Tuesday, July 13, 2010

The Search for Bit Players

I had some doubts when I started this project that I may run out of subjects after a time.  Well, this is my 65th post and I haven't missed a single day except Independence Day.  That was my choice, not a lack of someone to write about.

I have now realized that my choice of subjects is partly determined by the definition of Bit Player, and since this is my blog and I can do whatever I want with it, that definition will be considered infinitely flexible.

One needs only to look at almost ANY film made in the 1930's through the 1950's to find a wealth of bit actors and actresses.  Many later stars were cutting their teeth in bit parts at that time, so they can be considered bit players.  Case in point, After the Thin Man from 1936.  This is my favorite from the Thin Man series with William Powell and Myrna Loy.

James Stewart had a supporting role in this film, his eleventh movie role.  You may consider it a bit part, since he hadn't had any starring roles yet, and it was two years before You Can't Take it with You, and three years before Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, arguably his first starring role.

How about some lesser known actors and actresses?  Penny Singleton and Paul Fix were in this movie.  George Zucco played Dr. Kammer, but he was in 96 other movies and played Prof. Moriarity in The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes from 1939, which introduced the team of Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce.  Also one of my favorites.

The really fun part of this movie, apart from the fact that Nick Charles is plastered through the entire film, is the cast of Nick's friends.  Every two-bit gangster character actor was seen.  Names like Fingers and Willie the Weeper were played by people who seemed destined to play only in 1930's detective movies.

Henry the butler was played by Tom Ricketts (1853 to 1939).  Can you image being alive during the Civil War?  Ricketts made 203 movies from 1908 until the year he died, when he appeared in Son of Frankenstein.  He worked with everybody!  In the 1930's he was in Top Hat, The Invisible Man and two others with Claude Rains, plus Show Boat, Gold Diggers of 1937, A Star is Born, and The Prince and the Pauper.

Sorry I spent so much time on poor Tom Ricketts, but I get carried away.  I am out of time for today, so let's see what tomorrow brings.

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