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Spencer Tracy: A Biography

3.93 of 5 stars 3.93  ·  rating details  ·  168 ratings  ·  39 reviews
“The best goddamned actor I’ve ever seen!”—George M. Cohan

His full name was Spencer Bonaventure Tracy. He was called “The Gray Fox” by Frank Sinatra; other actors called him the “The Pope.”

Spencer Tracy’s image on-screen was that of a self-reliant man whose sense of rectitude toward others was matched by his sense of humor toward himself. Whether he was Father Flanagan of
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ebook, 1024 pages
Published October 18th 2011 by Knopf (first published January 1st 2011)
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Charles Matthews
This review originally appeared in an edited version in the Washington Post:

Long before there was Branjelina, there was Spencenkate. The 26-year love affair and nine-film collaboration of Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn is probably the one thing most people remember about the man theater legend George M. Cohan called in 1926, at the outset of Tracy's career, “the best goddamned actor I've ever seen.” The tribute was echoed by directors, colleagues, and audiences for the next 41 years.

James
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August Letendre
Fantastic bio but also exhaustive in length. The book is extraordinarily well written, which is not usually the case with Hollywood biographies. If you are a Spencer Tracy fan, much like my self, this book is written for you. It's a fun read and I took the time to revisit some great Tracy- Hepburn films as they came up in the biography.
Liane
The front cover is the best thing about the book. Fabulous photo. Frankly, his wife Louise is more interesting than he is. She was highly intelligent and wrote beautifully. Really first class stuff. Those who met her thought she was easy to talk to, well-informed, and very good looking.

Supposedly Tracy's flings were caused by his guilt that his son was born deaf. I think his wife's evaluation was better - they had grown apart because they didn't have a whole lot in common. I am not sure being ma
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Nancy L.
You'll be as old and used up as Spencer Tracy was by the time you get to the end of this exhaustive biography. Curtis has done a phenomenal job of research, but some editing (repetitive quotes about Tracy being the greatest actor ever) and proof-reading (the Racket Club; having another thing coming; Ramon Navarro) would have made this book so much better.

As with books I've read about Hepburn, by the time I finished, I didn't like Spencer Tracy very much. I think there must have been something ve
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judy
I picked this up because I was desperate to have books on hand during the holidays when the library was closed. I'm not a particular fan of movies and have not, regrettably, seen Tracy's best work. I had no idea he was regarded by many of his peers as America's best actor. I started this 878 page book with no intention of finishing it. However, I did finish it--easily. This is and will be the definitive biography of Tracy. The sources are impeccable. I won't claim that it's wildly exciting--Trac ...more
Faustine
I don't know why I've been reading more biographies lately, but this is twice in a row I've been burned. I thought this might be a fun way to learn more about an actor I've always admired, but OMG the level of inane boring detail is beyond ridiculous. Not content to merely mention the movies Tracy stars in, it goes into exhaustive detail about the producers, the directors, the politics behind the movies, the dialogue of his character in the movie, the reactions of audiences to the movies, and on ...more
Matt Isenhower
A great wrong has been righted. In my very first "Holy Bee Recommends" column on my Wordpress site, I recommended exploring the work of Spencer Tracy, one of the greatest film actors of the 20th century, but one who didn't have an outsized persona (like Bogart or Wayne) to turn him into an icon. Tracy was one of the first actors to abandon the stagy, over-the-top "hammy" acting that make old movies seem dated and hokey to modern audiences. He was a champion of underplaying and total naturalness ...more
Franny
One of the best biographies I have ever read, if not the best. I am a devout Hepburn/Tracy fan and Curtis did Spencer justice on many levels. Furthermore, it is very well written and researched. I also have to give Curtis props for his note regarding the biographies of Katharine Hepburn at the end.
Tom
An all encompassing biography (nearly 900 pages) of arguably the greatest actor cinema has seen. Having seen most of Tracy's films I would certainly agree.No one could act or react with out so much as saying a word as could Tracy;but when he did speak it was with a naturalness and authenticity that could not be denied. Curtis recounts Tracy's humble beginnings and rise to stardom in Hollywood until his death as one of Americas great screen idols. Behind the scenes Tracy's life was not as well or ...more
Claudia
An amazing book, about an equally amazing actor. I highly recommend this book!
Carl Rollyson
At nearly 1,000 pages, this is the kind of biography that provokes reviewers to say that no one needs to know that much about the subject. But some biographers, given access to new primary sources and the desire to write a definitive work, cannot write less than they know, especially when they are bent on documenting, not merely appraising, their subject's greatness. By these standards, this biography is meticulous, a revealing account of the actor's private life and a probing narrative of his r ...more
Rob
Exhaustive and exhausting, this meticulously researched biography is everything you could really hope for. The first half feels far more personal, but once Tracy spends more and more time away from his family, considerable detail on his personal life is dependent on Katharine Hepburn as a source, and I've always gotten the impression that much of what she said about Spencer Tracy was very calculated to create a specific mythology, and then, much of the research in the second half is by necessity ...more
Alice
While I knew of Tracy's demons and failings before I started reading this scrupulously researched and written book, there was a great deal more to learn about him. Most interesting to me was finally learning about his long-estranged but still very much in his life wife, Louise, who usually rates no more than 'the wife he wouldn't divorce because he was Catholic'. The jury is still out on how I feel about Hepburn, his bossy, pushy, over-protective partner of three decades. This book is a must-rea ...more
Jim Kelsh
This exhaustive biography of Spencer Tracy leaves no stone unturned. Citing scores of sources, interviews, as well as the apparent cooperation of the Tracy estate this could be heavy lifting for some. It painstakingly accounts every play and movie the great Tracy appeared in with his own diary filling in holes.
It's not an easy story to tell: the man that appeared to filmgoers as a giant is presented as a guilt ridden, hard drinking, sometimes petulent star that people had to work to like. His g
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Raquel
This is the most definitive biography on Spencer Tracy we will ever have. No one else will have as much access to the private library of Tracy's photos, scrapbooks, datebooks, etc. as well as access to the people who knew, loved and worked with Spencer Tracy as James Curtis did. It's a honking book clocking in at 878 pages of content and if you include the front and back matter it's over 1,000. I felt like I had just run a marathon when I finished it. Its worth the effort and time. The book is c ...more
Richard Kramer
This is endless and yet somehow I kept reading (I picked it up because I loved the Irving Penn photo
on the cover). Tracy was a complicated tormented gifted guy and Curtis obviously admires him. There are
no shocking revelations, other than he liked the sauce and that most people found Hepburn an enormous
boring pain in the ass. The most intriguing character is Tracy's wife, whom he never divorced and who,
when she gave birth to a deaf son, set out to change the way deaf people were treated and educ
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Sherrie74

This was about the best biography I have ever read on a celebrity ever. So full of information about all of his movies and co-star and his life in general. Already knowing a lot of his past and his life this book helped to fill in a lot more gaps.
Kateri Ewing
I knew that I probably wouldn't read all thousand pages of this book, and I was right. There is so much information here that just doesn't interest me, mostly about films, directors, Hollywood politics. I was more fascinated by Tracy's view of his religion, by his very odd marriage, his life-long sense of guilt (going back to the weight his religion burdened him with) and his relationship with Katharine Hepburn, which has been illuminated much better in other books I've read. I enjoyed reading a ...more
Nicola Pierce
Absolutely glorious read. Cried my eyes out when I finished it last night and feel like starting it all over again this morning. Can't say fairer than that!
Malcolm Frawley
I have read some wonderful (auto)biographies in my time (Arthur Miller's TIMEBENDS, Neil Simon's RE-WRITES). This is up there with the best. Meticulously researched, it explores Tracy's life, times, art & many flaws without ever getting mean. It also provides, surprisingly, many extraodinary insights into acting. Highly recommended. A truly great read.
Leila
Deep, incisive, and moving. Maybe it's because I already loved him as an actor. Maybe it's because I'm fascinated with how people become great at their trade. Maybe it's because I knew so little about his personal life. No matter what it is, I loved this book.

It's a tome, but I felt it easy to read. It took time only because the book itself was heavy, making it not so travel friendly.

Side note: I loved that the pictures were printed within the chapters on the same page as the text, rather than
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Tracy Morton
Curtis has written a thorough and usually engaging tribute to the life of Spencer Tracy. This book chronicles his entire life, his family life, relationships and films. One thing that I love about biographies of stars from the golden age of cinema is that the greats always seemed to continually work together. Reading a bio of one star also provides glimpses into the lives of many other fascinating people.

Although I enjoyed reading this book it was very long. I think some of the less relevant inf
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Chris
Of all the stars of the golden age of Hollywood, Spencer Tracy continues to be one of the most elusive. This book goes into great detail about the life, work, loves, motivations and demons that beset the man that I think we all would have wanted to meet. While it gets a little long recounting all the plays, parts and minutiae of his early career, it does show the groundwork that would be what he built the rest of his success on. A very compelling look into the complexity of very troubled and tal ...more
Elaine
A very detailed extensive look at an actor's actor who had a very troubled personal life. Learned a lot about the man & his roles as an actor.
Diana Duncan
This seemed to be a fair and balanced portrait of Tracy. There was an overwhelming amount of detail about each of his films. I could have skipped a lot of this, especially that about his early quickie films.

I found it a lot more interesting to read about Spencer's wife Louise and her work in creating the John Tracy clinic. Though I appreciate Spencer Tracy's skills as an actor and the amount of work he spent in preparing for his roles, he just did not seem like a very likeable person.
Carol
One does not need 1000 pages to get the idea of what someone's life may have produced. One does not need a word for word play back of conversations or actions to get a defined view of someone's life. Curtis gives a tremendous amount of minutiae to tell us about Tracy's successes, his faults, his shortcomings, his guilt.
Kristina Hoerner
I am a huge Spencer Tracy/Katharine Hepburn fan. There aren't many biographies on Spencer Tracy and this one is certainly the most definitive. It is well written but the length (over 800 pages) is too much. This is one book I wish I could have read as an e-book because it is physically difficult to hold a book this size.
Kim
I have to agree with other readers. I had no intention of finishing this book, but I sort of flew through it. Tracy was so compeling, I couldn't put the book down. The fact that Susie Tracey allowed Curtis access to the Tracy papers really made this the definitive bio. I can't wait to see some of his movies.
Kevin
Exhaustive (more than 1,000 pages) bio of my favorite actor. Author goes out of his way to try to make Spencer Tracy's long-estranged wife a major character in his life when she really wasn't. Surprising amount of material comes from Tracy's own writings. But, too much of a good thing at this length and weight.
Pat Lampe
A long book but most interesting account of the life of Spencer Tracy and the studio system, morals and lack of them, Katharine Hepburn, and The John Tracy Clinic. I really never was that enthralled with Tracy but have always liked the inside scoop about Hollywood. I enjoyed this very much.
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