The Many Loves of Howard Hughes: Katharine Hepburn, 1938 (YMRT #11) / by Karina Longworth

Find this episode on iTunes

A crossover episode, uniting our two ongoing series, The Many Loves of Howard Hughes and Follies of 1938, focusing on Hughes’ relationship with Katharine Hepburn, which peaked and crashed in 1938. Introduced by Hughes’ close confidant, Cary Grant, Hepburn and Hughes became a celebrity couple in the modern mold: mutually attracted in part based on the fame of the other, they were hounded by paparazzi, their rumored impending nuptials dissected by outsiders until the relationship itself frittered away. By 1938, Hepburn’s “woman wearing the pants” image had transitioned from merely controversial to cripplingly unfashionable, and when she was named in the infamous "box office poison" ad of May 1938, her career sunk as low as it would go. (Though her fame had not: note the above magazine cover, in which Kate and Howard are the glossy cover image under a tease referring to the movie quiz from the decidedly less glamorous Motion Pictures’ Greatest Year campaign — a campaign designed to help Hollywood recover from losses ostensibly incurred from the fading of stars like Hepburn.) Even as their romance was falling apart, Hughes helped to resurrect Hepburn’s career by purchasing for her the rights to the film that would change her life. He also rebounded from Hepburn by romancing two of her rivals, Bette Davis and Ginger Rogers, while proposing to just about every major female star he could find. 

!!! Show Notes !!!

If you have not already, listen to the previous episodes in these two series. First, in Follies of 1938, there was an overview of 1938 and the “Motion Pictures Greatest Year Campaign,” and then Kay Francis and box office poison. Previously in The Many Loves of Howard Hughes, we talked about the arranged marriage that got Hughes to Hollywood, and then explored the life and work of Ida Lupino, Hughes’ sometime teenage girlfriend turned pioneering film writer/director/producer. 

This episode covers some of the same events that were dramatized in Martin Scorsese’s The Aviator — a film which I deliberately did not watch this week while I was working on the episode. Maybe it would have been interesting to compare Scorsese’s presentation of the Hepburn/Hughes relationship to the version presented by Hughes and Hepburn’s various biographers, but I felt I had enough on my plate just dealing with the sometimes overlapping, sometimes contradictory facts laid out in my sources. Those sources included: Kate, The Woman Who Was Hepburn by William Mann;Me, by Katharine Hepburn; The Untold Story of Howard Hughes by Peter Harry Brown; Hughes: The Private Diaries, Memos and Letters by Richard Hack; and, of course, Hollywood 1938: Motion Pictures’ Greatest Year by Catherine Jurca.  

Also, Noah Segan is quite invested in his recurring role as Hughes. There was no need to bring Leo into the mix. 


"Divider," by Chris Zabriskie

"Off to Osaka," by Kevin MacLeod

"Out of the Skies, Under the Earth," by Chris Zabriskie

"Undercover Vampire Policeman," by Chris Zabriskie

"Prelude No. 21," by Chris Zabriskie

"Ghost Dance," by Kevin MacLeod

"Dances and Dames," by Kevin MacLeod

"Gymnopedie No. 3," by Eric Satie, performed by Kevin MacLeod

"If You Don’t Want My Love," covered by DNTEL

All of the above tracks, with the exception of the DNTEL cover, were sourced from the Free Music Archive.