painted woman

Spencer Tracy


Spencer Tracy (April 5, 1900June 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 was born in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, the second son of John Edward Tracy, an Irish American Catholic truck salesman, and Caroline Brown, a Protestant turned Christian Scientist, and was christened Spencer Bonaventure Tracy.

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.

In 1935 Tracy signed with Metro Goldwyn Mayer. He won the Academy Award for Best Actor two years in a row, for Captains Courageous (1937) and Boys Town (1938).

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.

Tracy and Hepburn

In 1941, during the filming of Woman of the Year, Tracy began a relationship with Katharine Hepburn, who had just ended a five-year affair with producer Howard Hughes. Their relationship, which neither would discuss publicly, lasted until Tracy's death in 1967. Their relationship was complex and there were often periods where they were estranged. During one Tracy had a brief romance with Gene Tierney while filming the Plymouth Adventure.

Academy Awards

All of Spencer Tracy's Oscar nominations came in the Best Actor category.

Year Film Winner
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)

Death and legacy

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.

Partial Filmography


Short Subjects:

  • The Strong Arm (1930)
  • Taxi Talks (1930)
  • The Hard Guy (1930)
  • Another Romance of Celluloid (1938)
  • Screen Snapshots Series 17, No. 9 (1938)
  • Hollywood Goes to Town (1938)
  • For Auld Lang Syne (1939)
  • Hollywood Hobbies (1939)
  • Northward, Ho! (1940)
  • Ring of Steel (1942) (narrator)
  • Some of the Best (1949)
  • For Defense for Freedom for Humanity (1951)


By Tracy


  • Swindell, Larry (1969). Spencer Tracy; a Biography. New York: World Pub. Co..
  • Kanin, Garson (1971). Tracy and Hepburn; an intimate memoir. New York: Viking.
  • Fisher, James (1994). Spencer Tracy: a Bio-bibliography. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press.
  • Dandola, John (2001). Dead at the Box Office. Glen Ridge, NJ: Quincannon. Tracy is a character in this murder-mystery set against the 1940 World Premiere of Edison, the Man.


External links

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