Spencer Tracy

A look back at the life of a man who made 80 films and was in the public eye for over 40 years.


Spencer Tracy was born four years after his brother Carroll to truck salesman John Edward and Caroline Brown Tracy. He attended Marquette Academy, then left school to enlist in the Navy at the start of World War I. He was still at Norfolk Navy Yard, Virginia, at the end of the war.

Whilst at Ripon College in Wisconsin, he did well in the lead of 'The Truth', and decided on acting as a career, dropping out of college. In New York, he roomed with fellow actor Pat O'Brien while they attended the Academy of Dramatic Arts. In 1923, they both got non-speaking parts as robots in 'R.U.R'. In stock he supported himself with jobs as bellhop, janitor and salesman.

John Ford saw his critically acclaimed lead in 'The Last Mile' (1932) and signed him up to play Saint Louis in 'Up the River' (1930) for Fox. His family moved to Hollywood in 1931, where he made sixteen films in three years. In 1935, he signed with MGM.

His prodigious career spanned four decades, and his 80 films made him a legend in his own time.

He became the first to win back-to-back Oscars for 'Captains Courageous' (1937) and 'Boys Town' (1938). He was 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 'Guess Who's Coming to Dinner' (1967).

He married actress Louise Treadwell in the 1930s, and as a staunch Catholic, he refused to divorce her despite beginning a relationship with Katharine Hepburn in 1942 that endured, despite the rigours of Hollywood life, until his death in 1967. He made a total of nine films with Hepburn.

Tracy struggled with alcoholism for most of his life. Whilst filming his last performance, in 'Guess Who's Coming to Dinner' (1967), he suffered severely from lung congestion. Seventeen days after completing filming he died of a heart attack in Beverly Hills.