Sunday, May 20, 2012

Walt Disney and Spencer Tracy

I’ve long been aware that Walt Disney knew Spencer Tracy.  There’s a 1938 photo of them together with Tracy in polo togs and I knew that Disney also played polo.  Having read the excellent Spencer Tracy: ABiography by James Curtis, I learned that the relationship was longer and deeper than I knew.

While the Tracys and Disneys knew each other from polo, the Tracys also entertained the Disneys at their home.

Perhaps the greatest link was John Tracy, Spencer and Louise Tracy’s son, who was born deaf.  John had an interest in art and as a child started a newspaper.  The first issue sported a Mickey Mouse cover with an inscription by Disney which read, “Good Luck to Johnny Tracy.”

Louise Tracy spent a great deal of her life establishing the John Tracy Clinic for families with deaf children.  Having struggled to understand the best way to educate her son, she wanted to provide the best medical advice to other parents in the same situation.  Disney donated $100 at the clinic’s inception and was a member of the original board of directors.  When Disney toured the facility in 1043 and saw that the children were napping on mats on the floor, he donated cots and at Christmas sent over “a truck load of gifts – puppets and toys, all Disney-licensed, that could be used in teaching.”

Disney later funded a $12,000 short film, Listening Eyes, made by the clinic to explain its procedures and supplied the director, Larry Lansburgh, from his studio.

When the Disneys sailed on the Queen Elizabeth to Europe in July of 1952, Spencer Tracy was also on board and they socialized during the trip.

In 1957, Disney hired John Tracy, who by then had attended Choinard, to work at the studio.  He eventually was in charge of the cel library.  John left Disney when his sight deteriorated and he was no longer able to do the job.

In 1961, Disney was on the ticket sales committee for a fundraiser for the John Tracy Clinic and in 1967 after Walt’s and Spencer’s respective deaths, the Disney Foundation donated $100,000 to the John Tracy Clinic.

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