Spencer BonaventureTracy was born April 5, 1900 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. His father John Tracy was Irish; his mother Caroline Brown Tracy could trace her ancestors back to American Colonial days.  Spencer also had a brother, Carroll, older by four years.
Tracy c.1910
Young Spencer did not enjoy school and wanted to quit to find a job when he was sixteen. The plan was quickly vetoed by his parents, so Spencer enrolled at Marquette Academy. However, when America entered World War I in 1917, he saw his chance to "get out of school once and for all, pack up and get right smack into the middle of a lot of excitement."  He joined the Navy, was sent to Norfolk Navy Yard in Virginia, and was still there when the war ended.  So much for excitement.

Tracy with mother & brotherWith no specific plans upon his discharge, Tracy decided to take advantage of servicemen's education benefits and enrolled at Ripon College as a pre-med student.  He joined the debating team and to his vast surprise enjoyed it immensely. Acting in school plays was the next logical step, and Tracy's first performance was a leading role, earning him praise in the school newspaper as an "unusually strong actor" with "steadiness...strength, and suppressed emotion."

Tracy was soon considering acting as a career, and auditioned at the Sargent school in New York. His father agreed to pay the tuition for the first semester, although he proclaimed that this acting "sounded like a silly idea."  Tracy took a room in a lodging house. His roomate was another Sargent student, by the name of Pat O'Brien. The two survived on 30 dollars a month, and a frequent diet was pretzels and water.  Tracy later said he studied dramatics "like I'd never studied anything before in my life" - primarily because he was sure he wouldn't be able to afford to attend classes for very long, and wanted to learn all he could as fast as possible.


Source: "The Complete Films of Spencer Tracy"   © Donald Deschner

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