Lee Tracy

William Lee Tracy (April 14, 1898 – October 18, 1968) was an American actor. He was nominated for an Oscar and a Golden Globe for his supporting role in the 1964 film The Best Man.

Lee Tracy
Tracy as Hildy Johnson in the Broadway production of The Front Page (1928)
William Lee Tracy

(1898-04-14)April 14, 1898
Atlanta, Georgia, U.S.
DiedOctober 18, 1968(1968-10-18) (aged 70)
Years active1924–1965
Helen Thomas Wyse (m. 1938)

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 World War I. In the early 1920s, he decided to begin working as an actor. He became a Broadway star with his starring role 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. He, for example, played a Walter Winchell-type gossip columnist in Blessed Event (1932). Tracy also starred as the columnist in Advice to the Lovelorn (1933), very loosely based on the novel Miss Lonelyhearts by Nathanael West; and he played a conscience-stricken editor in the 1943 drama The 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 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.[1] 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.[2] 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.[3] 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.[4]


Lee Tracy died in Santa Monica, California from liver cancer on October 18, 1968, aged 70.[5] He is buried at the Evergreen Cemetery in Shavertown, Pennsylvania.

Complete filmography

Radio appearances

1945Old Gold Comedy TheatreBoy Meets Girl[6]


  1. Arnaz, Desi. A Book. New York: William Morrow, 1976; (autobiography to 1960), ISBN 0688003427.
  2. Arnaz, Desi. A Book.
  3. Clarke Charles G. Highlights and Shadows: The Memoirs of a Hollywood Cameraman. Metuchen, New Jersey: Scarecrow Press, 1989; ISBN 9780810822375.
  4. Arnaz, Desi. A Book.
  5. Actor Lee Tracy dies of cancer
  6. "Those Were The Days". Nostalgia Digest. 40 (1): 32–39. Winter 2014.
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