spencer tracy


broken lance

frank capra
katharine hepburn
fritz lang

madeleine carroll
marlene dietrich
grace kelly
josef von_sternberg

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alfred hitchcock
madeleine carroll
greer garson
victor saville
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ursula andress
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s p e n c e r   t r a c y  :   b i o g  ]

"It's just that acting is no proper job for a grown man."
- Spencer Tracy

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spencer tracy
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        Chester Erskine, director of the Broadway play that projected Spencer Tracy to stardom, provides a penetrating insight into his old friend's work and character

      Spencer Tracy autographs, photographs and more @ (direct link to signed items) - just checked and a bigger selection than I have seen everywhere else

      'The best movie actor in the world', wrote aneffusive journalist - just after Spencer Tracy had been nominated for an Academy Awardfor Father of the Bride in 1950. A lot of people,including most of his fellow actors, wouldagree to this. The notable exception was Spencer himself:

        'Now how can anybody declare me to be thebest in the world? It's kind of silly. Like thisAcademy Award business, I'm damnedpleased to be nominated and included amongstthe other nominees, worthy actors all of them.That's enough of an honour for me. But if Ishould win, would that make me better thanthem? Of course not. A good performancedepends on the role, and what the actor bringsof himself to it. And him alone. I bring SpencerTracy to it. Nobody else can bring SpencerTracy to it because they're not me. I'm the bestSpencer Tracy in the world. If they want togive me an award for that. I've truly earned it.'

      This is a true insight into his own work - Spencer did not act roles, the roles acted Spencer. His performances were part of him.They were him.

      He came upon this special approach duringrehearsals of The Last Mile in 1930, a landmarkplay of the time in which society's right to takethe life of even a murderer was questioned. Itwas directed by me in a new style of realism -one that I had successfully introduced intoseveral previous productions, a true realismborn out of a world in economic depression, aworld impatient with euphemism. The play isabout a convicted murderer awaiting execution in the death house of an Americanprison, who chooses to die in violent protestrather than by passive compliance.

      men of boys town

      Spencer had previously appeared in a potpourri of plays in repertory and in New York.He was a promising actor who occasionallyshowed flashes of true talent. I had seen a fewof his performances, and was not overly impressed by him as a candidate for the lead in The Last Mile. I was just about to dismiss him,when something about our too brief castinginterview stayed with me. Since it was gettingon to dinner-time I invited him to join me at atheatrical haunt. There, in a less strainedatmosphere, I was suddenly made aware as we were talking that beneath the surface, herewas a man of passion, violence, sensitivity anddesperation: no ordinary man, and just theman for the part.

      On the play's opening night, I stationedmyself at the back of the auditorium. I suddenly saw him, after a hesitant start, realize hispower as he felt the audience drawn into theexperience of the play and respond to themeasure of his skill and the power of hispersonality. I knew that he had found himselfas an actor, and I knew that he knew it. Theplay - and his performance - projected Tracy to permanent stardom.

      It was inevitable, of course, that the newrealism of the theatre would pass to films, thenin the transitional period from silent pictures todialogue pictures.

      The film director John Ford came to NewYork and saw The Last Mile. He was fascinatedby Tracy and invited him to make a picture. Itturned out to be Up the River (1930), a slapstickprison comedy of no quality. It was an unfortunate start for Spencer. Fox, the companyto which he was under contract, typecast himin similar roles and inferior material, thoughhis performances rose far above the banal level of the films. Eventually a respite (inspired byfilm critics who complained of this misuse of histalent) came in the form of several interestingpictures. In particular there was The Power and the the Glory (1933), a brilliant study by Preston Sturges of an industrialist's rise to power, in which Spencer came to maturity as a film actor in a role worthy of him.

      dr. jekyll & mr. hyde

      This honeymoon period was short-lived, however, and Tracy found himself again assigned to pot-boiler fare. But he had endured enough by now and rebelled. Following his angry protests - and some bad behaviour - Fox release him from his contract. Shortly afterwards he signed for MGM. The second and crucial phase of his career had begun.

      Louis B. Mayer, head of MGM, was not so convined that Spencer had sex appeal, so he was cast as a second lead to Clark Gable. Anyone acquainted with Spencer's private life could have reassured Mayer on this point, as Irving Thalberg, head of production, finally did. He freed Tracy from bondage to Gable and cast him opposite some of Hollywood's loveliest ladies, all of whom he was permitted to win by the script, and several of whom he won off-screen, regardless of script or permit.

      MGM was soon aware that it had gained a genuine star of 'first top billing over the title', as it is officially denoted. He did not stereotype himself into a single character or role to be repeated in various stories as other stars did. What is striking in a random selection of his film roles is their variety: the harried victim of Fritz Lang's Fury (1936); the loveable Portuguese fisherman of Kipling's Captain's Courageous (1937); the gentle Father Flanagan of Boys' Town (1938); the redoubtable Stanley in Stanley and Livingstone (1939); Pilan, a Mexican peasant not above a little petty larceny, in Steinbeck's Tortilla Flat (1942); Joe the pilot in A Guy Named Joe (1943).


      Tracy finished his contract at MGM with amasterful performance in Bad Day at BlackRock (1955) as the one-armed war veteranwho uncovers a town's guilty secret: for this hereceived his fifth Oscar nomination. He nextappeared in several distinguished films for Stanley Kramer with social themes close to Spencer's personal convictions. Inherit theWind (1960) was a fictional account of the Dayton 'monkey' trial in Ohio during theTwenties, in which he played a lawyer, basedon Clarence Darrow, who defends a teacherarraigned for teaching the Darwinian theory ofevolution. In Judgement at Nuremberg (1961) hewas the troubled judge at a Nazi war criminaltrial. And Guess Who's Coming to Dinner? (1967), Tracy's last appearance, was acourageous story for the time, in which acouple, played by Tracy and KatharineHepburn, come to accept the fact of a blackhusband for their daughter.

      Spencer's famous partnership withKatharine Hepburn began in 1942 with Woman of the Year. It was an historic occasion,both professionally and personally. For thenext 25 years they appeared together in avariety of films. Perhaps the best were twosophisticated comedies, Adam's Rib (1949) and Pat and Mike (1952).

      When working, Spencer was very strict withhimself. He examined the script carefully,defining his place in the story. He learned linesquickly, and asked for few if any changes. Herelied on his ability to meet the requirements ofthe dialogue, no matter what. He did not go infor improvisation of any kind. He was a goodlistener in rehearsal and tried to do what wasasked of him. Directors loved to work with him.

      adam's rib

      As a star, Tracy avoided publicity andinterviews, which did not make him afavourite with the PR boys. He would say:

        'I don't have to dothose things. Everybody knows me. They see me in pictures. That's who I am.'

      But behind Spencer's strong, confident, craggy visage, there was an angry man disposed to self-destruction. When the strain became too intense he drank - drank fiercely to oblivion. He was not the only actor so afflicted. There were others - too many others. We talked about this, and I suggested it might be because acting imposed on the actor the burden of being his own instrument so that hewas in danger of becoming a split personality. He smiled.

        'Jekyll and Hyde? I played that part. Maybe. And maybe it's just that acting is no proper job for a grown man. I've never really felt comfortable about it.'

      And then he added:

        'But I wouldn't do anything else for the whole world!'



        - Taxi Talks (short)
        - The Tough Guy/TheHard Guy (short)
        - Up the River


        - QuickMillions
        - Six Cylinder Love
        - Goldie


        - SheWanted a Millionaire
        - Sky Devils
        - DisorderlyConduct
        - Young America (GB: We Humans)
        - Society Girl
        - Painted Woman
        - Me and My Gal(GB: Pier 13)


        - 20,000 Years in Sing Sing
        - Facein the Sky
        - Shanghai Madness
        - Wings
        - The Power andthe Glory
        - The Mad Game
        - A Man's Castle


        - Looking for Trouble
        - TheShow-off
        - Bottoms Up
        - Now I'll Tell
        - Marie Galante


        - It's a SmallWorld
        - Murder Man
        - Dante's Inferno
        - Whipsaw


        - Riffraff
        - Fury
        - San Francisco<<<- Libeled Lady


        - They Gave Him a Gun
        - Captains Courrrraaaaaageous
        - Big City


        - Mannequin
        - Test Pilot
        - Boys' TTTToooooown


        - Stanley and Livingstone


        - I Take ThisWoman
        - Northwest Passage
        - Edison, the Man
        - Boom Town


        - Men of Boys'Town
        - Jekyll and Mr Hyyyydddddde


        - Woman of the Year
        - Tortilla Flat- Keeper of the Flame
        - Ring of Steel (short; narr,only)


        - A Guy Named Joe


        - The SeventhCross
        - Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo


        - WithoutLove


        - untitled trailer for American CancerSociety


        - The Sea of Grass
        - CassTimberlane


        - The State of the Union


        - Edward, My Son
        - Adam's Rib


        - Malaya
        - Father of the Bride


        - Father's Little Dividend
        - The People Against O'Hara


        - Pat andMike
        - Plymouth Adventure


        - The Actress


        - Broken Lance


        - Bad Day at Black Rock


        - TheMountain


        - Desk Set


        - The Old Man and the Sea
        - The Last HHHHHHurrah


        - Inherit the Wind


        - The Devil at 4 O'clock
        - Judgement aaaaaat Nuremburg


        - It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World
        - How the West Was Won (narr.only)


        - Guess Who's Coming to Dinner?


    s p e n c e r   t r a c y   d v d s  ]

    s p e n c e r   t r a c y   v i d e o s  ]


    biography | filmography | books | dvds | posters | videos
    spencer tracy
    frank capra | katharine hepburn | fritz lang
    marlene dietrich | grace kelly


    tracy and hepburn
    signature collection
    4 disc set incl.
    pat and mike, keeper of the flame, women of the year, adam's rib
    uk dvd set reviewed & in stock
    tracy and hepburn in top form!

    art store

    links page

    broken lance

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    Changes last made: 2020