Born on April 5, 1900, in my home town of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, Spencer Tracy would become a star in the movies. He was the quintessential father figure in my eyes. His kind and compassionate approach to each character he portrayed, showed in his performance. He starred in film classics like Father of the Bride, Inherit the Wind, Judgment at Nuremberg and Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner. Tracy received nine Academy Award nominations, winning for Captains Courageous and Boys Town.
He was raised as a Catholic, which would eventually have a bearing on some of the characters he played in his career. He was a hyperactive child with very little use for school. At nine years of age, he was placed in the care of Dominican nuns in hopes of changing his behavior. He later noted that attending Catholic schools took some of the badness out of him and helped to improve his grades. He met Pat O’Brian, another actor, at Marquette academy and the two of them formed a long lasting friendship – both being interested in pursuing careers in acting. They both enlisted in the Navy at age 18.
After attending college and the American Academy of Dramatic arts in New York. He did some shows on Broadway, where he was finally discovered. Talent scouts were scouring Broadway for the new talking movies. One of those scouts was director, John Ford. The rest is history. Movie roles began to come in. He drew on his past to play Father Flanigan in Boy’s Town.
Tracy met actress Louise Treadwell while they were both members of the Wood Players in White Plains, New York. The couple were engaged in May 1923, and married on September 10 of that year between the matinee and evening performances of his show. Their first son, John was born in June of 1924. The boy was deaf and Tracy felt it was a result of his own past sins that his son was suffering with this disability. We can beat ourselves up so much with the law, however many folks do.
The marriage produced two children and became troubled almost from the start. The couple separated, but didn’t legally divorce, which led Spencer on the trail of a series of affairs with many famous women. In 1941 he became involved with movie star, Katherine Hepburn. That relationship lasted until his death in 1967. Years of overindulgence, smoking, drinking and eating led to his eventual heart attack only 17 days after filming his final movie, Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner?
Spencer Tracy was known for his very natural style of acting. Many of the younger actors learned much from him. He earned several awards in his career, but what struck me most about Tracy, was his ability to capture his character and actually become the person. He made it all seem so real.
HAPPY BIRTHDAY, SPENCER TRACY