Conversations with Classic Film Stars: about Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn – Exclusive Post by Authors James Bawden and Ron Miller

What Legendary Movie Stars Said about Each Other
Part Two of a Four-Part Series

Though two-time Oscar winner Spencer Tracy is widely regarded as one of the acting greats of the “golden age,” not all of his co-stars were so keen on him. For instance, Melvyn Douglas complained that director Elia Kazan had lots of grief with Tracy on Sea of Grass [1947] because Tracy and leading lady Katharine Hepburn ignored Kazan because they felt they were “these two great unreachable stars and they’d do everything their own way.”

Spencer Tracy and Katharine HepburnSpencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn

Said co-star Douglas, “Spencer Tracy refused to go on location, so they went out and photographed all that grass blowing in the wind and we acted before plates [projected images] of that.”

Douglas also said Tracy was “so stout he needed a little ladder to get onto his horse.”

The very classy Irene Dunne also had some negative memories of Tracy, her co-star in A Guy Named Joe [1943].

“He’d wanted Kate Hepburn for the part of the female flying ace, Dorinda. And [director] Vic Fleming had turned him down flat, saying she wasn’t at all right for it. So when I showed up, Spence was rude, brusque and even made a pass at me.”

Though director Fleming assured Dunne things would improve, they didn’t and she finally had to complain to studio chief Louis B. Mayer, who visited the set and made it clear to Tracy he needed to clean up his act. After that, Dunne said, Tracy was very nice to her.

Spencer Tracy and Irene Dunne in A Guy Named JoeSpencer Tracy and Irene Dunne in A Guy Named Joe

On the other hand, both Dunne and actor Van Johnson remembered that Tracy insisted the shooting schedule on A Guy Named Joe be held up to allow newcomer Johnson to recover from an auto accident injury that required plastic surgery. It was a breakout role for Johnson and Tracy saved him from being replaced by another actor.

Fay Wray also had a difficult time with Tracy, her co-star in Shanghai Madness [1933], remembering him as, “A strange man. Undoubtedly a great actor. But so wracked by personal problems. He came on to me. He came on to every girl. And when he drank, look out!”

Tracy’s frequent co-star, Katharine Hepburn, despite her four Academy awards, also had left some of her fellow actors with negative opinions.

Gloria Swanson, who was being courted to replace Hepburn on Broadway in the title role of Coco, decided against taking the part after she attended a matinee and “saw Kate swanning about and thought she was just awful. Imagine a woman who loves to dress in men’s slacks cast as a great French designer!”

Ralph Bellamy, who worked with Hepburn in Spitfire [1934], recalled how Hepburn loved to throw her weight around.

“The original male lead was Joel McCrea, but Hepburn had him dismissed. I don’t know why.”

Katharine Hepburn and Cary Grant in Bringing Up BabyKatharine Hepburn and Cary Grant in Bringing Up Baby

Joseph Cotten also remembered Hepburn teaming up with actor Paul Scofield to insist that director Tony Richardson fire Kim Stanley from the cast of A Delicate Balance [1973]. Richardson bowed to their plea, fired Stanley, replacing her with Kate Reid. Cotten was also in the original Broadway production of The Philadelphia Story with Hepburn and Anne Baxter remembers how Cotten comforted her when she was fired during tryouts for the stage play.

“Kate Hepburn had me fired because she charged I was getting big laughs,” Baxter recalled.

On the plus side, though, was the praise of Hepburn from Cary Grant, who made four memorable films with her.

“A real character,” he said. “She’ll try anything.”

Grant described how game Hepburn was for trying a very dangerous stunt in the final scenes of their Bringing Up Baby [1939] when they’re atop a dinosaur skeleton in a museum and it collapses under them.

“I trained Kate myself,” recalled Grant, who once worked as an acrobat. “She was fearless. There was no mattress on the floor. I had her let me grab her, not by her hands because her arms would pop out of the sockets. I grabbed her by her wrists and we’re up there tossing back and forth as the skeleton crashes. Scariest thing I’d ever done, but Kate said it was wonderful and talked about deserting acting for acrobatics!”


This is Part Two of a four-part series…

–James Bawden and Ron Miller for Classic Movie Hub

Retired journalists James Bawden and Ron Miller are the authors of Conversations with Classic Film Starsan astonishing collection of rare interviews with the greatest celebrities of Hollywood’s golden age. Conducted over the course of more than fifty years, they recount intimate conversations with some of the most famous leading men and women of the era, including Douglas Fairbanks Jr., Joseph Cotten, Cary Grant, Gloria Swanson, Joan Fontaine, Loretta Young, Kirk Douglas, and many more.

You can purchase the book on amazon by clicking here:

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One Response to Conversations with Classic Film Stars: about Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn – Exclusive Post by Authors James Bawden and Ron Miller

  1. rhonda kinchen says:

    i love katharine hepburn and spencer tracy..
    it’s a little sad to know their co-stars had ill memories of them tho..
    i think of their love affair..i’m certain tongues were a-waggin back in those days..
    he a married man..a father. her a single lady..that wore pants!? oh lawdy, i bet people frowned on that..but it seemed he was in a loveless marriage and found love with kate..and she with him!
    everyone deserves to be loved..i’m so glad they had each other!!
    still in my mind..i think of both as amazing people..actors and would’ve loved to have known them…maybe like a neighbor, or better yet, had them for grandparents!! 😉

    ~rip ms hepburn..
    ~rip mr tracy..
    i sincerely hope you two are up in heaven..young, happy and together!!~

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