Spencer Tracy (1900-1967)
- Paul Muni, I Am A Fugitive From A Chain Gang, 1931. Considered after James Cagney quit. Spence replaced him the next year for 20,000 Years In Sing Sing. Tracyderived from the Irsish surnameO’Tresant - Gallic for embattled. And so he was. Cool, quiet, ambitious but embattled by his booze (he was a violent drunnk),his born-deaf son, his adultery- inshort, by being a Roman Catholic.
- James Dunn, Bad Girl, 1931. Tracy’s #1 supporter at Fox, producer Winfield RSheehan was on leave and his deputy, Sol Wurzel, wanted newer (cheaper) actors and pushed Tracy aside for Dunn. (Worse still, Wurzel had Tracy supporting Dunn in his next film, Society Girl!).Sheehan returned. Too late. Tracy was soon rescued by Irving Thalberg at MGM.
- Victor McLaglen, Rackety Rax, 1932 .At least Winnie Sheehan managed to cut Tracy loose from the football yarn - Rose Bowl fever, circa ’32 - and loaned out to Warner’s 20,000 Years In Sing Sing.
- Preston Foster, The All-American, 1932. More American football but Tracy wasn’t keen after the highs of Preston Sturges’ script,The Power And The Glory. Foster was arguably a bigger name, said Tracy biographer James Curtis, “if not quite the same calibre of actor.”
- Will Rogers, State Fair, 1932. Tracy was given Iowa patriarch Abel Frake - and then, instead, Charles Farrell’s role in Face in the Sky. Of all things a sign painter… called Joe Buck, Jon Voight’s name 36 years later in Midnight Cowboy.
Richard Arlen, Helldorado,1933. The passionate affair of Tracy and Loretta Young that started a year earlier during A Man’s Castle had run its course. Therefore, she rejected a Fox offer to co-star with him again: she had no wish to “start the whole thing over again.”Nor did he...; Fourteen films in three yearsatFox and Tracy was getting nowhere, which explains this first recorded example of his famous drunken binges. “Spence disappeared,” producer Jesse L Lasky recalled. “The studio gumshoed all the bars but couldn’t find him.So we had to slap Richard Arlen into the part.”Tracy got a swift holiday tripto Hawaii and The Power and The Glory(a Rosebud-lessforerunnerof Citizen Kane),and his first good reviews. Didn’t stop a whole slew of drunken escapades. “Hell, I used to take two-week lunch hours.”
Charles Bickford, The Farmer Takes A Wife, 1935.
“They fired me… I got drunk now and then. But never on a picture, always between,” Tracy told AP reporter Bob Thomas - in 1952. “Anyway, they worried. I was all set for a big, expensive picture [opposite the top Fox adult star Janet Gaynor] ...and [they] asked... if I was going to behave. I told them: ‘If you’re worried about me, why don’t you let me go?’ That’s all they needed. I wasn’t a box-office star... I was out of the studio the same day.” One of several versions about Tracy’s escape from Fox - while his agent Leo Morrison was deal-making with MGM and before Tracy’s chief Fox supporter, Winfield Sheehan, could prevent it, a Metro contract was signed on April 2, 1935; by August he was in Riffraff with Jean Harlow! In rapid order, Tracy was a box-office star. For the rest of his life.
- Edward Arnold, Come And Get It, 1936. Producer Samuel Goldwyn on the phone to his hated enemy, LB Mayer: “Louis, we’re in trouble. You’ve gotSpencer Tracy and I needhim.”Mayer's response can most politely condensed as: rigid manure.
- Henry Fonda, You Only Live Once, 1936. Tracy had been due to share Fonda’s debut, The Farmer Takes A Wife, the year before. Now Fonda was taking Tracy’s roles! Nor that he was worried, insisting MGM cancel all loan offers for him. That was the extent of his power following Fury, 1936. This obvious inspiration for Bonnie and Clyde and The Getaway is Lang’s US masterpiece but Fonda and Sylvia Sidney couldn’t stand him. “A creative artist,” Fonda agreed, “but it doesn’t occur to him that actors are human beings with hearts and instincts.”
- Preston Foster, The Plough and the Stars, 1936. Director John Ford felt Tracy had reneged on their deal (and they did notwork together again for 22 years) but it was MGM ordering... no more loan outs!MGM steered him well - into the first successive Best Actor Oscars in 1937-38, for Captains Courageous and Boys’ Town. Hollywood legejnd insists the second award was mistakenly inscribed for… Dick Tracy!
- Clark Gable, Parnell, 1936.
Tracy was perfect for the 1880s Irish politico Charles Stewart Parnell - so MGM gave it to Gable in a classic casting error. And one that Tracy never let Gable forget - “Remember Parnell?” became a long-running joke between the pals. Such as Tracy’s 1939 cable: GONE WITH THE WIND MAY BE THIS YEAR’S GREATEST PICTURE BUT I STILL REMEMBER PARNELL. Longtime on-off lovers Crawford and Clark Gable made seven movies in as many years. This was not one of them. Crawford advised Gable to copy her and quit this “boring, pretentious” script. He stayed and Myrna Loy joined him (becoming King and Queen of Hollywood in Ed Sullivan’s poll). Crawford wuz right. “Leave it to Tracy.” The biopic flopped so badly that Gable nearly rejected GWTW because it was another costume drama.
- Cary Grant, Suzy, 1937. MGM loaned Grant from Paramount as third bananato Jean Harlow (sans panties)and Franchot Tone - because the role was just not important enough for the Metro Machos: Clark Gable, Robert Montgomery, William Powell, Robert Taylor, Tracy, Robert Young.
- Robert Morley, Marie Antoinette,1938. This was MGM production chief (and #1 Tracy supporter) Irving Thalberg’s pet project - for his wife, Norma Shearer. Before his tragically early death in1936, Thalberg had Tracy test for King Louis XVI. Norma liked it; Tracy didn’t. Charles Laughton and Peter Lorre were also seen for what became Morley’s screen debut.
- George Brent, The Shining Hour, 1938. Apparently one movie with Joan Crawford (Mannequin, 1937) was enough, even though MGM had raised his salary to $1,000 a week. Katharine Hepburn always believed “Tracy could play anything. Axe murderer. Child molester. Gangster. A woman in drag in The Mae West Story...”
- Robert Taylor, Three Comrades, 1938. Tracy was top comrade (not yet a dirty word in Hollywood) opposite Luise Rainer. They later became Taylor and Margaret Sullavan. The film marked F Scott Fitzgerald’s sole screeenwriter credit.
- Walter Pidgeon, Too Hot To Handle, 1938. In December ’37, the rival newsreel cameramen were Clark Gable and Tracy. To cash in on Test Pilot - also with Myrna Loy. Instead, they became Gable and Pidgeon. Some 21 years later in London, Jayne Mansfield sang a song called “Too Hot To Handle” in a sassy dress called Too Hot To Handle in a film called Too Hot To Handle. (It wasn’t).
- Victor McLaglen, Gunga Din, 1938 .“He has virtually signed in blood that he will play second lead to me,” Cary Grant told Katharine Hepburn excitedly. But Tracy had always said he didn’t go see RKO films much less make ’em. George Stevens directed the epic Kipling poem; one of his uncredited editors, John Sturges, re-hashed it as Sergeants Three with the Sinatra Clan in 1962.
Melvyn Douglas, Ninotchka, 1939. Director Billy Wilder’sfirst thought - according to 1939 newspapers.
George Brent, Dark Victory, 1939.
Top Warners writer Casey Robinson tried to protect his three year nurturing of his script by trying to persuade production chief Hal Wallis to arrange a loan-out. “I don’t need to tell you what the combination of Bette Davis and Spencer Tracy would do at the box-office." Tracy refused: “It’s a tearjerker, strictly for the ladies.” Davis made it with Brent, her off-sreen lover. Pandro Berman had aimed to produce it at RKO with Tracy and Katharine Hepburn... three years before they began their legendary myth with Woman of the Year, 1942
- Pat O’Brien, Knute Rockne - All American (UK: A Modern Hero), 1939. “Win one for The Gipper” is one of the lines in US cinema. And, good grief, Ronnie Reagan made it happen! Trying to rev up a fast imploding career as everyone’s best pal, Reagan suggested that Jack Warner should film the story of Knute, the legendary Notre Dame football coach. “And I could play George Gipp.” You're too small. Reagan promptly produced an old photo of him playing college football - he was actually bigger than The Gipper. Bye bye Robert Cummings, William Holden, Dennis Morgan, John Wayne and Robert Young. Oh and Tracy and James Cagney were ruled out by Notre Dame University for the biopic of its football coach. So, their pal got his dream role.
- Melvyn Douglas, Ninotchka, 1939. Director Billy Wilder’sfirst thought - according to 1939 newspapers.
- George Brent, Dark Victory, 1939. “It’s a tearjerker strictly for the ladies,” said Tracy of the Broadway flop, turning down Katharine Hepburn... three years before the first of their nine films together, Woman of the Year, 1942. Brent co-starred with his lover, Bette Davis.
- Cary Grant, The Philadelphia Story, 1940. Katharine Hepburn owned it all! The rights to her stage hit (thanks to Howard Hughes), a demanded $100,000 pay cheque from MGM and - well, the sole stumbling block was Tracy and Clark Gable refusing to be news photographer Macauley Cooper and hero, Dexter. Tracy preferred Dr Jekylll and Mr Hyde. And, therefore, he turned down Katharine Hepburn a second time.He would make up for it. She got Tracy next time for Woman of the Year, 1941. For life. Alleged bisexuals, they had a long and bizarre companionship more than affair for 25 years and nine movies. Joseph Cotten had played the role on Broadway with Kate and, Hollywood legends insist, she promised him the film - in her bed. Likewise Van Heflin for the role that went to Jimmy Stewart - her next lover.
- Robert Sterling, Somewhere I’ll Find You, 1941. Tracy and Gable made three films together. And that’s all you get! Sterling became Clark Gable’s rival war correspondent in a reworking of Gable/Pidgeon’s rival newsreel cameramen in 1938’s Too Hot To Handle. Gable was in utter awe of Tracy’s talent, while Tracy mocked his old pal unmercilessly. “Can’t act, doesn’t care and everybody loves him better than any actor that was ever born.”
- Burgess Meredith, The Forgotten Village, 1941. John Steinebck asked Tracy to narrate his documentary of village elders versus modern medicine when cholera struck the Mexican village of Santiago. Tracy agreed. “He has a great heart,” said Steinbeck. Then, MGM told Tracy to forget it and concentrate on Jekyll and Hyde. Steinbeck threatened Metro every which way and the studio shut him up byadapting his Tortilla Flat... for Tracy.
- Ronald Colman, Random Harvest, 1942. MGM originally bought James Hilton's novel for Spence.
- Gary Cooper, The Pride of the Yankees, 1942. Producer Samuel Goldwyn won the battle to make a biopic of baseball great Lou Gehrig - who died at 40 of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (aka Lou Gehrig’s Disease), after a moving farewell to his fans: “Today, I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of the earth.” His widow, Eleanor, wanted Cooper or Spencer Tracy to play Lou. Also on the mound were Eddie Albert, Brian Donlevy, Cary Grant. Plus two other real sports heroes: ex-New York Yankee pitcher Hoyt and middle-weight champion boxer Billy Soose. Gehrig appeared as himself in Rawhide, 1937, his film despite being listed by producer Sol Lesser to head his Tarzan series. Until seeing Lou’s legs. “More functional than decorative.”
- Fred McMurray, Double Indemnity, 1943. Director Billy Wilder's first thoughts for the murdering adulterer Walter Neff: Tracy, James Cagney, Brian Donlevy, Alan Ladd, Fredric March, Gregory Peck, George Raft. They all fled.
- Gregory Peck, The Keys of the Kingdom, 1944. Avoiding offers from Wallace Beery, Bryan Morgan and King Vidor caused a sudden lull in the zipalong Tracy career. There was more... He was horrified when Mrs Will Rogers wished him to play her husband. And, after his Father Flanagan stint in the two Boys’ Town movies, he had little interest in the keys of AJ Cronin’s perfect (all too perfect) hero, Father Francis Chisholm. Contenders included Tracy, Dana Andrews, Joseph Cotten, Maurice Evans, Henry Fonda, Clark Gable, Van Heflin, Dean Jagger, Gene Kelly, Franchot Tone, Orson Welles… plus the most unlikely Catholic missionaries of all: Alan Ladd and Edward G Robinson! Auteur Joseph L Mankiewicz secured Peck in July 1943 for his second film - and first Oscar nomination.
- Donald Crisp, National Velvet, 1944. Metro chieftain LB Mayer bought Edith Bagnold’s book for Shirley Temple - and Spence. But it was Judy Garland he was (too?) keen on. Gable warned him off the 15-year-old. Tracy finally became Liz’s Pop in Father of the Bride, 1949, and Father’s Little Dividend, 1950.
- John Hodiak, A Bell from Adano, 1944. Fox house-star Andrews and bigger A stars - Tracy, James Cagney, Gary Cooper - jockeyed to be Major Joppolo (in reality, Lieutenant Colonel Frank E Toscani) running a WWII-torn Italian town requiring a new town bell. In John Hersey’s book, Joppolo supplied a modest ship’s bell. In Hollywood, it was a full blown carillon. Rather like the difference between Hodiak and Tracy.
- Clark Gable, Adventure, 1945. Gable was back from the war (Hitler had put a price his head !) and Tracy was shoved aside to help The King regain his throne. The poster screamed: Gable's Back, and Garson's Got Him! “Well,” said Greer Garson, "as long as they didn’t say: Garson’s back, and who wants her!”
- Cornel Wilde, A Song To Remember, 1945. Columbia chieftain Harry Cohn dropped the (Frank Capra) project when Marlene Dietrich’s star dimmed. Spence, her ex-lover, had been due as Chopin opposite her George Sand. Charles Vidor re-made his own movie as Song Without End 1960. And it seemed like it.
- Robert Montgomery, They Were Expendable, 1945. The great John Ford had first been offered the script in 1943, when he was shooting the real war: December 7th, We Sail At Midnight, Victory in Burma. This was his first film home from WWII and was, of course, about WWII - in the Philippines. However, beforeUS Navy Commander (and future Admiral) Ford took over, both Sidney Franklin and Mervyn LeRoy had been tapped for make the movie with Tracy as Robert Montgomery’s US Navy buddy. Pappy Ford kept something special for Spence -The Last Hurrah, aka the longest death scene in Hollywood hiistory, 1958.
- Gregory Peck, The Yearling, 1946. Shooting started in April 1941 with both Spencer Tracy and director Victor Fleming worn out from just finishing Jekyll and Hyde. Everything went wrong... including swarming mosquitoes. Tracy’sson changed and the second choice had an impenetrable Georgia accent. An overweight Tracy knew he was wrong for the part - “looks like I ATE the boy!” Fleming complained: “How can I make a picture whose essence is that people loveeach other, when no one in the cast loves anyone...” Then, the US entered WWII and the project was was cancelled, a $500,000 loss. (So, MGM was “panting for a new property for Spence. I could have asked a fortune,” recalled Katharine Hepburn, having just bought Woman of the Year... first of their nine). Tracy later tested with Roddy McDowell as his son, but after four years, the film was totally re-cast - if still using some ’41 location footage.
- Walter Pidgeon, The Red Danube, 1947. At the start of the year the selected stars were Tracy, Irene Dunne, Robert Taylor, Audrey Totter, Cyd Charisse. By the time the title had changed four more times (from Vespers in Vienna) and George Sidney started shooting the anit-Communist thriller, they had become: Pidgeon (as UK Colonel ‘Hookey’ Nicobar, no less), Ethel Barrymore, Peter Lawford, Angela Lansbury and Janet Leigh.
- Richard Conte, Big Jack, 1948. Hardly seems probable, but the LA Times reported Tracy would be the scientist about to be hung for grave-rrobbing graves. As if Tracy would accept a support role, billed under Wallace Beery - as the titular gang leader. His final film.
- Broderick Crawford, All The King’s Men, 1949. After rumours about Humphrey Bogart and apoplectic anger from John Wayne (“You can take this script and shove it up Robert Rossen's derrière,” he told his agent), Columbia boss Harry Cohn wanted Tracy as Willie Stark, based on Huey Long, Louisiana’s controversial, 1928-1932 governor-cum-dictator, in Robert Penn Warren’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel. “No, no, ”said Rossen, “the audience might like Tracy too much.” Rossen held out for the lesser known Crawford. And the winner is…!
David Brian, Intruder in the Dust, 1949. Tracy had always been writer Harper Lee’s choice for Atticus Finch in To Kill A Mockingbird. And this, ironically, was almost an early draft for that book: white lawyer defends black murder suspect.
- Clark Gable, Across The Wide Missouri, 1950. Gable and Tracy - so different and yet so alike. MGM had first optioned Bernard DeVoto's novel for Tracy.
- Errol Flynn, Kim, 1950. The Kipling book had wilted upon the MGM shelves for so long, it nearly starred Spencer Tracy and young Freddie Barthomolew as a follow up to their 1937 hit, Captains Courageous. Flynn made it with the latest Metro kid star, Dean Stockwell.
- Robert Newton, Soldiers Three, 1951. Rudyard Kipling’s soldiers, originally set at MGM for Wallace Beery, Clark Gable and Spence, became the cheaper Cyril Cusack, Stewart Granger and Newton.
- Michael Rennie, The Day The Earth Stood Still, 1951. How could the world be worried about an alien visitor incarnated by lovable old Spencer Tracy? Like the leading lady, Patricia Neal, Spence had no idea that the little movie would turn into agreat sf classic. She assumed it was another one of the then-current, trashy flying saucer films, and she found it difficult to keep a straight face while saying her lines to Rennie’s Klaatu. Or, “Klaatu barada nikto.” (George Lucas named two his Star Wars alien bounty hunters, Klaatu and Barada Nikto).
- Will Rogers Jr, The Story of Will Rogers, 1952. Eight years earlier, Betty Rogers suggested Tracy to play her husband. Spence was horrified by the idea. Betty bided her time until her son grew up and Jr played Sr - and again the following year in The Eddie Cantor Story.
- Paul Douglas, When In Rome, 1952. When Clark Gable and Tracy passed, Douglas was a (very) poor third...
- John Wayne, The High and the Mighty, 1953. MGM refused - well charged $500,000 when it had only charged $250,000 for him to headline Broken Lance at Fox. William Wellman said he and Tracy had lunch and he agreed to be the older pilot, and then reneged. As if Tracy could ever work with Wild Bill Wellman,. They had come close to blows years before when Wellman made cracks about Tracy’s then lover, Loretta Young. Producer John Wayne also tried Gary Cooper and Henry Fonda before saying: “Aw hell, I’ll do it myself.” Superbly. A calm pro playing a calm pro - and cutting five of his close-ups in the editing of this Stagecoach in the sky. .Everyone else, especially the ladies, were working for Oscars.
- Richard Burton, The Robe, 1952. Five toppermost stars were discussed for the centurion hero, Marcellus Gallio… totally regardless of age. From Tracy at 52 to Gregory Peck at 26. Plus Gary Cooper, 51 ; Laurence Olivier, 45 ; Robert Taylor, 41. Burton was… 25. (Taylor had taken over an earlier toga epic, Quo Vadis, when Peck had eye trouble in 1950).
- Frederic March, The Desperate Hours, 1954. William Wyler wanted Humphrey Bogart as the escaped con holding Tracy’s family hostage. They hadn’t worked together in more than 20 years and called themselves the top two actors in town ((#1 being whoever was talking). Spence was supposed to be miffed about Bogie having top billing. Truth is, he didn’t like the drama and he switched to more solo honours in Bad Day At Black Rock. His replacement was the man who made Bogie cry every time he saw the 1936 A Star Is Born... and Bogart, of course, was a Tracy fan. “He never overacts or is hammy. He makes you believe he is what he is playing.”
- Fredric March, The Bridges At Toko-Ri, 1954. In the Paramount frame for William Holden’s boss, Rear Admiral George Tarrant, were: Tracy, Walter Abel, Humphrey Bogart, Walter Pidgeon… even director Wild Bill Wellman.
- William Powell, Mr Roberts, 1954. “It so happened that Spence couldn’t make it,”recalled James Cagney. “We went 2,800 miles into the Pacific to shoot it at Midwey Island. Bill Powell and I would lie on the beach in the sun, doing nothing, wig-wag, get on the ship and jump up and down for five minutes. Goodbye! And back to the beach. Everybody else doing all the work, see?”
Desi Arnaz, Forever Darling, 1955. No, no, Tracy was not about to replace The #1 TV Husband of the #1 TV Wife... Desiderio Alberto Arnaz y De Ach III and Lucille Ball simply dusted off the plot many years after first, The Thin Man couple of Loy and William Powell, then Tracy and Hepburn (like who else?), passed on being the splitting couple saved by an angel… Didn’t work: the Arnazs were divorced five years later. (Powell-Loy made 14 films ensemble, five more than Tracy-Hepburn).
James Cagney, Tribute To A Bad Man, 1956.
And he quickly lost interest and his health in the high altitude of Colorado. (Ironically, his next film as... The Mountain in Chamonix and the Paramount studio). Back from vacation, a stunned MGM suit Eddie Mannix said: “Why the hell didn’t you take it down to 3,000feet?” When Grace Kelly cooled, Tracy began to question the Western. All the more so as finding he replacement proved so difficult (Jennifer Jones, Dorothy McGuire, Irene Papas, Eva Marie Saint, Marjorie Steele). ”Finished at Metro,” wrote Tracy in his notebook, June 25, 1955. “The end of 20 years. Feel I did my best for last pic” - Bad Day At Black Rock, 1954. “My career is finished. I’ll never work again.” Not. Quite. True! He made ten more films in the next dozen years... The Old Man and the Sea, The Last Hurrah, Inherit The Wind, Judgment At Nuremberg, Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner, etc. And why? As Cagney, a huge fan of his old friend, put it: “I’m easy to imitate, but you never saw anyone imitate Spence Tracy.You can’t mimic reserve and control.”
- Kirk Douglas, Lust For Life, 1956. When MGM nearly made the Irving Stone about Vincent Van Gogh book in 1946.Or, Van Go as Hollywood called him.
- Pietro Germi, Il ferroviere, Italy, 1956 .The Italian maestro wanted Tracy for the railroad engineer in his melodrama. Producer Dino De Laurentiis disagreed - “too expensive!” - and Germi took on the role, himself,in his tenth film.
- Alec Guinness, The Bridge on the River Kwai, 1956. Looking for his Nicholson, Sam sussed out: Ronald Colman, Noel Coward, Charles Laughton, James Mason, Ray Milland, Laurence Olivier, Eric Portman, Anthony Quayle, Ralph Richardson. Plus Tracy, who bluntly told Sam that the mad Colonel had to be an Englishman. “I’m not English,” he underlined, having learned that the hard way... on Edward, My Son, in 1948. “I can’t imagine anyone wanting to watch a stiff-upper-lip British colonel for two and a half hours,” said Guinness. So, Spiegel took him to dinner. “He was very persuasive.” (Of course, he was. In the 50s/60s, to “Spiegel” was LA parlance meaning: to cajole, manipulate or con. That’s how producer Spiegel won his deals, casts, women - and Guinness. “I started out maintaining that I wouldn’t play the role and by the end of the evening, we were discussing what kind of wig I would wear.”
- Joel McCrea, Trooper Hook, 1957. MGM bought the story for Tracy but never got around to making it with him. McCrea asked for his often partner, Barbara Stanwyck - just as she’d asked for him on Interns Can’t Take Money, 20 years before. “We’re both sincere, we weren’t egotistical, we weren’t afraid the other was gonna have the best part.”
- Gary Cooper, Ten North Frederick, 1957. The John O’Hara novel was bought for Spence. But... older married man falling for younger woman and drinking himself to death… far too close to home. “WOW!” Tracy wrote in his journal. “Not for me!”
- Burl Ives, Desire Under The Elms, 1958. Wouldn’t that have been something - Spence, Sophia Loren and Anthony Perkins, feudin’ and lovin’ on the same Eugene O’Neill farm.
- Burt Lancaster, Separate Tables, 1958. “Either Tracy does it or you can’t have us,”said the Oliviers, originally set to play all four roles.Producer Burt Lancaster agreed. Actor Lancaster demurred.Olivier rang his pal:“Well, old cock, we’ve all been fired.” Tracy laughed: “That'll teach you to ask for me.” (David Niven won an Oscar for the other role...)
- John Gregson,The Captain’s Table, 1958. Hollywood had not yet seen Bad Day At Black Rock and figured Tracy was finished. So this is the sort of flotsam coming his way. An offer from the Rank Organisation to be a tramp steamer skipper taking over aa cruise liner and being pursued by the women passengers - amild UK comedy by the ex-medic Richard Gordon, creator ofDirk Bogarde’s Doctor series. Owch!
- Dean Martin, Rio Bravo, 1958.
Joseph N Welch, Anatomy of a Murder, 1958. Spence felt the part “was not important enough” for him (so did Burl Ives). making way for one of producer-director Otto Preminger’s casting coups - a real judge. “I remembered the McCarthy hearings on TV and how Joe Welch faced up to him when he tried to accuse Welch’s assistant of being a Communist - he became a hero for everyone who saw him saying to McCarthy: Have you no sense of decency, sir?”
- Frederic March, The Blue Angel, 1959. Early “Monroe trouble” had Tracy walking away from Marilyn, top billing, “fabulous part” and $200,000. Fox executive Lew Schreiber promised to “work it out.” Said Tracy: “No soap!”
- Robert Mitchum, Home From The Hill, 1960. Passed on fathering the next generation: Georges Peppard and Hamilton.
- Yul Brynner, The Magnificent Seven, 1960. In an earlier script, the Seven were closer to pension or Wild Bunch age and Tracy was elected to head ’em up as Chris.
- Karl Malden, One-Eyed Jacks, 1961. Director Stanley Kubrick’s choice butthe star (and producer) Marlon Brando had already offered it to his old pal, althoiugh he adored watching Tracy movies. “The way he holds back, holds back - then darts in to make his point, darts back. Tracy. Muni, Cary Grant. They know what they’re doing .You can learn something from them.” Kubrick said: “Malden always plays losers and Tracy winners. Let’s put two champions in the arena.” Kubrick quit after telling his boss: “I don’t know what the picture’s about.” Brando told him. “It’s about the $300,000 that I’ve already paid Karl Malden.” The next director, with a five hour version, was the only director Brando was professional with. Himself.
- Ralph Richardson, Long Day's Journey Into Night, 1962.
“You were born to do it,” scenarist Abby Mann told his pal. “Nah,” Tracy told Mann, “I’m not going to do it.” “Why? It’s a great play and you’ll have a fine director, Sidney Lumet." Spence said: “I’d just like to watch a picture with Kate - without me.”Hepburn, he added, was the lunatic, “appears at Stratford in Shakespeare... I don't believe in that nonsense. I'm a movie actor. Mann felt it was all "sad, really sad." With the notable exception of RL Stevenson’s Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, 1941, Tracy had this thing He about refusing classics (by Hemingway, Steinbeck). He wasn't even comfortable in Kipling's Captains Courageou which netted his first Oscar.
- Charles Laughton,Advise and Consent, 1962. Losing Tracy as Senator Seab Cooley, producer-director Otto Preminger had another great casting flash...
- Kirk Douglas, Two Weeks In Another Town, 1962. Too close to home again... an alcoholic ex-actor coming out of rehab and picking up dubbing work in Rome. The Metro plan was Tracy - opposite his great mate Clark Gable ashis clone: a director on the skids.
- Burt Lancaster, A Child Is Waiting, 1962. Awaiting the start of The Devil At Four O’Clock and a (never made) Big Deal with Sophia Loren, Tracy became keen on a TV script by the then 28-year-old dramatist (and future Kojak creator) Abby Mann. The subject was the institutionalised care of autisticand retarded children. Lancaster took over opposite Judy Garlnd - who joined Tracy’s (and Mann’s) next venture, Judgment At Nuremberg, 1961.
- Fredric March, I Sequestrati di Altona/The Condemend of Altona, Italy-France, 1962. Europe kept calling... Producer Carlo Ponti,director Vittorio De Sica, andSophia Lorenoffered whatmost critics agreed, provedahopeless mess.
- Charles Vanel, L'Ainé des Ferchaux, France, 1962. Next, realisateur Jean-Pierre Melville, father of the New Wave. An ill Tracy agreed; insurance companies did not. So he lost a French movie with fine pedigree - Melville, Georges Simenon, Jean-Paul Belmondo… The role was almost Howard Hughes.
Saro Urzi, Sedotta e abandonnata (Seduced and Abandoned), Italy-France, 1963. This time,Germi’s producers - including Franco Cristaldi - were keen on Tracy but not Germi. “He was wrong for the Sicilian patriarch.” Urzi shared the best actor’s prize at the ’64 Cannes festival.
- Burt Lancaster, Il gattopardpo (The Leopard), Italy-France, 1962. For Prince Don Fabrizio Salina, the Italian maestro Luchino Visconti wanted Brando, Olivier or Russia’s Ivan The Terrible: Nikolai Cherkasov. Hollywood wanted a Hollywoodian: Anthony Quinn or Tracy. “They wanted a Russian, but he was too old,” Lancaster told critic Roger Ebert. “They wanted Olivier, but he was too busy. When I was suggested, Visconti said, ‘Oh, no! A cowboy!’ But I had just finished Judgment at Nuremberg, which he saw, and he needed $3 million, which 20th Century-Fox would give them if they used an American star, and so the inevitable occurred. And it turned out to be a wonderful marriage.” Visconti chose Burt again for Gruppo di famiglia in un interno (Conversation Piece), 1974. “Each time I was playing Visconti,” said the cowboy.
- Frederic March, Seven Days In May, 1963. He decided against being the unpopular US President - target of General Burt Lancaster’s planned putsch. In fact, MrsLouise Tracy thought her husband should retire. “He should have quit after Mad World, that took a great deal out of him.”
- Telly Savalas, The Greatest Story Ever Told,1964. Woman of the Year was 23 years ago, but Tracy still agreed go play Pontius Pilate for director George Stevens... before realising Jesus was Swedish, John The Baptist was Moses, John Wayne an awesome centurion at the crucifixion, Judas was a Man From UNCLE and singer Pat Boone was The Angel At The Tomb! That lot kind of took the gloss off it.
- Henry Fonda, The Best Man, 1964. Director Frank Capra worked on his idea from 1960 until realising all the characters were atheists.“I’dliketoconvertthe whole damn world to atheism,” author Gore Vidal told him. “It’s my vocation.” Not Capra's.
- Edward G Robinson, CheyenneAutumn,1964. John Ford asked him tobe Carl Schulz, “the first great liberal of our country... the man who finally settled the Indian question. He tells the story in the narration and finally comes in at the finish... about a week’s work... Thius is not a charity job... but a firm, legitimate offer.” Although excited at prospect of working with Ford again, Tracy was suddenly hospitalised with breathing difficulties.
- Edward G Robinson, The Cincinatti Kid, 1965. Steve McQueen wrote, begging him to play The Man, the old poker player - even promising his idol top-billing. Tracy replied, October 20, 1964: “Somehow the old man never came to life for me and when you’re my age, you just cannot play someone you don’t comprehend.” Or not after a two-year bout of lung congestion. Director Sam Peckinpah always maintained that he lost Spence because MGM wouldn’t pay his asking price. if Tracy couldn’t co-star, McQueen’s deal allowed his exit - but he knew an ace role when he saw one.
Rex Harrison, The Agony and the Ecstasy, 1965. When gentleman director Fred Zinnemann quit, so did his bi-sexual leads: Richard Burton as Michelangelo and Spence as Pope Julius II.
Oskar Werner, Ship of Fools, 1965.
Kate Hepburn was keen - on condition. Although his ill-health forced him to quit two recent films, she suggested Tracy as the doctor over dinner with Tracy, producer-director Stanley Kramer and scenarist Abby Mann. “An awkward moment,” recalled Mann. Kramer politely said he was going younger...“We felt just awful. It was terribly, terribly sadand Stanley told me he didn’t sleep all that night, just thinking about Spence.” Hepburn didn’t make the film but Tracy all but co-directed. He asked to hang around the set and worked patiently with Vivien Leigh who had difficulty remembering her lines; a repeat of Tracy aiding Montgomery Clift (“Forget the lines, just play it to me”) on Kramer's Judgment At Nuremberg, 1961. “His compassion for Vivien,” said Kramer, “was a big help to me.” Tracy’s reward was Guess Who's Coming To Dinner, 1967, designed by Kramer as the last hurrah for Spence and Kate.
- George C Scott, The Bible: In The Beginning, US-Italy, 1966. He was 63, and looked 75... or more. And showed little interest in Dino De Laurentiis’ offer to play Abraham. Unless John Huston could shoot it in his back yard… instead of Rome’s Cinecitta Studios.
- Burgess Meredith, Batman, TV, 1966-1968. Come and play The Penguin! What an insult to one of the screen’s finest actors. How dozey could producer William Dozier get? Spence being Spence, had the perfect response: "I'll do it - if Penguin can kill Batman!"
- Steve McQueern, Bullitt, 1968. Double Edgar Allen Poe Award winner Robert L Fish created an ice-cream munching Boston cop who never got his man in the book, Mute Witness, under the pseudonym Robert L Pike(!). Warner Bros snapped up the rights for Tracy... obviously thinking Bad Day At Black Rock II. After Tracy’s 1967 death, scenarist Alan Trustman and William Kleiner switched the locale to San Francisco... hey, good place for a car chase! Cars meant McQueen. Faster than a speeding Bullitt!
- George C Scott, Patton, 1969.
- Warren Stevens, Bracken’s World, TV, 1969-1970. Bill Self, head of Fox TV, called on his old friend - they’d been in five films, just four less than Tracy and Heburn! Self hoped Spence wouldn’t be offended, if asked to join a new series. “I’d structure every script so that your scenes were very confined... in his office. People come to him. And you play the head of the studio.” “Well, that’s kinda appealing." So was the kind offer of $10,000 a day. NBC felt he he was too old “You gotta be kidding,” said Self. “This is the biggest Academy Award winner that would ever be on your network. You ought to thank yours stars he’s even considering it.” So was his agent Abe Lastfogel. He wanted an annuity - ownership, residuals, some control, “et cetera and so forth.” Deep down, everyone knew it was a no go.
- Melvyn Douglas, I Never Sang For My Father,1970. Director Fred Zinnemann loved Robert Anderson's script - then called Tiger, after his father. Tracy did not. Anderson restyled it for the stage.
- Philip Bosco, Hogan’s Goat, TV, 1971. An idea beyond funds... The Burtons, O’Toole and Spencer Tracy! For Shakespeare, maybe. Or, Tennessee Williams. Besides, Tracy was too ill for any movie of William Alfred’s 1965 Broadway play. The movie notion was downgraded to a a PBS special after his death in 1967. Tracy lived on as the model - white hair, black horn-rimmed glasses - for the elderly hero of Disney’s Pixar toon, Up, in, 2008.