Spencer Tracy

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Northwestern Military and Naval Academy's yearbook photo of Spencer Tracy (1919)
Spencer Tracy signature.svg

Spencer Bonaventure Tracy (born April 5, 1900 in Milwaukee , Wisconsin , † June 10, 1967 in Beverly Hills , California ) was an American film actor . Tracy, who began his career on stage and later was one of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer's top stars for 20 years , is considered one of the greatest character actors of the 20th century. He won the Oscar for Best Actor in 1938 and 1939 . He was seen in serious and comic roles, as well as a lover and classic character roles. Since he repeatedly portrayed decent, sensitive and wise characters, especially in his later films, whose main concern was the defense of justice and humanity, he embodied the “humanitarian conscience of the screen” for many moviegoers.


Childhood and youth

Spencer Tracy, called "Spence" by his friends, was born in Milwaukee to the pious Irish and Catholic businessman John Tracy. Contrary to a myth that the MGM later tried to create, the family was not poor but belonged to the middle class; the father was General Sales Manager at the long-established Sterling Motor Truck Company and usually made good money. The mother, Carrie Brown, a Protestant , came from a distinguished New England family and was distantly related to the founder of Brown University .

Childhood was problematic. Tracy often skipped classes or fought with other students, resulting in the fact that he had to change schools at least 14 times by the end of 8th grade. Even as a boy, Tracy loved silent films and, with the support of other boys, staged stage shows in the basement of his parents' house in which film stories were re-enacted. He was also a member of the Boy Scouts and successfully devoted himself to boxing and baseball .

In 1916 the family moved to Kansas City , but returned to Milwaukee six months later after their father's business project had failed. At the high school , which he finally attended since then, Spencer Tracy was at first as unsuccessful as in elementary school, but in 1917 he moved to the renowned, Jesuit- run Marquette University High School . There he took courses in Catholic theology and thought of turning his interest into a profession - to the delight of his father, who would have liked to see one of his sons as a priest.

In 1917, after the United States entered World War I , Tracy and his brother, both staunch patriots, volunteered for the armed forces. Tracy received his basic training in the Navy - Headquarters Great Lakes in Chicago and spent - after a short stay in the Navy base in Lake Bluff , Illinois  - the following seven months in the Norfolk Naval Shipyard in Portsmouth , Virginia. There he experienced the armistice in November 1918 without having yet come to the war. After his discharge from the military, Spencer Tracy initially returned to Marquette University High School , but moved to the Northwestern Military and Naval Academy , a cadet school in Lake Geneva , Wisconsin, in the fall of 1919 , where he finally graduated from high school in June 1920 .


In January 1921, at almost 21 years of age, which was unusual for the time, Spencer Tracy enrolled at Ripon College in Fond du Lac , Wisconsin, an exclusive little college where, despite his poor grades, he was accepted because he was at war served. His involvement in the school's debating club led to his first appearances in front of a larger audience and heightened Tracy's interest in acting so much that he also joined the college's theater company. He was the main actor in a number of student productions.

In April 1922, Spencer Tracy began studying acting at the New York American Academy of Dramatic Arts , where Charles Jehlinger became his most influential teacher. Even as a very young actor, Tracy recommended himself for the quality of his speaking voice and his body control. He was also able to memorize texts with astonishing speed and confidence. During his training he took part in three student productions of the academy, so-called graduation plays . Tracy was able to finance his studies through veteran salaries, which he received after his military service during the First World War, and through odd jobs as a stage actor. He also shared the accommodation with his childhood friend and fellow student Pat O'Brien . His father bore the tuition fees.

Beginnings in the theater

Spencer Tracy graduated from the Academy of Dramatic Arts in March 1923. Offers for stage engagements were initially absent, so that Tracy had to accept odd jobs, including as a sales representative . But already in June 1923 he got a job in White Plains , New York, where he played a wide range of roles with a beginner's salary of $ 20 a week and got to know Louise Treadwell , the group's leading lady . When the ensemble broke up after three months, he accompanied them to the Repertory Theater in Cincinnati , Ohio, where he appeared from then on as Treadwells Leading Man . Although Treadwell was a Protestant, Tracy soon proposed marriage to her. The marriage was concluded on September 12, 1923.

Shortly thereafter, Tracy was hired for an ensemble to bring out the comedy A Royal Fandango on Broadway . The main female role was played by Ethel Barrymore , Tracy was in a small supporting role. When the piece, after slating spent Tracy was the criticism after only 24 performances dropped off, the following month with changing guest ensembles on tour in the province. The institution of the repertory theater , which was often a moving business, experienced in the years before the sound film had its heyday, and how Spencer Tracy received almost all actors of his generation their basic training on the go. After the birth of his son in June 1924, Spencer Tracy worked at the Powers Theater in Grand Rapids , Michigan, where he appeared as a male lead opposite Selena Royle . Although he could not sing, but could dance all the more passably, Tracy gained experience in various genres of musicals , light comedies and dramas during this time . He spent the 1924/25 winter season at the Montauk Theater in Brooklyn , but then returned to the Powers Theater . After he was fired there, he went to the Trent Theater Stock Company in Trenton , New Jersey, where he played as the Leading Man alongside Ethel Remey .


In 1926, Spencer Tracy was recommended by his former stage partner Selena Royle to author and eminent producer George M. Cohan , who was preparing a production of Margaret Vernon's melodrama Yellow on Broadway . Although the piece was artistically insignificant and the role that Tracy played in it was small, this engagement marked a turning point in his career. In the course of their collaboration, Cohan came to believe that Tracy was extraordinarily talented in acting, and has been promoting him with all his influence ever since. After a brief engagement at the Faurot Opera House in Lima, Ohio , the last time he was on stage with his wife, Tracy played the lead role on Broadway in September 1927 in Baby Cyclone , a play Cohan made for him had written. In the spring of 1928 he replaced William Harrigan as the leading actor in Cohan's play Whispering Friends .

In 1929, Tracy starred in a number of unpretentious entertainment pieces that were not well received by audiences or critics. His acting performance was only noted in the play Conflict , in which he played a famous military pilot who could no longer gain a foothold in civil life after the end of the First World War. Through this portrayal, he recommended himself to a young team of producers who wanted to take the risk the following year to produce a serious, realistic drama on Broadway. In John Waxley's play The Last Mile , which premiered in February 1930, Tracy, whose weekly salary has now reached $ 1,000, starred as a man sentenced to death caught in the turmoil of a prison riot while friends tried to prove his innocence. Although the premiere coincided with the beginning of the Great Depression - at a time when light comedies were more in demand than heavy dramas - the play with its leading actor was a sensational success.


After the switch from silent to sound films between 1927 and 1930, the American film industry had a tremendous need for actors with good diction. Therefore, talent was sought especially on Broadway. Spencer Tracy was initially overlooked. Fox Film Corporation , MGM and Universal rejected it after screen tests, and Warner Bros. used it in only four short films in 1930. The tide turned when John Ford needed two leads for a comedy film that Fox Film Corporation wanted to produce. Upstream was supposed to tell the story of two escaped convicts. Ford chose Spencer Tracy because he had seen his impressive portrayal of a prisoner in The Last Mile . As Tracy's partner, Ford also recruited young Humphrey Bogart from Broadway , with whom Tracy formed a not close, but enduring friendship that lasted until Bogart's death in 1957.

Spencer Tracy turned down a long-term contract with Fox, the terms of which did not suit his interests, and returned to Broadway in mid-August after filming was completed. It wasn't until The Last Mile was phased out that Tracy signed a five-year deal with Fox and moved his small family to Hollywood in late November. From then on, his brother Carroll took care of his financial affairs. Spencer Tracy received a weekly fee of $ 1,200 at Fox, but had to participate in a predetermined number of film productions. Tracy, who is known to have been poorly able to judge the actual quality of a script throughout his life, hardly had any say in the selection of scripts at this point in his career.

By 1935, Tracy appeared in 19 films and a wide variety of roles, which brought him together with stars like Jean Harlow , Joan Bennett and Loretta Young , but whose quality increasingly disappointed him. The only notable films from this series are Raoul Walsh's gangster comedy Me and My Gal (1932) and the psychological study The Power and the Glory . In this formally ambitious film, long thought to be lost , Tracy delivers the sensitive portrait of a man who is perishing from his own egoism. He played other more interesting roles in films for which Fox loaned him to other film companies, such as in Michael Curtiz 's prison drama 20,000 Years in Sing Sing (1932, Warner Bros.). Columbia Pictures loaned Tracy for Frank Borzage's Man’s Castle , a typical Borzage story of two lonely and desperate people trying to keep their love for one another despite poverty and misery. His partner was Loretta Young, with whom he began a relationship while filming, which made for a lot of talk in the gossip press. MGM hired the actor for the less ambitious comedy The Show-Off , which was distributed in 1934.

In early April 1935, Spencer Tracy left Fox. Whether this was due to his disappointment that the company didn't offer him enough good roles, or whether Fox wanted to get rid of him because he didn't make enough money, is controversial in the literature.

MGM (1935-1941)

Immediately after his departure from Fox, Spencer Tracy signed with MGM for seven years, where he was particularly interested in Irving Thalberg . With stars like Greta Garbo and Clark Gable , MGM was the most glamorous film company in the world at the time. The PR Department of MGM immediately began to hone Tracy's biography. The studio publicity sold the actor as a man's man - a "particularly masculine man" - with an impeccable private lifestyle. At the same time, the studio began to purposefully build him into a star. His contract required him to make up to five films a year. His freedom to choose film roles himself, however, remained similarly restricted as with Fox. The first films in which Tracy shot under the new contract were little remarkable. The 1935 comedy Whipsaw was only interesting because Myrna Loy , who had turned her back on MGM for a long time, appeared here for the first time in a company film.

In 1936, three of the best films Spencer Tracy ever appeared in in the 1930s followed: Fury , San Francisco and Funny Sinner . Blind Fury , the first film directed by Fritz Lang after his immigration to the United States, was an early film noir . Tracy played the role of a young man who is innocently arrested after a child abduction and only narrowly escapes a mob who tries to lynch him . His partner was Sylvia Sidney . In San Francisco he appears alongside Clark Gable and Jeanette MacDonald in the role of a priest who, on the eve of the earthquake in San Francisco , tries to lead a childhood friend who has become a windy bar owner back on the path of humanity. That performance earned Tracy his first Oscar nomination for Best Actor. In Jack Conway's comedy Funny Sinner , Tracy plays a star cast alongside Jean Harlow , Myrna Loy and William Powell, a newspaper boss who, in order to avert a libel suit, spins intrigues that unintentionally have far-reaching romantic consequences. The trade press praised Tracy's versatility and compared him to Paul Muni .

After the success of Funny Sinners , Spencer Tracy landed a new contract in which MGM increased their fee to $ 5,000 per week. From September 1936 to January 1937 he stood in front of the camera for Victor Fleming's adventure film Manuel , an elaborate adaptation of the novel Captains Courageous (1896) by Rudyard Kipling . In this film, Tracy plays the role of a warm-hearted Portuguese fisherman who saves a spoiled and headstrong son of wealthy parents, played by the child star Freddie Bartholomew , from drowning and then raises him to be a responsible person. The film adaptation differed significantly from the novel, as here the Captain Troop decisively influenced the upbringing of the young Harvey Cheyne Jr. In addition, Manuel does not die in another rescue operation in favor of the boy in the book. The scriptwriters, however, were keen on an audience-grabbing, sentimental turn. The film was released on May 11, 1937, and its portrayal earned Tracy his first Academy Award for Best Actor the following year. As Tracy was hospitalized that day for a hernia operation, his wife Louise accepted the award for him. In mid-1938 the film Big City came out , showing Tracy as the husband of Oscar winner Luise Rainer . The inadequate script allowed neither Rainer nor Tracy to show their talent.

After co-starring alongside Joan Crawford in Mannequin , another film directed by Victor Fleming followed that same year, 1938, for which Tracy again appeared in front of the camera with Clark Gable and Myrna Loy. The Test Pilot was a popular adventure film with audiences and critics alike, in which Tracy plays the mechanic and best friend of a bold but windy aviator. A third and final time, Tracy worked with Gable later in the film Boom Town (1940).

In 1938, Tracy impersonated Father Flanagan , a priest who founded the world famous youth welfare organization (Boys Town) in Omaha , Nebraska in 1921 in the film The Devil's Guys , directed by Norman Taurog . The film, which premiered on September 8, 1938, was hugely successful, and on February 23, 1939, Tracy received a second Oscar for its performance. In Academy Awards history, Tracy became the first actor to win the Best Actor Award for two consecutive years. However, a sequel that followed in 1941 received only a fraction of the attention of the first film. Two of the next films, I Take This Woman (with Louis B. Mayer's protégé Hedy Lamarr ) and the lavishly produced technicolor film Nordwest-Passage (both 1940), were panned by criticism and only played part of their production costs. The only films from this period that Tracy herself thought successful were his portraits of the explorer Henry Morton Stanley ( Stanley and Livingston , 1939, for 20th Century Fox) and the inventor Thomas Edison ( The Great Edison , 1940).

In 1940 Spencer Tracy received - as one of the last MGM stars - an adapted contract that only required him to participate in two films a year. Nonetheless, Tracy's great success story, which began in 1936, ended in 1941. The film Doctor and Demon , an adaptation of Robert Louis Stevenson's novel The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde , who had already been successfully filmed several times. Despite being directed by Victor Fleming, the film failed, among other things because Tracy, who didn't know what to do with the role-related mask , saw the transformation between the disparate characters Mr. Hyde and Dr. Jekyll didn’t succeed in visual or acting.

MGM (1941–1955)

After completing the filming for Doctor and Demon , Spencer Tracy was to star in the family film The Wilderness Calls . Production was canceled, however, and MGM was not able to realize the project until five years later with Gregory Peck in the lead role.

In 1940 Katharine Hepburn , who had already received an Oscar and had previously been committed to RKO , came to MGM. In 1941 she insisted on appearing with Spencer Tracy in the screwball comedy The Woman We Talked About. This film, directed by the well-known George Stevens and released on January 19, 1942, thrived on Tracy's and Hepburn's skillful interaction and was so successful that MGM produced five more films with the couple by 1957. Since shooting their first film together, Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn have also been a couple privately.

When the United States entered World War II in December 1941 , Spencer Tracy was in front of the camera in Victor Fleming's John Steinbeck adaptation Tortilla Flat (1942). With many prominent actors - including Clark Gable, Robert Montgomery , James Stewart , Robert Taylor and Tyrone Power  - going to the front lines as soldiers, Tracy, who was no longer fit for military service, became the MGM's most prominent male star in 1942. Most of the films in which he was used until the end of the war were political or patriotic in character. In the drama The Whole Truth (1942, with Katharine Hepburn) he plays a journalist who unravels a totalitarian conspiracy. The Whole Truth was the first film Tracy worked in, directed by George Cukor , a personal friend of Katharine Hepburn, with whom Tracy made four other joint films by 1953. After completing filming for The Whole Truth, Tracy starred in Fleming's war film Battle in the Clouds (1943), in Fred Zinnemann's Anna Seghers film The Seventh Cross, and Mervyn LeRoy's popular war film Thirty Seconds About Tokyo (both 1944). In the spring and fall of 1943, Tracy appeared on the radio to promote the purchase of war bonds . The following year, like many other film stars, he was deployed in troop support and appeared as a singer and entertainer in military bases in California , Hawaii and Alaska .

Shortly before the end of the war, Tracy and Hepburn played together again in a comedy. Too Smart for Love (premiered in March 1945) is about a couple who enter into a marriage of convenience that ultimately turns out to be love despite the constant squabbling of the partners. In the winter of 1945-46, Tracy returned to Broadway again to play the lead role in Robert W. Sherwood's war problem play The Rugged Path . Although he received good press for this acting performance, it was his last work at the theater.

Tracy then starred with Hepburn in the western Endless is the Prairie (1946), directed by Elia Kazan . Kazan, who expected “ method acting ” and thus an emotionally motivated game from his actors , did not know what to do with an artist guided by instinct like Tracy to be able to effectively stage it. Tracy's own comment on Method Acting was, “The boys tell me to try this new Method Acting, but I'm too old and talented to care.” For the Frank Capra- directed film Der best man (1948), Tracy slipped into the role of a politician, which is so characteristic of his image, who as a "simple man" is actually a stranger in the world of politics, but there - guided by his inner voice - proves to be the better man . In the film The Last Hurray (1958) Tracy later appeared again as a politician. Other films in which Tracy starred in the late 1940s were the comedy Ehekrieg (the most successful film to date with the Tracy / Hepburn duo), George Cukor's crime film Edward, mein Sohn, and Richard Thorpe's war film Malaya (all three 1949).

In the 1950s, when the American film industry suffered dramatic drops in profits due to the persecution of the McCarthy era and the spread of television, Spencer Tracy remained a guarantee of income for MGM.

In the 1950 family film Father of the Bride , Tracy plays a man whose daughter (portrayed by the almost 18-year-old Elizabeth Taylor ) begins planning her marriage and who, in the face of these events, which are so much bigger than himself, is plunged into a whirlpool of emotions device. The film grossed so much money that MGM immediately produced a sequel, A Gift from Heaven (1951). Since Humphrey Bogart and Clark Gable never played fathers of adult children, Spencer Tracy is considered by many to be the only male film star of his generation who has managed to switch from being a lover to being a father. In later films, in which he also appeared as the father of marriageable young women, Tracy was just as successful, such as in Cukor's artist drama Theaterfieber (with Jean Simmons , 1953) and in Guess Who Comes to Dinner (1967).

1951 was followed by John Sturges ' mediocre film noir The murder trial O'Hara (with Tracy's childhood friend Pat O'Brien ), 1952 Tracy / Hepburn comedy Pat and Mike and the expensive color produced Mayflower film Plymouth Adventure , 1953 Theater fever and 1954 Edward Dmytryk's western The Broken Lance (for 20th Century Fox). The film Father of the Bride earned Tracy an Oscar nomination, received a Golden Globe for his appearance in Theater Fever , and was nominated for a British Film Academy Award .

The most ambitious film Spencer Tracy starred in in the 1950s was City in Fear . This thriller was directed by its then preferred director, John Sturges. In the film, Tracy plays a one-armed stranger in a small town in the American West who tries to solve the lynching of a Japanese farmer shortly after the end of World War II. The film subsequently received three Academy Award nominations, and in the spring of 1955 at the Cannes Film Festival, Tracy was named Best Actor for his performance.

The last films

In June 1955 Tracy was supposed to take part in the MGM western My Will is Law , but repeatedly stayed away from filming and was therefore replaced by James Cagney after a few weeks . The departure from this film project meant for Tracy at the same time his separation from MGM, who terminated Tracy's contract. Of the big stars of the studio era , Tracy was one of the last to take the step into self-employment. However, he had anticipated, if not prepared, this step. In the mid-1940s, Tracy had commissioned the renowned William Morris Agency to look after his artistic interests .

From 1955, Tracy worked as a freelancer for constantly changing production companies. The first of these was Paramount , who hired him for the high-mountain drama Der Berg der Temptung (1956), which was produced in color and vision . This film adaptation of a novel by Henri Troyat was a favorite project of Tracy, which he would have liked to have realized at MGM, which he had been withheld from there for reasons of cost. At the side of Robert Wagner , Tracy, who received a fee of 200,000 dollars for this film, plays an old mountain guide who tries to rescue survivors after a plane crash in the French Alps. He has to deal with his younger brother, who accompanies him on the dangerous tour, but is only interested in looting. The film was later criticized, mainly because the 55-year-old Tracy and the 25-year-old Wagner did not appear credible as brothers because of the age difference. This was followed by another comedy starring Katharine Hepburn 1957 A woman who knows everything and 1958, the Ernest Hemingway - film The Old Man and the Sea , which produced cheaply despite production costs of almost six million at the end seemed, in theaters flopped and Tracy brought mostly negative reviews. The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences honored Tracy for this performance with an Oscar nomination.

For the film Who sows the Wind (1960), Tracy first starred under the direction of Stanley Kramer , who at that time embodied a new type of independent filmmaker and who now began a permanent collaboration with Spencer Tracy, which resulted in a total of four films, both should belong to Tracy's as well as Kramer's best. Tracy received Oscar nominations for best actor for three of these films, only the comedy A Totally Crazy World went empty-handed. In Who Sows the Wind he plays the role of the lawyer (Henry Drummond) who defends a young teacher in 1925 who is brought to justice by the fundamentalist zealot ( Fredric March ) for teaching Darwin's theory of evolution . One of the most impressive scenes in this film is an 11-minute plan sequence in which Drummond gives the jury his closing argument. Since Tracy was able to play such long and extremely difficult scenes without interruptions and without errors, Kramer also used plan sequences in the following films together with Tracy again and again.

After a minor film by Mervyn LeRoy ( The Devil Comes at 4 , 1961) in which he played the role of a priest, Spencer Tracy appeared for the second time under the direction of Stanley Kramer. In The Judgment of Nuremberg (1961) he plays - alongside Burt Lancaster , Maximilian Schell and Marlene Dietrich  - the role of a retired judge who is faced with the task of defending four leading German Nazi judges for their crimes against humanity condemn. In the early 1960s, the subject was considered so delicate that it was difficult to find a production company for the project. However, after its release in December 1961, the film won a number of international awards and is considered one of the best Tracy has ever starred in.

In the next six years, Spencer Tracy, whose health continued to deteriorate, only appeared in two films. Despite Katharine Hepburn's involvement, he turned down an offer for Sidney Lumet's literary film adaptation Long Day's Journey Into Night . In 1963, Tracy appeared for the third time in a Stanley Kramer film. A Totally, Totally Insane World was a high-spirited comedy in which Tracy, as an aging police officer, chases a number of crooks. After a health collapse in July 1963, from which he was slow to recover, Tracy was forced to turn down a role in John Ford's 1964 Western Cheyenne . He couldn't play a role in the Cincinnati Kid either. In both cases he was replaced by Edward G. Robinson .

The last movie Spencer Tracy appeared in was Stanley Kramer's Columbia film Guess Who's Over for Dinner . In addition to Katharine Hepburn, Sidney Poitier and Hepburn's niece Katharine Houghton , Tracy plays the role of the newspaper publisher Matt Drayton, who comes into conflict with his liberal beliefs when his (white) daughter tries to marry a black man. The script for this film was tailor-made for Spencer Tracy and contained a planned sequence in which Tracy gives a long and moving monologue in a dinner speech, as well as many scenes in which he expresses inner movement with haunting conciseness without words. The scene in which Drayton revises his original view of his daughter's actions while strolling alone through the garden has become particularly famous: a process of the highest complexity, for the creation of which Tracy used no other tools than his facial expressions. The film, which was released in theaters on December 11, 1967, won several international awards and was the most financially successful film in Tracy's entire oeuvre: Guess who comes to dinner grossed more than 56 million dollars in the USA alone.

Filming ended on May 26, 1967. The following month, June 10, Tracy died of heart failure . The memorial service took place at the Immaculate Heart of Mary Catholic Church in Hollywood , which Katharine Hepburn did not attend out of consideration for Tracy's wife. His grave is in the Forest Lawn Memorial Park Cemetery in Glendale , Los Angeles.

Acting profile


The Hollywood star system was based on the recognition value of the actors. This had far-reaching consequences for the actors. Some, like Clark Gable, Humphrey Bogart or Gary Cooper, paid for their success by repeatedly having to play themselves in front of the camera. For others, like Fredric March or Ronald Colman , every film role was an original artistic creation - but such actors rarely became big stars. Spencer Tracy is an exception to the rule that in the Hollywood studio system, acting range precludes star fame.

The actor, who was never considered handsome, was said to look gnarled at the age of 29. Dyeing his hair or wearing a corset, both of which were widespread in Hollywood among men, Tracy always refused. Already at the age of 50 - at an age when Humphrey Bogart and Clark Gable were still seen as lovers for a long time - he embodied fathers, politicians and men of the set age. Bogart and Gable, however, he had ahead of the fact that he knew how to make something out of the gray-haired characters on which his appearance determined him and that he could turn them - as in the films with Katharine Hepburn - into mature yet romantic lovers.

Similar to James Stewart, Spencer Tracy embodied - even as a priest or lawyer - again and again the "simple man" and inconspicuous average types with whom the audience could easily identify. Typical traits of the characters portrayed by him are an unpretentious demeanor and reserve, paired with a high degree of strength, sincerity, moral integrity, serenity and personal maturity. As Angela Lansbury noted, Tracy always carefully banished his personal conflicts from his account. Occasionally - for example in the comedies with Hepburn - the straightforwardness and stubbornness of these characters could turn into petty malevolence. Tracy has been referred to by colleagues as the "master of teasing remarks"; Bette Davis reports that he could have been "devastatingly sarcastic". The spectrum of his acting possibilities, however, ranged from shirt-sleeved, rough, realistic types (Nordwest-Passage) to lovable, naive "big boys" (The Power and the Glory) to quiet, warm and wise characters with great humanitarian depth (The judgment from Nuremberg) .

Working method and acting style

Lionel Barrymore is one of the actors who Spencer Tracy looked most closely to . He also admired Fredric March , Will Rogers , Walter Huston and Paul Muni. Younger colleagues, of whose talent he thought a lot, were Laurence Olivier , Bette Davis , Lee J. Cobb , Ingrid Bergman , Marlon Brando and Rod Steiger .

Characteristic of Tracy's art of acting was his pronounced underplay , which was rare in the cinema of the 1930s and 1940s. In some film scenes (such as City in Fear ) he even dared to break the convention by playing away from the camera in order to attract the audience's attention. Another trick that Tracy used repeatedly in his later films was to let ten seconds of silence precede a replica that he tried to achieve an intense dramatic effect. Tracy invented his characters from scratch for each film. These characters had little to do with his private personality, but always formed new variations of the "public" Spencer Tracy, whose image MGM had created. Tracy endowed his film characters with extreme complexity from his earliest films and furnished them with individual mannerisms that changed so regularly that contemporaries have repeatedly pointed out that Tracy - unlike Bogart or Gable, for example - could not have been imitated .

Tracy, whose formal training was very short by today's standards, had, like many contemporaries, learned to act primarily on the stage. As a result, he had no particular acting method - like Marlon Brando for example  - nor did he - like Katharine Hepburn - try to penetrate intellectually the characters he wanted to portray. In preparation for a film role, Tracy always studied his lines thoroughly, but rarely did any “real studies” or planned gestures, hand movements and the like in advance. Colleagues he worked with have always been captivated by his ability to draw on intuition in front of the camera, to listen carefully to his fellow actors - something actors are often not very good at - and to react authentically to them. Tracy knew unusually exactly how a human being would react in a wide variety of situations under the most varied of conditions, and was therefore able to react spontaneously in an infallibly believable manner, not as Spencer Tracy, but from the appropriate character. Many film colleagues were enthusiastic about Tracy's "symbiotic" relationship with the camera, with which, in the opinion of his directors, he worked more expertly than most other actors. Orson Welles and Stanley Kramer found that on screen you could literally see how Spencer Tracy's characters think.

Most of the directors were working with Tracy along very effective because he mastered his lines and was so disciplined and focused on set that when turning scenes where he appeared mostly already in the first, setting could be used. Unlike many other actors, Tracy never intervened in the director's work.

For colleagues, Tracy became a "living legend" in the 1950s, a "giant" whom they met with respect and awe, and often even intimidated. In the last years of his life, Tracy was often referred to as the pope ("the Pope"). However, the opinion has been repeatedly expressed that the roles that Tracy played were too easy for an actor of his talent. Laurence Olivier tried to win Tracy for Shakespeare roles, but this always refused. It is noticeable that Tracy attempted roles in adaptations of classic subjects ( Doctor and Demon , Tortilla Flat , The Old Man and the Sea ), but showed his best acting in films whose templates were designed for the screen from the outset.



As his biographer Bill Davidson pointed out in 1987 with reference to information from Ralph Bellamy , Spencer Tracy had been suffering from alcoholism since 1925 at the latest . While he behaved completely professional on set and was mostly sober, he often stayed away from filming in order to get drunk for days in a secluded hotel room. The MGM's advertising department was mostly able to shield him from the press. In the late 1940s, when the first serious health effects began to appear, Tracy did not give up drinking, but the situation improved significantly.

Marriage, family and personal life

With his wife, the stage actress Louise Treadwell (1896-1983), Tracy had two children: John (* 1924) and Louise, called Susie (* 1932). John was born deaf. In order to support him, his wife Louise gave up her professional activity in 1927, continued her education and in September 1942 founded the John Tracy Clinic in Los Angeles, which still exists today , whose fundraising activities largely owed its success to the prominence of Tracy. who was also a member of the board of directors at the clinic . From 1936 to 1942 the couple ran a ranch together in Encino near Los Angeles. His brief affair with Loretta Young while filming the film Man's Castle led to the couple temporarily separating in 1933. However, a year later, Tracy returned to his wife.

Tracy was an avowed Catholic. Like his four year older brother Carroll, who remained his closest friend and confidante throughout his life, Spencer was an altar boy as a child . In the course of his life he increasingly dealt with questions of faith. Through his acquaintance with Will Rogers , he came to polo in 1932 , for which he soon acquired his own horses. He also sailed, collected art and painted himself from the 1950s onwards.

Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn

In addition to his marriage, Tracy had a very confidential partnership with Katharine Hepburn , which lasted from their meeting in 1941 until the end of his life. Despite this relationship, which resulted in Tracy and his wife being permanently separated, the couple did not divorce. He occasionally cited his Catholicism as the reason for this, but according to his biographers the backgrounds were actually more complex. The press, which had formed an unusual informal alliance with MGM to protect the popular star, remained silent about this relationship until 1962. As Tracy became increasingly ill from the late 1950s, Hepburn repeatedly put her own career on hold to mentor Tracy and to promote his work.

You can see Tracy and Hepburn together in the films The Woman You Talk about , The Whole Truth (both 1942), Too Smart for Love (1945), The Prairie is Endless (1947), The Best Man (1948), Marriage War (1949), Pat and Mike (1952), A Woman Who Knows Everything (1957) and Guess Who's Coming to Dinner (1967).

The marketing of two actors as a recognizable screen couple was quite common in the era of the star system in Hollywood. However, Tracy and Hepburn were among the most enduring and popular of all American screen couples. Their comedies together - The Woman We Talked About , Too Smart for Love , Marriage War and Pat and Mike - were particularly successful, and as a classic portrayal of the “battle between the sexes” are iconic to this day . The recipe for success of the Tracy Hepburn films consisted, among other things, in the attractive offer of identification with which the two characters served their female and male audiences: Hepburn's female characters were extremely modern, intelligent, cultivated, self-confident and emancipated. Tracy's characters, on the other hand, corresponded to the ideal American man - sporty, masculine, strong-willed, sober and conservative. Only in contrast to Tracy's masculine characters, Hepburn's sparkling female characters blossomed to their full charm. On the other hand, it was obvious to the audience from the start that Tracy's down-to-earth-sensible male character would have the last word. The audience was also sympathetic to the romantic, optimistic message of these films, which repeatedly showed how two fundamentally different people can love each other deeply and sincerely across all opposites.


The AP news agency found Spencer Tracy in an opinion poll in 1950 as the best film actor today. Actors as diverse as Montgomery Clift and Steve McQueen were guided by his style. Many film colleagues - including George M. Cohan , Laurence Olivier , James Cagney , Humphrey Bogart , Lee Strasberg , David Lean , Robert Wagner , Stanley Kramer and Katharine Hepburn  - considered Spencer Tracy to be the best film actor ever. Bud Spencer , who initially performed under his real name Carlo Pedersoli, took his stage name in the 1960s in honor of Spencer Tracy. Tracy was also very popular outside the United States, for example in the Soviet Union .

As the embodiment of the prototypical pragmatic American, the “ self-made man ”, Spencer Tracy was a national icon and a representative of his time, with whose film characters his generation strongly identified. In the 1960s, however, a generation grew up in the USA that still respected this model of those born around 1900, but increasingly found it to be old-fashioned. Many films in which Tracy played interesting, timeless characters - such as The Power and the Glory - did not get on television and therefore remained unknown to younger audiences.

Tracy received renewed attention when the documentary The Spencer Tracy Legacy: A Tribute by Katharine Hepburn came out in 1986 - 19 years after his death . In addition, other reports on the subject were broadcast on cable television, the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in New York's Majestic Theater presented a live show in honor of Tracy, who has now been posthumously awarded a Lifetime Achievement Award . In addition, the created scholarships -Fond Spencer Tracy Endowment Fund . In 1988, Spencer Tracy's daughter Susie and the Campus Events Commission of the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA) founded the Spencer Tracy Award , an award that has been presented annually for acting in film ever since.

A casual portrait of Tracy was provided by Martin Scorsese in his 2004 feature film Aviator , in which the actor is played by Kevin O'Rourke .

German dubbing voices

The actors who voiced Spencer Tracy in the German dubbed version include:

  • Michael Brennicke ( Devil's Flyer , 1932)
  • Hartmut Reck ( 20,000 years in Sing Sing , 1932)
  • Elmar Wepper ( Blind Fury , 1936)
  • Ernst Schröder ( San Francisco , 1936; The prairie is endless , 1947; City in Fear , 1955)
  • Michael Chevalier ( Manuel , 1937)
  • René Deltgen ( The Test Pilot , 1938; Doctor and Demon , 1941)
  • Horst Schön ( The test pilot , re-synchronization)
  • Paul Klinger ( Northwest Passage , 1940; Fetters of Love , 1947)
  • Fred Maire ( The Great Edison , 1940)
  • OE Hasse ( The Daredevil , 1941; Marital War , 1949; Father of the Bride , 1950; A Gift from Heaven , 1951; The Broken Lance , 1954; A Woman Who Knows Everything , 1957)
  • Walter Richter ( The Woman One Talks About , 1942)
  • Horst Schön ( The Whole Truth , 1942; Too Smart for Love , 1945; Pat and Mike , 1952; Theaterfieber , 1953; That'll never happen again - That's Entertainment , 1976)
  • Günter Strack ( The Seventh Cross , 1944)
  • Hans Nielsen ( Malaya , 1949)
  • Walther Suessenguth ( Ship without a home , 1952; Who sows the wind , 1960; The devil comes at four , 1961; The judgment of Nuremberg , 1962; That was the wild west , 1962; A total, total crazy world , 1963)
  • Paul Wagner ( Mountain of Temptation , 1956)
  • Hans Hinrich ( The Old Man and the Sea , 1958)
  • Gert Günther Hoffmann ( The Great Metro Laughing Parade , 1964)
  • Eduard Wandrey ( Guess Who's Coming to Dinner , 1967)

Filmography (selection)

Stage appearances (selection)


  • June 22, 1921 – early 1922: The Truth (Author: Clyde Fitch; Ripon College) - Warder
  • November 1921: The Valiant (Authors: Halworthy Hall, Robert Middlemass; Ripon College) - prisoner
  • December 1921: The Great Divide (Author: William Vaughn Moody; Ripon College)
  • 1922: RUR (Author: Karel Capek; Theater Guild, New York) - (Little Strolls)
  • March 1923: The Wooing of Eve (Author: Hartley Manners; Academy of Dramatic Arts, Lyceum Theater)
  • March 1923: The Marrying of Ann Leete (Author: Harley Granville-Barker ; Academy of Dramatic Arts, Lyceum Theater)
  • March 1923: The Importance of Being Earnest (Author: Oscar Wilde ; Academy of Dramatic Arts, Lyceum Theater) - Minister
  • June 1923: The Man Who Came Back (Author: Jules Eckert Goodman; White Plains)
  • June 1923: Getting Gertie's Garter (Author: Wilson Collison; Fall River, Massachusetts)
  • 1923: Buddies (Repertory Theater, Cincinnati)
  • November 12, 1923 – December 1923: A Royal Fandango (Writer: Zoe Atkins; Plymouth Theater, Broadway) - Holt, detective
  • 1924: Page the Duke (Grand Rapids)
  • Summer 1924: The Sheep Man ( Stamford , Connecticut)
  • 1925: The Song and Dance Man (Author: George M. Cohan; Trent Theater Stock Company, Trenton)
  • September 21, 1926-January 1927: Yellow (Author: Margaret Vernon; National Theater, Broadway) - Jimmy Wilkes, bank clerk
  • Spring 1927: Laff That Off (Author: Don Mullally; Faurot Opera House, Lima)
  • Spring 1927: Apple sauce (author: Barry Conners; Faurot Opera House, Lima)
  • September 12, 1927 – February 1928: The Baby Cyclone (Author: George M. Cohan; Henry Miller's Theater, Broadway) - Gene Hurley
  • 1928: Ned McCobb's Daughter (Writer: Sidney Howard; Chicago, Princess Theater)
  • Spring 1928: Whispering Friends (writer: George M. Cohan; Hudson Theater, Broadway) - Joe Sanford
  • Christmas 1928: Tenth Avenue ( Baltimore )
  • March 6, 1929 – April 1929: Conflict (Writer: Warren F. Lawrence; Fulton Theater, Broadway) - Richard Banks
  • September 20, 1929 – September 1929: Nigger Rich / The Big Shot (writer: John McGowan; Royale Theater, Broadway) - Eddie Perkins
  • 1929: Dread (the piece was discontinued before it hit Broadway)
  • 1929: Veneer (Author: Hugh Stanislaus Stange; Sam H. Harris Theater, Broadway)
  • February 13, 1930 – October 1930: The Last Mile (Author: John Waxley; Sam H. Harris Theater, Broadway) - John Mears
  • November 10, 1945-19. January 1946: The Rugged Path (Author: Robert W. Sherwood; Plymouth Theater, Broadway) - Morey Vinion

Other appearances:

Films about Spencer Tracy

  • The Spencer Tracy Legacy: A Tribute by Katharine Hepburn (TV documentary, USA 1986)
  • Biography - Spencer Tracy: Triumph & Turmoil (TV documentary, USA 1999)
  • Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn (TV documentary, France 2003)

Awards and nominations

Tracy's star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame

Film awards

A star was dedicated to the actor on the Hollywood Walk of Fame (at 6812 Hollywood Boulevard).

Film award nominations

  • 1937: Oscar nomination for best leading actor in San Francisco
  • 1951: Oscar nomination for best actor in Father of the Bride
  • 1954: Nomination for the British Film Academy Award for Best Foreign Actor in Theater Fever
  • 1955: Oscar nomination for best leading actor in City in Fear
  • 1957: Nomination for the British Film Academy Award for Best Foreign Actor in Temptation Mountain
  • 1959: Oscar nomination for best leading actor in The Old Man and the Sea
  • 1959: Golden Globe nomination for best actor in The Old Man and the Sea
  • 1959: Nomination for the British Film Academy Award for Best Foreign Actor in The Last Hurray
  • 1961: Oscar nomination for best leading actor in Who Sows the Wind
  • 1961: Nomination for Best Actor, Laurel Awards , in Who Sows the Wind
  • 1961: Nomination for the British Film Academy Award for best foreign actor in Who Sows the Wind
  • 1962: Oscar nomination for best leading actor in The Judgment of Nuremberg
  • 1968: Oscar nomination for best leading actor in Guess who comes to dinner ( posthumously )
  • 1968: Golden Globe nomination for best actor in Guess Who Comes to Dinner (posthumously)
  • 1968: Nomination for best leading actor, Laurel Awards, for a guess who comes to dinner (posthumous)

Other awards

  • June 10, 1940: Honorary Doctorate from Ripon College's Drama Department
  • 1950: Honored by the Women's Research Guild of America as the man who has the greatest emotional influence on American women
  • 1950: Prize from the Catholic Stage Guild of Ireland



  • My Life Story, Milwaukee Sentinel series of articles , 1937


  • James Fisher: Spencer Tracy: A Bio-Bibliography , Greenwood Press, 1994. ISBN 0-313-28727-9


  • Bill Davidson: Spencer Tracy: Tragic Idol , New York: EP Dutton, 1987. ISBN 0-525-24631-2
  • Alison King: Spencer Tracy , Magna Books, 1992. ISBN 1-85422-293-7 (illustrated book)
  • Larry Swindell: Spencer Tracy: A Biography , New York, Cleveland: The World Publishing Company, 1969

Spencer Tracy's films

  • Donald Deschner: The Complete Films of Spencer Tracy , Citadel, 2000. ISBN 0-8065-1038-2
  • Romano Tozzi: Spencer Tracy , New York: Pyramid Publications, 1973. ISBN 0-515-03246-8 ; German edition: Spencer Tracy. His films - his life . Heyne, Munich 1990, ISBN 3-453-86009-8

Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn

  • A Special Kind of Magic: A dazzling, intimate portrait of a legendary Hollywood couple - Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn , Pyramid Books, 1972. ISBN 0-515-02767-7
  • Christopher Anderson: An Affair to Remember: The Remarkable Love Story of Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy , New York: Avon Books, 1997. ISBN 0-380-73158-4
  • Garson Kanin: Tracy and Hepburn. An Intimate Memoir , New York: Viking Press, 1971. New edition by Plume, 1988. ISBN 1-55611-102-9 (German: Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn , Fischer Taschenbuchverlag 1990, ISBN 3-596-24481-1 )

Magazine articles

  • Jane Ardmore: Mrs. Spencer Tracy's Own Story , in: Ladies Home Journal, February 1973
  • Bill Davidson: Spencer Tracy , in: Look, January 30, 1962 (the first publication to report Tracy's alcoholism and relationship with Hepburn)
  • Kitty Hanson: The Spencer Tracy Story , in: New York Daily News, Jan. 13-16. April 1964
  • Kathy Larkin, Spencer Tracy: Tribute to a Legend , New York Daily News, Nov. 4, 1986

Web links

Commons : Spencer Tracy  - album with pictures, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. Swindell, pp. Xii, 272.
  2. Swindell, pp. 6f; Davidson, pp. 12-17.
  3. Swindell, pp. 8-13; Davidson, pp. 19-21.
  4. Swindell, pp. 13-25; Davidson, pp. 23f.
  5. Swindell, pp. 28-31, 75; Davidson, pp. 23-30; King, p. 12.
  6. Swindell, pp. 35, 38-40; Tozzi, p. 19 (page numbers refer to the American original edition); Davidson, pp. 30-34; Anderson, pp. 103, 105.
  7. Swindell, pp. 39, 48, 53; Davidson, pp. 34-39; King, pp. 12-13.
  8. Swindell, pp. 51-60; Davidson, pp. 40-44.
  9. Swindell, pp. 62-65; Davidson, pp. 47-49, 53; Anderson, pp. 115-116.
  10. Swindell, pp. 69-84, 219; Tozzi, p. 26; Davidson, pp. 51-52.
  11. Swindell, pp. 61, 83-87, 142f; Tozzi, pp. 10, 27, 44; Davidson, pp. 52-56; King, p. 30.
  12. Swindell, pp. 89-117; Davidson, pp. 52-56, 62.
  13. Swindell 91-92, 118-119; Davidson, p. 64; Anderson, p. 129.
  14. Swindell, pp. 119-129, 162; Davidson, p. 64; King, pp. 28-29, 36.
  15. Swindell, pp. 129-134; Davidson, pp. 64-67.
  16. Swindell 136-142, 146, 279; Davidson, pp. 68-71; King, pp. 32-33.
  17. Swindell, pp. 144-150; Davidson, p. 74; King, p. 34.
  18. Swindell, pp. 150-152; Davidson, pp. 74-77; the next actor to win the Academy Award for Best Actor for two consecutive years was Tom Hanks (1994/95).
  19. Swindell, pp. 153-167; Davidson, pp. 77-78; King, p. 36.
  20. Swindell, pp. 169-173; Davidson, pp. 78-79, 115.
  21. Davidson, pp. 80-81.
  22. Swindell, pp. 176-181; Davidson, pp. 82, 85-86, 108.
  23. ^ Only Walter Pidgeon and a few young actors such as Gene Kelly and Red Skelton were rated similarly high ; Swindell, pp. 183-189; Tozzi, pp. 95-96.
  24. Swindell, pp. 183-192, 194-195; Davidson, p. 92.
  25. Swindell, pp. 192-193.
  26. ^ Davidson, p. 92.
  27. Swindell, pp. 195-204; Davidson, pp. 94-97; via The Rugged Path .
  28. Swindell, pp. 204-212; King, p. 48.
  29. Swindell, pp. 210-211, 221; Davidson, p. 112.
  30. Swindell, pp. 216-229.
  31. Swindell, pp. 142, 230-231; Davidson, pp. 113-119.
  32. Only Robert Taylor remained loyal to MGM longer than Spencer Tracy. Kanin, p. 99; Swindell, pp. 229-234; Davidson, pp. 127-134; Anderson, p. 337.
  33. Swindell, pp. 234-235; Davidson, pp. 135, 154-161.
  34. Swindell, pp. 235-240; Davidson, pp. 173-176.
  35. Swindell, pp. 161, 247-249; Davidson, pp. 142, 150, 180-184.
  36. Swindell, pp. 249-253; Davidson, pp. 185-187.
  37. ^ Davidson, p. 195.
  38. Swindell, pp. 255-256; Davidson, pp. 196-197.
  39. Swindell, pp. 260-261; Davidson, pp. 200-201.
  40. Swindell, pp. 265-276; Davidson, pp. 206-211.
  41. Swindell, pp. 271-273; Tozzi, p. 143, Davidson names a heart attack as the cause of death , but states that an autopsy that would have finally clarified the cause of death was not carried out (p. 211–213).
  42. The Grave of Spencer Tracy .
  43. Swindell, p. 278.
  44. Swindell, pp. 213, 279; Davidson, pp. 47, 112, 126.
  45. Swindell, pp. Xii, 51, 272; Tozzi, 11; Davidson, p. 5; King, p. 40; Anderson, p. 151.
  46. Swindell, pp. 25f, 100-102, 219, 276; Anderson, p. 297.
  47. Kanin, pp. 239, 246; Swindell, pp. 278-279; Davidson, pp. 117, 121-122, 147, 168, 182, 211, 281; King, pp. 56, 73.
  48. Kanin, pp. 6, 50-51; Swindell, p. 46; Davidson, pp. 5-6, 24, 117, 148-151, 182-183, 189; Anderson, p. 299.
  49. Kanin, pp. 6, 247-248; Swindell, p. 83; Davidson, pp. 151, 168; Anderson, p. 450.
  50. Swindell, pp. Vii, 256; Davidson, pp. 150-152, 195-198, 208.
  51. Swindell, p. 256; Davidson, pp. 1f, 6f, 37, 46, 102-106, 136, 142.
  52. Tozzi, pp. 43f; Swindell, pp. 88, 108-110, 117, 128, 185-187; Davidson, pp. 5, 36-37, 41, 54, 59-60, 88-91; King, p. 44.
  53. Swindell, p. 2; Davidson, pp. 1-3, 11-13; Anderson, pp. 87, 92.
  54. Kanin, p. 250; Swindell, pp. 86, 128, 214-215; Davidson, p. 59; King, pp. 8-9, 19, 23, 33.
  55. Swindell, pp. 243-247, 253-254, 259-260; Davidson, pp. 3, 136-137, 145, 165; King, pp. 62-65, 69; Anderson, pp. 231,318.
  56. Kanin, p. 7; Tozzi, pp. 94, 111; Swindell, p. 245; Davidson, p. 86; Anderson, p. 131.
  57. Swindell, pp. 51, 212, 271, 279, 281; Davidson, pp. 2, 86, 147, 149, 155-156, 217; King, p. 6.
  58. Swindell, p. 280.
  59. ^ Davidson, p. 8.
  60. Spencer Tracy Award  ( page no longer available , search in web archivesInfo: The link was automatically marked as defective. Please check the link according to the instructions and then remove this notice. .@1@ 2Template: Dead Link / dailybruin.ucla.edu  
  61. Spencer Tracy in the German dubbing index .
  62. Swindell, p. 199.
  63. Swindell, p. 134; King, p. 30.
  64. Swindell, pp. 167-169; Davidson, p. 27.
  65. a b Swindell, p. 215.
This version was added to the list of articles worth reading on March 11, 2008 .