Spencer Tracy (April 5, 1900 - June 10, 1967) was an American film actor who appeared in 74 films from 1930 to 1967. He is often regarded as one of the finest actors in motion picture history.
He was born in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, the second son of John Edward Tracy, a hard-drinking Irish American Catholic truck salesman, and Caroline Brown, a Protestant turned Christian Scientist, and was christened Spencer Bonaventure Tracy.
Tracy's paternal grandparents, John Tracy and Mary Guhin, were born in Ireland. His mother's ancestry dates back to Thomas Stebbins, who immigrated from England in the late 1630s. At the beginning of World War I, Tracy left school, Northwestern Military and Naval Academy in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin to enlist in the Navy, but remained in Norfolk Navy Yard, Virginia throughout the war.
Afterward he attended Ripon College where he appeared in a play entitled The Truth, and decided on acting as a career. In the early 1920s he attended the Academy of Dramatic Arts in New York. For several years he performed in stock in Michigan, Canada, and Ohio. Finally in 1930 he appeared in a hit play on Broadway, The Last Mile.
In 1923 he married Louise Treadwell. They had two children, John and Louise (Susie). In 1930, director John Ford saw Tracy in the play The Last Mile and signed him to do Up the River for Fox Pictures. Shortly after that he and his family moved to Hollywood, where he made over 25 films in five years.
In 1935 Tracy signed with MGM. He won the Academy Award for Best Actor two years in a row, for Captains Courageous (1937) and Boys Town (1938).
He was also 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 and Laurence Olivier share the record for the most best actor Oscar nominations (9).
In 1941 he began a relationship with Katharine Hepburn, whose agile mind and New England brogue complemented Tracy's easy working-class machismo very well. Though estranged from his wife Louise, he was a devout Roman Catholic and never divorced. He and Hepburn made nine films together.
Seventeen days after filming had completed on his last film, Guess Who's Coming to Dinner, with Hepburn, he died from a massive heart attack at the age of 67.
More than thirty years after his death, Tracy is still widely considered one of the most skillful actors of his time. He could portray the hero, the villain, or the comedian, and make the audience believe he truly was the character he played. Tracy was one of Hollywood's earliest "realistic" actors; his performances have stood the test of time.
A new full length biography of Spencer Tracy is currently being written by James Curtis, author of the acclaimed 2003 biography of W.C. Fields.
In 1988, the University of California, Los Angeles' Campus Events Commission and Susie Tracy created the UCLA Spencer Tracy Award. The award has been given to actors in recognition for their achievement in film acting. Past recipients include William Hurt, Jimmy Stewart, Michael Douglas, Denzel Washington, Tom Hanks, Sir Anthony Hopkins, Jodie Foster, Harrison Ford, Angelica Houston, Nicolas Cage, Kirk Douglas, Jack Lemmon and Morgan Freeman.