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Spencer Tracy: A Biography

"What is a good actor?" Humphrey Bogart once asked. "To me, Spencer Tracy is a good actor, almost the best. Because you don't see the mechanism working, the wheels turning. He covers up. He never overacts or is hammy. He makes you believe what he is playing."

From the time of his screen debut, Spencer Tracy was considered one of the finest actors in motion pictures. And although he disapproved of honoring one single performance each year with the Academy Award, he won two Oscars back-to-back and was nominated for Best Actor nine times--a record equaled only by Laurence Olivier. In 1999, a survey by the American Film Institute ranked Tracy among the ten greatest male stars of all time.

But since his death in 1967, Tracy has also been one of the cinema's most maligned figures, the subject of lurid stories and unsubstantiated claims, many centering on the nature of his 26-year relationship with actress Katharine Hepburn.

Now comes this major new biography--the first in more than 40 years--to set the record straight. Written with access to Tracy's own papers and datebooks--and with the cooperation of his daughter, Susie Tracy--it brings unprecedented clarity and detail to the story of the brilliant but tortured man at the core of the popular legend.

Drawn from interviews with more than 100 friends and co-workers, and Illustrated with 124 photographs--many published here for the first time--SPENCER TRACY is certain to stand as the definitive biography of the man George M. Cohan called "the best goddamned actor I’ve ever seen."

Published in hardcover by Alfred A. Knopf, 2011. Published in the United Kingdom by Hutchinson, 2011. Softcover edition published by Arrow Books, 2012.

"I'm not sure I have sufficient superlatives to express my feelings about James Curtis' latest biography, which consumed six years of his life (and about a month of mine--time well spent in both cases). It represents a high water mark in this field: a scrupulously researched life story that is also well-written and completely absorbing, through 878 pages of text and the endnotes that follow... This is the book Spencer Tracy deserves. It explores his great gifts as well as his tortured soul. I loved reading it, and didn't mind the commitment of time it required. (In fact, after every chapter, I felt I simply had to share a story I'd just read with my wife.) I know I will refer to it for many years to come."
-- Leonard Maltin

"While dozens of books have been written on [Katharine] Hepburn in the past four decades, there hasn't been a new full-length biography of Tracy in over 40 years. Thus it's not only appropriate but even necessary that a fresh look be taken at Tracy's important film career. In 'Spencer Tracy,' James Curtis has more than done the job. Mr. Curtis, the author of books on W.C. Fields and Preston Sturges, brings to the task a thorough knowledge of film history, a sensitive appreciation for Tracy's abilities, and a zealous attitude toward research... Susie Tracy told Mr. Curtis that one of her father's most often-made remarks in any situation was, 'Is this on the level?' It's a question from a suspicious and wary man who was chased by demons of doubt all his life, but it's also the question of a serious actor who wants his performances to be believable. If one imagines Tracy asking it about this new biography, the answer would have to be a resounding 'yes.' It's on the level. James Curtis has given us everything we're ever going to know--or would want to know--about Spencer Tracy. His book will stand as the definitive biography for decades to come."
-- Jeanine Basinger, The Wall Street Journal

"From his troubles with the bottle to his troubles with women--not to mention detailed coverage of his nearly 75 feature films--Curtis presents a magnificently fair and balanced portrait of an actor far more enigmatic than many of the characters he portrayed on screen... All of which makes this fascinating biography worth the long wait. Putting a twist on Tracy's famous quote from 'Pat and Mike,' his delicious 1952 pairing with [Katharine] Hepburn, there's much meat here, and it's all 'cherce.'"
-- Daniel Bubbeo, New York Newsday

"Writing with the cooperation of Susie Tracy, Spencer's daughter, Curtis has obtained access to everything from Tracy's datebooks to his health records. He also interviewed remaining family members, coworkers, and friends. All of this research makes possible an incredibly detailed account of Tracy's life, with stage work and films and their effect on him all noted... Those who remember him will be fascinated; younger readers will be spurred to rent his films and revel in his talent."
-- Booklist (starred review)

"An amazing accomplishment... I think James Curtis has really nailed the relationship between Kate and Spence in a way that no one else has ever done. People either sentimentalize them or blast them for one sin or another. He has presented a balanced picture and has revealed brilliantly many aspects of their lives and personalities totally unfamiliar to those who didn't know them well."
-- Katharine Houghton

"A titanic human story that the reader--certainly this reader--feels very deeply."
-- Eugene Kennedy

"The best actor's biography I have ever read."
-- Scott Eyman