This Old Hollywood Siren Refused To Change Her Sexual Preferences For Anyone
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This Old Hollywood Siren Refused To Change Her Sexual Preferences For Anyone

The movie stars of old Hollywood continue to enchant and inspire us. As some of our most enduring celebrities, their personal lives became public discussion – that's why Katharine Hepburn's sex life is still talked about. Because it wasn't possible to be very open about sexuality in the days of Old Hollywood, it's hard to say exactly how Katharine Hepburn would identify in today's terms, but many people, thanks to ample evidence, believe the starlet was attracted to women. 

It's difficult to verify a lot of the claims made about her, but some have been well-documented in researched memoirs and biographies. Hepburn's relationship with sex is an intriguing one. Rumors run the gamut from the famous Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy tabloid-fodder relationship, to the idea that Hepburn had relationships with some 150 women. Combined with her preference for masculine clothing, Hepburn's affairs have led to a lot of speculation over the years. Though they're hardly the only interesting thing about her, the nature of these relationships continues to fascinate people to this day.

  • A Hollywood Hook-Up Expert Connected Hepburn With About 150 Women
    Photo: Full Service / Grove Press

    A Hollywood Hook-Up Expert Connected Hepburn With About 150 Women

    Scotty Bowers, a former marine, served an interesting purpose in the golden age of Hollywood: he connected the gay and bisexual actors and actresses of that generation with lovers of their preferred gender. In his 2012 memoir Full Service, he claims he connected Hepburn with roughly 150 women.

    It's important to note that Bowers was quite progressive for the era, as he was willing to connect these people together without judgment. He kept their secrets until after their deaths to prevent public scrutiny. In an interview with The New York Times, he said, "... I never saw the fascination. So they liked sex how they liked it. Who cares." Though not every story has been corroborated, multiple people have vouched for Bowers as a reliable source.

  • One Of Hepburn's First Rumored Relationships Was With A College Friend

    One of Hepburn's earliest relationships with a woman was allegedly with Alice Palache, a fellow student at Bryn Mawr, the all-women's college Hepburn attended. The two had much in common and built a fast friendship, though others read that relationship quite differently.

    For example, Hepburn and Palache went to see The Captive, a Broadway show, together. The Captive was notorious for attracting young, unaccompanied female viewers because it depicted a woman trying to decide between an idyllic life and pursuing the woman she loved. Palache also wrote many letters about her attraction to and crushes on women – which some view as being platonic – with one of them detailing a dress she wanted to wear to impress Hepburn. It's unclear whether anything ever happened between the two since such things weren't openly discussed at the time, but their fondness for one another has led many to believe it was more than friendship.

  • Laura Harding Was Rumored To Be One Of Hepburn's Lovers
    Photo: Asbury Park Press / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    Laura Harding Was Rumored To Be One Of Hepburn's Lovers

    Laura Harding was reportedly one half of Hepburn's most famous same-gender relationship. Like all of her rumored couplings, it's unclear whether it was sexual in nature. Harding was even a guest on Hepburn's honeymoon with her husband, Ludlow Ogden Smith – who also brought a companion, Jack Clark – and the two remained friends and may have lived together for much of their lives.

  • Hepburn Played Many Roles People Viewed As "Masculine"
    Photo: Sylvia Scarlett / RKO Radio Pictures

    Hepburn Played Many Roles People Viewed As "Masculine"

    Hepburn was known as a classic Hollywood starlet, but she was also notorious for flouting traditional gender norms. This extended to her characters, who were often more commanding and emblematic of modern womanhood than typical idyllic Hollywood figures at the time. In college, Hepburn often played men on stage, and, as she began her Hollywood career, she starred in a film by an open lesbian, Dorothy Arzner, which included an unhappy romance with a man. In Sylvia Scarlett, she played a woman who disguised herself as a man and kissed a maid on screen. The film was directed by George Cukor, another openly gay director, and included not only a same-gender kiss between Hepburn's character and the maid, but also some homoeroticism in the way that male characters responded to Hepburn's character's masculine presentation.

  • Hepburn May Also Have Had Romantic Relationships With Men
    Photo: Woman Of The Year / Warner Home Video

    Hepburn May Also Have Had Romantic Relationships With Men

    Discussions of Hepburn's sexuality tend to focus on one of two things – her rumored relationships with women as evidence that she was a lesbian, or her documented relationships with men like Howard Hughes, Ludlow Ogden Smith, Leland Hayward, and Spencer Tracy as evidence that she wasn't. According to some sources, the truth is that she was bisexual and romantically interested in people across genders. At the time, she was referred to as a "double-gater," meaning she swung both ways. Because Hepburn was notoriously uninterested in engaging with the press, many of these relationships are rumored rather than documented. 

  • Hepburn Denied That She Was A Lesbian – Perhaps Because She Wasn't
    Photo: Bringing Up Baby / Warner Bros.

    Hepburn Denied That She Was A Lesbian – Perhaps Because She Wasn't

    Rumors of Hepburn's attraction to women didn't arise after her death or the publication of Scotty Bowers's memoir. They followed her throughout her life, forcing her to deny them publicly when asked. Yet, according to some, that denial was based on semantics – she reportedly believed that to be a "lesbian" meant a personal presentation of or attraction to "very butch women," which didn't necessarily describe her.

    But there's more to it than that. Hepburn had documented relationships with men, too, and reportedly told Pandro S. Berman that she was not a lesbian, to which Berman replied, "'Perhaps you are not a lesbian. But you didn’t deny that you’re bisexual.’” We can't know for certain, but Hepburn's denial is specific – she reportedly said she was not a lesbian, not that she was not attracted to women.