Classic Film Club




Spencer Tracy

Spencer Tracy (1932)



Spencer Tracy was born Spencer Bonaventure Tracy in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, in 1900.   His father was a truck salesman.

Tracy left school in 1917 to enlist in the Navy when America entered into World War I, but he remained in the Norfolk Navy Yard, Virginia throughout the war, achieving the rank of seaman second class.

Afterward, he attended Ripon College in Wisconsin where he decided on acting as a career. While touring the Northeast with the college debate team, he auditioned for and received a scholarship to attend the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in New York City.

His first Broadway role was in 1923, followed by five other Broadway plays through 1930.   In 1923, he married actress Louise Treadwell. They had two children, although Tracy’s adultery and consuming guilt led to a rocky relationship and subsequent separations.

For several years he performed in stock theatre in Michigan, Canada, and Ohio.   Tracy eventually starred in the hit play The Last Mile (1930).   Although he did not appear in the 1932 film version, his stage performance was noted by the film director John Ford and shortly thereafter Tracy signed with Fox Film, moved his family to Hollywood and debuted in a Ford film in 1930.

In 1935, with the merger of struggling Fox Film and Twentieth Century Pictures, Tracy used the opportunity to jump to Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. He soon received the Academy Award for Actor two years in a row for his performances in Captains Courageous (1937) and Boys Town (1938).

He also received seven other Actor Oscar nominations for:

Tracy and Laurence Olivier share the record for the most Oscar nods with nine nominations each.

In 1941, Tracy began a long-lasting professional and romantic relationship with Katharine Hepburn - they made nine films together. Though estranged from his wife, he was a practicing Roman Catholic and never divorced.   He was also a supporter of and large financial contributor to his wife’s school for the deaf, the John Tracy Clinic, established in 1942 and named after their first child.

Tracy struggled with alcoholism, anxiety and depression most of his life.   An insomniac, he took drugs to sleep and another round to get himself going in the morning.   By the 1960s, constantly cared for by Hepburn, he was overweight, very ill, and temperamental.

For his last film, Guess Who's Coming to Dinner (1967), also with Hepburn, he was only able to work a couple of hours a day. Seventeen days after it’s release, he died of heart failure in Beverly Hills, California at the age of 67.

Other Pictures

Spencer Tracy (1941)



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