Picks and Pans Review: An Affair to Remember: the Remarkable Love Story of Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy

updated 06/02/1997 at 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 06/02/1997 01:00AM

by Christopher Andersen

Three decades after Spencer Tracy's death, his tempestuous, 26-year love affair with Katharine Hepburn still fascinates.

The drama of the story is well-known: The two were passionately in love, but they never married and strove to keep their romance secret because Tracy, married and a Catholic, felt divorce was not an option. Although Andersen writes about their careers and other, earlier lovers (Tracy had affairs with Grace Kelly and Ingrid Bergman; Hepburn was involved with Howard Hughes), it is their complex, sometimes heartbreaking affair that forms the core of the book.

Without being judgmental or sensational, Andersen makes it clear that Tracy was a troubled man: He could be a nasty, even violent drunk, and he abused amphetamines and barbiturates. He suffered from depression and impotence and felt guilty that his son John was born deaf. In interviews with Andersen, Hepburn, when talking about Tracy, was loving, respectful—and bluntly honest about the challenges of managing her man. Once, she says, she tied him to a bedpost until his "black mood" had passed.

With its moving anecdotes and gossipy details, An Affair to Remember reminds us how much damage grown-up romance can sustain—and how a life-changing passion can outlive the lovers themselves. (Morrow, $24)

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