Why Katharine Hepburn Never Wanted Children

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While some classic-Hollywood fans admire the other Hepburn named Audrey, there are more than enough accolades and admiration for the one called Katharine. She's starred in well-known and acclaimed movies like "Bringing Up Baby," "The African Queen," "Guess Who's Coming to Dinner," "On Golden Pond," and, of course, "The Philadelphia Story" — our recommended starting point if you've never seen her work. In these films, she acted with notable co-stars like Cary Grant, Humphrey Bogart, Spencer Tracy, Sidney Poitier, Henry Fonda, and even a leopard.

"I made 43 pictures," Katharine Hepburn wrote in her autobiography "Me: Stories of My Life." "Naturally I'm adorable in all of them." While not all were successful, she was brilliant in enough of them to earn 12 Academy Award nominations, bringing home the Oscar trophy on four different occasions. 

Just as she turned heads on the silver screen, she also turned them in her personal life. Almost nothing about Katharine Hepburn followed what women were supposed to be when she started in Hollywood in the 1930s. She preferred trousers to skirts, avoided interviews and publicity, negotiated higher salaries, and created her own opportunities. Hepburn also eschewed the traditional roles of wife and mother.

The actor chose a career over having children

In an era when getting married and having children was a woman's norm, Katharine Hepburn had other ideas and ambitions. In a 1973 television interview with Dick Cavett, she told the talk show host that she had a conversation with herself early on, and came to this conclusion: "I was brought up in a very happy family, and I thought if my concentration is going to be in the theater and as a business career, I cannot have any children, because I was brought up when mother was there, telling me how wonderful I was." She felt she could not adequately split her attention between acting — her true passion — and being there for a family.

"For a complete life, you can't be running in two directions," Hepburn further explained to Clive James in 1985. She reiterated the point in 1989, sharing with Diane Sawyer that "I knew exactly what life was, and what a pain the in the neck that children are, and everything, so I avoided it all."

She was also honest with herself and the public. "I would have made a terrible mother because I'm basically a very selfish human being," she told writer A. Scott Berg, according to his 2013 biography "Kate Remembered."

Hepburn didn't like the title of wife

Katharine Hepburn did try marriage — versus a domestic partnership — once, to businessman Ludlow Ogden Smith. "Luddy — all he wanted was me, and of course, all I wanted was to be a great big hit star in the movies," she wrote in "Me: Stories of My Life." After their divorce, she never married again. "I was not in the business of capturing anyone into marriage," she conveyed. "I liked the idea of being my own single self."

Her longest relationship was with fellow actor Spencer Tracy. The two met on the set of "Woman of the Year," and were a couple until he died, despite the fact that he was already married (but separated) with two children. "Even when I was living with Spencer Tracy and he and I were together for 27 years, we never really thought about or discussed marriage," she noted. "He was married and I wasn't interested." 

While Hepburn did consider that she might miss the chance to have a family, she ultimately knew that life wasn't right for her. "I knew I might regret it, not having children and a family," Hepburn told writer Barbara Lovenheim in 1984, via NYCitywoman. "But I made a conscious decision not to get tied up in the domestic life because I thought it would bore me — I wanted adventure."