By the mid-fifties, Los Angeles was changing. Its population had reached two million, making it the fourth largest city in the nation after New York, Chicago, and Detroit. Mike Romanoff had opened his fancy new Romanoff ’s restaurant on Rodeo Drive. Robinsons had launched its flagship department store at the corner of Wilshire and Santa Monica boulevards. The gigantic new CBS Television City was under construction in Hollywood, intended primarily for the development and production of color television programming. After being temporarily closed down for financial reasons, the Hollywood Bowl reopened and celebrated its thirty-third season of music and entertainment under the stars.
My daughter Donna had grown into a beautiful little girl with sparkling blue eyes and long brown hair. She was a good student, attending a grammar school on the corner of Beachwood Drive and Tamarind Avenue in Hollywood, not too far from our small apartment. Even though I did not see much of her due to my vagabond lifestyle, I adored her.
As for my good friend George Cukor, he had made extensive alterations to his property on Cordell Drive in West Los Angeles. On the western side of his large home he had built two smaller houses. The interior of his own dwelling had been redecorated by Bill Haines, the art director and designer who had taken me up as his guest to San Simeon, William Randolph Hearst’s spectacular residence on the Pacific coast back when I was a kid on a weekend pass during my boot camp days in the Marines. The orange grove around George’s house had been replaced by landscaped gardens. One of the two new houses George built was rented out to Martin Pollard, a very successful and high-profile local Chevrolet dealer. The other one, where George’s property fronted onto St. Ives Drive, was rented out to famed Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer megastar Spencer Tracy. George and Tracy were the best of friends. They respected one another’s talents enormously. The two of them had first worked together at MGM in 1942 on the very successful romantic drama "Keeper of the Flame," in which Tracy costarred with Katharine Hepburn.
Tracy was still a Hollywood phenomenon. During the forties there was a saying in the film industry that MGM had more stars in its firmament than there were in heaven. Tracy was one of the biggest and brightest. In a career spanning more than four decades he would be nominated for nine Academy Awards. He won two, for Best Actor in "Captains Courageous" in 1937 and for Best Actor in "Boys Town" in 1938.
When George heard that I was no longer working as a bartender at the 881 Club he invited me over for brunch one Sunday. And that was the first time I met Spencer Tracy. By then I was used to being in the company of big names, but Tracy was different. He was an actor of almost mythical proportions. People felt humbled in his presence. When I arrived at George’s place and saw Tracy lounging at the pool my heart skipped a beat. How was I going to react? What could I possibly talk to him about? Would I be intimidated by him? All doubts and fears were cast asunder as soon as George introduced me to him. Tracy was the easiest guy in the world to get along with. Because George didn’t drink, and typically didn’t have any wine or booze at home, Tracy had brought a large flask of scotch with him. The three of us sat around the pool as these two great talents of the cinema talked shop. George was never one for long, drawn out social gatherings, so by three o’clock Tracy excused himself and trotted up the driveway to the gate and then down the block to the house that he was renting on the west side of George’s property. It was the maid’s day off, so I decided to linger for a while and help George clear up. As we busied ourselves in the kitchen George told me that Tracy had married his wife, actress Louise Treadwell, back in 1923, the very year I was born. They had a palatial place somewhere in Beverly Hills. But Tracy desperately needed his space and his privacy. He therefore often lived alone in the house he rented from George. His marriage to Louise would last until his death in 1967. They had two children, a son John, born in 1924, and a daughter Susie, born in 1932. Sadly, John was born deaf and there was little doctors could do to help him. News of this unfortunate state of affairs never got into the press. Few people knew about it or about how much Tracy anguished over his son’s debilitation. Louise devoted the rest of her life to helping deaf children through the John Tracy Clinic, which she established in Los Angeles in the early forties. Tracy was very supportive of her charitable efforts and funded much of the operating costs of the clinic himself. He was a generous, good-hearted man.
As we stashed away dishes and glassware, George and I also discussed the phony romance between Tracy and Katharine Hepburn that the studio and the publicists had concocted for public consumption. The invented story had been so well managed that the press and public alike accepted it without question. People across the United States and around the world gave it so much credence that both Tracy and Hepburn had little choice but to pretend that it was true. Whenever they worked on a movie together flashbulbs popped. They were hounded by the paparazzi if they were known to be dining out at a restaurant or seen with other members of a film’s cast, dancing at the Coconut Grove. On movie productions they were always given trailers, dressing rooms, hotel suites, or bungalows alongside one another to keep the myth alive. And they both played the part. It was as though they were performing in a movie within a movie whenever they did a picture together. Such was the power of the studio publicity machine. It was like the Duke and Duchess of Windsor story all over again. Except in this case none of it was true. Hired Hollywood spin doctors even went so far as to say that the reason Tracy never divorced his wife Louise to marry Kate was because of his Catholic upbringing which, according to church decree, forbade divorce. It was all so farcical.
Tracy looked and behaved as masculine as they come. Think Sylvester Stallone, John Wayne, Robert Mitchum, Anthony Quinn. They don’t come manlier than that. To the world — on-screen and off — Spencer Tracy was like them. Once I had started bartending more or less full time I saw Tracy a couple of times at small dinner parties, especially at George’s place, and progressively began to know him better. As our acquaintanceship developed I began calling him Spence, which he preferred over Spencer. Kate Hepburn called him Spence, too.
One day — I don’t remember exactly why — I got a call from Spence. He knew that in addition to working at parties and private dinners I was also available for general handyman chores and, if memory serves me correctly, I think he wanted me to take a look at his hot water cylinder or something like that. When I arrived at about two o’clock in the afternoon he was sitting in his living room listening to classical music, thumbing through a screenplay, and drinking scotch. The rented house was perfect for his needs, especially when he was working. He could spend time alone there relaxing, learning his lines, and developing his characters. And boozing. Lots of boozing. Other than Errol Flynn I seldom saw anyone put away as much alcohol as Spence did. On that particular afternoon he seemed pretty low. Apparently he had been over to his house that morning to see his wife and something had obviously upset him. He didn’t want to talk about it. Perhaps it was something to do with his son John’s hearing affliction. Who knows? Anyway, I believe that I messed around with his hot water heater while he kept throwing back scotch after scotch. By sundown he must have finished an entire bottle. I offered to put together a light meal for him, which he agreed to. The next thing I knew another bottle of scotch came out and he was downing the stuff like orange juice.
As evening settled around us I laid out the meal I’d prepared and joined him in the living room. To distract him from his melancholic mood I asked him to talk about the script he had been paging through earlier that day. Flinging it across the table at me, with his words now slurring noticeably, he told me that it was for a picture called "Pat and Mike" that he was going to star in with Kate Hepburn later that year. And that’s what pierced a hole in the hornet’s nest. The minute he started talking about Kate something deep inside him was unleashed. He launched into a tirade about her. This was not the cool, calm, collected Spencer Tracy we were all familiar with through the characters he played on-screen. This was an angry, bitter, bruised man. He had been hurt by her. Slurring and stumbling over his words he told me that she was always rude to him, that she treated him like dirt, that she was contemptuous of him. Nothing about their great tabloid romance matched up with what Spence was telling me that evening as night fell.
Before I knew it, it was past midnight. Finally, after another empty bottle of scotch stood on the coffee table he began to undress and begged me not to leave him. I did not have the heart to say no. It was clear to me that Spence desperately needed someone to be with him. He was hurting badly. I could only assume that his pseudo-romance with Kate Hepburn was causing him this distress. I turned off the lights, undressed him, then got undressed myself, climbed into bed with him, and held him tightly like a baby. He continued to slobber and curse and complain. By then he had had so much to drink that I hardly understood a word he was saying. I tried to pacify him by saying that by morning all would be well and that we should try to get some sleep, but he wasn’t ready for that. Instead, he lay his head down at my groin, took hold of my penis and began nibbling on my foreskin. This was the last guy on earth that I expected an overture like that from, but I was more than happy to oblige him and despite his inebriated state we had an hour or so of pretty good sex.
At about four in the morning I woke up with a start. Spence had got out of bed and was stumbling around the bedroom trying to find the door to the bathroom to take an urgently needed pee. He fumbled for the light switch but couldn’t find it, so he just let loose. One moment he was urinating up against the drapes, the next into an open closet, then all over the carpet. Finally he fell back into bed and immediately lapsed into a deep sleep, snoring like an express train.
The next morning there wasn’t even the slightest hint of how drunk he’d been, that he’d pissed in the corner of the bedroom, or that we’d had sex together. He didn’t say a word about it. It was as though none of it ever happened.
That was the first of many sexual encounters I had with Spence. Sometimes I would go to his place at five in the afternoon and sit around the kitchen table with him until two in the morning as he drank himself into a stupor. Then he would be ready for a little sex. Despite everything, he was a damn good lover. The great Spencer Tracy was another bisexual man, a fact totally concealed by the studio publicity department. That is, if they ever knew about it at all.