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60 of 69 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Exhaustive and definitive yet strangely dry, November 1, 2011
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This review is from: Spencer Tracy: A Biography (Hardcover)
I had long anticipated the publication of this biography of Spencer Tracy, one of filmdom's finest actors. I will say up front that Mr. Curtis has done an exhaustive and impressive job of recreating Tracy's life, down to the times of day or night that certain events occured and what he was wearing. One can tell that it took the author six years to complete this work. And yet... and yet... it is a rather dry discourse on one of Hollywood's more complex actors and one is left with few new, compelling insights into his personality or his craft. Mr. Curtis makes no secret of the admiration in which he holds Louise Tracy, the actor's long-suffering wife; no other female personage, not even the great Kate herself, comes close to receiving the adulation which he affords her. One does come away from the book, however, feeling that they were all quite dysfunctional people and that the most "normal" person is his son, John. Having had personal family experience with someone who was born with profound hearing loss, I could relate to much of what the Tracy's experienced whilst dealing with John's early years and adapting to life with a disabled child.

Yet... yet... one wonders if Tracy's alcoholism, his depression, his violent mood swings, and his inability to sustain meaningful interpersonal relationships weren't caused by something other than his son's hearing loss. He certainly was not the first father to grapple with such a setback, yet other parents have dealt with far worse disabilities and challenges with much more grace and courage. One wonders if there were not something else, some other demon, that drove Tracy to succumb as he did. To say that his Irish-Catholic background was the root of this torment is a facile cop-out. I too share that background with Mr. Tracy, although I have eschewed much of its absurdities over time. There have been hints by others who knew him that Tracy dabbled in homoerotic liasions, although Mr. Curtis does not allude to this nor to any other salacious gossip that has surfaced about Tracy over the years. He did not include anything in his book which could not be substantiated or sourced.

This is all to his credit. Yet, such a telling has the effect of rendering a book that lacks, as Herself would say, "Yar!" He treats the affair with Loretta Young as a poor career choice by Tracy, yet she was, for a time, the only love of his life. I don't believe Katherine Hepburn came close to filling the affection and the emotional needs that Ms. Young obviously did, yet Mr. Curtis treats her as if she was a dithering ingenue with raging hormones.

I also found Mr. Curtis's writing style lacking. His syntax is messy at times, awkward and downright wrong at others. One wishes that there weren't as many protracted quotes from people whose thoughts could have been reduced to 20 words or less. One also gets the feeling that Mr. Curtis was loathe to part with any nugget of information that he gleaned during the course of his research, which is why the book is almost 1000 pages in length. (As my husband said, "He found it, he's gonna print it, by God!") I could not for the life of me understand why he started the book with Louise Tracy's early life, then segued to her meeting Tracy while doing stock acting. It did not serve the book's later, telling of their story in almost fanatical chronological order. In the final analysis,'tis a pity that such an absorbing actor onscreen is redered rather boring and unremarkable in the telling of his tale; he's still a cypher.

I have not read the prior biographies of Mr. Tracy, nor will I need to after reading this treatment. I do recommend it to acting students, those interested in film history, and anyone who is (as I) seriously addicted to Turner Classic Movies and just loves film. Compelling, informative, thorough, yes. Entertaining: only somewhat.
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Showing 1-10 of 17 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Nov 6, 2011 3:34:08 PM PST
I felt the same way; I'm reading it now, and am up to p. 140, where Spence is just STARTING to make movies! And I'm exhausted! Your husband put it very well...I'm still reading and hoping it will get better. I don't think it will, though.

Posted on Nov 6, 2011 9:52:14 PM PST
He had an absent, inexperienced or passive editor.

In reply to an earlier post on Nov 7, 2011 4:58:54 AM PST
Passive and inexperienced, I should think...

Posted on Nov 10, 2011 12:28:37 PM PST
C. Romeo says:
I've read many bios/autobios of celebrities and was anxiously awaiting the arrival of this one to hit the bookshelves. After reading the comments, I will NOT be buying this one. I wanted a true background and insight on Mr. Tracy since I've read the Katherine Hepburn/Spencer Tracy bio and that was boring. I hope someone will write a really interesting, accurate biography of Mr. Tracy, whether it has negative things about his past (homosexual encounters, etc.) so to get a very clear picture of the man, with flaws. He was a great actor, but off the screen he had problems, more so than many I would say.

In reply to an earlier post on Nov 12, 2011 8:25:36 AM PST
chs says:
I have read the book, and it is full of stories about Tracy's flaws. It does not sugarcoat him.

In reply to an earlier post on Nov 12, 2011 8:26:06 AM PST
chs says:
I have read the book, and it is full of stories about Tracy's flaws. It does not sugarcoat him.

Posted on Nov 13, 2011 9:07:56 PM PST
Last edited by the author on Nov 13, 2011 9:09:26 PM PST
phillyrich says:
This book is getting some of the finest reviews I've ever seen of a book of this type. Leonard Maltin's is a good example. Don't complain about length. You can always skip over. It's the books that are short on the facts that cheat the reader.

Posted on Nov 14, 2011 5:56:36 AM PST
It's not the length I'm complaining about; it's the extraneous, unnecessary details.

Posted on Feb 2, 2012 12:15:20 PM PST
Jake Mckenna says:
I agree with your analysis of this book. It reads like a term paper, heavy on fact, but no synthesis. Who was Spencer Tracy? The question isn't answered except he was the greatest actor of his time. So? Those of us reading the book already appreciate his talent. I was interested in the man behind the screen. There are also factual mistakes. on page 814 a sentence starts, "It was at Traucas Beach...." There is no Traucas beach. there is a Trancas Beach in L A.. The author criticizes other biographers for factual inaccuracies as proof their interpretations are suspect. Good point, but what about his own? In fact the most alive portion of the book is the section called "The biographies of Katharine Hepburn" where he discusses other attempts to capture Mr. Tracy's life. If only Mr. Curtis had stretched just a bit to fill in the many blanks.

In reply to an earlier post on Feb 7, 2012 5:36:52 PM PST
Last edited by the author on Feb 7, 2012 5:42:41 PM PST
Sagebrush says:
Calling Trancas Beach, Traucas Beach is a typo not a factual error and even if it was a factual error it would be incredibly minor. Your extrapolation of one typo to "factual inaccuracies" is silly.

Curtis does a terrific job at describing Tracy's personality in extreme detail. I can't imagine what blanks you think need filling in. This is the most exhaustive biography of an actor you will ever read. I assume you haven't, in fact, read it.
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