’”


Love him she did. While Christopher says Spencer “could occasionally blow up at [Katharine] around others,” especially when he was drunk, she remained an unfailingly nurturing presence in his life. “On set, she was a mother hen to Tracy — getting him pills, milk for his ulcer, fetching coffee, sitting at his feet and gazing at him adoringly, praising him to the skies.”

Like Louise, she also contended with Spencer’s cheating. “He had a big affair with Ingrid Bergman, and Hepburn told me she wasn’t fond of Bergman at all,” Christopher says. “She held that grudge forever.”

Yet Kate remained faithful to the end — and was with Spencer the night he died. She steered clear of the funeral, though, for Louise’s sake. “She went to the mortuary…. She watched while they took the coffin out of the mortuary and put it into the hearse,” Christopher says. “She said goodbye to him there.”

— Alison Gaylin

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