Saturday, August 28, 2010

Joseph Crehan (1883 - 1966)

After spending some time scanning actors and actresses on IMDb, it amazes me that so many Bit Players would appear on early TV series' multiple times, playing different characters.  I was born in 1950 so I spent a lot of my youth watching a small black and white TV (in a large cabinet).  Take a look at this TV history site.  My TV wasn't pictured.

I guess I wasn't old enough to realize it was the same people playing those parts, and it didn't matter to me at the time.  Now I see them and try to store that info...but I usually have to look them up to jog my old memory!

Now on to Joseph Crehan.  I briefly mentioned him in my Mr. Lucky post.  He has 364 roles listed on IMDb, starting in 1916 in his only silent film, Under Two Flags starring Theda Bera.  Several of his films (IMDb lists seven) are "scenes deleted" so his appearances are a few less than 364.

His next movie wasn't until 1931, and he would have been 48 years old.  That's a late start to work in 360 more roles!  In 1934 he plays a detective in Frank Capra's It Happened One Night with Clark Gable, his first of five films with Gable.  That same year he was in Jimmy the Gent with James Cagney, his first of eight films with Cagney.

He shows up in Gold Diggers of 1937 with Dick Powell and Joan Blondell.  He made ten films with Humphrey Bogart, including Kid Galahad (1937) and The Big Sleep (1946).  He was even in three films with Rondo Hatton!

Six films with Bette Davis and nine with Edward G. Robinson...I am beginning to think Crehan wasn't so much an actor as an autograph seeker.  In 1941 he is in They Died with their Boots On with Errol Flynn.  Crehan plays Ulysses S. Grant in that one, a role he played in at least six other movies and TV shows.

During the Second World War (1941 - 1945) he made close to 70 films.  His first TV appearance listed is in "Racket Squad" in 1952.  He is in four episodes of "The Lone Ranger" playing four different parts.

His last three films (1964 and 1965) were Seven Days in May, Requiem for a Gunfighter and The Bounty Killer.  These films starred Burt Lancaster, Kirk Douglas, Dan Duryea, Rod Cameron, etc...all big stars.

What a career.  I wonder who has Joe Crehan's autograph book.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Hey Boy

Continuing yesterday's look at TV westerns, here is Kam Tong who played Hey Boy on "Have Gun, Will Travel."  He was born in San Francisco in 1906. 

His first film was with Gary Cooper in 1936, The General Died at Dawn.  The next year he was in The Good Earth with Paul Muni.  He is playing houseboys and peasants.  The fact that he is Chinese/American doesn't matter much, he also plays Japanese and Phillipinos. 

His second film with Cooper is The Real Glory in 1939, and in 1940 he works with an acquaintance of mine, Henry Brandon in Drums of Fu Manchu.  Later in the 40's he worked with Humphrey Bogart in Across the Pacific, and in 1955 they worked together again in The Left Hand of God.

Some not so great movies are in there as well, plus he started making some TV appearances in 1952, beginning with "The Red Skelton Hour."  In 1961 he was in Flower Drum Song, and he worked with Elvis Presley in 1963's It Happened at the World's Fair

"Have Gun, Will Travel" ran from 1957 to 1963 and it was probably what Kam Tong is best remembered for.  That's a shame in a way.  He was a good actor and he appeared in many fine films, bringing style and color to them. 

After a total of more than 60 roles, he ends it all working on "The Big Valley" until his death in 1969...playing a house boy.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Westerns, The Best Bit Actors

My new Verizon FiOS service includes the Encore Western Channel.  What a great place to spend an evening!  In addition to movies, they fill some slots with old western TV shows.  Last night I watched "Cheyenne" and "Have Gun, Will Travel," two of my all time favorites.

Cheyenne Bodie, played by Clint Walker.  Where does he live?  He is always riding from town to town, fixing all kinds of problems, and apparently living on handouts.  He has no luggage, no job, and only one shirt to his name.  Last night he was hired by a cattleman's association for something, but when he got to the town, the safe had been robbed and they had no money to pay him. 

He says, "Oh, that's all right.  I'll go back the way I came."  On the way back, he found the gang and recovered the money, but I guess you saw that coming. 

To bring this back to Bit Actors, Lee Van Cleef (1925 - 1989) played the bartender, in a fairly small part.  I thought this may be an early role in his career, so I looked it up.  Van Cleef has over 170 roles starting with High Noon in 1952 as his first movie.  The episode I saw last night was ten years and 117 roles later! 

In that same episode were other established actors and actresses including Don Beddoe (1891 - 1991) who played in more than 280 roles, Robert Karnes (1917 - 1979) with 174 roles, and Steve Brodie (1919 - 1992) with over 160 roles.

In "Have Gun, Will Travel" at least Paladin lives in a hotel in San Francisco, not that he is ever there.  Paladin is played by Richard Boone (1917 - 1981) and this episode, called "Lazarus" was one of the humorous ones. 

Again, I was rewarded with a familiar face, Strother Martin (1919 - 1980).  Martin has 164 credits listed on IMDb and this was his 75th role.  He was more established than Van Cleef, probably because he exudes a more colorful character in his acting.  Van Cleef is just plain bad.

Early on, Strother Martin was in The Asphalt Jungle in 1950, A Star is Born in 1954, and Strategic Air Command in 1955.  He went on to play the mine owner in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid in 1969.  He really made a good living as a regular on many TV shows.

I suppose the black and white aspect of westerns in the first few decades of TV is what makes them easy to watch.  Not that they were filmed in black and white, but that they only show right and wrong, battling it out.  You could write an entire blog on the Bit Players in TV westerns!  Take a look at the complete cast lists for any of them that lasted more than two years.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Mr. Lucky (1943)

I was just looking at one of my favorite web sites.  It is called Mr. Lucky and it is all about fine music and fine cocktails.  Take a look and you will find the perfect martini recipe, and perfect jazz to go with it.

Cary Grant made a movie by the same name in 1943, but I doubt he was inspired by the Internet.  Mr. Lucky is a typical war era movie with a typical Cary Grant character, which makes it well worth seeing. 

Laraine Day (1920 - 2007) is the female lead/love interest.  She appeared in the Lew Ayres Dr. Kildare series of movies, and went on to The High and the Mighty in 1954 and Swiss Family Robinson in 1958. 

The rest of the cast is difficult to write about in a Bit Actor context.  Almost every cast member could be considered a bit actor, and has a load of movie and some TV credits.  And the list of movies they were in is incredible, including many classics.

Gladys Cooper (1888 - 1971) made films starting in 1913 and ended with TV roles up until her death.  She was in The Black Cat (1941), A Yank in the R.A.F. (1941), Now, Voyager (1942), The Song of Bernadette (1943), and The Bishop's Wife (1947) to name a few. 

Walter Kingsford (1881 - 1958) made over 80 films before Mr. Lucky, including A Yank at Oxford (1938) and some of the Dr. Kildare series.  He also did a lot of TV work in the 1950s.

Looking down the list we see Sam Ash (1884 - 1951) with 200 mostly uncredited film roles starting in 1929.  Edwin August (1883 - 1964) only made 13 sound films in a career of 163 movies starting in 1909.

Don Brodie (1904 - 2001) was in 303 roles...way to many to browse through today.  I may come back to him!  And it gets better...Joseph Crehan (1883 - 1966) had 364 roles. 

I WILL pick this cast list up again!  Please pour yourself a martini and watch Mr. Lucky.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Caroll Baker (b. 1931)

I am trying to find some Bit Part Players who are not really famous or not really old.  Let's take a look at Caroll Baker, born in 1931.  In her youth, she was a beautiful blonde, and was cast in Marilyn Monroe type roles.  According to the trivia on IMDb, she was Miss Florida Fruits and Vegetables of 1949.

Her first film was Easy to Love with Esther Williams and Van Johnson in 1953.  Baker had some TV parts, then was cast in Giant in 1956, after being "discovered."  That was a big break.  The cast of Giant reads like a Hollywood "A" guest list. 

Baker rode a wave of good movies, but my feeling is that her good looks got in the way of showing her acting talent.  Before she was 35, she made:
Baby Doll - 1956 with Karl Malden and Eli Wallach
The Big Country - 1958 with Gregory Peck
But Not for Me - 1959 with Clark Gable
The Miracle - 1959 with Roger Moore
How the West Was Won - 1962 with an all star cast, directed by John Ford
The Carpetbaggers - 1964 with George Peppard, Alan Ladd and Robert Cummings
Cheyenne Autumn - 1964 with Richard Widmark, also directed by John Ford
The Greatest Story Ever Told - 1965 with Max von Sydow
Harlow - 1965 where she played the title role

That's quite a list for just ten years.  After Harlow, she moved to Italy and started making foreign films.  Since American audiences seem to prefer Hollywood films, I think that really impacted her popularity here, if not her income.  She is now well into her thirties.  Beauty may fade, but if you are recognized as a talented actress you can survive.

She made movies called The Sweet Body of Deborah (1968), Death in the Deep End of the Swimming Pool (1971), Baby Yaga, Devil Witch (1973), and Private Lessons (1975).  Not exactly hits in the USA.  And unless you are frequently seen here, you will be soon forgotten.

She worked on TV in later years.  "Tales from the Crypt" and "L.A. Law," plus a lot of TV movies.

In 1990 she made Kindergarten Cop starring Arnold Schwarzenegger.  She was also in The Game in 1997 with Michael Douglas as his housekeeper, Ilsa.  That was an incredible story in what is a totally unbelievable movie.  Well made with a good cast and a surprise ending that I will not reveal.  See it if you can, even if it is unbelievable.  Caroll Baker had a Bit Part that perfectly suited her.

Her last listing on IMDb is in 2003 in a TV series called "The Lyon's Den" with Rob Lowe.  Ms. Baker, you are only 79 years young.  If your health is up to it, keep on acting!  Her list on IMDb is 81 parts strong.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Kenneth Mars (b. 1936)

I mentioned Kenneth Mars yesterday in my post about What's Up Doc?.  Here is some more info about him.

Mars has a way with his voice...a good thing for an actor.  He started out voicing additional characters on "The Jetsons" in the 1960s.  He appears on many TV shows, including "Car 54, Where are You?," "Gunsmoke" and "Get Smart" before landing a recurring role on "He & She" which lasted a year.

His first movie was the 1968 Mel Brooks comedy, The Producers.  Mars also appeared in Brooks' Young Frankenstein as the police inspector in 1974.

1969 put him in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid as the marshal who was trying to round up a posse to chase the Hole in the Wall Gang.  Then, in 1972, What's Up Doc? as a musicologist with a totally humorous accent! 

"Steambath" was a TV production of Bruce J. Firedman's Off-Broadway play about a group of people who meet in a steambath and realize they are all dead.  The cast was incredible.  Bill Bixby starred, with Ken Mars, Herb Edelman, and Valerie Perrine who wears nothing but a towel and sometimes not even that.

Mars did much more TV in the 1970s and 1980s, and also started doing more animation voices.  In the movies he worked with Goldie Hawn in Protocol (1984) and Chevy Chase in Fletch (1985).  He played Lyndon Johnson in 1985 in Prince Jack.  I don't think he looks much like Johnson, but I haven't seen that movie.

His voice is heard as Triton in The Little Mermaid which was a big hit for him in 1989.  After that he becomes pretty regular on several animated TV series.  His collaboration with Walt Disney Pictures must be lucrative and I am sure it helped him secure other voice parts.  He is listed on LOADS of animated productions on IMDb, including the Land Before Time series of movies. 

In this century, Ken Mars has appeared regularly on "Malcolm in the Middle," and was also in an episode of "Hanna Montana."  I am sure we will see (and hear) more of Kenneth Mars.  He already has 196 roles listed on IMDb.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

What's Up Doc?

Hmmm, I missed tooting my own horn about my 100th post!  This is post #105.  Over three months and I am still posting daily.  There are a lot of Bit Part Actors and Actresses!  I may cut back to every other day, or four times a week in the future, but for now I will continue daily.

1972 was the release of a Peter Bogdanovich comedy called What's Up Doc? starring Barbra Streisand and Ryan O'Neal.  O'Neal was two years past his big hit, Love Story.  (He drove a nice MG TC in that one!)  It's a shame to see his name in the news and all his problems.

What's Up Doc? is a throwback to the slapstick comedies of the early days of film making.  Lot's of prat falls, things breaking, and car accidents.  It would have looked right at home if it were shot on black and white.

That kind of movie calls for a certain kind of talent in the bit parts.  People who can fall down and not get hurt!  The full cast list on IMDb shows thirty stunt people.

Some of the actors were probably cast on location in San Francisco.  There is a pizza maker in a shop window played by Chuck Holison (or Chuck Hollom as he was credited) and this is his only credit.  There are actually quite a few who only made one or two movies.  Ryan O'Neal's mother, Patricia, and his brother, Kevin, also appear in small parts.

Jack Perkins (1921 - 1998) was a jewel thief, well...he played a jewel thief.  Perkins has 80 acting roles plus he was a stunt man.  Most of his work was on TV, but he appeared in other comedies such as The Love Bug (1968), Blazing Saddles (1974), and The Apple Dumpling Gang Rides Again (1979); plus some horror films that were not very good, including Invasion of the Bee Girls (1973).

We see veteran actor Randy Quaid in his fourth film, in a small bit part here.  But the real treasures in What's Up Doc? are Liam Dunn (72 lifetime roles) as the judge and Barbra Streisand's father, Sorrell Booke (117 roles) as Harry the burglar, Kenneth Mars (196 roles) as a musicologist, Graham Jarvis (124 roles) as the bailiff, and Austin Pendleton (116 roles) as the rich financier.  These guys add depth to the movie with their experience and Bogdanovich's directing.

I rate this movie as a must see, at least once, and if you like slapstick, it is worth seeing every five years or so!