One of the great love stories from classic Hollywood centers on the not-so-secret affair that Katharine Hepburn was reported to have had with Spencer Tracy, her frequent co-star in such beloved films as “Woman of the Year,” “Adam’s Rib,” “Desk Set” and “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner.”
Hepburn eventually talked about the affair in conversations with her biographer, A. Scott Berg. According to Berg’s book, “Kate Remembered,” which he published just after Hepburn’s death in 2003, she said she stayed loyal to Tracy even though the famously tormented and alcoholic actor wouldn’t marry her because his Catholic faith barred him from divorcing his wife.
When Berg asked Hepburn if she ever thought about leaving Tracy, even after he reportedly became nasty, abusive or indulged in other sexual conquests, she reportedly replied, “What would be the point? I mean, I loved him. And I wanted to be with him. If I had left we would both have been miserable.”
But in a new documentary, which opens Friday in Bay Area theaters, a 95-year-old Hollywood personality named Scotty Bowers insists that the Hepburn-and-Tracy affair never existed, according to reports.
Bowers, who bills himself as the former confidante and pimp to a number of famous stars, said the multi-Academy Award-winning actors were good friends who concocted the affair to cover the truth, which is that both were in the closet.
Hepburn, the star of “Morning Glory,” “Philadelphia Story” and “The African Queen,” was a lesbian, Bowers claims. Meanwhile, the gruff “Boys Town” and “Father of the Bride” star was bisexual — so he and Hepburn were beards for each other.
Bowers’ steamy revelations about Hepburn and Tracy, as well as other celebrities like Cary Grant and the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, also came in his 2012 book “Full Service.” With the documentary now in theaters, it looks like Bowers’ book may become a feature film, with Fox Searchlight developing a biopic on Bowers, Variety reported.
In both Bowers’ book and the documentary, “Scotty and the Secret History of Hollywood,” the World War II Marine combat veteran and bisexual hustler said he became good friends with Hepburn and fixed her up with more than 150 women over the course of nearly 40 years.
And he claims he actually had a sexual relationship with Tracy. In his 2012 memoir, “Full Service,” Bowers said Tracy would drink heavily before they had sex, BuzzFeed News reported.
In one case, when Bowers said he went to Tracy’s home to fix a hot-water cylinder, Tracy drank an entire bottle of Scotch before coming on to Bowers. In all encounters, Tracy typically drank himself into a stupor.
“The great Spencer Tracy was another bisexual man, a fact totally concealed by the studio publicity department,” Bowers wrote in “Full Service.” “That is, if they ever knew about it at all.”
In the documentary, Bowers added that Hepburn and Tracy “were merely friends. . . . They were not in the bed department together at all.”
Hepburn’s lesbianism is confirmed in the documentary by the late gossip columnist Liz Smith, according to Vanity Fair.
The documentary presents Bowers as a “male madam” who initially ran his covert brothel out of a Richfield gas station at Hollywood Boulevard and Van Ness Avenue. But over time, Bowers wasn’t just a pimp, he was “a protector and rights activist for the burgeoning LGBT community in the post-war era,” according to an NPR interview with the film’s director Matt Tyrnauer.
Tyrnauer told NPR how Bowers helped movie stars evade the “sexual gestapo,” an LAPD Hollywood vice squad that liked to shake down famous people and collude with the press to ruin lives and reputations.
“It was very difficult for people to have authentic lives,” Tyrnauer said. “It was also very difficult for people to appear in public as anything other than heterosexual; this was a very different time and Scotty really served a purpose in the community.”
Bowers, who was recently named an honorary citizen of West Hollywood by the town’s mayor, also talks about how Cary Grant, though married to heiress Barbara Hutton, shared a house with fellow actor Randolph Scott, and that Grant and Scott’s relationship lasted for years.
Meanwhile, Bowers also reveals in the film how he would find sexual partners for the Duke and Duchess of Windsor when they visited Los Angeles, according to Vanity Fair. Bowers said they would stay in a bungalow at the Beverly Hills Hotel, and he would usually find men for the former king and women for the ex-Wallis Simpson. Edward was rather “shy,” while the duchess called the shots, Vanity Fair said.
“She was a real ballsy chick,” Bowers recalls in the film.
Katharine Hepburn and Clark Gable in 1940. (AFP/Getty Images)
Tyrnauer acknowledged to NPR that it was a challenge to verify some of Bowers’ stories because the subjects are dead, though he was able to find independent corroboration through his independent research. He said he has already begun to face pushback from people who wan
t to trust Hepburn’s claims about her great love affair with Tracy, or who want to cling to certain views of their favorite screen legends.
“It’s fascinating to me how enduring the myths of the so-called golden age of Hollywood are,” Tyrnauer said. “But the publicity department of the studio system really did its job, because the better part of 100 years later, a lot of people are still clinging to these myths about the strict heterosexual, heteronormative lifestyles of the stars.”
By MARTHA ROSS