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Spencer Tracy: A Biography Hardcover – Deckle Edge, October 18, 2011

4.5 out of 5 stars 67 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews


“Definitive . . . [James Curtis] charts the life, loves and struggles of the Milwaukee-born, Oscar-winning screen legend in expert detail, leaving no source or story unchecked. . . Curtis taps deeply mined remembrances and fresh anecdotes collected in years of interviews with just about everyone in Tracy’s life.”
 —Chris Foran, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel 
“Definitive . . . well written. . . I marvel at the research.”
—David Thomson, The New York Review of Books  
“A great story about a great actor. . . [James Curtis] is an excellent researcher and writer . . . definitive . . . belongs in the classic movie fan’s library.”
 —Douglass K. Daniel, Associated Press
“Exhaustively researched. . . ”
—Jeff Dawson, The Sunday Times

“A balanced and intriguing look at one of the screen’s greatest actors . . . Curtis has obtained access to everything from Tracy’s datebooks to his health records . . . all of this research makes possible an incredibly detailed account of Tracy’s life . . . those who remember him will be fascinated; younger readers will be spurred to rent his film and revel in his talent.”
 —Booklist (starred)
“Impeccably researched . . . a monumental, definitive biography of one of the finest film actors in the history of the medium.”

About the Author

James Curtis is the author of W. C. Fields: A Biography; James Whale: A New World of Gods and Monsters; and Between Flops: A Biography of Preston Sturges. Curtis is married and lives in Brea, California.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 1024 pages
  • Publisher: Knopf; First Edition edition (October 18, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0307262898
  • ISBN-13: 978-0307262899
  • Product Dimensions: 6.6 x 2.1 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 3.7 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (67 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #206,032 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This is the long awaited biography of Spencer Tracy by James Curtis and it is certainly worth the wait. James Curtis has written, by far, the best biography ever written about Tracy.

Tracy has had a dismal history with the genre of the celebrity biography. There are only two full length Tracy biographies written prior to this book; one the fine but too brief and occasionally inaccurate book by Larry Swindell (1969), and the really poor, extremely fictionalized account of Tracy's life by Bill Davidson (1988). However, there have been more than 30 biographies of Katharine Hepburn published over the years. Most of those are highly inaccurate with regard to Hepburn and even more so on the subject of Spencer Tracy. In the Hepburn books, the facts of Tracy's life have consistently been misstated, including a huge variety of inaccurate and often malicious stories about his alcoholism, family life and relationship with Hepburn.

So, I have been enthusiastically looking forward to James Curtis' book and he does not disappoint. Curtis has a track record of writing very fine film related books including the excellent 2003 W. C. Fields biography. Curtis spent more than five years researching and writing this book and has drawn on the considerable research of another writer, Selden West, who originally was going to write the book but eventually withdrew from the project. Most importantly Curtis had the complete cooperation of Tracy's daughter, Susie, and access to the journals Tracy maintained for much of his adult life as well as correspondence, medical and business records and the recollections of close family members in Freeport, IL and elsewhere.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
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.
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I was going to title this review "Throw Out The Rest, This Is The Best', but refrained from doing so because it would have trivialized what I consider a gargantuan effort to set the record straight regarding the life and work of Spencer Tracy.
It can be assumed correctly that I am a fan of the late actor and I have read everything that has been written about the man over the past 30 years. Some of it has been good; a lot has been bad and grossly inaccurate.
James Curtis has done a remarkable job of reconstructing Tracy's life. He has relied on archived information, interviews from family and friends, and has used reputable sources and anecdotes that flesh out the man and the actor. This book is huge by today's standard and is heavily footnoted. In many instances I found myself flipping back and forth between the the text and the footnotes. In these instances, the footnoting was so thorough that it resolved any questions I might have had. Curtis made an admirable effort in getting this biography right. As a reader of his previous books, this did not surprise me. He works in a scholarly way but manages to write a compelling and interesting story which is often a difficult task.
I think the many annecdotes that peppered this book throughout were the elements that I particularly liked about this book. A curious passage about his early friendship with Pat(Bill) O'Brien, depicted the two working as menial laborers who would enjoy a huge breakfast at a hotel that probably cost more than what they made. Tracy would pay the tab; his family was staying at the hotel. Another described Tracy accompanying MGM studio exec Eddie Mannix back to Massachusetts for the funeral of his first wife Berniece. Curtis describes Tracy's attentive tenderness toward the dead woman's mother.
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