Spencer Tracy as Matt Drayton, newspaper editor
San Francisco, Spring 1967
Film: Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner
Release Date: December 12, 1967
Director: Stanley Kramer
Costume Designer: Joe King
Considered one of the greatest actors in Hollywood history by audiences and peers, Spencer Tracy was born 122 years ago on April 5, 1900 in Milwaukee. His prolific career that spanned nearly half a century culminated with his final role in Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, for which he received his ninth and final Academy Award nomination (one of ten that the film received), a posthumous honor as Tracy had died only 17 days after completing his work.
Following a lifetime of heavy smoking and drinking, Tracy had been hospitalized for pulmonary edema a few years earlier and was recently diagnosed with hypertensive heart disease among other ailments by the time his friend and frequent collaborator Stanley Kramer approached him to star as San Francisco editor Matt Drayton who, despite his open-minded beliefs, is befuddled when his daughter returns home from a Hawaiian vacation with her new fiancee, a Black doctor portrayed by Sidney Poitier. Matt takes no particular issue with his daughter’s charming fiancee personally but rather has trouble moving past his reservations about the challenges that the couple would face in the racially charged climate of 1960s America.
One of the best-remembered movies from Tracy’s career, Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner was also his ninth and final on-screen collaboration with Katharine Hepburn, who can be seen crying authentic tears in the background as her long-time friend and lover delivered the film’s memorable monologue about the endurance of love:
Now Mr. Prentice, clearly a most reasonable man, says he has no wish to offend me but wants to know if I’m some kind of a nut. And Mrs. Prentice says that, like her husband, I’m a burned-out old shell of a man who cannot even remember what it’s like to love a woman the way her son loves my daughter. And strange as it seems, that’s the first statement made to me all day with which I am prepared to take issue… ’cause I think you’re wrong, you’re as wrong as you can be. I admit that I hadn’t considered it, hadn’t even thought about it, but I know exactly how he feels about her and there is nothing, absolutely nothing that you son feels for my daughter that I didn’t feel for Christina. Old, yes. Burned-out, certainly, but I can tell you the memories are still there—clear, intact, indestructible—and they’ll be there if I live to be 110.
Where John made his mistake, I think, was in attaching so much importance to what her mother and I might think… because in the final analysis it doesn’t matter a damn what we think. The only thing that matters is what they feel, and how much they feel, for each other. And if it’s half of what we felt… that’s everything. As for you two and the problems you’re going to have, they seem almost unimaginable, but you’ll have no problem with me, and I think when Christina and I and your mother have some time to work on him you’ll have no problem with your father, John. But you do know, I’m sure you know, what you’re up against. There’ll be 100 million people right here in this country who will be shocked and offended and appalled, and the two of you will just have to ride that out, maybe every day for the rest of your lives. You could try to ignore those people, or you could feel sorry for them and for their prejudice and their bigotry and their blind hatred and stupid fears, but where necessary you’ll just have to cling tight to each other and say “screw all those people!”
Anybody could make a case, a hell of a good case, against your getting married. The arguments are so obvious that nobody has to make them. But you’re two wonderful people who happened to fall in love and happened to have a pigmentation problem, and I think that now, no matter what kind of a case some bastard could make against your getting married, there would be only one thing worse, and that would be if—knowing what you two are and knowing what you two have and knowing what you two feel—you didn’t get married.
Well, Tillie, when the hell are we gonna get some dinner?
What’d He Wear?
After spending the first portion of the movie dressed in his gray business suit, changing out the jacket for a more broken-in tweed sports coat at home, Matt Drayton dresses for the titular dinner with his wife, daughter, and the Prentice family in a black suit, white shirt, and black tie, a simple look that’s consistent with how Spencer Tracy had been dressing in the latter films of his career (consider It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World) as well as a visual reminder that—despite his open-minded political points of view—Matt may still be approaching the evening with a more rigid “black and white” perspective.
In my opinion, black suits are best reserved for funerals or evening occasions that don’t quite call for the formality of black tie, such as dinner at home with your daughter’s prospective in-laws. Matt’s black suit for this pivotal final scene flatters the 67-year-old Tracy, illustrating the impact of quality tailoring given the actor’s advancing age and myriad health issues that had made his weight a concern even a decade earlier during production of The Old Man and the Sea.
The single-breasted suit jacket has short-notched lapels that gently roll over the top of a three-button front, presenting a classic 3/2-roll. As the sequence begins in Matt’s bedroom while he’s dressing for dinner, we see the flattering impact that the jacket adds to his silhouette, with the lightly padded straight shoulders, roped sleeveheads, and front darts building up his chest and slightly suppressing his waist, essentially reversing the actuality of Tracy’s declining physique. The ventless jacket has three-button cuffs, straight jetted hip pockets, and a welted breast pocket that Matt dresses with a folded white linen pocket square.
The suit trousers rise to Tracy’s natural waist, where they’re held up by a black leather belt with a silver-toned single-prong buckle. The double forward-facing pleats adds roominess through the thighs, which would have made the suit additionally comfortable for Tracy given his condition at the time of the production, though they’re more likely an extension of the actor’s tailoring preferences that would have been honed during the more pleat-friendly era of decades past. The trousers have side pockets, jetted back pockets, and turn-ups (cuffs) on the bottoms.
Matt’s creamy off-white voile shirt reflects a shine suggestive of either silk or silky synthetic fibers in the construction. The shirt has a plain front (no placket) that buttons up to a long, semi-spread collar. The squared barrel cuffs each close through a single button. He completes his outfit with a plain black silk twill tie.
Before putting on his black leather derby shoes, Matt has to swap out his original pair of black silk dress socks upon discovering a substantial hole in the toe. The manufacturer’s white print on the bottom of each sock is briefly visible, typically outlining the brand, fabric, and occasionally the wash instructions.
Matt accessorizes simply with just his eyeglasses and watch. The black thick-framed glasses had their lenses removed for the production and, based on the distinctive shapes of the silver logos on each side of the temple, I suspect these may be the MOSCOT Lemtosh frame, which had been introduced in the 1940s.
He wears his gold dress watch on the inside of his left wrist, strapped to a dark brown leather bracelet.
How to Get the Look
Decades before a group of reservoir dogs stalked out of an L.A. diner toward a fateful diamond heist, Spencer Tracy modeled the simplicity of a black suit and tie with his white shirt when dressing for the titular supper at the climax of Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner. Impressively tailored to flatter the 67-year-old actor, the suit masks his health issues and creates an impressive silhouette as the patriarch stands tall among his family.
- Black wool tailored suit:
- Single-breasted 3/2-roll jacket with short-notch lapels, welted breast pocket, straight jetted hip pockets, 3-button cuffs, and ventless back
- Double forward-pleated trousers with belt loops, side pockets, jetted back pockets, and turn-ups/cuffs
- Cream silk or silky synthetic voile shirt with semi-spread collar, plain front, and squared button cuffs
- Black silk twill tie
- Black leather belt with silver-toned single-prong buckle
- Black leather derby shoes
- Black dress socks
- Black thick-framed glasses
- Gold dress watch with round gold dial on dark brown leather strap
Do Yourself a Favor and…
Check out the movie.
Well, Tillie, when the hell are we gonna get some dinner?