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Who is Spencer Tracy?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 23, 2024
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Spencer Tracy (1900-1967) was a well known Hollywood actor who starred in a large number of popular films from the 1930s to the 1960s. Spencer Tracy is remembered as a courteous and gentle leading man, who was also active in animal welfare causes and children's charities. Spencer Tracy is consistently mentioned as one of the best actors of all time, and his versatile and compelling performances still stand out in the films he made.

Like many actors during the 1930s, Spencer Tracy made his start on Broadway, where he had a career as a well respected actor, appearing in a variety of productions before taking screen tests for several studios. He was at first rejected, but in 1930, John Ford insisted on casting Spencer Tracy in Up the River. After this first film, Tracy signed a contract with Fox Pictures and moved to Hollywood, making an astounding total of 20 films between 1930 and 1934.

Spencer Tracy was married to Louise Treadwell, with whom he had two children. He also had two affairs, one with Loretta Young in the 1930s and another with Katharine Hepburn, which began while the two were filming Woman of the Year in 1942. This affair lasted until Tracy's death in 1967, although he remained married to Louise Treadwell because his Catholic faith prohibited divorce.

Spencer Tracy filmed a dizzying number of films, winning back to back Oscars for his work on Captains Courageous (1937) and Boys Town (1938). Despite his initial rejection by Hollywood, Spencer Tracy went on to become a major box office draw. He often criticized his looks, feeling that he lacked the matinee idol features that many leading men of his day had, but this was clearly not an obstacle to his stellar film career.

In addition to being a superb actor, Spencer Tracy was an extremely talented painter, though most of his work is in private collections. He worked primarily in oils and painted in a very realistic, yet nostalgic style. Many of his paintings provided glimpses into the backstage of many Broadway productions, with young actresses in lacy costumes, shadowy sets, and rooms bustling with actors and actresses preparing to go on stage.

Spencer Tracy was secretly diagnosed with diabetes in the late 1940s, and it is likely complications of this disease that led to his death only nine weeks after Guess Who's Coming to Dinner finished filming in 1967. Tracy suffered from increasing ill health in the 1960s, making fewer films than during his 1930s heyday, and his death was a great loss to Hollywood.

PublicPeople is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a PublicPeople researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By anon111111 — On Sep 15, 2010

I am curious to what your source is for your assertions about Tracy's paintings. I was under the impression that he was pretty much a duffer in that area. Could you discuss this more? Who has his paintings?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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