Tracy as Hildy Johnson in the Broadway production of The Front Page (1928)
William Lee Tracy
April 14, 1898
Atlanta, Georgia, U.S.
|Died||October 18, 1968 (aged 70)|
Santa Monica, California, U.S.
Helen Thomas Wyse
Early life and career
Tracy was born in Atlanta, Georgia. After graduating from the Western Military Academy in 1918, he studied electrical engineering at Union College and then served as a second lieutenant in the Army during World War I. In the early 1920s, he decided to begin working as an actor. He made his Broadway debut in the original 1924 production of George Kelly's play The Show-Off. Two years later, he starred in the hit production of Broadway, for which he received the New York Drama Critics Award. In 1928, he created the role of reporter Hildy Johnson in the original Broadway production of The Front Page.
In 1929, Tracy arrived in Hollywood, where he played the role of newspapermen in several films--but not the 1931 version of Front Page, as he was not deemed a big enough name at the time (Pat O'Brien got the part). His best role is generally considered that of Alvin Roberts, a Walter Winchell-type gossip columnist in Blessed Event (1932). He also starred as the columnist in Advice to the Lovelorn (1933), very loosely based on the novel Miss Lonelyhearts by Nathanael West; and a conscience-stricken editor in the 1943 drama Power of the Press, based on a story by former newspaperman Samuel Fuller.
Tracy played "The Buzzard," the criminal who leads Liliom (Charles Farrell) into a fatal robbery, in the American film version of Liliom (1930). He also played Lupe Vélez's frenetic manager in Gregory LaCava's The Half-Naked Truth (1932) and portrayed John Barrymore's agent in Dinner at Eight (1933), directed by George Cukor.
Lee Tracy's flourishing film career was temporarily disrupted on 19 November 1933, while he was on location in Mexico filming the Wallace Beery vehicle Viva Villa! According to the actor and producer Desi Arnaz, in his autobiography A Book (1976), Tracy stood on a balcony in Mexico City and urinated down onto a passing military parade. Elsewhere in his autobiography, Arnaz claims that from then on, if one watched other crowds of spectators, they would visibly disperse any time an American stepped out onto a balcony. However, other crew members there at the time disputed this story, giving a sharply different account of events. In his autobiography, Charles G. Clarke, the cinematographer on the picture, said that he was standing outside the hotel during the parade and the incident never happened. Tracy, he said, was standing on the balcony observing the parade when a Mexican in the street below made an obscene gesture at him. Tracy replied in kind; and the next day a local newspaper printed a story that, in effect, Tracy had insulted Mexico, Mexicans in general, and their national flag in particular. The story caused an uproar in Mexico, and MGM decided to sacrifice Tracy in order to be allowed to continue filming there. The young actor Stuart Erwin replaced Tracy. The film's original director, Howard Hawks, was also fired for his refusal to testify against Tracy. Jack Conway replaced him.
During World War II, Tracy returned to military service. Later, he had two television series in the 1950s. One was Martin Kane: Private Eye, in which he was one of four actors to play the title role. The others were William Gargan, Lloyd Nolan, and Mark Stevens. In 1958, he returned to a newspaper reporter role in the syndicated New York Confidential. After World War II, his screen career was largely relegated to television, but he portrayed the former President of the United States Art Hockstader, a character loosely based on Harry Truman, in both the stage and film versions of The Best Man (1964), written by Gore Vidal. The movie version featured Henry Fonda and Cliff Robertson. Tracy received his only Academy Award nomination, as Best Supporting Actor, for his performance in the film.
Lee Tracy died in Santa Monica, California from liver cancer on October 18, 1968, aged 70. He is buried at the Evergreen Cemetery in Shavertown, Pennsylvania.
- Salute (1929) as Radio Announcer (uncredited)
- Big Time (1929) as Eddie Burns
- Born Reckless (1930) as Bill O'Brien
- Liliom (1930) as The Buzzard
- She Got What She Wanted (1930) as Eddie
- The Strange Love of Molly Louvain (1932) as Scotty Cornell
- Love Is a Racket (1932) as Stanley Fiske
- Doctor X (1932) as Lee Taylor
- The Night Mayor (1932) as Mayor Bobby Kingston
- Blessed Event (1932) as Alvin Roberts
- Washington Merry-Go-Round (1932) as Button Gwinnett Brown
- The Half-Naked Truth (1932) as Jimmy Bates
- Clear All Wires! (1933) as Buckley Joyce Thomas
- Private Jones (1933) as Pvt. William "Bill" Jones
- The Nuisance (1933) as Joseph Phineas "Joe" Stevens
- Dinner at Eight (1933) as Max Kane
- Turn Back the Clock (1933) as Joe Gimlet
- Bombshell (1933) as Space Hanlon
- Advice to the Lovelorn (1933) as Toby Prentiss
- I'll Tell the World (1934) as Stanley Brown
- You Belong to Me (1934) as Bud Hannigan
- The Lemon Drop Kid (1934) as Wally Brooks
- Carnival (1935) as Chick Thompson
- Two-Fisted (1935) as Hap Hurley
- Pirate Party on Catalina Isle (1935, Short) as Pirate (uncredited)
- Sutter's Gold (1936) as Pete Perkin
- Wanted! Jane Turner (1936) as Tom Mallory
- Criminal Lawyer (1937) as Brandon
- Behind the Headlines (1937) as Eddie Haines
- Crashing Hollywood (1938) as Michael Winslow
- Fixer Dugan (1939) as Charlie "The Fixer" Dugan
- The Spellbinder (1939) as Jed Marlowe
- Millionaires in Prison (1940) as Nick Burton
- The Payoff (1942) as Brad McKay
- Power of the Press (1943) as Griff Thompson
- Betrayal from the East (1945) as Eddie Carter
- I'll Tell the World (1945) as Gabriel Patton
- High Tide (1947) as Hugh Fresney
- Come Out Fighting (1950, TV Movie) as Stick Keenan
- The Best Man (1964) as President Art Hockstader
- Steptoe and Son (1965, TV Movie) as Albert (final film role)
|1945||Old Gold Comedy Theatre||Boy Meets Girl|
- Overview for Lee Tracy. Turner Classic Movies. Retrieved August 21, 2020.
- Arnaz, Desi. A Book. New York: William Morrow, 1976; (autobiography to 1960), ISBN 0688003427.
- Arnaz, Desi. A Book.
- Clarke Charles G. Highlights and Shadows: The Memoirs of a Hollywood Cameraman. Metuchen, New Jersey: Scarecrow Press, 1989; ISBN 9780810822375.
- Arnaz, Desi. A Book.
- Actor Lee Tracy dies of cancer
- "Those Were The Days". Nostalgia Digest. 40 (1): 32–39. Winter 2014.
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