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Robert Osborne - October 2012
Remind Me

Robert Osborne on Spencer Tracy

There was a time when it seemed that everyone in the movies was given a label: Gable, in the days pre-Elvis, was known as "The King," Sinatra was dubbed "The Voice," Durante was "The Nose," Bacall "The Look," John Barrymore "The Great Profile," Ann Sheridan "The Oomph Girl," Monty Woolley "The Beard," and so it went. Even a minor starlet named Chili Williams, whose career lasted not much more than a week in the 1940s, amid much hype was singled out as "The Polka Dot Girl," because whenever she appeared in public, whether wearing a daytime dress, bathing suit or evening gown, it was covered with polka dots. (All based on the theory that to be famous in show business, as later glorified in a Jules Styne-Stephen Sondheim song, "You Gotta Have a Gimmick.")

One major exception: the man we're saluting as our October TCM Star of the Month, Spencer Tracy. He had no gimmick, nor did he need one. His talent was extraordinary, and during his 37 years as a movie actor there was no one who could hold a candle to him. Tracy was, admittedly, a man with ordinary looks--a torso on the short, dumpy side, topped off with a head full of unremarkable, sandy-colored hair. But when he appeared in a scene, be it alone or with actors as charismatic as Clark Gable, Hedy Lamarr or Katharine Hepburn, it was difficult not to keep one's eyes glued on Spencer T.

Part of his gift was never giving the slightest hint he was acting. While others could invariably be caught performing, Tracy never was. He was a man who always delivered lines as if he was speaking spontaneously, for the first time, seemingly unaware there was a camera anywhere within miles. That was his genius, something revealed in a 2011 biography on Tracy by James Curtis (Spencer Tracy: A Biography), based on Tracy's diaries and journals, which reveal that Tracy--far from just stepping in front of a camera and behaving naturally--meticulously preplanned every moment, every gesture, every line reading, leaving nothing to chance, working relentlessly for hours to appear as though nothing whatsoever had been pre-arranged. Amazing!

Every Monday night in October on TCM, we'll be offering something else amazing: a treasure trove of this unique actor's work, the end result of that Tracy method of acting that earned him universal acknowledgment as "the actor's actor," as well as praise as "the greatest actor in Hollywood." We'll be showing 52 of his films, going from 1932's Me and My Girl with Joan Bennett (a TCM premiere for us) to his last film, 1967's Guess Who's Coming to Dinner, one of nine movies Tracy made with Hepburn that we'll also be showing. Additionally, we'll be screening nine of the gems for which Tracy received OscarĀ® nominations, including the two for which he took home the gold (1937's Captains Courageous and 1938's Boys Town), plus several TCM premieres, among them 1935's Dante's Inferno, with its jaw-dropping, Pre-Code sequence set in Hell.

Overall, it may be the most definitive gathering of Tracy films ever shown in one spot within a four-week period. We hope you'll treat yourself and join us often.

by Robert Osborne