By Jim Rees
Several Hollywood actors built careers on playing the role of decent, dependable individuals, often battling against more powerful and more sinister forces. Gary Cooper and Henry Fonda spring to mind. A third was Spencer Tracy.
As his surname suggests, Tracy had Irish blood in his veins and this was often blamed for his unruly childhood. Reared Catholic, at the age of nine he was placed in the care of Dominican nuns in the hope that they could control his boisterous behaviour. He later attended a series of Jesuit schools and he credited these institutions with ‘taking the badness out of me’.
Blood is blood. No matter what its ethnic origins might be, it can’t be the fall guy for bad behaviour. So, if his ‘Irish blood’ wasn’t the cause, what did make him such a difficult child?
Like many artistic people, he found it difficult to conform to general rules and regulations. It was even more frustrating for him to find a constructive outlet for his wayward creativity.
It was at one of the Jesuit schools, Marquette University in his native Milwaukee, that he met fellow Irish-American Pat O’Brien. The pair became immediate friends and would remain so throughout their lives.
The fact that they were the same age – only a matter of months between them – and were both from Milwaukee and were both of Irish descent no doubt helped to cement their friendship, but it was their shared interest in theatre that copperfastened it.
Soon, it wasn’t enough simply to go and see plays, they wanted to be in them.