10 May 2015

I have become so used to being the other side of the coin...

Katharine Hepburn was 34 years old when she met 41-year-old Spencer Tracy on the set of their first film together, "Woman of the Year" (1942). They fell in love and began a love affair that was to last for 26 years. Tracy, who was married with two children, had been living separately from his wife Louise since the 1930s, but he would never divorce her. Although it has been said often that his being Catholic was the reason for this, Tracy himself once claimed: "I can get a divorce whenever I want to, but my wife and Kate like things just as they are" [via]. 

In the 1960's, Tracy's health began to deteriorate significantly and Hepburn moved into his home to care for him. They would live together during the last years of his life. On 10 June 1967, seventeen days after filming had ended on "Guess Who's Coming to Dinner" (the couple's 9th film together), Tracy died. Hepburn, who was the only one present when he died, recalled the incident in her 1991 autobiography "Me: Stories of my Life". In the middle of the night, she had followed Tracy to the kitchen where he wanted to make himself a cup of tea. Before opening the kitchen door, she heard the sound of a breaking tea cup and then a loud clump. Spencer Tracy had just suffered a fatal heart attack, 67 years old.

Here are three letters written by Katharine Hepburn shortly after Spencer Tracy's death. The letters are respectively written to Joan Crawford on 14 June 1967 (on Spencer Tracy's stationery), Hepburn's friend Armina on 16 June (shown in transcript only) and her author/friend Roy Newquist on 29 June. 



Dear Joan-

George told me of all your sweetness + really I did not need to be told- Spence was very very fond of you and he would have been so pleased with the lovely basket of azaleas-it is just sad- isn't it- such an unusal person- He was just tired out- I think that his big old heart had simply beat itself out- + it stopped- and he had no struggle- no terror- in a second he was dead- And it was nice that he made the picture- But what can one say- Thank you dear Joan-


Note: George was probably George Cukor who was a friend of both Katharine's and Joan's.

June 16     I’m staying at Spence’s

Dear Armina-

You are right—I said to myself even one second after it happened—It is best—My brain knows it—no anticipation—no struggle—just end—It was instantaneous—and I know that it is a best way to die—But the finality is appalling I am sure you know—you just cannot believe it—Here—gone—It is so sad—All the years—All the shared struggles—And I know that you are right too that time can’t heal it just forces you to change your own path—Well—not much to say—I was lucky to know him & you were sweet to write such a dear letter.


[source: rr auction]

Source: heritage auctions (images reproduced with permission)



Dear Roy-

Thank you for kind words— There's nothing much to say- It is sad- and Death is very Total—it is there—it is the end- it is a blank wall- one sits and stares at this wall. Here you must paint your futur [sic]—+so must I—if I can figure out who this new creature is— I have become so used to being the other side of the coin- that my independence is at a low ebb—

Poor wretched silly Lee Radziwill— at least she gave the press a gorgeous time—

Someday I suppose I'll try to do a book- but it involves others+ it is awkward. I think it's fine you doing a book on the movie + any help I'll be glad to give—People are mad about your article and the pictures- I've not looked at it yet- But you must be very pleased-


*There was one word in this letter that I found totally illegible: independence. A big thanks to Emma Wilson for deciphering the word for me. And also to Tim Butler for his efforts.

-Lee Radziwill is the younger sister of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis and in the 1960s tried her hand at acting. In 1967, the largely untrained Radziwill was cast as Tracy Lord in a stage production of "The Philadelphia Story", receiving very bad reviews.
-Roy Newquist was working on a book about "Guess Who's Coming to Dinner" containing interviews with the film's stars. The book called " A Special Kind of Magic" was published that same year.

This is my contribution to The Great Katharine Hepburn Blogathon hosted by margaretperry.org. Click here to check out all the other entries!


  1. Thanks for such a lovely post. She sure was something, wasn't she? It's hard to top Kate's own words. In struggling to write about her for this blogathon I ended up using some of her best quotes. The lady sure knew how to get to the point - with wit, style and great eloquence.

  2. Yes, she really was one of a kind. Thanks for reading!