Hollywood Remains to Be Seen

Spencer Tracy
1900 - 1967

Forest Lawn Glendale

Spencer Tracy was often referred to as "the actor's actor."

Tracy originally studied for the priesthood, but quit school to join the U.S. Navy, serving in World War I. He returned home after the war, and was attending classes at Ripon College in Wisconsin when he landed the lead role in a school play, "The Truth," which convinced him to pursue acting as a career. Tracy enrolled at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in New York City, and landed his first role on Broadway as a robot in "R.U.R." Director John Ford saw Tracy on Broadway in "The Last Mile," and brought him to Hollywood to star in "Up The River" (1930), a prison drama. Tracy appeared in a series of tough-guy roles in crime and prison films for the next few years, including "Quick Millions" (1931), "Young America" (1932), "Society Girl" (1932), "20,000 Years in Sing Sing" (1932), "The Mad Game" (1933), "Looking for Trouble" (1934), "Bottoms Up" (1934), "The Murder Man" (1935), "Whipsaw" (1935) and "Riffraff" (1935).

Perhaps using his seminary training, Tracy played a priest for the first time in "San Francisco" (1936), co-starring Clark Gable and Jeanette MacDonald, and received the first of his nine Academy Award nominations as Best Actor. Tracy won the award the following year for his performance in "Captains Courageous" (1937) -- even though the Oscar statuette he received identified him as "Dick Tracy." Tracy put the priest's collar back on for "Boys Town" (1938), and won another Academy Award for his performance as Father Flanagan. Tracy was the first actor to win the award in consecutive years -- a feat that would not be repeated until Tom Hanks won for "Philadelphia" (1992) and "Forrest Gump" (1993). Tracy was also nominated for "Father of the Bride" (1950), "Bad Day at Black Rock" (1955), "The Old Man and the Sea" (1958), "Inherit the Wind" (1960), "Judgement at Nuremberg" (1961) and "Guess Who's Coming to Dinner" (1967).

For decades, Tracy was a favorite among film fans, who admired his straightforward sincerity, self-effacing humor and seemingly effortless acting style. Tracy said the only rules of acting were, "Come to work on time, know your lines and don't bump into the other actors." Despite his apparent simplicity, other actors still point to Tracy as their model. Even Laurence Olivier said, "I've learned more about acting from watching Tracy than in any other way. He has great truth in everything he does."

Despite his on-screen "truth," Tracy is also known for a long-term "openly secret" relationship with actress Katharine Hepburn, which began when they met while making "Keeper of the Flame" (1942). At the time, however, Tracy was married to a former stage actress, Louise Treadwell. Both Tracy and his wife were devout Catholics and did not believe in divorce, so they remained married, even though Tracy continued his relationship with Hepburn for 25 years, until his death in 1967. Tracy and Hepburn appeared in nine films together, including "Woman of the Year" (1942), "Without Love" (1945), "The Sea of Grass" (1947), "State of the Union" (1948), "Adam's Rib" (1949), "Pat and Mike" (1952), "Desk Set" (1957) and "Guess Who's Coming to Dinner" (1967). Critics point to the on-screen relationship between Tracy and Hepburn as the first real representation of a strong, independent woman and a strong, independent man, relating to each other as equals.

Like the actor, Tracy's grave marker is plain, direct and to the point, without any unnecessary frills or embellishments. It says, simply, "Tracy."

Tracy was born Spencer Bonaventure Tracy on April 5, 1900, in Milwaukee, WI. He died on June 10, 1967, in Los Angeles, CA.

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