Saturday, September 25, 2010

Al Kilgore (1927 - 1983)

While not technically a Bit Actor, Al Kilgore has been enshrined in the minds of all Laurel and Hardy fans.

Copyright 1981 Allen Hefner

Al has one acting credit listed on IMDb and one stint in the art department of a documentary.  In 1966 he appeared in Captain Celluloid vs. the Film Pirates, a 49 min. B&W film made in NJ.

Here is the storyline from IMDb:
"Captain Celluloid battles the evil Master Duper and his criminal gang, the League of Film Pirates, who plan to hijack copies of classic films, copy them and sell them to desperate film collectors all over the world."

That doesn't sound like much of a movie, but I guess the creative juices of the cast and crew were running rampant, as Al often did.

Al was an artist and cartoonist.  He drew a comic strip called Rocky and Bullwinkle in 1962, starring Rocky and Bullwinkle from the TV series.  He was a gifted artist and won an award for his book, Elvis the Paper Doll Book.

He was a collaborator when The Sons of the Desert was founded, and he was called upon to design a crest for all to wear in the organization.

The crest bears the Latin motto: Duae Tabulae Rasae In Quibus Nihil Scriptum Est, which translates as "Two Minds Without a Single Thought."  This motto was suggested by Stan Laurel himself.

Al Kilgore also created one of the best Laurel and Hardy books in 1975, Laurel & Hardy. Compiled by Al Kilgore.  He worked with author Jack McCabe, founder of the Sons, and also with Dick Bann, another famous film historian.  Al wrote or worked on other books as well.

I met Al in 1981, at a Sons of the Desert banquet in Philadelphia.  As part of our entertainment, Al came out dressed as a WWI doughboy and sang some songs of that era for us.  Then he dressed up as Groucho Marx and did an entire routine as Groucho.

Copyright 1981 Allen Hefner

After he was finished, I went out to the bar (a frequent occurrence at SoD banquets).  There was a wedding in one of the other rooms, and I looked in.  There was Al, still dressed as Groucho, and he was dancing with the bride!  Cigar in hand!

I guess you don't have to be a great Bit Actor to influence the movie industry.  Al Kilgore certainly brought a lot of enjoyment to Sons all over the world.

Please respect the photographs I have taken.  If you want to use them, please ask first.  It's probably OK, I just want to know and maybe receive credit under the pic!

Friday, September 24, 2010

Charles Sellon (1870 - 1937)

He was not a big star.  He was on Broadway and played a cranky old man, a character he brought to the screen as well.  Charles Sellon is a Bit Actor.

I first noticed him in It's a Gift (1934) starring W. C. Fields.  He played a cranky old blind man, who almost destroyed Fields' shop.  But that came at the end of his career.

He started on the screen in 1923 in a movie called The Bad Man with Harry Myers.  I talked about Myers when I covered Chaplin's City Lights (1933) a few days ago.  When you look at the interaction of the early stars, you begin to see how small Hollywood was back in the silent era.  I bet everyone knew everyone.

He made three movies with Hoot Gibson (1892 - 1962).  I counted about 35 silent films on his list of 109 roles.  Sellon's first talkie was Bulldog Drummond in 1929 starring Ronald Colman (1891 - 1958). 

Most of the films he made are of little consequence. 
Vagabond Lover (1929) with Rudy Vallee
Tom Sawyer (1930) with Jackie Coogan
Six films with Jack Oakie
Bright Eyes (1935) with Shirley Temple

But he did get to work with the likes of Marlene DietrichPaul Muni, Lionel Barrymore, Barbara Stanwick, and so many other great actors and actresses.  Watch an old movie, pick out almost any uncredited player, and look them up.  They made the movies what they are.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Blondie (1938)

Let's go back to the beginning.  The first real Blondie movie was made in 1938.  Blondie appears in various forms from Blondie of the Follies in 1932 to Bye Bye Blondie in 2010, neither of which had anything to do with our Blondie. 

She started as a comic strip drawn by Chic Young in 1930.  Her name was Blondie Boopadoop until 1933 when she married Dagwood Bumstead.  This feels really silly to write, but it is all true.

Enter Penny Singleton (1908 - 2003).  She is the quintessential Blondie, and Arthur Lake (1905 - 1987) was perfect as Dagwood.  Penny wasn't really a blond, but she remained that way after she got the role.  She was still blond when I met her in the 1980s.  They made 28 Blondie films from 1938 to 1950.  But we don't cover stars here.  Let's look at the rest.

Husband and wife actors Kathleen and Gene Lockhart are both in Blondie.  They worked together some 21 times.  As I mentioned before, they are the parents of June Lockhart, famous for "Lassie" on TV.  The three of them worked together on one film, A Christmas Carol in 1938. 

Child actor Larry Simms (b. 1934) played Baby Dumpling in the Blondie series.  He was also in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939), It's a Wonderful Life (1946), and a few other films.  I can't find much online about him.  28 of his 36 films were in the Blondie series. 

Jonathan Hale (1891 - 1966) played Mr. Dithers, Dagwood's boss.  He has 244 roles listed on IMDb starting in 1934 and into TV, with his last listed role on "Kraft Suspense Theater" in 1965.  He was in Charlie Chan's Secret in 1936 with Rosina Lawrence.  While he was making the Blondie series he also had a recurring role in The Saint series.  He was a hard worker, making over 80 films in the decade of the 1940s.

The fun part about this blog is looking at a name you know nothing about and checking out their filmography.  Mr. Beazley, the mailman was played by Irving Bacon (1893 - 1965).  He is another gold mine to be explored. 

Bacon started making films in 1923 with the Keystone Studio and Mack Sennett.  He made the switch to talkies and eventually to television.  IMDb lists 515 roles to his credit.  Yes, 515!  He was in a dozen or so Blondie films, but look for him also in nine Frank Capra feature films.  I recognize his face, but I doubt I ever heard his name.

Movies of this era are rich with the best in Bit Actors!

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Glory (1989)

I had never seen Glory (1989) until this week when it arrived from Netflix.  Over the past five years or so my wife and I have been studying the Civil War, even to the point of having our honeymoon in Gettysburg.  (BTW, it is a great place to visit.)

Glory won three Oscars, one by Denzel Washington (b. 1954) for Best Supporting Actor, an award he truly deserved.  He is an outstanding actor and one of my favorites since he came to my attention as a doctor in "St. Elsewhere."

This is a powerful movie, but I can't help think it would have been even better with a stronger lead actor. 

Matthew Broderick (b. 1962), in my opinion, has not overcome his youthful presence and just did not look or act the part of a Union Colonel, even a young one.  Broderick was actually a year older than Col. Robert Gould Shaw, the man he portrayed in Glory.  For an actor who could have carried this role, I would look to Brad Pitt or William Baldwin, who are both a year younger than Broderick.

John Finn (b. 1952) was the tough sergeant who appeared cruel at first, but you realize he was only doing his job to get the troops ready for battle.  Finn has a good career going with 80 roles so far on IMDb in film and on TV.  Look for him in The Pope of Greenwich Village (1984), Carlito's Way and The Pelican Brief in 1993, and Catch Me if You Can (2002).  He is currently playing a lead role in "Cold Case" on television.

Andre Braugher (b. 1962) played a well educated free man from Boston who enlisted in the Fifty-Fourth Regiment.  He brought with him a refinement that needed to be tempered so he could be effective in battle.  I imagine that was a difficult role to play, and he did it well.

Braugher is also quite an actor.  He played an angel in City of Angels (1998), and appears in Stephen King's The Mist in 2007.  He's done a good bit if TV work including "Men of a Certain Age," and you can see him as the Secretary of Defense in Salt (2010) the new release with Angelina Jolie (b. 1975). 

Glory is a good movie.  I think I enjoyed Gettysburg (1993) a bit more, but they are each only small pieces of a terrible but important war in American history.  I may write to Ken Burns and ask him to search all the Civil War movies that are considered historically accurate, and re-edit them into a comprehensive film record of the era.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Indiana Jones notes

I admit it, I like the Indiana Jones series of movies.  It's a guy thing.  Some are better than others, and Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981) is certainly the best of the series, as the first installment of any movie series usually is.

The prequel, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom was released three years later in 1984.  Here is an interesting fact...Harrison Ford (b. 1942) made Blade Runner in 1982 and Star Wars: Episode VI - Return of the Jedi in 1983.  Now that is a really smart choice of roles by him with four hit movies in the same number of years...and a big money maker for Steven Spielberg (b. 1946).  Perhaps being a superstar is as much about opportunity as it is talent.  Ford certainly has both.

Let's look at Temple of Doom and some of the smaller parts.  Jonathan Ke Quan (b. 1971) played Short Round.  It was not exactly a bit part in this movie.  He has made six movies, a good bit of TV, and is now a martial arts coordinator in Hollywood.

Amrish Puri (1932 - 2005) plays the bald, bad guy.  After he shaved his head for Temple of Doom, his popularity in India as a movie villain soared, so he retained the look.  He has a total of 264 roles on IMDb, almost all on film and for the audience in India. 

Philip Stone (1924 - 2003) has a distinguished filmography.  He worked in three Stanley Kubrick (1928 - 1999) films, A Clockwork Orange (1971), Barry Lyndon (1975), and The Shining (1980).  In his 100 roles you can also see him in Thunderball in 1965.

Phillip Tan (b. 1960) plays a henchman in Temple of Doom, and trained Jonathan Ke Quan for his stunts.  Tan started acting in The Fiendish Plot of Fu Manchu (1980) with Peter Sellers (1925 - 1980).  He was also the stunt coordinator.  And look for him in The Three Musketeers (1993) and Lethal Weapon 4 (1998).  His real job is martial arts and stunts, where he has worked on quite a few action movies.

Maybe next time I can cover the 31 dancing girls listed in this film!  I wonder if they all have pictures online somewhere.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Pert Kelton (1907 - 1968)

I was thinking about Pert Kelton over the weekend.  I have no idea why.  I guess her name is so distinctive, it just came to mind.

Kelton was a vaudevillian and Broadway star.  She started in movies in 1929 in Sally with Joe E. Brown (1892 - 1973) which was also his first movie.

In 1933 she appeared as a dance hall singer in The Bowery with Wallace Beery (1885 - 1949), George Raft (1901 - 1980), Jackie Cooper (b. 1922) and Fay Wray (1907 - 2004). 

Cain and Mabel (1936) with Marion Davies (1897 - 1961) and Clark Gable (1901 - 1960).  Also that year she was in Pan Handlers with Patsy Kelly (1910 - 1981) and Rosina Lawrence, who I have already written about.  She was an inmate in You Can't Take it With You in 1938, but you have to watch closely.  That movie had a load of people in it. 

She stopped making movies in 1939 and didn't start again until 1962.  Starting in 1951 she found some roles on TV.  She was the original Alice Kramden in "The Honeymooners" when it was still a skit on Jackie Gleason's show, "Cavalcade of Stars."  She was passed over to bring that role to the series, apparently because she was blacklisted.

Her most famous role was as Mrs. Paroo in The Music Man (1962).  She played that part on Broadway starting in 1957, and then brought it to the screen.  My guess is that being born in Great Falls, Montana helped her acquire her Irish brogue.  ;-)

After that, she only made two more films, one with Jerry Van Dyke (b. 1931) and one with his brother, Dick Van Dyke (b. 1925).  Plus she did a bit more TV. 

Pert Kelton...a great name for a great actress.  She was a good looker in the early days!

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Ulverston, England 1984

I am busy scanning, and I just lost my external hard drive!!!  The file system went missing, so now I am looking for a recovery program to help me get my pics back.  Failing that, I have the originals and backups of what was on that disk, so I can start over.  :-(

I thought I would share some pics I took in Ulverston, England at the Fourth International Convention of the Sons of the Desert in 1984.  The convention started in London and then moved up to the Lake District where Stan Laurel was born.

People all over the small town of Ulverston were getting into the spirit of the convention.

The mayor of the town at that time was Bill Cubin.  He also ran the Laurel and Hardy Museum, which was a small shop-size place with pictures and memorabilia everywhere.  Pictures and letters were even on the ceiling.

The museum has since moved into an old movie theater, and continues to be run by Bill's family.  The Lake District is incredibly beautiful, so if you ever travel to Great Britain, be sure to stop in Ulverston.

This photo was taken in Blackpool, England where we were having a banquet.  We had visited the Blackpool Tower, famous for ballroom dancing.  The actual tower on the roof provided a great view up and down the coast.

I found the small bar outside the banquet room and stopped for a pint.  I was joined by Little Jimmy Murphy.  Jimmy was Stan Laurel's valet for many years.  He is from that area of England.

The tall chap is Henry Brandon (1912 - 1990), a star in over 100 movies.  He is here because he played Silas Barnaby in Babes in Toyland (1934) with Laurel and Hardy.  Also look for him in The Searchers (11956) with John Wayne.  Please click on Henry's name for a link to my previous post about him.

The other two in the pic are the musicians who were playing at our banquet.  We all wound up looking for refreshment, and I had a wonderful time trying to understand the English Jimmy Murphy and the two musicians were speaking.  They had quite a heavy local accent, but it is a memory I cherish.

If you click on the images you should see them at full size.  Please enjoy them, but also please respect my ownership.  All photos in this post are copyright 1984 by Allen Hefner.  Just ask for permission to use them.