…Then there was O’Toole’s relationship with Katharine Hepburn.
He had starred with the most beautiful actresses in Hollywood, but it was Hepburn, 25 years his senior, who became his grand passion.
In 1968, looking for a stinging Eleanor of Aquitaine to play opposite his Henry II in The Lion In Winter, he enticed Hepburn, then 61, out of mourning for her secret lover, Spencer Tracy. (Tracy was married, and in the Hollywood of that time the pair’s affair was carefully hushed up).
‘It was literally the week that Tracy died and I found out where she was, the mistress who couldn’t mourn publicly, so I sent her the script with a little note,’ says O’Toole.
‘She phoned up right away and said: [O’Toole holds an imaginary phone and mimics Hepburn’s voice] “I might as well do it before I die.”‘
He was 36, but make-up – and the very real ravages of alcohol – combined to create a grizzled King Henry II, an ageing lion to match Hepburn’s fiery Queen Eleanor. Hepburn went on to win an Oscar while he, as usual, was nominated and lost.
Although he has never talked about their relationship, he now admits he worshipped Hepburn.
‘I loved her, no question, in the proper platonic sense but, yes, I loved her.
‘We were filming one day and I kept her waiting on set because I was still in my caravan, playing cards.
‘She stormed in and shouted: “You are a real nut and I’ve met some nuts in my day.” And then she hit me.
‘A couple of hours later, I went to see her and gave her a present to say I was sorry for keeping her waiting.
‘She said: “Don’t worry, pig. I only hit the people I love.”‘