UNITED STATES—Two substances had starring roles in the life of Spencer Tracy. They were coffee and booze. And there was a third substance, secret and largely unsuspected by the public that always hid in the shadows. Booze, first:
Spencer Tracy’s dance with booze is as illustrative as it was destructive and notorious. In James Curtis’ 1001 page biography, published in 2011, it’s almost impossible to find a single page where booze doesn’t figure. It is so frequent that it reaches the point of hilarity. You’ll be totally absorbed by profound insights on acting or a grueling production drama, and, there suddenly, demon pops up when you least expect it. Even though it’s no laughing matter, I laugh because it proves my thesis about the 1001 page book.
A doctor’s notes, made during a 1942 visit to Johns Hopkins offers a glimpse of
After four years of binges on the heels of completing a movie,
A new bout in 1942 that is what brought him to Johns Hopkins at the urging of Katherine Hepburn. He considered this bender, initiated by the belief that one drink was something he could handle and he couldn’t, was “utter folly.”
Thereafter, spaced out at lengthy intervals throughout the years, there would be benders, followed by the drive to stay sober. Some people need that sobering moment only once; they realize, hey, I’m going to die if I don’t stop. Or, I don’t want the grandkids to see me this way. They give up the booze and that’s it; others, like
Not to say the man lacked awareness of the precariousness of his sobriety. In the 1950s, Tracy and his agent met director John Sturges to finalize “Bad Day at Black Rock.” They did it at Romanoff’s over martinis, as was customary with a star of
Years later, Sturges asked
“That’s what the man lived with,” Sturges summed up.
By all accounts, the vice was vicious for
The director Joseph Mankiewicz, who in 1941 produced “The Philadelphia Story” and knew both Hepburn and Tracy well, confirmed it to
Well, that’s what the man lived with. What do the rest of us live with? Unrealistically high expectations for totally perfect holy behavior. Where we keep butting our heads against a rule for how we should live and then experience repeated suffering, as a result, maybe we’d be advised to suspend the rule and take a refreshing step toward guiltlessness. But this clearly was not an option for Spencer Tracy.
To be continued…
Humorist Grady Miller is the author of “Lighten Up Now: The Grady Diet” (available on Amazon). He can be reached at email@example.com.
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