UNITED STATES—Coffee and sweets kept Spencer Tracy jazzed when booze was out of the picture, as it was for much of his 45-year acting career.  And there was also another, less public vice that he indulged during many sleepness nights wired by all the coffee he drank to stay awake during the day. Talk about a vicious circle!

The secret is revealed in Garson Kanin’s memoir, “Tracy and Hepburn.” One evening as Katharine Hepburn “puffed away,” Kanin declared he knew not one fully intelligent person who still smoked.

Tracy then looked at Hepburn and told her, “He’s so right that one of these days I’m going to quit smoking.“ (Kanin, p. 119)

Kanin was flabbergasted; he had never seen Tracy near a lit cigarette, or an unlit one. Neither had his wife, Ruth Gordon, ever seen him smoke. Spencer explained that he had to limit himself to a pack and a half a day. But he never smoked by day—only at night, while reading mysteries at home. That’s why some people, even close friends, had never seen him smoke.

He went on to outline his ritual.  “After watching the eleven o’clock news, he prepared for the night, got into bed, arranged his cigarettes, ashtray and matches, took a book off the pile that was always provided for him, and began to read.” Kanin describes

Tracy as a “strangely eclectic reader,” but at night he only read mystery novels.  And afterwards, he’d pace around, review them, digest them and see if he could find any discrepancies.  “Finally, near dawn, he would return to the kitchen, make himself a fresh cup of coffee, drink it, go back to bed and sleep.” (Kanin, p. 220)

On his 64th birthday Tracy amazed the company on hand. Kanin had decided to give him 64 mystery books. During after-dinner coffee, the actor began to go through the pile and quickly summarized the plots for all but three. They were the only three he hadn’t read.

“Smoking,” he told to his impressed listeners. “I couldn’t do it if I didn’t smoke.” As it is for many people seeking sobriety, coffee was the major substitute for alcohol during the non-drinking years.  He was such a well-known coffee hound, â€œAt Chasen’s or Romanoff’s or LaRue’s a waiter would bring him a pot of coffee as soon as he sat down.” And he was known to be the first at the set in Culver City, at the crack of dawn, and he brewed a very good cup of coffee, esteemed by his confreres. He was known to drink it strong and black.

Not surprisingly Tracy had chronic sleeplessness, the dread insomnia. Kanin writes, “It had plagued him throughout his life. When he was engaged on a project, it was bad. When he was idle… it was even worse.” Kanin once suggested he ought to consider cutting down on his enormous coffee consumption, Tracy snapped, “That hasn’t got anything to do with it!” (Kanin, p. 114)

A scientific study, conducted in Sardinia in 1997, revealed that rats bred to crave alcohol actually preferred a sugary chocolate drink when they’re exposed to it. So it should be no surprise that Spencer Tracy also had a pronounced sweet tooth. Yes, sweets may put one’s teeth in harm’s way, and occasion an ‘I-shouldn’t’ roll of the eyes, but sweets don’t produce that old bugaboo, guilt, or getting arrested for drunk driving.

During the making of “Tortilla Flat,” Spencer Tracy endured a little bit of “razzing” from the crew over his addiction to sweets. According to Curtis’ biography, “Tracy conspired to stash his ever-present box of chocolates—which usually occupied the third drawer of his dressing room desk—in the dressing room of co-star Hedy Lamarr, figuring that casual visits to a frequent costar would not be nearly as scrutinized as trips to his own on-set trailer, where his weight was carefully monitored.” (Curits, p. 446)

So those are the substances that animated Spencer Tracy—sweets, coffee and tobacco—during a creative life that lasted almost to his last breath. Of course it’s alcohol that dogs his posterity as it dogged his life. Stanley Kramer, the director/producer for his last films was asked if he’d every seen Tracy drinking. He replied that he’d only seen him drink milk. Kramer qualified, “I never checked to see if the milk was spiked.”

Humorist Grady Miller is the author of “Lighten Up Now: The Grady Diet,” available on Amazon. Grady Miller can be contacted at grady.miller@canyon-news.com.