Friends of late, great actress Katharine Hepburn are furiously playing down reports the movie legend was gay.

Just over a month after the star's death (29JUN03), biographers who delved into Hepburn's life are coming forward with rumours she enjoyed romances with women - and longtime lover Spencer Tracy was just a decoy.

But family friends insist the reports are scandalous.

BARBARA MAYNARD says, "That's disgusting. I wouldn't give those rumours any credibility."

Another pal adds, "When Kate's close friends and family members heard the lesbian rumours they were shocked at this character assassination attempt. It's not true."

But biographer ANNE EDWARDS disagrees, insisting, "There were several women in her life - no question about it."

And Edwards claims one of the actress' former lovers was American Express heiress LAURA HARDING.

She reveals, "Laura Harding was really her longtime relationship from when they were young women. That's very true.

"She also had a very passionate relationship with actress Elissa Landi, who claimed to be the stepdaughter of an Italian nobleman.

"As for Spencer Tracy, he had problems with alcohol and the film industry wanted to feel he had a macho image. If the rest of the world believed he was having this affair with Kate, it gave him a little bit more of a macho look."

03/08/2003 21:07