SPENCER TRACY – A nightmare of a man.

By Historian Alan Royal

August 6, 2015 admin Did You Know? 37

A portrait of a young Spencer Tracy (1900-1967). — Image by © Underwood & Underwood/CORBIS

My cmnt: This mostly is for old people like yours truly. I grew up admiring Spencer Tracy in the movies and, his not exactly doppelgänger, but close enough in style and acting abilities kissing cousin James Whitmore. As a kid I often confused the two.

Tracy and Whitmore

My cmnt: I remember seeing Tracy in “Boys Town” (not when it came out in 1938 but much later on TV in the 60s) and I just thought he was Father Flanagan. And my mom took me with her to see “Guess who’s coming to dinner” in 1967 because she admired both Spencer Tracy and Sidney Poitier. Previously she had taken me to see Poitier in “Lilies of the Field” in 1963 because she felt it would be good for me. So it was only right that I took her to see “Fiddler on the Roof” in 1971 because I knew she would love it.

My cmnt: The point of the reminiscences above is that Hollywood really hid their stars’ true selves in those days and so I was a little disappointed to read the truth about Tracy below. It bothers me that top actors, in general, are so messed up. It simply seems to me that there is something about playing make-believe as an adult – often with immersive, method acting rolls as degenerate criminals and sex perverts – that makes these people mentally ill.

As an actor Spencer Tracy had few peers and cinema-goers adored him. Off screen he was a very ordinary human being, a man beset with all kinds of problems. He was a violent alcoholic his entire life and a rampant womanizer who had almost as many conquests to his name as Gable although, unlike ‘the King’, he is alleged to have taken male lovers as well. When he went on a ‘bender’, which was often, he was known at times to demolish hotel rooms a la Charlie Sheen.

As a youth he was thrown out of half a dozen grammar schools, the only subject he handled with relative ease being drama. There is no doubt he became one of the greatest movie actors in history, an achievement made more meritorious when we consider that he came to the screen with virtually no stage experience behind him. All the other greats such as Brando, Olivier and Bette Davis, brought a wealth of stage experience with them, but not Tracy.

He started his movie career at Fox in 1930, made sixteen movies there, but could not establish himself in the top echelon of performers. And he was trouble with a capital ‘T’. He rarely slept, suffered from depression, had a hair-trigger temper, was obsessed with death – and, most troublesome of all, he was a hopeless alcoholic. He also seduced starlets at a rate of knots for, regardless of his issues, the man could charm the birds out of the trees when he chose to. In 1933 he made Man’s Castle with Loretta Young, and the couple began a tempestuous affair that Loretta eventually called off. Why? Because her priest would not give her absolution for ‘dating’ a married Catholic man. Two years later she would have a child to the equally married Clark Gable after they made The Call of the Wild together. Evidently, her priest was away on vacation or something.

With Loretta Young in Man’s Castle

On his week-long benders Tracy would rent a hotel room, load up with two or three cases of whiskey, then settle himself in the bathtub and commence to drink. In fact, he would drink himself unconscious, wake up; then drink himself unconscious again. And he would continue the cycle until the booze was gone. This might take several days, during which time he would not leave the bathtub – for any reason. Fox put up with his abominable behaviour for five years before calling it quits. Called in to the head office, he was given an ultimatum. Curb his drinking or his contract would not be renewed. He listened very attentively, then walked across the street to the nearest saloon and got blind drunk. He then returned to the office and destroyed it and its contents. Fox fired him the next day. MGM quickly picked him up. L B Mayer’s protégé, Irving Thalberg, knew talent when he saw it.

Irving Grant Thalberg, Sr (1899 - 1936) - Find A Grave Memorial

Irving Thalberg

Of course, MGM knew of Tracy’s problems (everyone in the industry did), but the studio fixers, Howard Strickling and Eddie Mannix, formulated a plan to control him. A ‘Tracy Squad’ was created, consisting of four ‘heavies’ whose job was to follow the actor at all times. If they saw him enter a bar or a liquor store they were to immediately apprehend him and confiscate any booze he might have acquired. They would also pay off hoteliers if he happened to give them the slip, get plastered, and trash a room. MGM considered the trouble and expense of the ‘Tracy Squad’ was worth it, convinced he could make money for the studio. Lots of it. And they were right.

Writer/producer Joseph Mankiewicz once said of Tracy: ‘Nobody at MGM gets more sex than Spencer Tracy – except for Joan Crawford.’ Among his other lengthy relationships throughout the thirties and forties were, Myrna Loy, Paulette Goddard, Hedy Lamarr, Joan Bennett, Ingrid Bergman, Olivia de Havilland and her sister Joan Fontaine and (like everybody else), Joan Crawford. Mannix and Strickling also knew that Tracy had been seducing 17 year-old Judy Garland for three years. According to writer EJ Fleming, all of MGM knew it. By 1940, both Tracy and Garland had moved on to others, Judy falling head over heels for 28 year-old bandleader Artie Shaw. She fully expected him to pop the question sooner or later. He never did. Instead, he eloped with Lana Turner.

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Artie Shaw - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Judy Garland circa 1940                                            Artie Shaw

In 1943 Tracy made A Guy Named Joe with Irene Dunne and Van Johnson. While rehearsing their love scenes he would whisper graphic details in Irene’s ear, luridly detailing what he would do to her sexually if he ever got her alone. The very prim and proper Miss Dunne threatened to walk off the picture unless he desisted. Around that time Johnson was badly injured in a car crash. Production was put on hold by LB Mayer until he recovered, but only if Tracy agreed to ease up on Dunne. To his credit he agreed, for once putting someone else’s needs ahead of his own and Johnson’s career was saved.


With Irene Dunne in A Guy Named Joe

In 1954, the aging Tracy heard about Grace Kelly’s reputation for nailing older, married men, so he gave the makers of Bad Day At Black Rock an ultimatum. He would agree to promote the picture, but only if they arranged a date for him with Kelly. They did so, and the 54 year-old, white-haired Tracy wined, dined and bedded her that night.


Tracy & Grace dating

During the thirties and forties he would often stay at gay director George Cukor’s home for days at a time. It was rumoured he would have sex with young male friends of Cukor’s when the urge arose. Years later, several sources claimed that Tracy and John Derek also had a lengthy relationship. Informed sources further claim that his long-term relationship with Katharine Hepburn may not have even been consummated, given the ambivalent sexuality of both parties.

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Tracy’s lover or not?

There was certainly great affection displayed in the relationship, so whether or not it was simply plutonic is debatable. He still disappeared from time to time, usually to his hometown of Milwaukee, where he would hole up in one of its numerous saloons on one of his benders. Kate knew it was virtually impossible to track him down, so she did not even try. Eventually, he would dry out and return to her.

Katharine Hepburn's secret torment | Express Yourself | Comment ...

with Kate in the early years

Tracy was nominated for nine Oscars and won two – the first, in spite of his abominable Portuguese accent, for Captains Courageous (1938), the second for Boy’s Town a year later. He and Kate made nine movies together, the last of them being 1967’s Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner? Just seventeen days after its completion Tracy was dead. Kate heard a cup crash to the floor in the middle of the night. He had suffered a massive heart attack, and she found him dead on the kitchen floor. For the rest of her long life she could not bring herself to watch the picture. Not without him beside her.

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In Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner?

A lot has been written about his staunch Catholicism preventing Tracy from divorcing his wife Louise and marrying Kate, but he often told friends that both women preferred the arrangement as it stood. So did he. He and Louise lived apart for many years, but he never moved in with Kate either. They just spent a lot of time together alternating between his place and hers. Out of respect for Tracy’s family Kate did not attend his funeral. She would outlive him by 36 years, dying in 2003 at the age of 96.

I have been a fan of Spencer Tracy the actor all my life. Like most movie-goers I was taken by the seemingly effortless way he projected intelligence and integrity. His acting style was relaxed and natural. It was fun to compare his performances with, say, Errol Flynn’s. Errol, in my opinion, was unbelievably awful. I still watch Captain Blood on occasion, just to remind myself of how bad a player can be, yet still become a huge success. But Tracy was the ultimate movie actor. It is disappointing to learn that the man could not live up to the actor. But then, the actor was so damn good – who could?

Spencer Tracy as Father Flanagan: 5 Quotes About Iconic Role

Spencer Tracy as Father Flanagan: 5 Quotes About Iconic Role

In the 1937 film Captains Courageous, featuring Spencer Tracy and Freddie Bartholomew. (wikimedia/commons)

By Josh Katzowitz    |   Thursday, 26 March 2015 08:24 PM – for NewsMax.com

Spencer Tracy already won an Academy Award for Best Actor the previous year for playing a Portuguese fisherman in “Captains Courageous” and, although he was already a bonafide star for the Metro Goldwyn Mayer studio, portraying Father Edward Flanagan in “Boys Town” might have been his most iconic role.

Here are six quotes about Spencer Tracy’s role in “Boys Town.”

1. “Your name is written in gold in the heart of every homeless boy in Boys Town because of the anticipated picture you are going to make for us, and everybody here — and all of our alumni — are talking about you, thinking about you, and praying for you every day. “
– The real Father Flanagan, in a letter to Spencer Tracy when he learned the news that Tracy had accepted the role in “Boys Town,” according to the late actor’s biography written by James Curtis

2. “All actors do everything possible to live up to live their part — to be the very image of the person they are portraying. But few actors, Father, have the opportunity of being confronted by that person. That makes the going even rougher, for as I play this part I will be thinking not only of you but of what you will think of me … I’m so anxious to do a good job as Father Flanagan that it worries me, keeps me awake nights.”
– Spencer Tracy to Flanagan, in a conversation when the two first met

3. “Often, after a scene, he’d reach over and hug me and take me on his lap. I felt like a little puppy. I would follow along and stand close, hoping he’d call me over, and often he would. He’d say, ‘How’re you doing?’ and put his arm around me.”
– Bobs Watson, who played Pee Wee and who eventually became a minister inspired by Tracy’s performance on and of camera, pushing back on the idea of Tracy’s gruff on-set reputation, according to Turner Classic Movies

4. “It’s a song of freedom. It’s a song of rehabilitation. It’s a song of youth, no matter what color or faith you are. It’s about praying. It’s about living a good life.”
– Mickey Rooney to Louis B. Mayer, as he and Tracy tried to convince the MGM head that he should release the movie, according to Moviefone

5. “To Father Flanagan, whose great humanity, kindly simplicity, and inspiring courage were strong enough to shine through my humble effort.”
– Spencer Tracy, from the inscription he wrote on the Oscar facsimile that the Academy sent to Boys Town, according to Moviefone

The 8 Roles That Defined Spencer Tracy’s Career

The 8 Roles That Defined Spencer Tracy's Career

Publicity portrait of Spencer Tracy, 1948. (wikimedia/commons)

By Josh Katzowitz    |   Thursday, 26 March 2015 07:50 PM – for NewsMax.com

Before Spencer Tracy made it big in Hollywood, he starred on Broadway and had a decent run at the Fox Film Corporation, but after he made the move to the Metro Goldwyn Mayer studio, Tracy went on to star in eight roles that would define his career. During his three-decade run of success, Tracy played a man bent on revenge, a couple of priests, and a fisherman.

Here is a look at eight of Tracy’s most important roles.

1. Joe Wilson in “Fury”

Although Tracy had appeared in more than two dozen films before this 1936 feature, he made his first big mark playing Joe Wilson, a man bent on revenge after he’s mistaken for a kidnapper.

2. Father Tim Mullin in “San Francisco”

Clark Gable was the star of this disaster movie, but Tracy – in the role of Father Mullin – garnered an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor, despite the fact Tracy was only on the screen for about 15 minutes.

3. Manuel in “Captains Courageous”

Tracy earned his first Oscar for Best Actor in this 1937 film for his portrayal of a Portuguese fisherman named Manuel who rescues a young boy out of the ocean.

4. Father Edward Flanagan in “Boys Town”

For the second straight year, Tracy won the Oscar for Best Actor, and in doing so, he cemented himself as one of the top actors of his time. Tracy played Father Edward Flanagan, the real-life priest who helped save troubled boys from the dangers of the street while trying to set them on a righteous path for their futures.

5. Sam Craig in “Woman of the Year”

This was the first time Tracy collaborated with Katharine Hepburn as the two played rival reporters who fall in love before encountering marital difficulties. Not only did the two garner strong reviews, the duo began a frequent on-screen partnership that produced nine films.

6. Stanley Banks in “Father of the Bride”

Tracy received his first Oscar award nomination in more than a decade for this 1950 film in which he plays Stanley Banks and prepares for the wedding of his daughter, played by Elizabeth Taylor. The movie also spawned a sequel starring Tracy called “Father’s Little Dividend.”

7. Chief Judge Dan Haywood in “Judgment at Nuremberg”

By the time this movie was released at the end of 1961, Tracy wasn’t in great health. But, as Chief Judge Dan Haywood, he delivered a performance that earned him yet another Oscar nomination.

8. Matt Drayton in “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner”

This was Tracy’s final movie, as he died 17 days after his final scene in 1967, but he garnered his ninth Academy Award nomination for his portrayal of Matt Drayton, whose daughter wanted to marry a black man.

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