Father of the Bride: How Spencer Tracy Got His Best Part

Pandro Berman was one of Hollywood’s most eclectic and discerning producers. After a brilliant career at RKO, Berman moved to MGM, where he made such hits as National Velvet and Ivanhoe. As a producer, Berman combined two rare qualities: shrewd practical instincts and great rapport with artists. Next to Freed, Berman became the producer with whom Minnelli worked most frequently at Metro. Specifically, Berman mounted most of Minnellis comedies.

Berman owned the screen rights to Edward Streeter’s 1948 best-selling novel. Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett, who’d written The Pirate, worked on the script. The idea of doing a comedy based on a more realistic and contemporary setting appealed to Minnelli. Father of the Bride could be finished quickly, before moving onto a much bigger production, the Gershwin picture as it was then called, and later renamed An American in Paris.

With all the excitement, though, initially, the casting of Father of the Bride proved to be problematic. Jack Benny told Schary that he would like to play the lead, the stern father. Without consulting anyone, the new studio head just said, “Great, we’d love to have you.”
However, Berman was upset and disappointed. He told Schary: “Jack Benny is a wonderful personality, but he simply won’t do. We don’t even have to ask Vincente.”

Schary requested to make a screen test of Benny, confident that once Minnelli sees the results, he’ll change his mind. Minnelli, however, did not like the test, and decided to approach Benny Thau.

Who do you have in mind asked Thau. “Only one actor can do it, Minnelli said, Spencer Tracy.” That’s out of the question,” Thau noted, “He’s absolutely refused to do the picture and has left for New York for a vacation. Assuming uncharacteristic courage, Minnelli asked, Is there any reason why I can’t talk to Spence about it myself “Certainly not,” Thau said. “If you want to talk to him as a friend.”

Minnelli decided to involve Kate Hepburn, whom he had befriended during the making of Undercurrent. And, indeed, Hepburn invited Minnelli to dinner after Spence returned to California from New York. “With you,” Minnelli told Tracy bluntly, this picture could be a classic of a comedy. Without you, it’s nothing.”

Tracy consented without even reading the script. He had been aware that other actors were considered for the lead, and assumed that Minnelli wasn’t interested in him. To protect his ego, Tracy spread the rumor that he had refused to do it. Though at the peak of his career, Tracy still needed to be courted by directors. Minnellis act of diplomacy succeeded, and subsequently, his stature was elevated both within and without the studio as a firm director who fought for and succeeded in getting the right cast.

Minnelli knew instinctively that Tracy was ideal for playing the disgruntled father, and that casting Benny would turn the comedy into a showcase of the usual Benny jokes. He persuaded Tracy that only he could give the role the necessary distinction and resonance.

Once Tracy was on board, the rest of the cast fell into place. Minnelli chose the young Liz Taylor as the young bride, and Joan Bennett as her chic mother. The two actresses looked alike physically, having similar coloring and complexion. Joan Bennett and Tracy had showed chemistry onscreen in earlier teamings, such as the melodrama Me and My Gal

There was no friction whatsoever on the set of Father of the Bride. The shoot of this movie became the shortest and smoothest experience Minnelli has had on any Metro picture. Initial work on the film began while Judy was making Summer Stock.