Well, here we are again for another hike on Memory Lane, but before that it was interesting to read that a company is looking for investors to build a new film and television studio in Borehamwood. If it comes to fruition, it will occupy around 70 acres and will be the largest in the UK. The plan is to place it next to the already approved huge Sky Elstree studios and a few meters from the site of the old MGM studios.
In 1948, Hollywood star Spencer Tracy traveled to Borehamwood to direct the first MGM film in their recently reopened studio. It was called Edward my son but alas Spencer made a mistake and the film fell apart. His co-star Deborah Kerr once told me that she enjoyed doing the movie with him but thought it could have been better.
Spencer had started his film career in the early 1930s and by 1941 was earning $ 5,000 a week. In 1942, he was to meet the person who would become his constant unofficial companion for the rest of his life. Her name was Katie Hepburn. When an old veteran showed me the MGM studios in Los Angeles, he showed me a few steps leading up to the restaurant. He said to me, “This is where Katie and Spence first met.
“Katie commented ‘I can’t wait to play with you soon but I hope I’m not too tall for you’ to which he replied with a smile ‘Don’t worry I will cut you down to the size’.”
Spencer was married and had a son who was born deaf, which upset him greatly. He and his wife lived apart but remained friends and never divorced, although he had several affairs with his main ladies. He was also a chronic alcoholic, which posed problems for MGM. The vet told me he would go away with weeklong benders and sometimes break bars. The studio was able to cover things up at the time.
Everyone who has worked with Spencer has said that he has this very rare quality of appearing so natural on screen that you’ve never seen him play, which is a difficult skill to master. He was the first actor to receive two Academy Awards for Best Actor in a row and was nominated nine times.
Sadly, offscreen, he never seemed to enjoy life, which was probably the reason he drank so heavily and got him sacked by MGM after 20 years under contract.
By the 1960s his health was failing and he was practically retired and living with Katie. Then, in 1967, he was persuaded to make a final film titled Guess who’s coming to dinner, with Sidney Poitier and Katie. He was only allowed to work three hours a day, but he performed well. You should watch the movie, which is very moving. Just over two weeks after finishing the film, he died of a serious heart attack. Katie later remembered he could never sleep and heard him get up around 3 a.m. and go to the kitchen. She heard a mug break and a thud before finding him dead.
She left the house for the press to report that he died alone to avoid even then announcing that they were living together. She did not attend his funeral so as not to embarrass her widow and children.
In her day, Spencer Tracy was a big star, but like many in that golden era of Hollywood, her star has faded over time and many young readers will not be familiar with her films.
Until next time we take a walk down Memory Avenue via Dead Man’s Gulch and the world of yesteryear, remember, nostalgia never dies.
- Paul Welsh MBE is a writer and historian from Borehamwood of Elstree Studios
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This notice was published: 2021-04-25 17:00:00