Spencer Bonaventure Tracy, American actor noted for his natural style and versatility, is born in Milwaukee, Wisconsin on April 5, 1900. One of the major stars of Hollywood’s Golden Age, Tracy wins two Academy Awards for Best Actor, from nine nominations, sharing the record for nominations in that category with Laurence Olivier.
Tracy first discovers his talent for acting while attending Ripon College, and he later receives a scholarship for the American Academy of Dramatic Arts. He spends seven years in the theatre, working in a succession of repertory theatres and intermittently on Broadway. His breakthrough comes in 1930, when his lead performance in The Last Mile catches the attention of Hollywood. After a successful film debut in Up the River, he is signed to a contract with Fox Film Corporation. His five years with Fox are unremarkable and he remains largely unknown to audiences after 25 films, most of them starring Tracy as the leading man. None of them are hits although The Power and the Glory (1933) features one of his most acclaimed performances.
In 1935, Tracy joins Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, at the time Hollywood’s most prestigious studio. His career flourishes with a series of hit films, and in 1937 and 1938 he wins consecutive Oscars for Captains Courageous and Boys Town. By the 1940s, Tracy is one of the studio’s top stars. In 1942, he appears with Katharine Hepburn in Woman of the Year, beginning a popular partnership that produces nine movies over 25 years.
Tracy leaves MGM in 1955 and continues to work regularly as a freelance star, despite an increasing weariness as he ages. His personal life is troubled, with a lifelong struggle against alcoholism and guilt over his son’s deafness. He becomes estranged from his wife in the 1930s but never divorces, conducting a long-term relationship with Katharine Hepburn in private. Towards the end of his life, he works almost exclusively for director Stanley Kramer. It is for Kramer that he makes his last film, Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner in 1967, completed just 17 days before his death.
On June 10, 1967, Tracy awakens at 3:00 AM to make himself a cup of tea in his apartment in Beverly Hills, California that he shares with Hepburn. She hears a loud thump and finds Tracy lying dead on the kitchen floor from a heart attack.
A Requiem Mass is held for Tracy on June 12, 1967 at the Immaculate Heart of Mary Catholic Church in East Hollywood. Pallbearers included George Cukor, Stanley Kramer, Frank Sinatra, James Stewart, and John Ford. Out of consideration for Tracy’s family, Hepburn does not attend the funeral. Tracy is interred at Glendale‘s Forest Lawn Memorial Park, near his wife, Louise, and son John.
During his career, Tracy appears in 75 films and develops a reputation among his peers as one of the screen’s greatest actors. In 1999 the American Film Institute ranks Tracy as the 9th greatest male star of Classical Hollywood Cinema.