Spencer Tracy was subject of the best book I read in 2011. One of the best I've ever read. After author James Curtis had (finally!) made me a fan of W.C. Fields through his authoritative 2003 biography, I could barely contain myself in waiting for his treatment of a subject I already liked in Tracy. Spencer Tracy: A Biography by James Curtis lived up to expectations.
Now TCM gives us an opportunity to get to know Spencer Tracy even better through his films. You've surely seen some, maybe even most, though I doubt all. 52 different titles air throughout October 2012 with each Monday evening of programming extending well into Tuesday morning and often beyond lunch-time. Between the Curtis biopraphy and the TCM marathon, we have opportunity to get to know Spencer Tracy better than we ever had before.
TCM's complete October 2012 Spencer Tracy follows and underneath that is a little more about both the TCM line-up and the James Curtis biography.
Monday, October 1, 2012
- 6:30 pm - The Spencer Tracy Legacy (1987) - Documentary
- 8:00 pm - Me and My Gal (1932) starring Spencer Tracy, Joan Bennett, Marion Burns
- 9:30 pm - Man's Castle (1933) starring Spencer Tracy, Loretta Young, Marjorie Rambeau
- 11:00 pm - The Power and the Glory (1933) starring Spencer Tracy, Colleen Moore, Ralph Morgan
- 12:30 am - Dante's Inferno (1935) starring Spencer Tracy, Claire Trevor, Henry B. Walthall
- 2:00 am - 20,000 Years in Sing Sing (1932) starring Spencer Tracy, Bette Davis, Lyle Talbot
- 3:30 am - The Showoff (1934) starring Spencer Tracy, Madge Evans, Clara Blandick
- 5:00 am - The Murder Man (1935) starring Spencer Tracy, Virginia Bruce, James Stewart
- 6:15 am - Whipsaw (1935) starring Spencer Tracy, Myrna Loy, Harvey Stephens
- 7:45 am - Riffraff (1936) starring Jean Harlow, Spencer Tracy, Joseph Calleia
- 9:30 am - The Big City (1937) starring Spencer Tracy, Luise Rainer, Charley Grapewin
- 11:00 am - Mannequin (1937) starring Joan Crawford, Spencer Tracy, Alan Curtis
- 12:45 pm - They Gave Him a Gun (1937) starring Spencer Tracy, Franchot Tone, Gladys George
Monday, October 8, 2012
- 8:00 pm - Fury (1936) starring Spencer Tracy, Sylvia Sidney, Walter Brennan
- 9:45 pm - Libeled Lady (1936) starring Jean Harlow, Myrna Loy, Spencer Tracy
- 11:30 pm - Test Pilot (1938) starring Clark Gable, Myrna Loy, Spencer Tracy
- 1:45 am - Edison, the Man (1940) starring Spencer Tracy, Rita Johnson, Charles Coburn
- 3:45 am - I Take This Woman (1940) starring Spencer Tracy, Hedy Lamarr, Verree Teasdale
- 5:30 am - Boom Town (1940) starring Clark Gable, Spencer Tracy, Claudette Colbert
- 7:45 am - Men of Boys Town (1941) starring Spencer Tracy, Mickey Rooney, Bobs Watson
- 9:45 am - Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1941) starring Spencer Tracy, Ingrid Bergman, Lana Turner
- 11:45 am - Tortilla Flat (1942) starring Spencer Tracy, Hedy Lamarr, John Garfield
Monday, October 15, 2012
- 8:00 pm - Boys Town (1938) starring Spencer Tracy, Mickey Rooney, Henry Hull
- 9:45 pm - Father of the Bride (1950) starring Spencer Tracy, Elizabeth Taylor, Joan Bennett
- 11:30 pm - Bad Day at Black Rock (1955) starring Spencer Tracy, Robert Ryan, Anne Francis
- 1:00 am - The Old Man and the Sea (1958) starring Spencer Tracy, Felipe Pazos, Harry Bellaver
- 2:30 am - Captains Courageous (1937) starring Spencer Tracy, Freddie Bartholomew, Lionel Barrymore
- 4:30 am - San Francisco (1936) starring Clark Gable, Jeanette MacDonald, Spencer Tracy
- 6:30 am - Northwest Passage (1940) starring Spencer Tracy, Robert Young, Walter Brennan
- 8:45 am - Malaya (1949) starring Spencer Tracy, James Stewart, Valentina Cortese
- 10:30 am - Plymouth Adventure (1952) starring Spencer Tracy, Gene Tierney, Van Johnson
- 12:30 pm - The Devil at 4 O'Clock (1961) starring Spencer Tracy, Frank Sinatra, Kerwin Mathews
- 2:45 pm - The Mountain (1956) starring Spencer Tracy, Robert Wagner, Claire Trevor
Monday, October 22, 2012
- 8:00 pm - Woman of the Year (1942) starring Spencer Tracy, Katharine Hepburn, Fay Bainter
- 10:00 pm - Without Love (1945) starring Spencer Tracy, Katharine Hepburn, Lucille Ball
- 12:00 am - Adam's Rib (1949) starring Spencer Tracy, Katharine Hepburn, Judy Holliday
- 2:00 am - Pat and Mike (1952) starring Spencer Tracy, Katharine Hepburn, Aldo Ray
- 3:45 am - Keeper of the Flame (1942) starring Spencer Tracy, Katharine Hepburn, Margaret Wycherly
- 5:30 am - The Sea of Grass (1947) starring Spencer Tracy, Katharine Hepburn, Melvyn Douglas
- 7:45 am - The Spencer Tracy Legacy (1987) - Documentary
- 9:30 am - A Guy Named Joe (1943) starring Spencer Tracy, Irene Dunne, Van Johnson
- 11:45 am - Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo (1944) starring Spencer Tracy, Van Johnson, Robert Walker
- 2:30 pm - The Seventh Cross (1944) starring Spencer Tracy, Signe Hasso, Hume Cronyn
- 4:30 pm - Father's Little Dividend (1951) starring Spencer Tracy, Elizabeth Taylor, Joan Bennett
- 6:00 pm - The Actress (1953) starring Spencer Tracy, Elizabeth Taylor, Joan Bennett
Monday, October 29, 2012
- 8:00 pm - Inherit the Wind (1960) starring Spencer Tracy, Fredric March, Gene Kelly
- 10:15 pm - Judgment at Nuremberg (1961) starring Spencer Tracy, Marlene Dietrich, Maximilian Schell
- 1:30 am - Guess Who's Coming to Dinner (1967) starring Spencer Tracy, Katharine Hepburn, Sidney Poitier
- 3:30 am - It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World (1963) starring Spencer Tracy, Milton Berle, Sid Caesar
- 6:30 am - Cass Timberlane (1947) starring Spencer Tracy, Lana Turner, Zachary Scott
- 8:30 am - Edward, My Son (1949) starring Spencer Tracy, Deborah Kerr, Ian Hunter
- 10:30 am - The People Against O'Hara (1951) starring Spencer Tracy, Diana Lynn, Pat O'Brien
- 12:15 pm - The Last Hurrah (1958) starring Spencer Tracy, Jeffrey Hunter, Pat O'Brien
Preview Through Biography
Now that's a career! But what about the life? There is no better way to get to know Spencer Tracy off-screen than through James Curtis' 2011 biography.
A massive volume that just beats the 1,000 page mark, thanks to pages upon pages of notes, the hardest thing about reading the Tracy biography was managing its weight and bulk (yes, Kindle, I know!). I had originally intended to review it immediately after reading it, but somehow time interfered and the planned post never happened. Luckily however, I had given my copy a good beating while reading: dog ears and underlines--my library is certainly a working library!
I have been going over the damage I inflicted upon my copy of Tracy last year and, while a full fledged review will never take place, I bring you some of what I as took as highlights from Curtis' accomplished effort with commentary to relevant TCM October showings injected along the way.
Some of the gems on opening night of TCM's Star of the Month tribute to Spencer Tracy are some of his early efforts at Fox. As these are generally lesser known Tracy titles they may have benefited by being aired later in the month after new Tracy fans have already come to appreciate him. It is not until TCM's October 8 programming that his better known films begin airing. Those star making turns at MGM. Curtis writes that there were many MGM executives who weren't thrilled when producer Irving Thalberg first brought Tracy to MGM in 1935: "Of the nineteen pictures Tracy made for Fox, only Quick Millions and The Power and Glory were truly memorable, and even those were considered flops at the box office" (258).
A note on The Power and the Glory, which you'll want to watch on Monday the 1st at 11 pm. Its flashback scenes have earned it a reputation for having inspired the later Citizen Kane (1941). Tracy is very strong in it and I am typically on board with any business-themed saga sweeping the generations, yet The Power and the Glory has always felt a bit flat to me. The story as a whole seems a bit too melancholy. The characters felt more flawed than I thought they should have been. It crawls a little too much for me. I don't dislike it, but it didn't nearly meet my expectations.
Curtis wrote of Tracy in The Power and the Glory: "While the nonlinear structure of the story made the development of his character all the more difficult, Tracy displayed a range he had never before shown on screen, going as he did from the childlike spirit of the early Tom to the burnt-out shell of the rail executive at the end of his days. It was screen acting at its most profound, forceful yet natural, at times quiet to the point of inaudibility" (194).
Despite it not being for me, The Power and the Glory is one of my top recommendations for you on TCM this month. First, it doesn't air very often, second, it is important. I'd say, give it a shot--I'm likely to give it another one tonight myself.
Curtis writes about Tracy's breakout at MGM. After coming to the screen from the stage it would take the actor 6 years and nearly 30 films to claim stardom. "Where Fox had pretty much left audiences to figure Tracy out for themselves, Metro was in the process of shaping his public image and building him into a top flight attraction," Curtis writes. He mentions Tracy's first film under contract, the enjoyable but rather obvious The Murder Man (DVR it at 5 am Oct. 2), and Tracy being paired with a couple of MGM's biggest actresses, Myrna Loy and Jean Harlow, in the subsequent Whipsaw and Riffraff. "No longer tethered to one of the studio's big female attractions, Tracy caught fire with Fury, and audiences who, just a year earlier, had no clear handle on him, were suddenly turning out to see him" (293).
I always liked Spencer Tracy, but Fury is when I came to love him. I am very excited that TCM has chosen to air the film at 8 pm on October 8 over several of Tracy's big MGM titles that play later that night. None match up with Fritz Lang's Fury, featuring Tracy's happy-go-lucky peanut-popping Joe Turner. The good Joe passes through the wrong town, gets locked up and finds himself helpless behind bars as a mob forms against him. A very bitter man emerges from the experience. Co-starring Sylvia Sidney as Tracy's love interest along with a particularly obnoxious Bruce Cabot, Fury is one of the most terrifying movies to emerge from 1930's Hollywood. It's points are driven home all the more by what is personally my favorite Spencer Tracy performance.
Pair it with The Ox-Bow Incident (1943) to give yourself an evening that will leave you looking over your shoulder afterwards.
You'll catch Spencer Tracy's first six Oscar nominated performances airing on October 15. The final three films Tracy received nominations for open up TCM's final night of Tracy programming, October 29. For my money, October 8 bests either of those evenings, though I don't intend to knock down any of TCM's five nights of Tracy. That's what makes this such a great month and what keeps Tracy such a major star--arguments can be made for any of these blocks of Spencer Tracy films.
And many will select October 22, the night that TCM shows six of the films Tracy played in with co-star Katharine Hepburn. At the conclusion of James Curtis' biography comes a six page "Author's Note" discussing several of the past Katharine Hepburn biographies. He is complimentary in spots though largely tears them all down when it comes to their coverage of Hepburn and Tracy, disproving many of them by virtue of many of the facts he was able to confirm about Tracy's off-screen life. That life appears nowhere near as exciting or sordid as the previous Tracy legacy has likely planted in your mind.
Curtis writes that, "In the legend that grew up around Tracy and Hepburn, one of the most durable of images is that of Kate going bar to bar ... looking for Spence (512). He quotes Hepburn, via Tracy-researcher Selden West, as stating, "In the first place I wouldn't do it because that would be too public for him, and in the second place I wouldn't do it because it would be too public for me, too." Not that Tracy wasn't a big drinker, Curtis details all of that as well as the periods in which he was sober. His off-screen relationship with Hepburn is detailed from genesis until Tracy's death and beyond.
Spencer Tracy: A Biography by James Curtis, is simply fantastic. Beyond the meticulous research it's just a good read. Well documented yet never academic, reading material of the best kind.
The Acknowledgments at the beginning add even more weight to the words which follow over the next several hundred pages. Curtis had full cooperation of Spencer and Louise Tracy's daughter, Susie Tracy, who had "missed great portions of her father's life," and wanted to learn more. Curtis credits Susie for providing "everything in her possession--datebooks, scrapbooks, letters, and manuscripts," to him with no restrictions. Then there was the aforementioned Seldon West, who had researched Tracy for 25 years beginning in 1977. She had interviewed several people along the way who would not be around when Curtis came to his task. Katharine Hepburn's niece, Katharine Houghton, who co-starred with Tracy and Hepburn in Guess Who's Coming to Dinner? earned Curtis' greatest appreciation. Many others are thanked as well.
And thanks to TCM this month you can come to familiarize yourself with 52 of the actor's films to draw you even closer to the subject. Buy the book, watch the movies, read the book. That's my recommendation!
For another look at Spencer Tracy: A Biography by James Curtis see Raquelle's review at Out of the Past from when the book first released.
Spencer Tracy Gallery of Collectibles
E-mail and RSS subscribers will likely enjoy the following gallery much more if you visit it on the Immortal Ephemera site instead. There each image can be enlarged and they can all be scrolled through at full size with accompanying text descriptions. You'll find the original post HERE ... just scroll to the bottom.
Great review of the book Cliff! And oh my goodness what a line-up TCM has this month. I wish I could take the month off to watch them all.
Cliff Aliperti says
Thanks Raquelle. Yes, I was most excited for opening night, needing to grab recordings of a few of these, especially Dante’s Inferno, which I last saw just before I got my DVD recorder. All around wonderful month though!
Kristina D says
i just over a week ago got this book as a gift and what perfect timing to start going through it this month! I love bios when they’re also fine literature; it’s great bios and documentaries that I learn the most about writing, from. (except in that last sentence) Thanks for the review
Cliff Aliperti says
Don’t be intimidated by its size, Kristina, it so well done you’ll just breeze through. Enjoy!
Margaret Perry says
I love your pictures, as usual. And you have so much information here! I cannot tell you how very excited I am about the Tracy/Hepburn party of the 22nd! http://thegreatkh.blogspot.co.uk/2012/10/spencer-tracy-tcms-october-star-of-month.html
Cliff Aliperti says
One more week, Margaret! They’ve really scheduled an amazing number of movies for Tracy this month. I’m amazed at how many I’ve seen, which I think goes to show just how many big movies Tracy was in more than it does the number of movies I’ve seen!