Spencer Tracy in Wisconsin
by Kathleen Kosiec
While refiling at WCFTR one afternoon, I noticed an interesting set of photographs in the Spencer Tracy name file. Unlike many of the other publicity and film images in the rest of the collection, these photographs weren’t from the set of a classic film, but instead capture Tracy as a young college student before he left for Hollywood. Tracy’s striking features are instantly recognizable, and I thought the set of candid photographs from the early 1920s was perfect for showcasing Tracy’s connection to Wisconsin.
The photographs were developed from negatives obtained from the private collection of Robert Edgers. Edgers’ father, Kenneth Edgers, was Tracy’s high school friend from Northwestern Military and Naval Academy in Lake Geneva, and later Ripon College. The 10 photos are of Tracy during 1920-1922, including his time with Ripon’s Campus Players and their traveling production of “The Truth,” which ran from December 22, 1921 to January 6, 1922.
Also included in the set are several photographs of Tracy’s parents, John E. Tracy and Carrie Brown Tracy. In one photograph, they stand proudly in front of their Kissel automobile, from the now-defunct Wisconsin-based auto manufacturer that ceased production in 1930.
Long before he was a major Hollywood star, Spencer Tracy was a college student simply majoring in medicine at Ripon College. Making his acting debut at Ripon, Tracy would star in several plays during his college years. In 1921, his classmates voted him cleverest and most talented, and he tied 2nd for most popular. Although clearly well-liked among his classmates, Tracy never graduated from Ripon, leaving for Hollywood in 1922.
Spencer Tracy enjoyed a long and successful career as an actor, nominated for his first Best Actor Academy Award for San Francisco in 1936. The next year Tracy would win in that category for his role in Captains Courageous. In 1942, Tracy starred in his first of 9 films with Katharine Hepburn in Woman of the Year. The two were also a couple off-screen, even though Tracy never divorced his wife. Considered somewhat of an open secret in Hollywood, Hepburn and Tracy continued their affair until Tracy’s passing in 1967. Tracy completed his final film, Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, only weeks before his death.
In 1940, Ripon College awarded Tracy an honorary degree. It’s possible Tracy may have reunited with Kenneth Edgers when he returned to Wisconsin to accept his degree, since Robert Edgers noted his father and Tracy remained life-long friends.
Photo 1. Notes: Spencer Tracy posing along railroad track, Wisconsin, 1920-1922; snapshot labeled “Spence.”
Photo 2. Notes: Spencer Tracy and his college friends on the steps of West Hall at Ripon, College, Ripon, Wisconsin, February 1921-March 1922; Spencer Tracy is on far right, with arm draped around Kenneth Edgers, other three men unknown; labeled “Some of the West Gang.”
Photo 3. Notes: John E. Tracy and Carrie Brown Tracy, Spencer Tracy’s parents, in front of their Kissel automobile.
Photo 4. Notes: Kenneth Edgers (L) and Spencer Tracy (R), Wisconsin, 1920-1922; snapshot labeled “Pals” from photo album of Kenneth Edgers (Tracy’s roommate at Northwestern Military and Naval Academy in Lake Geneva and Ripon College, 1920-1922).
“Performing Arts-Spencer Tracy.” Lane Library-Ripon College. Accessed April 15, 2013. http://www.ripon.edu/library/archives/performing-arts/.