Sunday, May 10, 2015

May 2015 Five Years!

May 10, 2010 was my first Bit Part Actors post. Five years ago. I now have 819 topic labels (821 after I post this) on the right side of this page with everything from 12 Angry Men (1957) to Zsa Zsa Gabor. What a ride! My stat page shows that over 145,000 hits have occurred, so somebody is reading!
First, a word from my grandson. Cayden has Cystic Fibrosis. He also plays little league baseball like any other kid. He spends some time at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia to stay as healthy as he can, but when his lungs flare up from a simple cold he has a lot of trouble breathing.
Since I started my blog, some Great Strides have been made in the fight to cure CF. There is now a vaccine for one of the strains of the disease, but not yet for the one Cayden has.

Please take a minute to click on the link and make a small donation. We are very close to hitting the goal for the Walk A Thon in a few weeks. On the page, go down to find my name near the bottom (Allen Hefner) and click on the "Donate" button. Ten bucks will help...more is even better. Cayden and I thank you in advance.
Now back to the Bit Actors. Since I have been writing, I noticed a big mistake since I have neglected one of my favorite Bit Actors, Vito Scotti (1918 - 1996). I can't count the number of times I have called out his name while watching a movie or a TV show. IMDb lists 227 titles from 1949 to 1995, but it seems like more.

Vito was a true character actor. He was born in California but spent his youth in Naples, Italy. He was able to use his accent, but also to twist it into other accents so he could play almost any nationality and you would believe it.

In Mexican garb

He started out as an extra, but he was in movies with the likes of Howard Duff, Burt Lancaster and Barbara Stanwyck. As I looked through the films in the early 1950s that Vito worked on, I gained an appreciation for how many films there are, and how many I have yet to see. I am sure they aren't all great, but most of them can certainly provide good entertainment...if you can find them.

Vito's early television work wasn't as good as the films he was in. I don't remember shows like "Mama Rosa," "Mysteries of Chinatown," and "Life with Luigi." In 1954 he was in "Smilin' Ed's Gang" with Ed McConnell (1882 - 1954), which eventually became "Andy's Gang" hosted by Andy Devine (1905 - 1977), a show I did watch as a kid. Vito also shows up in "Andy's Gang" at least once. Plunk your magic twanger, Froggy!

In the last half of the 1950s he is in several episodes of "Mike Hammer" as well as some "The Millionaire" stories. He never gets the money, but he is in the shows.

Vito becomes very busy in television, probably because he can change his appearance and voice so well that he can appear multiple times on the same series and pull it off. Especially westerns. They may need an Italian (no problem), then a Mexican or Native American, which was also easy.

By 1960, Vito was in the groove. I noticed that he played a Maitre D' in Where the Boys Are (1960). I can imagine he stole that scene from all of the young stars of that film.

During that decade, he was a perfect fit for "The Twilight Zone" and "The Addams Family." Quirky parts, like Sam Picasso advising Morticia Addams on sculpture. Yes, I loved "The Addams Family," especially Morticia. (I was a teenager...what can I say?)

It appears that Vito was the most frequent guest star on "Gilligan's Island." I wonder why he never told the Coast Guard where to find the castaways?

As a Japanese survivor

No comment!

There are quite a few TV series' that Vito regularly appeared on. (On which Vito regularly appeared?) Here is a short list, all with at least four appearances by Vito -
The Deputy - c. 1960
Bachelor Father - c. 1960 - 1961
The Rifleman - c. 1962 - 1963
The Flying Nun - c. 1967 - 1969
To Rome with Love - c. 1969 - 1970
Barefoot in the Park - c. 1970
Gunsmoke - c. 1965 - 1970
Love American Style - c. 1969 - 1973
Columbo - c. 1973 - 1989
And of course, "Walt Disney's Wonderful World of Color."

On "The Dick Van Dyke Show"

Between television work, Vito continued to make movies. Lots of them. Not all great, but many were enjoyable. You have to decide.
Master of the World (1961)
The Courtship of Eddie's Father (1963)
Captain Newman, M.D. (1963)
Von Ryan's Express (1965)
The Perils of Pauline (1967)
The Secret War of Henry Frigg (1968)
How Sweet It Is (1968)
Head (1968 - Yes, The Monkees!)
Cactus Flower (1969)
The Boatniks (1970)
The Aristocats (1970)
The Godfather (1973)
I bet that list brought back some memories. I hope good ones.

Certainly The Godfather was the biggest film Vito was in, but he was just a small part in that epic with lots of other Italians. I am not going to chance a guess on what was his BEST role.

He appeared in some of the Herbie films, and also with Don Adams (1923 - 1985) in The Nude Bomb (1980). What do you think?

With Peter Falk on Columbo

I hope you will enjoy seeing Vito Scotti in an old film or TV show in the near future. You must agree that Vito is a Bit Actor worthy of consideration. He did everything he could to keep his character from getting lost, while never trying to be the big star.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

J. Pat O'Malley was in everything

It should be a household name. At least in any house that had a TV in the early days of television. I am referring to J. Pat O'Malley (1904 - 1985). His face and voice are instantly recognizable, as are so many other Bit Actors.

Before TV and after some small movie roles, his first major role in a feature film was Lassie Come Home (1944), and it was nice to see he also appeared in "Lassie" on TV in the late 1950's. Since many classic film buffs are in the baby boomer generation, you will recognize O'Malley in many Walt Disney productions. His first was The Wind in the Willows (1949) and the same year he voiced a part in The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad with a cast that including Bing Crosby, Basil Rathbone and Eric Blore.

J. Pat started acting on television in 1950 according to IMDb. After reading his filmography (or videography if you prefer) it may be easier to list all the TV shows he was NOT in! Let's start with his Disney work, and I bet you have seen most of these. Remember, Movies are in BOLD and "TV work" has "Quotes."

  • Alice in Wonderland (1951) where he voiced Dee and Dum, among others.
  • "The Adventures of Spin and Marty" was shown on Walt's television show "The Mickey Mouse Club" starting in 1955. I loved that series! 
  • "The Swamp Fox" series started in 1959 on "Walt Disney's Wonderful World of Color". I only had a black and white TV, but I still watched it (at 9 years old). Swamp Fox starred funny man Leslie Nielsen (1926 - 2010), before he found out he was a comedian. 
  • Goliath II (1960) a 15 minute cartoon about a 6" tall elephant. 
  • 101 Dalmatians (1961). Pop quiz - Who played/voiced the original Cruella De Vil in this movie? Yep, it was Betty Lou Gerson (1914 - 1999), who also appeared in The Fly (1958) with Vincent Price.
  • The Saga of Windwagon Smith (1961) another short, but this one included Rex Allen and The Sons of the Pioneers. I wonder if Roy Rogers was still singing?
  • Son of Flubber (1963) in a small, uncredited role as a sign painter.
  • Mary Poppins (1964) in at least eight parts. I'll have to watch it again to find him.
  • The Jungle Book (1967) voicing Col. Hathi the Elephant.
  • Robin Hood (1973) as Otto.

O'Malley also worked for other studios. Here are just some of his better films.

The Fastest Gun Alive (1956) starring Glenn Ford.
Courage of Black Beauty (1956) was the second Black Beauty film. This one starred Johnny Crawford who went on to co-star in "The Rifleman." The first was in 1946 with Mona Freeman.
The Long, Hot Summer (1958) starring Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward.

In 1961 J. Pat stars in Blueprint for Robbery, a comedy about an armored car robbery in Boston. And there were more films, but not much of note. He appeared in Hello Dolly! (1969) but he was only a policeman in the park. It seems like he was stuck in his character actor mode. He is so recognizable when he is on screen, that he must have had to keep to smaller roles in bigger films.

By far, O'Malley made his mark on the small screen. Take a minute to glance at the (more or less) complete list on IMDb. I guarantee that your favorite TV show had J. Pat in it at least once. He was the uncle, the grandfather, the doc, or just a shopkeeper. And not just in sit-coms. He was in every genre you can think of, from westerns to "The Twilight Zone."

J. Pat O'Malley fits right in with Bit Actor heavyweights like Parley Baer and Henry Jones. You gotta love all they have given us.

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Fabulous Films of the 50's Blogathon Time

Welcome to my installation in the Classic Movie Blog Association 1950’s Blogathon. I have chosen Last Holiday (1950) which was Alec Guinness’ (1914 – 2000) first starring role in a comedy. In keeping with my Blog theme, I will not review Sir Alec (I am sure you can find plenty on him.), but I will take a look at the film and the really important Bit Parts in this classic British dark comedy. Of course, before this film, Sir Alec made Oliver Twist (1948) and Kind Hearts and Coronets (1949) where he did have a starring role, but it was shared with others. Last Holiday is his film.

There are two movies called Last Holiday. 1950 starring Alec Guinness and 2006 starring Queen Latifah. I have both films on DVD and they both have their good points. The newer version has a happy ending, which is fine if you are in the mood, and Latifah does a very good job in it, with a very good supporting cast.

The 1950 version has a screenplay written by J. B. Priestley (1894 - 1984), who is also listed as a producer for the film. Priestley was an author and playwright and his plays were often adapted to film and television. Another of his famous works is An Inspector Calls, and the 1954 film version starred Alastair Sim. It was remade in 1982 by the BBC for television.

The British term "holiday" means "vacation" to Americans. The story is about a common working man, George Bird played by Guinness, who is diagnosed with a fatal disease and, having no family, how he spends his life savings on a last holiday fling. George is a farm implement salesman when he goes to the doctor for a checkup and hears the bad news. The acting is superb and I consider this one of the great, classic British films. Think of Basil Rathbone quality.

Once again we see that movies are held together by the small parts adding character to the overall mood of the film. Of course, Guinness is wonderful in the lead, but let's look at the rest of the cast.

There are a few Bit Actors in Last Holiday who are not well known outside of Jolly Old. It makes them no less important to this film. It is a British film, after all. 

Beatrice Campbell (1922 - 1979) as Sheila Rockingham, the wife of a ne're do well, and who is convinced by George to try and turn her life around. Beatrice was only in 17 films.

Beatrice Campbell

Brian Worth (1914 - 1978) was Sheila's ne're do well husband, Derek Rockingham. He may be best known in the role of Fred in the 1951 version of A Christmas Carol. He was also in The Man in the White Suit (1951) and An Inspector Calls (1954). (Plus a lot of British television work.)

Muriel George (1883 - 1965) was in almost 70 titles, but I am not familiar with her other work. Needless to say, she was the perfect, rich British lady as Lady Oswington. Her maid-servant Miss Fox is played by Esma Cannon who has 73 roles listed on IMDb. One can imagine what it was like at this posh resort, with ladies strutting around in their furs, barking orders at their servants. Small parts but what atmosphere they bring! They also help to clarify what the others are thinking...about why George is at the resort.

Lastly I would like to mention Jean Colin (1905 - 1989) who played Daisy Clarence. Jean only worked in 14 films. I was surprised to see that she was also a singer and had the female lead in the 1939 version of Gilbert and Sullivan's The Mikado. That is another favorite of mine.

Some actors who may be more familiar

  • Bernard Lee, who later starred in many James Bond films as M, plays an inspector sent to capture Rockingham. 
  • Wilfrid Hyde-White, from My Fair Lady and too many other films to list (156 total), plays an industrialist who just happened to invent some of the machines that George was selling. This opens a door for George, since someone is actually listening to his suggestions for improvement. You can tell that he wasn't very well respected at his old job, and the movie is all about opening doors.
  • David McCallum's father David McCallum Sr. (1897 - 1972) as the "blind" fiddler, who in real life was the concertmaster of the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. The fiddler in this film just sets the tone of the story and lets you in on the fact that all is not as it seems.

Sidney James plays Joe Clarence, another regular guy at the posh resort where George is staying, so they hit it off right away. James was in the "Carry On" series of British comedies. I counted 36 Carry Ons, in his 143 roles from 1947 to 1976, the year he died. He would be the one to get a card game together, or meet you in the bar to discuss football (that's soccer to Americans).

Lastly let's mention Ernest Thesiger as Sir Travor Lampington, the doctor who discovered the deadly disease George thinks he has. Born in 1879, he started film acting in 1916. Thesiger played Dr. Pretorius in The Bride of Frankenstein in 1935. He also appeared as the undertaker in the 1951 A Christmas Carol, and is in The Man in the White Suit with Guinness the same year. He can be found as Emperor Tiberius in The Robe (1953) starring Richard Burton, and in 1956 he is in Benny Hill's movie debut Who Done It? 

Thesiger made Last Holiday when he was 71 years old, then went on to make another 29 films until his death in 1961. Sir Trevor comes in late to the film. He starts the chain of events that lead to the end. And he does it with flare!

The ending of Last Holiday is will not see it coming...and if you haven't seen the film, I will not spoil it for you. It may have been typical of British films of the era to make an attempt at irony in the way the ending is written, but for me, it lets the rest of the film down. All through the movie you are rooting for George, who is incredibly likable. The best you can hope for is to see the irony as it is intended. It is certainly a film worth looking for, and I much prefer it to the newer, candy coated version. While the two movies are adapted from the same play and have a similar story, they are two completely different films.

(An apology from the writer for my big OOPS! I spelled Sir Alec's last name incorrectly in the pictures above. The program I use is a pain to correct, so I am sorry. I will try to fix it later.)

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Yes, THAT is John Larch

John Larch (1914 - 2005) is not exactly a household name, not even in television and movie buff circles. I doubt he even comes up in trivia games. But his career spanned almost four decades, 166 titles, and hundreds of TV episodes...and I am certain you will instantly recognize his face. (That's why I put his pic at the bottom.) Even more interesting is that you will probably hear his voice in your head when you see his face.

He started out as a pro baseball player before he got the acting bug. In the early 1950's he worked in radio playing the lead in "Captain Starr of Space." With television still in its infancy, he soon found a home on the small screen. Let's start with his movies.

Larch's first appearance on the big screen was in Bitter Creek (1954) starring Wild Bill Elliott (1904 - 1965) in one of Elliott's last westerns. Through the rest of that decade, Larch appeared in quite a few movies, but most were typical 1950's fare and not spectacular blockbusters. The list of stars in those films was impressive, though. He got to work with Dan Duryea, Edward G. Robinson, Ginger Rogers, Brian Keith, Kim Novak, Joseph Cotton, and even Orson Welles.

Larch's distinctive looks, voice and demeanor were already getting him roles as detectives, lawmen, politicians, cowboys, and even chaplains. To me he always looks like he is sneering. (He has a big nose.) The nice thing is that he could play those roles in almost any genre, on the big or small screen.

In 1962 Larch appeared in How The West Was Won. It was not a very big role, but take a look at the cast list and you'll see how easy it was to get lost in that film. The next year Larch plays Gen. George S. Patton in Miracle of the White Stallions (1963), a Disney film about horses and Nazis. (And one I would like to see.)

Five years of television work go by before his next film, The Wrecking Crew (1968) starring Dean Martin, Elke Sommer and Sharon Tate. And then he is in The Great Bank Robbery (1969) with Zero Mostel.

In 1971 Larch is in Play Misty for Me and Dirty Harry thanks to his good friend Clint Eastwood. It's nice to have friends. John plays a sergeant in Misty and the police chief in Harry.

Now let's take a quick look at his television career. Right out of the box Larch has multiple appearances in "Waterfront," "Space Patrol," "Dragnet," and "You Are There," all in the early 1950's. In the latter half of that decade you will see John in "The Walter Winchell File," "The Restless Gun" and "Walt Disney's Wonderful World of Color."

I noticed that Larch had single entries in many television series'. Could it have been that he was so well type cast that he would have been recognized if he appeared more than once or twice? He did manage multiple appearances on "Have Gun, Will Travel," "Zane Grey Theater" and "Gunsmoke."

In 1961 Larch is in one of the most memorable offerings on "Twilight Zone." He plays the father of Billy Mumy's (b. 1954) sadistic child character in a story called "It's a Good Life," trying to appease his son and retain his own sanity. He also appeared two more times in T. Z.

Here is a short list of other great series' Larch has appeared in:

  • Route 66
  • Wagon Train
  • Untouchables
  • Rawhide
  • Ben Casey
  • Naked City
  • Arrest and Trial (He appeared in all but one episode as a regular.)
  • The Fugitive
  • The Virginian

And into the 1970s in:

  • The FBI
  • Mission Impossible
  • Cannon
  • Medical Center
  • Ironside

If that list doesn't jog your memory, you aren't watching enough classic television! Without a doubt, you have seen John Larch, and more than once. He was one memorable Bit Actor.

He continued to work all through the 1980s, in "Hawaii Five-O," "Lou Grant," "Vega$," and he had major roles in "Dynasty" and "Dallas" before retiring. As promised, here are two pics:

Now do you remember him?

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Dickens and Fenster

Somewhere, back in the dark corners of my mind, I remember watching the 1962 television series "I'm Dickens, He's Fenster" starring John Astin (b. 1930) and Marty Ingels (b. 1936). There are no details in my memory, though. So let's look at the stars of the show.

John Astin is no Bit Actor. Best known as Gomez Addams in "The Addams Family" (a show I do remember well), he has 149 titles on IMDb and countless episodes on the various television series' he worked on. They list 64 episodes of "The Addams Family" alone.

Astin's first film was an independent called The Pusher (1960), starring Robert Lansing (1928 - 1994). The next year he has a small, uncredited part in West Side Story and he gets some notice. He appears in many TV shows in the 1960s, and finally land "I'm Dickens, He's Fenster" in 1962. Astin played Harry Dickens (the married one). For a short run series, they attracted some real talent. Frank De Vol (1911 - 1999) the famous composer and conductor played Mr. Bannister, the boss. You can also find Sally Kellerman, Ellen Burstyn, Harvey Korman, Lee Meriwether, Peter Lupus, and Jim Nabors in various episodes.

"The Addams Family" ran from 1964 to 1966, and after that, John Astin was instantly recognized on large and small screens everywhere. As a teenager I would watch TAF with my best friend every week. We always had a bag of M&Ms and a bottle of coke. Astin was now famous, so let's move on.

Marty Ingels played Arch Fenster (a ladies man with a little black book), and he has about half the listings of Astin on IMDb. I would put Ingels squarely in the middle of Bit Actordom. Famous enough to not be considered an extra, but not really a big star like his wife, Shirley Jones (b. 1934).

Ingels started off in 1958 on "The Phil Silvers Show." Television was his calling, but he was in a number of movies. Early on, he appeared a few times on Jackie Cooper's "Hennesey" and played Rob Petrie's Army buddy on "The Dick Van Dyke Show" before Dickens and Fenster.

Ingels managed to appear once on "The Addams Family" near the end of its run. Later in that decade he was a regular on "The Phyllis Diller Show." His movies in this time were not great, but not terrible either. Look for him in Wild and Wonderful (1964) with Tony Curtis, The Busy Body (1967) with Sid Caesar, A Guide for the Married Man (1967) with Walter Matthau, and If It's Tuesday, This Must be Belgium (1969) with Suzanne Pleshette.

The 1970s were not as kind to Marty, until he married Jones. His movies for that decade include How to Seduce a Woman (1974) starring Angus Duncan (1936 - 2007) and Linda Lovelace for President (1975). No more need be said about those films. At least he had television.

After his marriage, he worked more as an agent than an actor. But he was also in great demand for his voice-over work for cartoons and advertisements. He keeps his hand in as an actor in the occasional Shirley Jones film, and as a guest on TV. His last appearance was on "New Girl" just last year, and he is working on movies for 2015 release.

John Astin was married to Patty Duke, and Marty Ingels to Shirley Jones. And both had successful careers, and can still be seen working. Not bad!

Thursday, October 24, 2013

The Other Gildersleeve - Willard Waterman

We covered the career of Harold Peary last time. (See below.) He originated the character of Throckmorton P. Gildersleeve for the radio show Fibber McGee and Molly around 1939. In 1941 it was spun off to a new radio program, The Great Gildersleeve. The role was really his, and he even created the catchphrase, "You're a hard man, McGee!"

In 1950, due to contract changes, Willard Waterman (1914 - 1995) took over the radio part with a very similar vocal talent. Peary moved to CBS, while NBC retained ownership of Gildersleeve. Waterman was much more visible than Peary, with more TV and movie roles, so many recognize him as The Great Gildersleeve.

IMDb credits Peary with 60 roles and Waterman with 80, but that doesn't take into account the number of television episodes that would put Waterman even more in the lead. In spite of that, Waterman only appeared on screen as Gildy in the 1955 television series, "The Great Gildersleeve."

Waterman started his film career making one-reel comedy shorts. He was in several of the 60 or so Joe McDoakes series with George O'Hanlon (1912 - 1989). Willard has small, mostly uncredited parts in several films in his early days. For example, he is in No Man of Her Own starring Barbara Stanwyck, Ma and Pa Kettle Go to Town, Riding High with Bing CrosbyLouisa with Ronald Reagan, and half a dozen other films, all in 1950.

He continued getting small parts, in better movies, through the 1950s. Watch closely for Waterman in Francis Goes to the Races (1951), Has Anybody Seen My Gal (1952), Three Coins in the Fountain (1954), and Auntie Mame (1958).

But 1955 was his year on television, when he starred in "The Great Gildersleeve." It only lasted one year, but he was the star. I have read that Waterman didn't look the part of Gildy. He was very tall and Gildersleeve was perceived as a small man. At any rate, the part was getting old, since it ran it's course on radio.

After that, he was in demand as a guest star on many TV shows, with multiple appearances on "The Eve Arden Show," "The Real McCoys," and "Bat Masterson."

Waterman continued working in only a few more movies, including The Apartment (1960), Walk on the Wild Side (1962), Get Yourself a College Girl (1964) and Hail (1973). Stick with The Apartment, the rest don't look very good, and watch for Waterman as Mr. Vanderhoff.

Television remained his forte. He was in everything from "Bonanza" to "F Troop." Notably he had multiple appearances on "Pete and Gladys," "Maverick," "Wagon Train," "Mister Ed," "The Lucy Show," and a regular role on "Dennis the Menace" as Mr. Quigley.

He also appeared on "The Red Skelton Hour," "The Dick Van Dyke Show," and "The Smothers Brothers Show," which presented some of the best comedy on television.

All in all, Willard Waterman had a wonderful acting career. He passed away in 1995 at age 80.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Two Great Gildersleeves

After I saw Willard Waterman (1914 - 1995) on an episode of "Bat Masterson" (gotta love that Encore Western Channel) with his instantly recognizable voice, I thought I should take a closer look.

The radio program, Fibber McGee and Molly was a classic. It included a recurring character, Throckmorton P. Gildersleeve, as we all remember. I don't actually remember the radio program that premiered in 1935 since I was born in 1950, but you may remember. I do remember the TV character. In fact, the character of Gildersleeve was spun off to create his own radio program, and is considered the beginning of the spin off concept so common in television.

Harold Peary (1908 - 1985) created the role for radio. He has ten credits on IMDb for the character, but that doesn't tell his story. Peary's first big screen appearance was as Mayor Gildersleeve in what was billed as "The Hillbilly Howler of the Year!" Comin' Round the Mountain (1940). It starred a musician named Bob Burns (1890 - 1956), plus Una Merkel (1903 - 1986) who is one of my favorites, Jerry Colonna (1904 - 1986) and Don Wilson (1900 - 1982) who was not really an actor. The movie also featured Cliff Arquette (Charlie Weaver from TV) and William Demarest.

The early B comedies must have been very entertaining. Well worth looking for if you are building a collection of true classics.
1941 - Country Fair with Eddie Foy, Jr.
Look Who's Laughing with Edgar Bergen and Charlie McCarthy.
1942 - Here We Go Again also with Bergen and McCarthy.
Seven Days Leave with Victor Mature and Lucille Ball.
The Great Gildersleeve with Peary finally taking top billing, plus the incomparable Jane Darwell.
1943 - Gildersleeve's Bad Day again with Darwell.
Gildersleeve on Broadway with Billie Burke.
1944 - Gildersleeve's Ghost with a lesser known cast.

From there, Peary makes the obvious jump to television. His voice is perfect for a comedic next-door neighbor, or an authority figure like a judge or mayor. But he also played many dramatic parts.

His first regular TV gig in the mid 1950s is on "Willy" starring June Havoc (1912 - 2010). He also can be found in 1957 on "Blondie" with Arthur Lake and Pamela Britton. In 1959, in a twist of fate, he appeared in three episodes of "Fibber McGee and Molly" but there was no Gildersleeve character!

The rest of Peary's television work was basically as a guest star, with several episodes on some series' including "Petticoat Junction."

He continued making a few films throughout his career, but nothing notable after television caught his eye. Films like Wetbacks (1956) with Lloyd Bridges, Outlaw Queen (1957) starring Andrea King who went on to make a film called Blackenstein (1975 - Look that one up!), a Disney film called A Tiger Walks (1964) starring Brian Keith and Vera Miles, and his last film, Clambake (1967) starring Elvis Presley. You can even find him in an AT&T telephone training film called Invisible Diplomats (1965) with Audrey Meadows.

Let's take a look at the career of Willard Waterman who took over the Gildersleeve role next time. Stay tuned!

Friday, July 19, 2013

Olan (not David) Soule

Here's another face that everyone knows. I was watching a 1958 episode of "Have Gun, Will Travel" and it began with the hotel desk clerk talking with Paladin. I knew his face instantly, but couldn't recall the name. So I waited for the credits...and I STILL didn't know his name!

Olan Soule (1909 - 1994) has 238 titles listed on IMDb. His screen career spans over four decades and his last name is pronounced So-LAY, in case you are wondering. He started acting on radio when he was just 17 years old. No relation to David Soul (b. 1943), but Soul is another Bit Actor.

Olan's first movie was an uncredited Bit part with Doris Day (b. 1924) in It's a Great Feeling (1949). Also that year he narrates a Bette Davis/Joseph Cotten film-noir called Beyond the Forest. A radio background is a good start for narrators.

In the early 1950s he works in more films and some early television. Included in his films were Ma and Pa Kettle Go to Town (1950), The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951), The Atomic City (1951), Monkey Business (1952), Stars and Stripes Forever (1952) just occurred to me that some readers may not know much about some of these movies. I try to mention some of the more popular titles in my posts. In any case, any movie I mention in my blog is worth watching. Of course, as a movie blogger and Bit Actor fanatic, there are very few movies I consider not worth watching. The rest is on you.

I must mention that Monkey Business is really a Cary Grant/Ginger Rogers film, with an early Marilyn Monroe. Monroe plays a character named Lois Laurel. That's Stan Laurel's daughter's name. I have met Lois Laurel. She is very nice, but doesn't quite look like Marilyn.

1952 was a good year for Olan. He started working on a television series called "Dragnet" starring Jack Webb. At first he was just another cop, but he soon became the forensic expert, Ray Pinker. Olan had done television work before, and he would continue on the small screen through his entire career.

Other movies in the mid-1950's include Francis Joins the WACS (1954), Phffft (1954), Daddy Long Legs (1955), This Island Earth (1955, and I still want an interociter!), and Francis in the Navy (1955). Many of these roles were really extra work as a desk clerk or reporter, but that's what Olan did best.

In 1954 he was a regular on "Captain Midnight" with another great Bit Actor, Sid Melton (1917 - 2011). I'll have to write about Sid. Then, Francis in the Haunted House (1956) was the last of the mule pics. I will try to touch base with some of Olan's television work, but let's stick to the big screen for a bit more.

North by Northwest (1959) may be the finest production in which you will find Soule. He plays an assistant auctioneer and he does not get screen credit. The next year he is in Bells Are Ringing with Judy Holliday and Dean Martin.

In 1962 he is an elevator operator in Days of Wine and Roses. It appears he is not getting decent roles in movies, but on TV he is found everywhere. Actually there isn't much more to talk about as far as Olan's movies. In the 1970's you will find him in The Apple Dumpling Gang (1975) and The Shaggy D.A. (1976). Soule's final film was Homicide in 1991, starring Joe Mantegna and William H. Macy, and he played a forensic detective similar to what he did on "Dragnet."

Olan Soule is best known for his work on television. He had a range of expressions and a big, fluid voice that worked well on the small screen. People who met him were often disappointed because he was so slight but performed with such a big voice on radio. After his success on "Dragnet" and "Captain Midnight" he was sought by producers for more guest roles on TV.

The bulk of his work and all of his important roles were on television, and he would appear in all genres with multiple appearances on such diverse shows as "The Real McCoys" to "One Step Beyond." He must have been popular with Jack Benny as he appeared on his show multiple times from 1958 to 1961.

Olan has multiple appearances on "Bachelor Father," "Alfred Hitchcock Presents" and "The Alfred Hitchcock Hour," "The Untouchables," "77 Sunset Strip," "Mister Ed," "The Andy Griffith Show," "Perry Mason," "My Favorite Martian," "The F.B.I.," "Petticoat Junction," "Gomer Pyle: U.S.M.C.," and "My Three Sons." And that only takes us up to, it EXCLUDES the westerns he was in!

Soule was the first voice of the animated Batman in 1966, and continued that gig for almost 20 years. He even voiced Batman in "The New Scooby-Doo Movies."

His westerns included all of the best series', including "Sugarfoot," "The Rebel," "Wanted: Dead or Alive," "Stagecoach West," "Rawhide," "Bonanza," "Gunsmoke," etc., and the aforementioned "Have Gun, Will Travel."

Olan Soule appears on screen hundreds and hundreds of times, and you can't miss him. Even when he is a ticket clerk, working in a bank, or a traveling salesman. Somehow he always stands out from the rest of the Bit Actors all around him.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Richard Greene

I used to work with a fellow named Greene. He used to say his name had three E's, not all in a row. I remember Richard Greene (1918 - 1985) from his long running television show, "The Adventures of Robin Hood" That ran from 1955 to 1960. I will always remember his soft, elegant voice. As I grew up and started watching old movies (the good ones), I instantly recognized him.

His first role on the big screen was in a 1934 Gracie Fields (1898 - 1979) film, Sing as We Go. Fields was a popular British singer, but Greene only had a Bit part. In 1938, Greene was signed with Fox and came to America. His first film here was Four Men and a Prayer (1938), directed by John Ford and starring C. Aubrey Smith, David Niven, George Sanders, Loretta Young and Greene. It was the start of a good career for Greene.

Richard would star in a few films in his early career. He took top billing in Submarine Patrol (1938) and Kentucky (1938). The next year he worked with one of the biggest stars in Hollywood, Shirley Temple in The Little Princess, and also in the first film that paired Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce as Sherlock Holmes and Dr. John Watson, The Hound of the Baskervilles.

Through the war years and into the late 1940s, Richard continued to make good films. Some were historical, some were war films, and there were some musicals and comedies thrown in. Perhaps it was the war that effected his popularity, maybe it was his considerable good looks, but he was put into some costume dramas, and pretty much got stuck as a swashbuckler.

Forever Amber (1947) seems to be the start of these movies. It stars Linda Darnell and Cornell Wilde. Next Greene finds himself in The Fighting O'Flynn (1949) with Douglas Fairbanks Jr. In The Desert Hawk (1950) he plays another swashbucker, along side Yvonne DeCarlo as Princess Scheherazade, Jackie Gleason as Aladdin, and Joe Besser as Prince Sinbad. That was some imaginative writing and casting.

This was the time that Greene started working on the small screen. By now, the non-costume movies Greene is making are starting to feel like soap operas. Richard is as handsome as ever, resembling any good doctor/heart throb on "General Hospital." (He never appeared on that one.) But there is something about that suave, British accent that puts me to sleep without some action to go along with it.

The period action films did continue. Look for him in -
The Black Castle (1952)
Rogue's March (1953)
The Bandits of Corsica (1953)
and Captain Scarlett (1953) with an all Mexican cast.

At a time when he was just about out of money, with popularity waning by the minute, he was offered a television role as Robin of Locksley in "The Adventures of Robin Hood." IMDb lists 143 episodes of the show from 1955 to 1960.

In that series Archie Duncan (1914 - 1979) played Little John, Alexander Gauge (1914 - 1960) played Friar Tuck, and Alan Wheatley (1907 - 1991) was the Sheriff of Nottingham. Bernadette O'Farrell (1924 - 1999) was the first Maid Marian, and after 1957 Patricia Driscoll (b. 1927) took over the role. (Personal note; Friar Tuck was my favorite.)

Almost the entire cast of Robin Hood was unknown to American audiences (Donald Pleasence did appear a few times), but the show was a hit. It made Richard a rich man. He did make a few more movies and TV shows, notably (but sadly) some Fu Manchu movies with Christopher Lee.

After that Greene mostly stayed in retirement and raised horses on his Irish estate. But I can still hear the theme song from Robin Hood!

Friday, May 10, 2013

Three Years and Comanche Creek

First, a word from our sponsor... To the right is a link that will take you to the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation page for donations. My 5 year old grandson, Cayden, suffers from this disease. On May 18 there will be a fundraising walk-a-thon for CF. Please consider making even a small donation. Large ones are better, of course.

Cayden has lived with CF all his life. He is a real trooper, and a very happy child. Thanks to his wonderful parents, he is able to play baseball and do many other activities, until he gets sick. Then he is off to Children's Hospital of Philadelphia for a few days to have IV antibiotics. He never complains. His big sister also helps take care of him, and they are best friends.

Cayden and my family do not receive anything directly from your donations. It all goes to find a cure for CF. Many advances in the battle have been made in the past few years, and some strains of the disease now have drugs that actually work. Not Cayden's...yet...but they are getting there. If you can spare $5 or more, please make a donation. The web site makes it easy to do. That wasn't too bad, for my annual appeal. Thanks.

Today is the third anniversary of The Bit Actors Blog. I have had fun writing it, and I have learned a lot during my research. It causes you to think in new terms as you watch an old movie, even one you've seen before. And I hope I have inspired you to look at the small parts, the Bit Actors, who make movies great.

I have also met quite a few like-minded people, especially in the Classic Movie Blog Association. Please visit the CMBA site and you will be directed to many well written movie blogs with loads more info about some great movies. But this blog is the only one dedicated to Bit Actors!

Writing has also made me recall memories of some of the wonderful people I have met, famous or otherwise. Margaret Hamilton was a delight, and Henry Brandon was always ready to make you smile. There are few who know who little Jimmy Murphy was. I spent some quality time with him in Blackpool, England, not far from where Stan Laurel was born. Jimmy was Stan's valet for many years. He wasn't famous, but his stories were classic, and my memory of him is cherished.

The last year has been a busy time in my life, and I have not been able to write as frequently as I would have liked. I apologize for that, and will try to get to the blog as often as possible. Enough of that...let's talk about Gunfight at Comanche Creek (1963).
Mt. Soledad, by Allen Hefner

My wife and I visited San Diego last year for a short vacation and to visit our son. It is a beautiful city, filled with history. Well, not as much history as Philadelphia, but it is on the left coast and it took us (Americans) a while to get there.

The monument on the hill above La Jolla, Mount Soledad, stands high and can be seen from all around. We were driving along the coast and we just had to go up there. The view along the California coast was great, but I noticed, all around the base of the Easter Cross, memorial plaques to California men and women who served our country in the armed forces. Among them was the most decorated hero of World War II, Audie Murphy (1925 - 1971). Murphy became an actor, but that career pales in comparison to his actions in the war. From the plaque on Mt. Soledad, "The most decorated combat soldier of World War II. Audie has been credited with killing over 240 of the enemy while wounding and capturing many others. Scores of American lives were saved."

That brings me to the movie, that I just watched last week. Murphy made 47 movies and did some TV work in about 20 years. Gunfight at Comanche Creek was toward the end of his career, and I enjoyed it. I especially enjoyed recognizing all the Bit Actors in the film.

Gunfight is presented like a documentary about the National Detective Agency and how they work. The was no National Detective Agency, but it bears quiet a resemblance to Pinkerton. Murphy plays a detective who goes undercover to foil a plot.

The film is narrated by Reed Hadley (1911 - 1974) of "Racket Squad" and "The Public Defender" fame on television in the early 1950s. Hadley has 129 titles listed on IMDb. Look for him in the W.C. Fields classic The Bank Dick (1940) as Francois, the tall actor. His deep voice is right up there with other great voices like Basil Rathbone and Andy Devine and was perfect for narration.

Being a "Star Trek" kinda guy, I was a bit put off by DeForest Kelley (1920 - 1999) playing a bad guy...and the main bad guy at that! I guess he had second thoughts and went back to school to become a Star Fleet doctor. Kelley started acting on film in 1945 and on the small screen shortly after that. His list of work is very long, but I would have to classify him as a Bit Actor, if not for "Star Trek" making him a star. He is the kind of actor who plays Morgan Earp, while Burt Lancaster plays Wyatt. Westerns made him feel most comfortable, and "Star Trek" was just a western set in space.

Eddie Quillan (1907 - 1990) had a very small part as the hotel clerk. I think he is only seen for a minute or two. Eddie was in The Grapes of Wrath (1940) and played Connie, one of the displaced farm workers. He has well over 200 roles in movies and TV over a six decade career. Eddie did a series of comedy shorts in the late 1940s and early 50s with Wally Vernon. I hope TCM will add some of them to their Extras.

And then there was Thomas Browne Henry (1907 - 1980) who played the head of the detective agency. Henry has almost 200 roles listed, and you will recognize his face instantly if you ever watch an old Sci-Fi movie or anything on television. Look for him in Earth vs. the Flying Saucers (1956), 20 Million Miles to Earth (1957), The Thing that Couldn't Die (1958) and Space Master X-7 (1958). He usually plays a military officer in charge.

Well, three years of blogging and some wonderful movies to talk about. See Gunfight at Comanche Creek, or Audie's next film The Quick Gun (1964) if you want a treat for Mother's Day. Both are very good westerns. And I'll see you soon. Please let me know what you think.