Spencer Tracy was one of Hollywood’s best loved actors who was a major star right from the early 1930s through to his death in 1967. He was something of an everyman in many of his movies but an everyman with integrity.
Clark Gable, who co-starred with Tracy in several 1930’s movies, said of him “the guy’s good. There’s nobody in the business who can touch him, and you’re a fool to try.” Meanwhile his long term partner Katherine Hepburn said of him “he’s like an old oak tree, or the summer, or the wind. He belongs to the era when men were men.”
We’d have to whole heartedly agree! Here then is our pick of five of his best movies.
Captains Courageous (1937)
Perfect family entertainment in the classic Hollywood style. In this Kipling story, the spoiled son of a shipping magnate (Freddie Bartholomew) falls overboard from a luxury liner and is picked up by a Nantucket fishing schooner captained by the Oscar-winning Tracy. Forced to earn his keep, the boy’s extended voyage and warm relationship with the captain show him what’s important in life. Child actor Freddie Bartholomew was billed above costar Spencer Tracy even though it was Tracy who was nominated–and won–the Best Actor in a Leading Role Oscar for the film. Academy Award Nominations: 4, including Best Picture; Best Screenplay.
Director: Victor Fleming
Cast: Spencer Tracy, Lionel Barrymore, Freddie Bartholomew, John Carradine, Leo G. Carroll, Melvyn Douglas, Charley Grapewin, Mickey Rooney,
Boys Town (1938)
The story of Father Flanagan, who battled the courts and the community to create a home for boys that society had tossed away. Mickey Rooney plays a particularly tough challenge. Tracy gave his Oscar statuette to the priest and Boys Town founder with an inscription dedicating his performance. It is still on display at the Boys Town museum. Academy Award Nominations: 5, including Best Picture; Best Director; Best Screenplay.
Director: Norman Taurog
Cast: Spencer Tracy, Tommy Noonan, Mickey Rooney,
Adam’s Rib (1949)
Tracy and Katherine Hepburn at their best as two married lawyers who take opposite sides of a front-page case. District Attorney Tracy heads the prosecution when a pistol-packing blonde goes after her girl-chasing husband and his mistress. But wife Hepburn thinks women should have the right to do exactly what men have done for years–get revenge! So it’s Hepburn for the defense in a trial that proves all’s fair in love, war, and court. An ahead-of-its-time script by Ruth Gordon and Garson Kanin, combined with the matchless chemistry between Hepburn and Tracy, make this a sophisticated piece of entertainment. Adam’s Rib also featured a star-making performance by Judy Holliday, who up to that point had played only bit parts. This film led to a lead role in Born Yesterday (1950).
Director: George Cukor
Cast: Spencer Tracy, Katharine Hepburn, Judy Holliday, Tom Ewell,
Bad Day at Black Rock (1955)
A taut suspense story that seems to be always teetering on the edge of explosive violence. Tracy commands attention as a one-armed man who tames the ruffians who run roughshod over a weatherbeaten desert town. In the process, he uncovers the town’s secrets and fulfills a promise made to the man who saved his life. A powerful, influential film. Based on Howard Breslin’s novel. Academy Award Nominations: 3, including Best Director; Best Actor: Spencer Tracy; Best Screenplay.
Director: John Sturges
Cast: Spencer Tracy, Ernest Borgnine, Walter Brennan, Russell Collins, John Ericson, Anne Francis, Dean Jagger, Lee Marvin, Robert Ryan,
Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner (1967)
A liberal white couple (Katherine Hepburn and Tracy, in Tracy’s last appearance) put their platitudes to the test. They always taught their daughter that all people are created equal, regardless of race or religion . . . until she unexpectedly brings home a black doctor (Sidney Poitier) and announces that they’re engaged. Mostly interesting for a look at ’60s attitudes toward race and the performances of Tracy and Hepburn. Academy Award Nominations: 10, including Best Picture; Best Director; Best Actor: Spencer Tracy.
Director: Stanley Kramer
Cast: Spencer Tracy, Katharine Hepburn, Cecil Kellaway, Sidney Poitier,
Kick-Ass TV Heroines: Xena – Warrior Princess
What was not to love about Xena? As Lucy Lawless says: “Xena is a bad-ass, kick-ass, pre-Mycenaean girl.” Evildoers, clearly, must stand down, but not only bad guys (and girls) have Xena-phobia. Even heroes quake when she swings her broadsword.
Originally created as a syndicated complement to Kevin Sorbo’s Hercules: The Legendary Journeys, Xena pretty much kicked Herc to the curb. It was like when the Bionic Woman made us lose interest in the Six Million Dollar Man–only more so.
Unlike Lindsay Wagner’s early half-woman, half-machine, Xena wasn’t prone to frailty. Nor did she need robot parts. In fact, the Warrior Princess never lost. If she’s down, it’s not for long.
Plus, she was in touch with the dark side: This big-boned bruiser had definite moments of blood lust, as well as lust of some other varieties. Garbed in a leather miniskirt and armed with her trademark razor-edged, boomerang-action chakram, we watched Xena single-leggedly kick down entire platoons of Roman soldiers.
Sure, there were murmurings about Xena and her softer female sidekick, Gabrielle (actress Renée O’Connor). So what if they liked to conserve bathwater by doubling up? And what’s wrong with close friends frenching once in a while?
Then again, maybe it was true–and there’s anything wrong with that.
Actress: Lucy Lawless
Show: Xena: Warrior Princess
Classic TV Revisited: McMillan And Wife
Starring Rock Hudson and Susan Saint James, McMillan and Wife was a super cute crime-solving saga from the 1970s made for the NBC’s Mystery Movie series.
Who were they?
Hubby was the debonair San Francisco police commissioner Stewart McMillan.
Sally was a foxy, rather scatterbrained dame with a knack for finding corpses.
Worked down the morgue did she?
Hardly. Sally’s finds were usually in some glitzy mansion which the couple were frequenting for a weekend cocktail party. She also had a habit of getting her life threatened or being kidnapped.
Who was in it?
Tragic Hollywood star Rock Hudson no less. He took on Stewart McMillan in his first TV role, after years as a matinee idol with movies such as Giant.
Fans of the lantern-jawed star were dismayed when he went public about having Aids. He had long kept his homosexuality secret. He carried on working in ’80s glam drama Dynasty, but make-up could not disguise the deterioration of this once-statuesque man. He died in 1985, aged 59.
What about Sally?
That role fell to raven-locked Susan Saint James. The Ali MacGraw lookalike was previously in shows such as Alias Smith And Jones and The Name of the Game.
A vital ingredient to McMillan And Wife was sharp-tongued housekeeper Mildred, played by Nancy Walker. Somebody needed to keep the place tidy while they gallivanted about solving crime.
Famous guest stars?
The couple’s conception?
Like Hart To Hart, the idea was borrowed from Dashiell Hammett’s Thin Man books of the ’30s.
Gritty crime drama?
Hardly. These were cosy whodunnit cases, where the brutality of murder was never portrayed. The show was more about the interplay between McMillan and Sally.
Had viewers arrested?
Certainly in the US. It was the fifth highest-rated show in 1972 and 1973.
Fate of the golden couple?
Susan Saint James quit in 1976 over a contractual dispute. Nancy Walker also packed away her duster as housekeeper Mildred.
The dame’s exit was a fatal blow?
Certainly for the character of Sally – she was killed off in a plane crash. But Rock soldiered on with new assistant Sgt Steve DiMaggio (Richard Gilliland). The show became McMillan.
Audiences dwindled and the plug was pulled.
Cosy pillow talk, cocktail parties, Rock Hudson, pyjamas and numerous corpses.
Let’s go to bed. Turn the light out, darling.
Must you eat toast in bed, darling. Apologies, but I’ve got terrible flatulence. Separate bedrooms.
Not to be confused with
My Wife Next Door, Harold Macmillan, The Merry Wives Of Windsor and Mr And Mrs.
Classic TV Revisited: The Royal
The Royal was an ITV drama commission and was inspired by its sister programme Heartbeat.
The lowdown: This nostalgic family drama is set in the swinging 1960s and centres on the staff of a cottage hospital in Yorkshire. Newly qualified doctor David Cheriton (Julian Ovenden) is determined to make a difference to the world and arrives at St Aidan’s Royal Free Hospital in Elinsby full of big ideas. But he clashes with the hospital’s secretary TJ Middleditch (Ian Carmichael) who is determined to run things his way. Then there is the Matron (Wendy Craig) who rules her nurses with a rod of iron and tries in vain to stop them being distracted by the handsome arrival.
Memorable moments: Watch out for former Heartbeat favourite Bill Maynard who crosses dramas and continents as Claude Jeremiah Greengrass. Greengrass has returned from a Caribbean holiday with a mystery illness but that doesn’t stop him trying to earn a fast buck. It doesn’t take long before Claude attracts Matron’s ire.
Trivia: The Royal is a family affair for real life husband and wife Robert Daws (Ormerod) and Amy Robbins (Weatherill). No fewer than seven members of their clan have appeared in the series including their daughters and stepson.
Michelle Hardwick, who played receptionist Lizzie, says her favourite moment in the whole series didn’t come on screen but in the actors’ green room. She says: “I was sitting in there with Wendy Craig and Honor Blackman and we were having a lovely conversation. I sat back and thought ‘Wow, this is great, I can’t wait to tell my gran’.”
A modern day set version called The Royal Today aired 7 January – 14 March 2008.
First broadcast: 2003
Starred: Wendy Craig, Ian Carmichael, Michael Starke, Robert Daws and Julian Ovenden
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