Spencer Tracy: A Life Hollywood craziness claims the least "Hollywood” of stars in this massive, eye-opening biography. Onscreen, in Boys Town to Judgment at Nuremberg, Tracy (1900–1967), was the unflashy everyman imbued with stolid rectitude, all embodied in the understated, naturalistic style that made Tracy Hollywood's greatest actor. Offscreen, in Curtis's unflinching but unsensationalized account, it's the full neurotic, out-of-control movie-star turn: the epic drinking that halted productions and landed Tracy in jail and detox; the careful modulation of mood with Nembutal and Dexedrine; the bedding of starlets from Ingrid Bergman to Gene Tierney; the humiliating struggle with weight; the affectations (like an English toff, Tracy played polo). Curtis fingers Tracy's Catholic self-loathing and irrational guilt over his son's deafness and gives his relationship with Katharine Hepburn--he hit and perhaps choked her during drunken rages--a nuanced treatment. Still, this thoroughly researched, at times over-stuffed biography, gives us a rich and definitive portrait of the actor in all his baffling contradictions. Photos. (Oct.)
NEW YORK -- Screen legend Spencer Tracy (1900-1967), who won one of his two Academy Awards for portraying a priest during Hollywood's golden age, played Catholic clergymen three other times, but was never comfortable with it, reveals a forthcoming book about the star.
In "Spencer Tracy: A Biography," to be published this fall by Alfred A. Knopf, James Curtis writes that MGM director W.S. "Woody" Van Dyke had to talk Tracy into taking the role of Father Tim Mullin, the pugilistic childhood friend of Clark Gable's character Blackie Norton, in the 1936 film "San Francisco." Before then, clerical roles in films had always been assigned to character players, not leading men.
"If he had any fear," Curtis writes, "it was the fear of artificiality, the fear that lifelong Catholics would look at Father Tim and see a movie star pretending to be a priest and not the soul of a real priest." As it turned out, Tracy's portrayal was so convincing, his fan mail began to include requests for spiritual advice, leading him to reflect to his secretary, "You can't live up to an idealistic role."
Tracy, a lifelong Catholic whose boyhood parish was St. Rose of Lima in Milwaukee, played a priest for the last time as Father Matthew Doonan, rescuing children from a doomed hospital in 1961's "The Devil at 4 O'Clock."
But he's best remembered for two portrayals of a real-life cleric, Father Edward J. Flanagan (1886-1948), in 1938's "Boys Town" and its 1941 sequel, "Men of Boys Town" -- winning an Oscar for the first film.
It took another Catholic -- Eddie Mannix, production manager at MGM -- to persuade Tracy to take the part of Father Flanagan. "Your name is written in gold in the heart of every homeless boy in Boys Town," Father Flanagan eventually wrote Tracy from the Omaha, Neb., headquarters of the charity he had founded in 1917, "because of the anticipated picture you are going to make for us."
Tracy and co-star Mickey Rooney, who played would-be tough guy Whitey Marsh, were never close. Curtis writes that on the first day of shooting, Tracy growled at Rooney: "The moment I catch you trying to louse up a scene I'm in, I'll send you to purgatory."
Tracy learned of one unexpected result of the famous part in 1967 while making his last film, "Guess Who's Coming to Dinner." With the help of a studio plumber, an outsider, a man in his mid-30s, sneaked onto the set.
"Uncle Spencer?" he said. "I'm Bobs Watson. I played Pee Wee in 'Boys Town.'"
Watson, then occasionally working as an actor, told Tracy of his plans to become a Methodist minister. "And I wanted to tell you that though I know it was a role, the way you were as Father Flanagan -- the warmth and loving and caring I felt -- was a major influence on my decision to enter the ministry."
Tracy, Watson remembered years later, "was very moved."
Tracy never resolved his real-life conflicts about his faith: Though his Catholic sensibilities -- perhaps along with other factors -- prevented him from divorcing his wife, actress Louise Treadwell, with whom he had two children, he nonetheless engaged in a number of extramarital affairs, most famously a longtime relationship with Katharine Hepburn. Yet Curtis writes that the actor still acknowledged his spiritual needs.
One occasion for doing so occurred during a 1966 visit from then-Maryknoll Father Eugene Kennedy, after Tracy's health had begun its final decline. Tracy, the former priest recalled, embraced a wooden statue of the Madonna he had found in Chamonix, France, and told Kennedy, "This is something I truly love. It's so simple."
Just before dinner that evening, Tracy confided, "You know, I thought about being a priest once; I guess every Catholic kid does, or did, anyway. I don't know how they feel with all these changes taking place. Now Pope John XXIII, he was my kind of pope. But with this Vatican II, I'm not sure that priests believe in sin anymore or still hear confessions."
He paused, then asked Kennedy, "You still know how to?"
“The best goddamned actor I’ve ever seen!”—George M. Cohan
His full name was Spencer Bonaventure Tracy. He was called “The Gray Fox” by Frank Sinatra; other actors called him the “The Pope.”
Spencer Tracy’s image on-screen was that of a self-reliant man whose sense of rectitude toward others was matched by his sense of humor toward himself. Whether he was Father Flanagan of Boys Town, Clarence Darrow of Inherit the Wind, or the crippled war veteran in Bad Day at Black Rock, Tracy was forever seen as a pillar of strength.
In his several comedy roles opposite Katharine Hepburn (Woman of the Year and Adam’s Rib among them) or in Father of the Bride with Elizabeth Taylor, Tracy was the sort of regular American guy one could depend on.
Now James Curtis, acclaimed biographer of Preston Sturges (“Definitive” —Variety), James Whale, and W. C. Fields (“By far the fullest, fairest, and most touching account . . . we have yet had. Or are likely to have” —Richard Schickel, The New York Times Book Review, cover review), gives us the life of one of the most revered screen actors of his generation.
Curtis writes of Tracy’s distinguished career, his deep Catholicism, his devoted relationship to his wife, his drinking that got him into so much trouble, and his twenty-six-year-long bond with his partner on-screen and off, Katharine Hepburn. Drawing on Tracy’s personal papers and writing with the full cooperation of Tracy’s daughter, Curtis tells the rich story of the brilliant but haunted man at the heart of the legend.
We see him from his boyhood in Milwaukee; given over to Dominican nuns (“They drill that religion in you”); his years struggling in regional shows and stock (Tracy had a photographic memory and an instinct for inhabiting a character from within); acting opposite his future wife, Louise Treadwell; marrying and having two children, their son, John, born deaf.
We see Tracy’s success on Broadway, his turning out mostly forgettable programmers with the Fox Film Corporation, and going to Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer and getting the kinds of roles that had eluded him in the past—a streetwise priest opposite Clark Gable in San Francisco; a screwball comedy, Libeled Lady; Kipling’s classic of the sea, Captains Courageous. Three years after arriving at MGM, Tracy became America’s top male star.
We see how Tracy embarked on a series of affairs with his costars . . . making Northwest Passage and Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, which brought Ingrid Bergman into his life. By the time the unhappy shoot was over, Tracy, looking to do a comedy, made Woman of the Year. Its unlikely costar: Katharine Hepburn.
We see Hepburn making Tracy her life’s project—protecting and sustaining him in the difficult job of being a top-tier movie star.
And we see Tracy’s wife, Louise, devoting herself to studying how deaf children could be taught to communicate orally with the hearing and speaking world.
Curtis writes that Tracy was ready to retire when producer-director Stanley Kramer recruited him for Inherit the Wind—a collaboration that led to Judgment at Nuremberg, It’s a Mad Mad Mad Mad World, and Tracy’s final picture, Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner . . .
A rich, vibrant portrait—the most intimate and telling yet of this complex man considered by many to be the actor’s actor.
"An amazing accomplishment... I think James Curtis has really nailed the relationship between Kate and Spence in a way that no one else has ever done. People either sentimentalize them or blast them for one sin or another. He has presented a balanced picture and has revealed brilliantly many aspects of their lives and personalities totally unfamiliar to those who didn't know them well." -- Katharine Houghton
"A titanic human story that the reader--certainly this reader--feels very deeply." -- Eugene Cullen Kennedy
"The best actor's biography I have ever read." -- Scott Eyman
Post by CrazyForKate on Jul 28, 2011 20:36:23 GMT -5
Thanks for posting! I had seen the short ones, but not the longer reviews. Sounds like it will have a new take/more info on many subjects- and plenty for us Kate fans to discuss, which is such a nice thing after so many books you just have to dismiss.
Judy: All has changed on the Proboard....Not sure my reply got posted. Anyway, thanks for the notice, Evelien. I'm unable to access it. I can watch the clip of the woman flipping through the Kate books and talking about fashion - one of which is Rebel Chic :-)
Feb 4, 2014 20:29:21 GMT -5
dreamer: Ok peeps have tried to figure this new board - with not much success In order to login - click at the upper right corner - use your name from the board and your password and it should be all right. If not - please let me know and I will try to help!
Jul 29, 2014 7:30:03 GMT -5
Judy: I can enter. But not sure how to post now....Although I have nothing exciting to say, except hello to everyone!
Jul 29, 2014 20:34:38 GMT -5
Sherry: Hello in return.
Jul 31, 2014 10:40:25 GMT -5
HollywoodHepcat: Awww, hiiii!! I'm randomly here in hope of sourcing a quote of Kate's about Joel Mccrea-- coming up short, though. Ah well, hope everyone is well!! FINALLY A RED AND WHITE BANNER. TOOK 8 YEARS, BUT... WE MADE IT.
Aug 5, 2014 20:43:01 GMT -5
Tracy Lord: Just wanted to say a big HEY to everyone! I would love it if this board was active like it once was. I've missed it!
Aug 6, 2014 17:23:36 GMT -5
evelien: Hi everyone, hope you're all fine. I'm still alive and kicking and still as big a KH fan.
Aug 12, 2014 12:09:24 GMT -5
evelien: Judy: to reply to an existing thread, you can post a message in the 'quick reply' box under the last post on the page. To create a new thread: click on the folder you wish to post a new thread in and on the top right side you can choose 'New thread'.
Aug 12, 2014 12:11:39 GMT -5
CFK: So we all heard about Betty Bacall, I guess? Pretty rotten news, especially following so closely on Robin Williams. What a lousy week. Watched To Have and Have Not as tribute tonight.
Aug 13, 2014 0:25:58 GMT -5
HollywoodHepcat: Oh my God. Betty. My heart's in my throat.
Aug 13, 2014 5:45:59 GMT -5
lomola : hello fellow KH fans Just stumbled upon this interesting board.. Does anyone have any video interviews with KH?? Or maybe transcripts of them? I´ve been especially looking for the full version of the famous Cavett one forever and ever...
Sept 15, 2014 16:06:41 GMT -5
lomola : the bits of it i found on youtube were just amazing..
Sept 15, 2014 16:07:35 GMT -5
Laura: Is there anybody here? My registration has been pending approval forever... Maybe this board has been abandonned by the owner..
Dec 15, 2014 3:40:49 GMT -5
Fran: I think the problem with actresses such as Bette Davis and Joan Crawford was that they played SEX SYMBOLS and did woman movies. They were sexy in their day and were the main love interests in the movie. When they got older those woman type movies were dead
Jun 26, 2017 16:56:41 GMT -5
Fran: Bette Davis made very different movies from Katherine Hepburn Hepburn. Bette was sexy. So was Crawford. They made woman type movies. Hepburn was the masculine feminist. When their looks went, so did their careers. Hepburn was never that type.
Jun 26, 2017 16:57:53 GMT -5
Angela: Personally, I like Bette Davis best she was "a woman for all season" she didn't mince words she did the role without having to apologize for creativity she musters to do the work. Also, she could look different without worrying about her appearance.
Mar 14, 2019 19:54:07 GMT -5
Angela: Personally, I felt Bette Davis was the "woman for all seasons" since she used all her creativity to make her artwork. As for Katherine she seems to sound the same - her voice didn't change. Granted she was good in Shakespeare which I give credit.
Mar 14, 2019 19:56:35 GMT -5
SJS: Bette had a mostly latent tendency to ham, and she admitted it. She really appreciated a director who could get her to tone it down. She lost respect for a director who would let her get away with it. But she took chances that most actresses wouldn't.
Apr 15, 2020 14:12:32 GMT -5