Sidney Poitier: Man, Actor, Icon

By Aram Goudsouzian | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 14
LAST HURRAHS
(1967–1968)

They were Hollywood’s perfect pair, relics from the Golden Age. Through twenty-five years and eight films, Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn had refined a remarkable chemistry, one a yin to the other’s yang. Tracy: the rumpled Irish pug, the snowy-haired Everyman, the iron-willed champion of the human spirit. Hepburn: the blue-blood scion of a Connecticut doctor and a liberal activist, the regal product of Bryn Mawr and Old Money, the pants-wearing, tennis-playing emblem of female independence. Tracy was the grumpy hero, Hepburn his sovereign alter ego. On screen, they rarely touched, let alone kissed. But through jokes and arguments and glances, they conveyed an appealing mutual respect. They were the Great American Couple.1

Off-screen, their partnership was less ideal. In 1941, while shooting Woman of the Year, they began a rocky affair. Tracy—filled with selfloathing, tormented by Catholic guilt, plagued by insomnia—treated her with cold silences and cruel outbursts. He drank hard and often. Hepburn weathered, even welcomed, the abuse. She had a romantic weakness for troubled souls, and she fussed over Tracy. In their early days together, Hepburn sometimes curled asleep outside his hotel door, while Tracy sat inside with a case of Irish whiskey, blind drunk and stark naked.2

Their romance endured through State of the Union and Adam’s Rib and Desk Set, Tracy periodically chastening himself for betraying his marriage vows, Hepburn continually sacrificing her independence. She embraced her old age; he grumbled that he was the last of his tribe. By the late 1950s she was preserving his career, lobbying John Ford (Hepburn’s former lover and Tracy’s former mentor) for the lead in The Last Hurrah. She also nursed Tracy’s myriad ills from a lifetime of drinking.3

Tracy had another cheerleader: Stanley Kramer, who produced and directed the Tracy films Inherit the Wind (1960), Judgment at Nuremberg (1961), and It’s a Mad Mad Mad Mad World (1963). Like Poitier, Kramer

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Sidney Poitier: Man, Actor, Icon
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page ii
  • Contents ix
  • Acknowledgements xi
  • Introduction 1
  • Part I - Poverty and Progress 5
  • Chapter 1 - Patches (1927–1943) 7
  • Chapter 2 - Great Migrations (1943–1945) 25
  • Chapter 3 - Stages (1945–1949) 43
  • Part II - Race Man 61
  • Chapter 4 - Message Movies (1949–1952) 63
  • Chapter 5 - Black Lists (1951–1954) 84
  • Chapter 6 - Threats (1955–1957) 103
  • Chapter 7 - Noble Savages (1956–1957) 123
  • Part III - Black Man's Burden 143
  • Chapter 8 - Decisions (1957–1959) 145
  • Chapter 9 - Burdens (1959–1961) 167
  • Chapter 10 - Blues (1960–1962) 189
  • Chapter 11 - Long Journeys (1963–1964) 208
  • Part IV - Alone in the Penthouse 229
  • Chapter 12 - Crossroads (1965–1966) 231
  • Chapter 13 - Useful Negroes (1966–1967) 253
  • Chapter 14 - Last Hurrahs (1967–1968) 277
  • Part V - Through Playing God 313
  • Chapter 15 - Exiles (1967–1971) 315
  • Chapter 16 - Survivors (1972–1978) 337
  • Chapter 17 - Ghosts (1978–2002) 358
  • Appendix : Performances by Sidney Poitier 381
  • Notes 397
  • Bibliography 447
  • Index 467
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