Spencer Tracy

Spencer Tracy
Los Angeles Times

Stars

Spencer Tracy
Film: South side of the 6800 block of Hollywood Boulevard
Actor
Born April 5, 1900 in Milwaukee, WI
Died June 10, 1967 of heart attack in Hollywood Hills West, CA

Spencer Tracy's rugged good looks and forceful manner were enjoyed by movie fans for 37 years. He was one of Hollywood's great actors.

Admiration and acclaim surrounded Tracy during his long acting career. His eight Academy Award nominations were, at the time, the most ever accorded one performer. [Tracy was nominated for a ninth Oscar posthumously in 1967 for "Guess Who's Coming to Dinner."]

He won the award in 1937 for portraying a Portuguese fisherman in "Captains Courageous," a role that required him to sing, talk with an accent and curl his hair. A year later he became the only actor to win Oscars back-to-back when he took the award for playing the Rev. Edward J. Flanagan in "Boys Town."

Other roles included the brawling companion of Clark Gable in "Test Pilot" and "Boom Town"; the explorer in "Stanley and Livingstone"; the inventor in "Edison — The Man"; and the romancer in "Adam's Rib," "Pat and Mike" and "The Desk Set." He was also the harried parent in "Father of the Bride," the aging politico in "The Last Hurrah" and the Clarence Darrow-like orator in "Inherit the Wind."

Tracy was long estranged from his wife, former actress Louise Treadwell. The two married in 1923 after they met in a White Plains, N.Y., stock company. They separated, but Treadwell refused to divorce him even after Tracy began a relationship with actress Katharine Hepburn that would endure until his death.

There are many legends about Hepburn and Tracy, including the story of their first meeting on the lot at MGM. A mutual friend introduced them. Tracy allegedly looked at Hepburn and said, "Not much meat, but what's there is choice." [The comment actually came from one of the movies in which they both appeared, "Pat and Mike."]

What did become known around Hollywood was that the relationship, powerful as it was, was not idyllic. Tracy was a complicated man bearing large emotional burdens, and he sometimes went off on drinking binges. Hepburn would often have to go and retrieve him from the saloons he frequented.

As the years went on, Tracy's health began to fail. When it came time to shoot "Guess Who's Coming to Dinner," Tracy was uninsurable. Both Hepburn and director Stanley Kramer pledged their entire salaries against the possibility that Tracy might not be able to finish the film.

The hope was to get Tracy's most important scene on film while his health still held up. The scene was the moment when Tracy speaks to the two assembled families: Sidney Poitier and his parents and Hepburn and the daughter Poitier hopes to marry.

"If you two love each other as much as her mother and I have loved each other," Tracy said, they would be able to handle the difficulties of an interracial marriage.

For a long moment nobody could speak. It was profoundly moving because it seemed so clear to everyone on the soundstage that he was speaking of his love for Hepburn. It is still impossible to watch the scene without feeling a strong emotional tug.

When Kramer quietly said "Cut," Tracy went over, put his arm around him and said, "OK, Stanley, you've got it." Tracy died a few weeks later.

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    Academy Awards

    Year Category Work
    1936 Best Actor San Francisco Nomination
    1937 Best Actor Captains Courgeous Win
    1938 Best Actor Boys Town Win
    1950 Best Actor Father of the Bride Nomination
    1955 Best Actor Bad Day at Black Rock Nomination
    1958 Best Actor The Old Man and the Sea Nomination
    1960 Best Actor Inherit the Wind Nomination
    1961 Best Actor Judgment at Nuremberg Nomination
    1967 Best Actor Guess Who's Coming to Dinner? Nomination

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