How MGM Saved Lee Tracy From Getting Arrested By The Mexican Government

More than one American has found out, the hard way, that the police in foreign countries aren't going to give you a pass just because you're an American tourist who has perhaps had much to drink. The U.S. State Department is quite clear that its options are limited when it comes to intervening in the cases of Americans who run afoul of the law in another country. "Understand that you are subject to the local laws and regulations while visiting or living in the country — follow them," the agency says.

Of course, far too many Americans think that Mexico is a Wild West-style land of debauchery and anarchy. It is not. And while Mexican authorities are more than happy for tourists to spend money and have a good time at its beach towns and other tourist attractions, the police are going to draw a line. If someone gets drunk and starts acting the fool, they're likely to see the inside of a Mexican jail.

One night back in the 1930s, character actor Lee Tracy apparently had quite a bit to drink while in Mexico, and started acting up in public. Normally that kind of thing can be handled with a trip to the drunk tank to sleep it off. In this particular case, Tracy disrupted a military parade, and it took the intervention of his studio to get him out of Mexico.

Lee Tracy Might Have Peed On Mexican Cadets

The series of events that unraveled in November 1934 remain in dispute, but according to The Vintage News, it went something like this: Tracy was in Mexico filming "Viva Villa!," when one night he got hammered and stumbled into bed in his hotel room. Some time later, a military parade passed through. Apparently, a drunken Tracy responded by either yelling profanities at the marching soldiers, or by urinating on/towards the cadets, or both. He also may or may not have been naked. Generally, neither of those things are good things for a tourist to do while in a foreign land, and the Mexican government wanted a word.

According to The Tuscaloosa News, archived via Google News, he was accused of "offending public morals." Tracy, for his part, admitted to shouting at the cadets but denied being naked.

Regardless, this created problems for Tracy's studio, MGM, which was relying on the permission of the Mexican government to film their movie there — permission that could have been revoked if MGM's employees kept disrespecting the local culture. Tracy was spirited out of Mexico, according to The Vintage News (it's not clear how), replaced by another actor, and the whole thing more or less blew over – at least, in Mexico. In L.A., not so much.

The Aftermath

There's getting arrested in a foreign country for drunk and disorderly (or the local equivalent), and then there's getting arrested in a foreign country for peeing on a military cadet and basically offending the entire country. Tracy was accused of the latter, and this was problematic for his studio, MGM. As The Vintage News reports, Tracy was fired from his five-year contract a few years early over the incident.

Tracy's career was, of course, stalled because of this. As Britannica reports, the so-called Studio System was in play at this time, meaning that an actor's career could be derailed if the studio that contracted them decided they'd had enough. And that's exactly what happened to Tracy. He got by on voice work and stage work for a few years following the incident.

His career rebounded somewhat thanks to a confluence of factors, not the least of which was World War II breaking out. According to Obscure Hollywood, after the war Tracy focused his attention on a new and emerging medium, television, and by all appearances it was the right move. His career between 1945 and 1965 was largely TV work, but by the late 1960s his lifestyle had caught up to him, and he died in 1968.