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Thread: The monster of MGM: was Spencer Tracy the most toxic man in Hollywood?

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    Default The monster of MGM: was Spencer Tracy the most toxic man in Hollywood?

    The monster of MGM: was Spencer Tracy the most toxic man in Hollywood?

    On screen, he was one of the good guys. But the women in Tracy's life – including a teenage Judy Garland – would tell a different story

    ByMartin Chilton6 April 2020 • 1:27pm




    As a twenty-something television star, Burt Reynolds idolised Spencer Tracy. Believing him to be greatest actor of all time, Reynolds would trail after his hero. He once remembered meeting the older actor and asking the gushing question, “Mr Tracy, you are so good at everything – is there anything you are not good at?” Tracy fixed him with a stare: “Life,” he replied.

    Tracy was nominated nine times for the best actor Oscar, a record matched only by Laurence Olivier. The public loved the dignified, avuncular, silver-haired, truth-telling characters Tracy played on screen. They imagined Tracy was the same sort of man. When the cameras weren't on him, however, Tracy was by all accounts a monster. He was a violent, drunken, sexual predator, a man willing to exploit his fame and charm even if it brought misery and degradation to young women.

    The star of films such as Woman of the Year and Father of the Bride was born on April 5 1900, in Milwaukee, the son of John Tracy, a truck salesman of Irish descent. His childhood was marked by fighting and truancy, and he was expelled from around half a dozen schools.

    After discovering a talent for acting as a student at Ripon College in Wisconsin, Tracy spent seven years in theatre, before getting his film break at the age of 30. It was the start of a four-decade run of success, in which he starred in 77 movies.

    By the start of the 1930s, he was already an unhappily married man. He’d wed Louise Treadwell in September 1923, after meeting the actress, four years his senior, during their time together as part of the Grand Rapids stock company. By the time of his first Academy nomination – for his part in the 1936 film San Francisco alongside Clark Gable – he was already spending lots of time away from his family. He had fathered a son and daughter, John and Susie. John was deaf, and had a withered leg from polio. Louise gave up her career to raise her children.

    When his career took off, Tracy moved his family to a ranch in Encino, California – far from his infidelities and the brothels he and Gable frequented on Sunset Boulevard. “He didn’t leave Louise. He left the scene of his guilt,” said acclaimed movie director Joseph Mankiewicz.


    Famous actresses the Oscar-winner bedded included Myrna Loy, Paulette Goddard, Hedy Lamarr, Loretta Young, Bette Davis, Gene Tierney, Joan Bennett, Olivia de Havilland, her sister Joan Fontaine and Joan Crawford. Mankiewicz seemed to take a vicarious pleasure in Tracy’s conquests, boasting that “nobody at MGM gets more sex than Spencer Tracy”.

    Tracy was also infatuated with the “innocent-looking” Ingrid Bergman. In 1940, he threatened to quit a role in Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde if Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer picked Lana Turner to play his love interest ahead of the 26-year-old Swedish beauty. Despite the fact that she was married, and had an infant daughter, he managed to seduce Bergman. The bosses at MGM artfully projected a public image of Tracy, by then 40, as the young starlet’s mentor. The studio had the pair photographed drinking milkshakes at a Beverly Hills ice cream parlour.

    Their fling was short-lived and Tracy soon embarked on the love affair of his life, with Katherine Hepburn. They were cast together in 1941 in Woman of the Year. Despite the fact that she was already an Oscar winner (earning a best actress award for 1933’s Morning Glory) and also the star of the box-office hit Bringing Up Baby with Cary Grant, she was in awe of Tracy. After their first meeting, she rushed to Mankiewicz's office, desperate to hear the actor’s verdict. “What did he think of me?” she pleaded. The director’s response was memorably dismissive. “Spence said, ‘Katharine Hepburn has dirty nails, hasn't she?'” Mankiewicz told her.




    Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy in Woman of the Year (1942) CREDIT: moviepix

    Nevertheless, ‘Spence and Kate’, as they were known, soon began a torrid affair that was to blossom into a romance that lasted 26 years. Even in the early lovelorn days, co-workers were concerned about the effect of the relationship on Hepburn. On film sets she often sat at his feet (literally) and would absorb numerous sleights. According to Christopher Andersen’s 1997 book An Affair to Remember: The Remarkable Love Story of Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy, she would sometimes try to join in a conversation only to be cut off by his curt response, “Who in the hell asked you?”

    Although the film world knew about their affair, the public were largely unaware of his double-life, having been spoon-fed the image of the happily-married, devoutly Catholic actor. Tracy and Hepburn kept separate homes, travelled apart and stayed in different hotels. “We learned to be invisible in all the right places,” said Tracy. They held some of their trysts in Barmoor Castle in Northumberland in England, which was owned by an American friend. “Their affair was an accepted thing. We were all under contract to MGM, and it was part of the furnishings,” said Angela Lansbury, a co-star during this era.

    Even a passionate affair with a famous actress such as Hepburn was not enough to satisfy his appetites, though. Irene Dunne, who starred with Tracy in the 1943 film A Guy Named Joe, recalled that she found him “rude and brusque”, and later admitted that he made a pass at her, without going into details. Film historian Alan Royle, author of Hollywood Warts ‘N’ All, said that during rehearsals for A Guy Named Joe, Tracy would whisper graphic details in Dunne’s ear about what the lurid things he would do to her if he ever got her alone. Dunne, who went on to fight for female contract rights in Hollywood, complained to MGM co-founder Louis B. Mayer about the harassment. Mayer visited the set and warned Tracy to leave her alone.



    Spencer Tracy in 1945 CREDIT: getty

    he most damning allegation about Tracy, though, concerns his predatory behaviour to the child star Judy Garland. In 1935, the 36-year-old visited the 13-year-old prodigy, who had just signed for MGM, on the set of a short film called La Fiesta de Santa Barbara. His behaviour seems like classic grooming. Tracy then “began sleeping with Garland when she was just 14,” according to E.J. Fleming, author of The Fixers: Eddie Mannix, Howard Strickling and the MGM Publicity Machine.

    The allegations have been repeated elsewhere. A. Lertzman and William J. Birnes, authors of The Life and Times of Mickey Rooney, said that Rooney – who starred with Tracy in Boys Town – admitted to them that Garland confirmed that she slept with Tracy as a young teenager. “Mickey said everyone on the inside knew what Tracy was like. The public had no idea,” they wrote on a film blog.

    Even as a middle-aged man, Tracy was still addicted to chasing glamorous women. When MGM's publicity department asked him to break his rule and talk to reporters about the making of the 1955 masterpiece Bad Day at Black Rock, Tracy agreed, but only on the condition that they set him up with Grace Kelly. The 55-year-old got her into bed the same night.
    He owed the bosses of the MGM publicity machine for making sure that his shameful behaviour was hushed up. They turned a blind eye to the fact that he continued sleeping with Garland for the next three years. “Eddie Mannix and Howard Strickling both knew the vile secret,” added Fleming. Mannix, a former bouncer and construction worker with mob connections, carried out Strickling’s orders to keep Tracy’s criminal behaviour out of the newspapers.

    The age of consent in California was 18 at the time (and still is). These MGM “fixers” had policemen, doctors and journalists on the payroll. Mannix, incidentally, has been portrayed on screen by Bob Hoskins and Josh Brolin, the latter in the Coen Brothers’ film Hail, Caesar! and also appeared as a character in Gore Vidal’s novel Myron.



    Elizabeth Taylor and Spencer Tracy in Father of the Bride (1950) CREDIT: getty

    In his 2008 book The Fame Formula: How Hollywood's Fixers, Fakers and Star Makers Created the Celebrity Industry, Mark Borkowski said that Mannix and Strickling were so concerned by the actor’s alcoholism in 1935 that they created the so-called “Tracy Squad” – an entire security team comprised of a doctor, an ambulance driver and four minders – who were detailed to follow Tracy around and clear up his messes.

    They would pay off hoteliers after a drunken Tracy wrecked rooms, or sort out the aftermath of a brawl when the belligerent actor got into a row at a bar. “Tracy was an awful human being. A real nasty drunk who would punch fans in the face if they asked for an autograph,” claimed Fleming.

    Tracy would go on week-long benders, loading up with a crate of whisky, and drinking himself into a stupor while lying in the bath at hotels. “He had a drinking problem, no doubt about it,” Hepburn admitted. A. Scott Berg, who wrote the 2003 biography Kate Remembered, believes Tracy was “a textbook alcoholic”, and his lover “a classic enabler”. On one occasion, at the Beverly Hills Hotel, things turned violent. “While Kate was trying to put Tracy to bed, he smacked the back of his hand across her face,” Berg wrote. “She said he was so drunk she believed he neither knew that he'd done it, nor that he’d remember.”

    The actor’s daughter Susie had fond memories of the times when he had finished playing his regular Sunday game of tennis and would come to see them. “He was generous, funny, loved to kid around and tell wonderful stories,” she recalled. “But he was also complex and extremely sensitive. You couldn't convey the depth of feeling he did on screen without knowing what pain was personally.”

    Susie Tracy was probably unaware of how much her father’s Hollywood life was spiralling. Tracy suffered from broken sleep and began to rely on amphetamines and barbiturates, as well as more and more drink. He suffered from depression – Hepburn called them his “black moods” – and sometimes gorged on sweets and chocolates. In Bad Day at Black Rock, he was superb as the one-armed World War Two veteran John J. Macreedy. Director John Sturges said that Tracy took on the character of the role he was playing. “There was inherent danger in Macreedy’s character and there was inherent danger off screen from Tracy all the time, too,” revealed Sturges.

    William Shatner also experienced Tracy’s moody side. At the time, the future Star Trek hero was still what he described as “a callow theatre actor”. Shatner said he looked on in awe as Tracy, playing Chief Trial Judge Dan Haywood, gave a mesmerising one-take 10-minute speech in the 1961 film Judgment at Nuremberg. “I thought what Spence did was a stage-worthy performance and I said to him, ‘I didn’t know screen actors could do that’. He went back into his dressing room and never talked to me again,” Shatner admitted in 2004.

    Tracy was sometimes encouraging to young actors, although his advice – in small nuggets such as “don’t act, just behave. Less is more on screen,” or simply “know your lines and don’t bump into the furniture” – was usually designed to avoid having to talk too revealingly about the craft that won him back-to-back best actor Oscars for Captains Courageous and Boys Town in 1937 and 1938.

    The range of roles he took on was astonishing and he is still revered by actors for his performances in films such as Test Pilot, Boom Town, Edison, the Man, Adam’s Rib, Father of the Bride, The Last Hurrah, It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World and The Old Man and the Sea.

    In the 1960s, Tracy continued to make successful films, including Inherit the Wind, Judgment at Nuremberg and 1967’s Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, for which he earned his final Oscar nomination.




    Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn on the set of Guess Who's Coming To Dinner (1967) CREDIT: bettmann

    By then, he was suffering from ill health. He collapsed from pulmonary edema in 1963 and went through prostate surgery two years later. His final film performance included a highly moving monologue that was addressed to his on-screen wife Hepburn. When Tracy finished the scene, the entire cast and crew burst into spontaneous applause. Tracy died of a heart attack a few weeks later, on June 1967 10. He was 67.

    Despite this magnificent legacy as an actor, it is perhaps his poor cuckquean wife (a female cuckold) who deserves the final thought. When Tracy abandoned the family home, she was left to care for her family, fearing that all of Hollywood knew about her husband’s philandering ways. She learned everything she could about bringing up a deaf child, mastering the art of lip-reading. In 1942, she set up The John Tracy Clinic at the University of Southern California, which provided free services to parents of hearing-impaired infants and pre-school children. It is still going strong today and has so far helped out more than quarter of a million children.



    https://www.telegraph.co.uk/films/0/...man-hollywood/

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    Elite Member HWBL's Avatar
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    A brilliant actor and a troubled man. I believe he also drank like a fish. I loved him in his last movie and in the Father of the Bride movies.
    Warren Beatty: actor, director, writer, producer.

    ***** celeb

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    Elite Member rollo's Avatar
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    I'm not easily shocked but he sounded vile. His mistreated wife has left a better legacy with her school for hearing-impaired children.
    I have some famous friends and I have mostly not famous friends.

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    Yeah, I didn't realize he was this much of a slimebag. Wow.
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    Elite Member Annika's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by rollo View Post
    I'm not easily shocked but he sounded vile. His mistreated wife has left a better legacy with her school for hearing-impaired children.

    that's what i thought too. i hope she had someone who loved and fulfilled her, on the side. it's like he wasn't even really married to her. in name only.
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    Elite Member Lofty Bike's Avatar
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    ^^^He said he wouldn't divorce her because he was catholic.
    Screwing around and raping 14 year old girls, well...
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    I never understood his appeal, wasn't impressed by his acting nor his looks.
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    So, with all this lurid stuff, nothing about the gay and bi prostitutes that Scotty Bowers claims he and Hepburn frequented? I take a pretty good amount of the stories - especially the ones with a single source - with a grain of salt.

    And holy smoke, I forgot how beautiful Katherine Hepburn was when she was young:
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    Quote Originally Posted by Brookie View Post
    Yeah, I didn't realize he was this much of a slimebag. Wow.
    Me neither. Yikes.

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    Elite Member BITTER's Avatar
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    He and others got away with so much. I can watch his films and appreciate his liberal politics, but wow, he was a tortured soul and hurt a lot of people along the way.
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    Elite Member MsDark's Avatar
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    Womanizing, boozehound, assholish, abusive...all these were "manly-man" types of behaviors that were normalized and enabled once upon a time, even admired.

    Which has always been a huge problem. Even though we're generally more aware of how toxic this shit is today, I think it's still a problem. These types of men tend to wind up having a whole retinue of enablers.
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    There was a young starlet in the thirties or forties, who was gang raped by some Hollywood producers. She had the guts to go public with her story, but Hollywood powerbrokers were so powerful back then, that they buried the case, glad-handing, greasing palms and ruining the reputation of the said starlet, who left Hollywood, fearful and justifiably bitter.
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    Elite Member Trixie's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by MsDark View Post
    Womanizing, boozehound, assholish, abusive...all these were "manly-man" types of behaviors that were normalized and enabled once upon a time, even admired.

    Which has always been a huge problem. Even though we're generally more aware of how toxic this shit is today, I think it's still a problem. These types of men tend to wind up having a whole retinue of enablers.
    And people wonder why Harvey Weinstein got away with so much shit?
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    Quote Originally Posted by BITTER View Post
    There was a young starlet in the thirties or forties, who was gang raped by some Hollywood producers. She had the guts to go public with her story, but Hollywood powerbrokers were so powerful back then, that they buried the case, glad-handing, greasing palms and ruining the reputation of the said starlet, who left Hollywood, fearful and justifiably bitter.
    was that the story of "girl 27", patricia douglas? they made a documentary of her?
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    Elite Member BITTER's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Annika View Post
    was that the story of "girl 27", patricia douglas? they made a documentary of her?
    Yes! That is her! Thanks Annika. I have to find this documentary. She got railroaded.
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