Spencer Tracy (April 5, 1900 – June 10, 1967) was a two-time Academy Award-winning actor of stage and screen, who appeared in 74 films from 1930 to 1967. Tracy is generally regarded as one of the finest actors in motion picture history. In 1999, the American Film Institute named Tracy among the Greatest Male Stars of All Time, ranking 9th on the list of 100. He was nominated for nine Academy Awards for Best Actor.
Tracy's paternal grandparents, John Tracy and Mary Guhin, were born in Ireland. His mother's ancestry dates back to Thomas Stebbins, who immigrated from England in the late 1630s. Tracy attended six high schools, starting with Wauwatosa High School in 1915 and St. John's Cathedral School for boys in Milwaukee the following year. The Tracy family then moved to Kansas City, where Spencer was enrolled at St. Mary's College, Kansas, a boarding school in St. Marys, Kansas 30 miles west of Topeka, Kansas, then transferred to Rockhurst, a Jesuit academy in Kansas City, Missouri. John Tracy's job in Kansas City did not work out, and the family returned to Milwaukee six months after their departure. Spencer was enrolled at Marquette Academy, another Jesuit school, where he met fellow actor Pat O'Brien. The two left school in spring 1917 to enlist in the Navy with the American entry into World War I, but Tracy remained in Norfolk Navy Yard, Virginia throughout the war. Afterwards, Tracy continued his high school education at St. Johns Northwestern Military Academy in Delafield, Wisconsin 30 miles west of Milwaukee, but finished his studies at Milwaukee's West Division High School (now Milwaukee High School of the Arts) in February 1921.
Afterward he attended Ripon College where he appeared in a leading role in a play entitled The Truth, and decided on acting as a career. Tracy received an honorary degree from Ripon College in 1940. While touring the Northeast with the Ripon debate team, he auditioned for and was accepted to the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in New York. His first Broadway role was as a robot in Karel Čapek's R.U.R. (1922), followed by five other Broadway plays in the 1920s. In 1923 he married actress Louise Treadwell. They had two children, John and Louise (Susie).
For several years he performed in stock in Michigan, Canada, and Ohio. Finally in 1930 he appeared in a hit play on Broadway, The Last Mile. Director John Ford saw Tracy in The Last Mile and signed him to do Up the River (1930) with Humphrey Bogart for Fox Film Corporation. Shortly after that he and his family moved to Hollywood, where he made over 25 films in five years.
He was also nominated for San Francisco (1936), Father of the Bride (1950), Bad Day at Black Rock (1955), The Old Man and the Sea (1958), Inherit the Wind (1960), Judgment at Nuremberg (1961), and posthumously for Guess Who's Coming to Dinner (1967). Tracy and Laurence Olivier share the record for the most Academy Best Actor nods with nine Oscar nominations.
|1936||San Francisco||Paul Muni (The Story of Louis Pasteur)|
|1937||Captains Courageous||Spencer Tracy|
|1938||Boys Town||Spencer Tracy|
|1950||Father of the Bride||José Ferrer (Cyrano de Bergerac)|
|1955||Bad Day at Black Rock||Ernest Borgnine (Marty)|
|1958||The Old Man and the Sea||David Niven (Separate Tables)|
|1960||Inherit the Wind||Burt Lancaster (Elmer Gantry)|
|1961||Judgment at Nuremberg||Maximilian Schell (Judgment at Nuremberg)|
|1967||Guess Who's Coming to Dinner (Posthumous Nomination)||Rod Steiger (In the Heat of the Night)|
During his later years, Tracy's health worsened after he was diagnosed with diabetes, exacerbated by his alcoholism. Seventeen days after filming had completed on his last film, Guess Who's Coming to Dinner, with Hepburn, he died from a heart attack at the age of 67. The film was released in December, six months after his death.
Forty years after his death, Tracy is still widely considered one of the most skillful actors of his time. Fellow actor Van Johnson referred to Tracy as "my mentor".
Tracy was one of Hollywood's earliest "realistic" actors. Actors have noted that Tracy's work in 1930s films sometimes looks like that of a modern actor interacting with the more stylized and dated performances of everyone around him.
In 1988, the University of California, Los Angeles' Campus Events Commission and Susie Tracy created the UCLA Spencer Tracy Award. The award has been given to actors in recognition for their achievement in film acting. Past recipients include William Hurt, James Stewart, Michael Douglas, Denzel Washington, Tom Hanks, Sir Anthony Hopkins, Jodie Foster, Harrison Ford, Anjelica Huston, Nicolas Cage, Kirk Douglas, Jack Lemmon and Morgan Freeman.