Thursday, December 6, 2012

The Greatest Show On Earth

With a title like The Greatest Show on Earth, it could only be about the circus. I took my grand kids to the circus about two years ago. No big top tent, just an air conditioned sports stadium. But there were plenty of acts and animals that made it quite a spectacle. And it was the real circus, not a new age Cirque du Soleil. I would love to see Cirque du Soleil, but it is too expensive. Ringling provides a wonderful, affordable experience.

Back to the movie. The Greatest Show on Earth (1952) was Cecil B. DeMille's (1881 - 1959) second to last work as director, and it won the Best Picture and Best Writing Oscars in 1953. It had one heckuva all-star cast. Charleton Heston, Betty Hutton, James Stewart, Cornell Wilde and Dorothy Lamour.

That's enough about the stars. Here are some important players.

Gloria Grahame (1923 - 1981) played the part of Angel, who trained the elephants. Gloria was quite a star, but her career was cut short by cancer. Her first feature film was Blonde Fever (1944) starring Mary Astor and Phillip Dorn, and then she worked with Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy in Without Love (1945). She next plays Violet the vamp in It's a Wonderful Life (1946), her first film with James Stewart.

The next year, Grahame was in It Happened in Brooklyn with Frank Sinatra, Peter Lawford and Kathryn Grayson, plus Jimmy Durante. Those were the days! 1947 was a great year for her. She was in Crossfire with the three Roberts...Young, Mitchum and Ryan. Then Song of the Thin Man with William Powell and Myrna Loy, and Merton of the Movies with Red Skelton.

In 1950 she got to co-star with Humphrey Bogart in In a Lonely Place. Bogart apparently wanted Lauren Bacall in the role, but Grahame won out because Bacall couldn't get out of her contract. Here it gets a little strange. Gloria had been married to Lonely Place director, Nicolas Ray. She went on later to marry Ray's son (her step-son) Anthony Ray.

After her circus performance in 1952 she teamed up with Robert Mitchum again in Macao, and was then in Sudden Fear with Joan Crawford, and The Bad and the Beautiful with Lana Turner and Kirk Douglas, all in 1952. She won the Oscar for Best Actress in a Supporting Role for Bad/Beautiful.

By this time, Grahame was in demand. She was almost the essence of Film Noir, and had the opportunity to work with all the A list stars. The best of these films could have been The Big Heat (1953) starring Glenn Ford. She was also in the musical Oklahoma! (1955) before embarking on the television cruise.

It seems that after working in television, Grahame's career faltered. Perhaps she was losing her beauty, I am not sure what happened. Her last films were not big hits, and not very good. Check out these titles, Blood and Lace (1971, The Loners (1972), Mama's Dirty Girls (1974) and Mansion of the Doomed (1976). Her last film was The Nesting (1981) and she died that year.

Back to the Greatest Circus Movie on Earth. Do you remember Henry Wilcoxon (1905 - 1984)? He was in  eight Cecil B. DeMille films. After a half dozen films, he got his big break as Mark Antony in Cleopatra (1934), starring Claudette Colbert. In addition to Greatest Show where he plays the FBI agent, he was in Sunset Blvd (1950) where he played himself as an actor, and The Ten Commandments (1956).

Wilcoxon had a 50 year career with 74 titles listed on IMDb. Other interesting films include A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court (1949), The Private Navy of Sgt. O'Farrell (1968), F.I.S.T. (1978) and Caddyshack (1980). That's quite a variety.

How about Lawrence Tierney (1919 - 2002) who played Mr. Henderson? Another great Bit Actor. He played the title role in the 1945 film, Dillinger, and was a tough guy ever since. Look for him in Back to Bataan (1945), San Quentin (1946), Born to Kill (1947), and he played Jesse James in The Best of the Badmen (1951).

Tierney also guest starred on television for quite a while. He even made a few "Star Trek" appearances, though not in the original series. His later films include Prizzi's Honor (1985), Reservoir Dogs (1992) and at almost eighty years old, he was in Armageddon in 1998. He worked for close to 60 years.

Almost every other role in The Greatest Show on Earth was either for extras, or cameos for stars. Look for Bob Hope and Bing Crosby in the crowd. Emmett Kelley (1898 - 1979), the famous clown, played himself. William Boyd rode in as Hopalong Cassidy, and even John Ringling North was included. Alas, many of the Bit Parts were filled with great actors, but their roles were overshadowed by the story and the spectacle.

So get out to a circus near you. If you can't, at least watch The Greatest Show on Earth one more time. It may not have been the best DeMille film ever, but it is worth watching.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Herbert Anderson

I know, everyone remembers Herbert Anderson (1917 - 1994) as the father of "Dennis the Menace" on television from 1959 to 1963. But his career was much more than that.

Herbert's career in the movies started with The Fighting 69th (1940), and action film with a great cast including James Cagney and Pat O'Brien.  Anderson went on to work in many military films in the next two decades. Also in 1940 you can find him in Dr. Ehrlich's Magic Bullet starring Edward G. RobinsonThe Sea Hawk with Errol Flynn and No Time for Comedy with James Stewart.

Herbert was in three movies with Cagney. The Fighting 69th, The Strawberry Blond and The Bride Came C.O.D., all made at Warner Brothers. Of course, being on contract at W.B. also meant he had to take what they gave him, so we also see Anderson in lesser movies like Knockout, Highway West and The Body Disappears, all in 1941. I haven't seen those.

I recently caught Dive Bomber (1941) on TCM with Anderson and Fred MacMurray. This was the time for movies to show how great our armed forces were, just before we entered WWII. Some others are Navy Blue (1941) and This is the Army (1943). But Anderson seems to be cast as a reporter a lot. I counted six films were he played that part.

He has a good part in The Male Animal (1942) starring Henry Fonda. After a couple of Dan Dailey movies, You Were Meant for Me and Give My Regards to Broadway, both in 1948, we find Herbert trying out the small screen. He was cast in an episode of "Your Show Time" called "The Mummy's Foot" in 1949. It also starred Phyllis Coates, who would go on to play Lois Lane in "The Adventures of Superman."

The changeover from the 1940s to the 1950s was an interesting era. The war was over. People were moving to the suburbs. Television was new and no one knew how much it would change the entertainment industry. I certainly wouldn't want to watch a blockbuster film on the 10" black and white RCA TV I grew up with, but it was OK for "Howdy Doody" and "Crusader Rabbit."

At this turning point there were numerous movies being pumped out by the studios. Many were still filmed in black and white, and these were considered B movies, to be shown along with a full blown, big star, feature. You will find actors like Herbert Anderson in many of these...if you can find them at all. And they included every genre you can imagine.

You Were Meant For Me (1948) Musical with Jeanne Crain and Dan Dailey
The Set Up (1949) Sports/film noir with Robert Ryan
Battleground (1949) Action/war with Van Johnson and John Hodiak
The Yellow Cab Man (1950) Comedy with Red Skelton
The Magnificent Yankee (1950) Biography with Louis Calhern
The Prowler (1951) Film noir with Van Heflin
The Girl in White (1952) Biography with June Allyson

And of course, there were some top notch movies as well. Island in the Sky (1953), The Caine Mutiny (1954) and The Benny Goodman Story (1956) which were certainly not a B movies. The Caine Mutiny would be the second time Anderson worked with Fred MacMurray.

Herbert also worked on some teleplays back then, as he got his TV career moving. On "Ford Star Jubilee" in 1955 he was in "The Caine Mutiny Court Marshal" with Lloyd Nolan playing LCdr. Queeg.

He made a pair of movies in 1957 with Audie MurphyJoe Butterfly and Night Passage. The later starred James Stewart. And to finish off that year on a high note, he appeared in My Man Godfrey.

From 1958 on, Herbert worked almost exclusively in television, with an occasional movie role. Look for him in everything from "The Real McCoys" to "The Millionaire." As mentioned above, "Dennis the Menace" was his most famous role, and that lasted from 1959 until 1963. His final TV appearance was in 1975 on "The Waltons."

Anderson's final three films spanned nine years. His last serious movie was Sunrise at Campobello (1960) starring Ralph Bellamy as Franklin D. Roosevelt. In 1966 he is in Hold On! which is a movie about the rock group Herman's Hermits getting a spaceship named after them. (No, I didn't see it!) And finally he is in a Disney picture called Rascal (1969) about a raccoon that befriends Bill Mumy.

In that final decade of television he must have had some fun. Who wouldn't when you get to work on "Petticoat Junction," "The Man From Uncle," "Batman," "My Three Sons" (his final work with Fred MacMurray), "Bewitched," "Green Acres," "Ironside," and "The Rookies." (Among quite a bit more.)

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Dwight Frye

October brings out the horror film buffs in droves. All the television channels focus on scary movies, and even theaters get into the mood. The local Movie Tavern near us is showing Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948) this week, and TCM is screening Frankenstein (1931) and Bride of Frankenstein (1935) in a double feature. Its good to be alive.

So, who is the greatest Bit Actor of the horror genre? A good question, and of course, it is open to debate. I will put forward the name Dwight Frye (1899 - 1943), a veteran actor of over 60 titles. Let's take a look.

Frye's first screen appearance was in the Reginald Denny (1891 - 1967) comedy, The Night Bird (1928), which was his only silent film. In 1930 his first talkie was The Doorway to Hell starring Lew Ayres (1908 - 1996). Ayres went on to play Doctor James Kildare in the film series, with Lionel Barrymore as Dr. Gillespie. Also look for James Cagney in Doorway, which was Cagney's second film.

In 1931 Frye would take a role that set him up for a life in film that was forever typecast. As Renfield in Dracula (1931) he created a deranged characterization that he could not escape. In 1931 he was also in The Maltese Falcon starring Ricardo Cortez (1900 - 1977) and another famous horror film, Frankenstein, where he played Fritz, another deranged person. In The Maltese Falcon he was Wilmer Cook. Since Wilmer was a sadistic bad guy, he was in character there as well.

Frye is fascinated with bats again in The Vampire Bat (1933) starring Lionel Atwill (1885 - 1946) who is famous as Prof. Moriarty to Basil Rathbone's Sherlock Holmes. Also look for Fay Wray and Melvyn Douglas in that one.

There are a few detective stories in this era, but Dwight's next big horror flick is The Invisible Man (1933) starring Claude Rains (1889 - 1967). That was Rains' first sound film and it certainly helped him become a star. Frye works for a third time with director James Whale (1889 - 1957) in The Bride of Frankenstein (1935), this time as Karl.

In The Crime of Doctor Crespi (1935) Frye plays a doctor. Probably not a mad one. The mad one is played by Erich von Stroheim (1885 - 1957). And the next year we see Dwight in a lighter film, Tough Guy, with Jackie Cooper and Rin-Tin-Tin Jr.

Things weren't going well for Frye at this point. He takes roles where he is uncredited as an extra, or parts where he played a makeup artist or "man on telephone." The stars he worked with included James Cagney, Slim Summerville, Andy Devine and others.

In The Shadow (1937) Frye is a hunchback once again, this time in the circus, and accused of murder. This one stars Rita Hayworth. He works with Hayworth again in Who Killed Gail Preston? (1938). One reviewer called it a 'murder-musical.' This time Hayworth is the victim.
Dwight Frye

IMDb has Frye unconfirmed as a villager in Son of Frankenstein (1939). Some one was probably watching it in HD and thought he recognized the hump. Or maybe he was eating flies. Who knows. If you see him, please let me know. That year we see Frye in his last work with James Whale, The Man in the Iron Mask.

I have written about an acquaintance of mine, Henry Brandon (1912 - 1990), in a previous post. Henry starred in a serial called The Drums of Fu Manchu (1940), and he worked with Dwight in episode 5.

There were a few war movies, as everyone was expected to make, and in 1941 he worked with Lew Ayres again in The People vs. Dr. Kildare. Nothing spectacular for a horror Bit Actor. So let's end this with the rest of his good stuff.

The Ghost of Frankenstein (1942) starring Lon Chaney Jr., Cedric Hardwicke and Bela Lugosi.
Dead Men Walk (1943) with George Zucco, another Rathbone/Holmes foe.
Frankenstein Meets the Wolfman (1943) again with Lugosi and Chaney Jr.
And in his finale, a change of pace comedy, Dangerous Blondes (1943), where he was uncredited.

Before he passed away Dwight was cast to play a substantial role in Wilson (1944), but he died of a heart attack before filming started. His role was taken by Reginald Sheffield (1901 - 1957).

In the career of one Bit Actor, I have given you a complete month of horror titles. Now go rent or buy some of them and start planning your Halloween party! And make sure you find Dwight Frye in as many of them as you can.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Pedro de Cordoba

I was watching the great, but sometimes under appreciated Alfred Hitchcock film, Saboteur (1942) last week. In the scene on the circus trailer, a tall, thin man appears. He had a deep voice, and I instantly knew he was John Carradine (1906 - 1988). Well, I was wrong. The part of Bones was played by Pedro de Cordoba (1881 - 1950). After finding my mistake, I thought that I owed it to Pedro to fill in my readers on his long career.

Pedro started working in silent films in 1915. He appears as Escamillo in the Cecil B. DeMille version of Carmen in that year. Since it was a silent film, it was based on the 1845 story by Prosper Merimee (1803 - 1870) rather than the opera by Georges Bizet (1838 - 1875).

After a ten year span of silent films, plus a few years doing something else, his first talkie feature was The Crusades (1935) directed by DeMille and starring Loretta Young (1913 - 2000). That same year he appears in Captain Blood, starring Errol Flynn and Oliva de Havilland. Captain Blood has a wonderful cast of great Bit Actors, including Guy Kibbee and Donald Meek.

The decade of the 1930s is filled with great movies that are difficult to find these days. Pedro was in many of them, including The Devil Doll (1936) starring Lionel Barrymore and directed by Tod Browning (1880 - 1962) who also gave us Dracula (1931) and several of the Lon Chaney (1883 - 1930) silent films.

This was the decade of big stars like Fredric MarchClaude Rains, Barbara Stanwyck, Don Ameche, Claudette Colbert, Dolores del Rio and Olivia de Havilland. Pedro worked with all of them. In another great, moody picture starring Boris Karloff, Pedro appears in Devil's Island (1939), and the same year in Juarez with Paul Muni and Bette Davis.

In 1940 we see Pedro in a lighter film, My Favorite Wife with Cary Grant and Irene Dunn, and then in his second film with Errol Flynn, The Sea Hawk. Flynn and de Cordoba would make three more films together in the 1940s. Also that year, he gets to buckle his swash again in The Mark of Zorro this time with Tyrone Power and Basil Rathbone.

In 1941 we see Pedro in The Corsican Brothers. That's the one where Douglas Fairbanks Jr. plays Siamese twins. And in 1943 he has a pair of great films, For Whom the Bell Tolls, and The Song of Bernadette but by this time, his career seems to be dropping off. He is found uncredited in many films after 1941.

He shows up in The Beast with Five Fingers (1946), Carnival in Costa Rica (1947) and my favorite title Omoo-Omoo the Shark God (1949). Omoo starred Ron Randall, Devera Burton and Trevor Bardette and garnered a rating of 2.9 on IMDb.

In the early days of television Pedro appears at least twice, on episodes of "The Lone Ranger." His last few films include some Macdonald Carey westerns, Comanche Territory and The Lawless, both released in 1950, and then Crisis (1950) starring Cary Grant and Jose Ferrer. His final film came in 1951, When the Redskins Rode where he plays Jon Hall's father.

Just to set the record straight, de Cordoba and Carradine did appear in seven films together, from 1935 to 1942. Saboteur was not one of them. Pedro de Cordoba was one of those Bit Actors who never made it big, but was clearly important in the films he made. He certainly was colorful enough. And now I will try harder to recognize him.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Jack Elam

Jack Elam (1920 - 2003) is one of my favorites. (And  have a lot of favorites, as you well know by now.) Jack started in the entertainment field as a bookkeeper at Goldwyn Studios. He apparently traded some accounting work for a few small parts on the big screen, and that was the start of a movie career that spanned over 200 roles.

He was blind in one eye, the result of a childhood accident, and that made him a bit different, and quite valuable as a heavy or other character actor, especially in westerns.

Elam's early career was filled with B westerns and dramas where he could play the bad guy. He worked with many stars, such as Chill Wills, Jeff Chandler and Walter Brennan, managing 53 movies between 1944 and 1960.

In 1952, his first big movie (in my opinion) was High Noon. He was uncredited as a drunk. He worked with James Stewart five times, including The Far Country (1954), The Man from Laramie (1955) and Night Passage (1957), plus two more in the 1960s. He made two films with Barbara Stanwyk, The Moonlighter (1953) and Cattle Queen of Montana (1954). In 1955 Jack walks with the animals in Tarzan's Hidden Jungle. This was only notable as Gordon Scott's (1926 - 2007) first film. Scott was about the eleventh actor to play Tarzan.

Around this time we start to see Jack on television. He is on early episodes of "Mr. and Mrs. North," "Waterfront," "The Adventures of Rin Tin Tin," and "The Lone Ranger." Later in his career he was on almost everything western, and plenty more.

For a change of pace, pick up a copy of the Howard Keel (1919 - 2004), Ann Blyth (b. 1928) Kismet (1955) with Jack Elam in a bit part. Though he was not yet known for comedic roles, he did appear in Artists and Models (1955) starring Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis, and the next year with them again in Pardners.

Back to his bad guy roles, Jack played Tom McLowery in Gunfight at the O.K. Corral (1957), and the same year he was Fatso Nagel in Baby Face Nelson with Mickey Rooney in the title role.

Most of Elam's work would soon be on television. This was the era of TV westerns and they always needed a bad guy. As far as movies, his first of two films with John Wayne was The Comancheros (1961). He also made Rio Lobo with Wayne in 1970.

In 1963 he works again with Dean Martin in 4 For Texas, but his career would change in 1969 when he is cast in a much larger comedy role in Support Your Local Sheriff! starring James Garner. He would now begin to receive offers with his funny side in mind. His previous experience as a villain would play into these roles. He had the look, and that bad eye, to counter-play against a funny role making the movie even funnier.

The funnier roles would include films called The Cockeyed Cowboys of Calico County and Dirty Dingus Magee, both in 1970.

Jack did star in a few, low budget films. If you can find them, and you really don't want to, look for A Knife for the Ladies (1974) and Creature from Black Lake (1976). He fared better with Don Knotts in The Apple Dumpling Gang Rides Again (1979).

Look for him in a small part in The Cannonball Run (1981) and Cannonball Run II (1984). Those Burt Reynolds films had huge casts so it was easy to get bumped down in the credits.

After a few more stinkers with actors like Jimmy DeanRichard Kiel and Hulk Hogan, Elam made his final film in 1993. He starred in Uninvited...which is also a stinker, but he is the star.

It says on IMDb that he once described what a character actor is, in the stages of his career. He said, "Who's Jack Elam? Get me Jack Elam. Get me a Jack Elam type. Get me a young Jack Elam. Who's Jack Elam?" I think that sums it up.

While Elam never really starred in anything (or anything worthwhile), he brought a lot of color to his many roles. I suggest, instead of watching the movies he made, tune in to Encore Westerns on cable and see how many times you find that trick eye of Jack Elam. It doesn't matter if you watch "The Rifleman," "Gunsmoke," "Lawman," "Bonanza," "Cheyenne," "The Dakotas," or "Temple Houston"... Jack was there.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

So That's Dabbs Greer!

I received a suggestion (Thanks, Michael!) to write about Dabbs Greer (1917 - 2007), and it was one I couldn't pass up. One look at Dabbs' face, and I knew him instantly, although I doubt I ever looked up his name before. He was a guest star on many television shows, and a regular on a few.

Dabbs has over 300 titles listed on IMDb. His career spans 54 years, starting in 1949. His first five or so years in the movies was spent mostly as an extra and uncredited. Look for him as a cab driver in Father's Little Dividend (1951), as well as many other great films like Monkey Business and Million Dollar Mermaid, both in 1952.

By the mid 1950s he was starting to get on-screen credit. He was in the John Wayne, Donna Reed film Trouble Along the Way in 1953, and the same year in House of Wax, the Vincent Price classic. In 1955 he is a tutor in The Seven Little Foys starring Bob Hope.

Other small parts in the 1950s include Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956), Hot Rod Girl (1956), The Spirit of St. Louis (1957), My Man Godfrey (1957), Baby Face Nelson (1957), I Want to Live! (1957), and Cash McCall (1960). You can see the variety of films there, and some big stars were involved, but none of them had Dabbs Greer as the star.

The 1960s didn't see many films for Dabbs, but he is in Roustabout (1964) with Elvis Presley, and then two films with James StewartShenandoah (1965) and The Cheyenne Social Club (1970). For the next decade or two, he mostly does television. His movies include White Lightning (1973) and Chu Chu and the Philly Flash (1981).

What Greer is best known for today are all the wonderful television shows he either guest starred on, or where he became a regular cast member. He was a regular on "Fireside Theatre," "Cavalcade of America," "You Are There," "Frontier," "Science Fiction Theatre," "TV Reader's Digest," and many other teleplays. According to someone on IMDb, Dabbs was the very first victim saved by George Reeves (1914 - 1959) as "Superman" on that series' first show in 1952. He would appear in Metropolis several more times.

During the era of family sitcoms and TV westerns, Dabbs was right at home as a friendly but grouchy neighbor, or a store clerk or reverend in town. But his face and demeanor worked well for sci-fi shows, too. You can find him on "Twilight Zone," "Kraft Suspense Theatre" and "The Outer Limits." (All the teleplays ended in 'Theatre' for some reason.)

Other spots on TV included "The Andy Griffith Show," "The Dick Van Dyke Show," "Perry Mason," "The Fugitive," "Bonanza," and "The F.B.I." He was a regular on "Gunsmoke," and "Little House on the Prairie" became his home as Reverend Alden for it's entire run. In the 1990s he was a regular on "Picket Fences" and ten years later on "Maybe It's Me."

Dabbs' last two movies were both big budget. Con Air (1997) and The Green Mile (1999) would make up for some of the stinker films like Evil Town (1987) and Two Moon Junction (1988). But let's not forget, he was making income from his career all the while.

Dabbs Greer once said, "Every character actor, in their own little sphere, is the lead." I couldn't have said it better!

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Roscoe Karns

Now there's a name. Roscoe Karns (1891 - 1970) was a character actor (Bit Actor on this blog) who was most popular in the 1930s. The name Roscoe means Deer Forest, and the word roscoe is slang for handgun. Who would have thought! You don't hear that name much anymore. Maybe some classic film fans can start to bring it back into use.

Roscoe's first four films were made in 1915 at the Lubin Manufacturing Company studio, most likely in Arizona. Lubin went out of business in 1916 after a fire destroyed most of his films and business turned sour, so Karns moved over to the Christie Film Company in Hollywood. In 1919 he was in an early King Vidor (1894 - 1982) feature film called Poor Relations with Zasu Pitts (1894 - 1963). Karns would make three films with Vidor and four with Pitts.

In 1920 he made his only film, Life of the Party, with another famous Roscoe...Roscoe 'Fatty' Arbuckle (1887 - 1933). Look for Roscoe as a boy in the rain (even though he was 32 at the time) in Cecil B. DeMille's 1923 silent release of The Ten Commandments.

The reason I include some of these obscure silent films in a Bit Actors background is because I think the early days of an actor's career help to form him or her into the acting style they adopt for the rest of their lives. They have experiences and talk with others in those movies. Who knows, Roscoe may have palled around with Eugene Pallette (1889 - 1954) and Charles Farrell (1900 - 1990) who were both extras in The Ten Commandments early in their careers. Perhaps Vidor or DeMille gave him a small piece of direction that stuck with him.

His first, really big movie was also the very first Best Picture winner Wings in 1927. The next year you could look for him in The Jazz Singer, the first successful talkie with dialog. Through the transition from silent to sound, Roscoe would continue to make both. It would be well into 1929 before we can finally say goodbye to most silent films. (Except for Charlie Chaplin, of course!)

In the decade of the 1930s Karns would make 64 movies with stars galore. He was in seven with Gary Cooper, six with George Raft, five with Neil Hamilton, four with Loretta Young and also William Powell. He was in a couple with Bette Davis, Clark Gable, Carole Lombard, Jack Holt and many others.

Perhaps his finest film was It Happened One Night (1934) the winner of five Oscars. In 1937 he gets the title role in Clarence, along with top billing. In the late 1930s we will see him in a few starring roles, but none of them were big movies.

It seems by 1940 the roles are smaller for Roscoe. He is in His Girl Friday (1940) with Cary Grant, and They Drive By Night (1940) starring Humphrey Bogart and George Raft. Through the rest of that decade Roscoe would make mysteries, comedies, musicals, war movies, whatever came along. By then he was that versatile.

In 1950 he delves into television. Right off he stars in his own series, "Rocky King, Detective" which (according to IMDb) only made nine episodes that aired over four years from 1951 to 1954. But he also had a recurring role in "Hennesey" starring Jackie Cooper in the early 1960s.

Roscoe's last two films were Onionhead (1958) starring Andy Griffith (1926 - 2012), and Man's Favorite Sport starring Rock Hudson (1925 - 1985) and Paula Prentiss (b. 1938).

You have to admit, that is quite a full career, from 1915 silent films to working with Paula Prentiss. Roscoe Karns was a good Bit Actor for sure.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Colorful Brian Cox

This is curious. I was looking through the filmography of Brian Cox (b. 1946) and he seems to be drawn to movies (and TV shows) with colorful names. Here are a few -

"Redcap" (1966)
"Shades of Greene" (episode called "The Blue Film" 1975)
In "King Lear" (1983) he played Burgundy
"Red Fox" (1991)
"Red Dwarf" (1997)
"Blue/Orange" (2005)
Red Eye (2005)
Red (2008) in a starring role.
"The Color of Magic" (2008)
The voice of the Green Dragon in "Scooby Doo and the Samurai Sword" (2009)
Wide Blue Yonder (2010)
Red (2010) This one with Bruce Willis.

I may have missed a few TV shows, but that will give you the idea. And this is not the Dr. Brian Cox (b. 1968) who is a physicist and astronomer with his own TV show, "Wonders of the Universe."

I first saw Brian in Iron Will (1994) a Disney movie about a dog sled race in the early days of World War I, but his acting career on television goes back to 1965. Iron Will starred Mackenzie Astin (b. 1973) son of Patty Duke and John Astin.

Most of Brian's early work, other than theater, was on television. His first movie was Nicholas and Alexandra (1971). Then, in 1986, he was the first actor to play Hannibal Lecktor, in a movie called Manhunter. In 1990 he co-starred with Frances McDormand (b. 1957) in Hidden Agenda.

I think the roles that solidify him as a great Bit Actor, or maybe a little higher on the acting chain, were his parts in Iron Will, Rob Roy (1995), Braveheart (1995), Chain Reaction (1996) and Kiss the Girls (1997). He didn't star in these movies, but his roles were important to the action. You may be tempted to call him a great supporting actor.

There are some not-so-great movies in this time frame as well. Not everything can be a big hit. The Glimmer Man (1996) starring Steven (need I say more?) Seagal (b. 1952), Desperate Measures (1998) with Michael Keaton (b. 1951) trying to be a bad guy, Merchants of Venus (1998) that's Venus not Venice, and The Corruptor (1999) starring Yun-Fat Chow (b. 1955). I'll pass on those.

In 1999 he has a much better role in a much better film, For Love of the Game starring Kevin Costner. I always said the Costner was at his best in sports films, even though this is really a romance film for guys. He also played an important part in the first two Bourne films, The Bourne Identity (2002) and The Bourne Supremacy (2004), as the bad guy Ward Abbott.

Keeping to the better movies, look for Cox in Troy (2004) starring Brad Pitt (b. 1963) and Eric Bana (b. 1968), and in the Woody Allen film, Match Point (2005) starring Scarlett Johansson (b. 1984).

If you look through Brian's list of titles you will find many films that come from his Scottish heritage. Look for The Flying Scotsman (2006) and The Water Horse (2007) plus others. There is quite a bit of work done in the UK, in film and on television.

Cox made two films called Red. One in 2008 which had no big names but did star Brian Cox, and the one I just watched on FiOS from 2010 starring Bruce Willis, Morgan Freeman, Helen Mirren, and John Malkovich, not to mention Ernest Borgnine in a fine Bit Actor role. It was a fun film, filled with violence, comedy, and Mirren as a hit man. Helen Mirren is every bit as talented at Meryl Streep in my book.

Just last year Brian was in Rise of the Planet of the Apes. I'll pass on that one, too. You could write an entire blog about all the Ape films!

Brian Cox continues to work on both side of the Atlantic. He has a number of films currently in production. His roles tend to be very serious, government types, with an occasional comedy thrown in. That makes him one colorful Bit Actor.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Hedda Hopper

Have you ever thought of Hedda Hopper (1885 - 1966) as a Bit Actress? She was, at the beginning of her career in Hollywood.

Most people remember Hedda as a gossip columnist and Hollywood reporter. She didn't begin her column, "Hedda Hopper's Hollywood" until 1938. Her first appearance on film was in a 1916 movie called The Battle of Hearts.

In 1917 she was in Seven Keys to Baldpate starring George M. Cohan (1878 - 1942). It would be a shame to feature Cohan, one of America's greatest song writers and performers in a silent film, but he made three of them. And only two talkies. I guess that was the technology at the time, and I am too young to remember vaudeville.
Hedda Hopper in the 1920s

In the silent era, she worked with Mae Marsh, Norma Talmadge, and Billie Burke. In 1922 she was in Sherlock Holmes with John Barrymore as Holmes and Roland Young as Watson.

I love a good silent film as much as most of you do, but when you look through the list of silents that Hopper was in, you realize that there were many, many silent films that are probably best as lost films. She made three films with Conrad Nagel (1897 - 1970), and four with John Gilbert (1887 - 1936) including three of his talkies. But the vast majority of her early films were with stars that will never be featured in film festivals.

And then, in 1927, Hedda has a small part in Wings, the very first film to win the Academy Award for Best Picture, Production. She was uncredited. By the way, that was the only silent film to win that Oscar, until The Artist in 2011.

Hopper's first talkie was The Last of Mrs. Cheyney (1929) starring Norma Shearer (1902 - 1983) and Basil Rathbone (1892 - 1967). She would make four films with Shearer, plus a cinematic fundraiser short called The Stolen Jools (1931), which also featured Laurel and Hardy and many other stars.

Now that we have put silent films behind us, a look at Hopper's talkie career isn't much better. Highlights include working with Bette Davis in The Man Who Played God (1932); with Katharine Hepburn in Alice Adams (1935); and she was in Topper (1937) again with Roland Young and Billie Burke, not to mention Cary Grant.
Hedda Hopper in the 1950s

Another very good film was The Women (1939) with an all female cast including Norma Shearer and Joan Crawford. She also made two films with Jackie Cooper (1922 - 2011), What a Life (1939) and Life With Henry (1941).

By this time she was well into writing her column, and she was being recognized as a writer rather than an actress. It was time to start drawing on her popularity, so she started portraying herself in films. She made a series of Hedda Hopper's Hollywood documentaries in the 1940s, but also look for her as herself in -
The Corpse Came C.O.D. (1947)
Sunset Blvd. (1950)
Pepe (1960)
The Patsy (1964)
The Oscar (1966), which was her final appearance in film.

Of course Hedda Hopper also appeared on many television shows, and that is where I remember her. She was always outspoken, and her feuds with Louella Parsons (1881 - 1972), Spencer Tracy and Joseph Cotten are well documented. But let's not forget her start as a Bit Actor.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Crimson Tide

The recent passing of director Tony Scott (1944 - 2012) brought to mind several of his great films. Where would Tom Cruise (b. 1962) be without Top Gun (1986) and Days of Thunder (1990)? I think my favorite Scott directed film is Crimson Tide (1995). It is a tense submarine drama involving two clashing warriors, Gene Hackman (b. 1930) as the old school sub captain, and Denzel Washington (b. 1954), the educated first officer who uses intellect and reason rather than blindly following protocol.

Enough about the stars. Let's get to the important Bit Actors who made this film great. People like George Dzundza (b. 1945) who played Chief of the Boat.

Dzundza started working on the small screen in 1974. His first movie was an Italian sex comedy called Fischia il sesso (1974), which translates to 'Whistle sex.' Fittingly, his next film was The Happy Hooker (1975) starring Lynn Redgrave (1943 - 2010). George can be found near the bottom of that cast list.

After a few hit or miss TV appearances on some hit or miss TV shows, his next film was The Deer Hunter (1978) with his name much higher in the cast. It was a great opportunity to work with Robert De Niro (b. 1943) and Meryl Streep (b. 1949).

Dzundza gets his own TV series in 1981 called "Open All Night." It only lasted one season and I never saw it. In 1987 he works with Gene Hackman for the first time in No Way Out, also starring Kevin Costner (b. 1955). Of course, we all remember George as Gus in Basic Instinct (1992) and that scene with Sharon Stone (b. 1958). Dzundza appears in more films and has some regular spots on television. Let's hope we see more of him.

Here are a few interesting Bit Actors from Crimson Tide. Lillo Brancato (b. 1976) played the radio man, in his third film after A Bronx Tale (1993) and Renaissance Man (1984). It sounds like a good start to an acting career, but after a few dozen acting jobs, including a stint on "The Sopranos," Lillo gets involved in a burglary. He is currently serving ten years in a New York prison.

Remember Ricky Schroder (b. 1970)? His big part was in "Silver Spoons" in the 1980s. He has had a quite a few acting jobs since then, including his part as a lieutenant in Crimson. Keep on going, Ricky.

Steve Zahn (b. 1967) went on the play a teenage guitar player in That Thing You Do (1996) and a book seller who worked for Meg Ryan (b. 1961) in You've Got Mail (1998). Other parts are played well by Matt CravenJaime Gomez, Rocky Carroll, Michael Milhoan, Scott Burkholder and several more. You can find them everywhere, but they tend to blend in to the parts, as good Bit Actors always do.

It is interesting that most of the cast members are not famous, but they do have long filmographies that show a wide variety of parts in multiple media. They do comedies, dramas, voice over work, and TV shows. Of course, since Crimson Tide takes place almost exclusively on a submarine, almost every male part in the film is an officer or enlisted man in the Navy.

Lastly, at the board of inquiry that ended the film, we see famous Bit Actor Jason Robards (1922 - 2000) who actually starred in countless movies, and also on the board was Skip Beard who was the technical adviser for the film, since he was the real captain of the USS Alabama.

Great film with a great cast.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Walter Long

First, my apologies to any regular readers for me absence. I was wrapped up in a home improvement project that was completed successfully. Now I will try to contribute more frequently.

This week, Turner Classic Films (the best channel on cable) showed Intolerance: Love's Struggle Through the Ages (1916), one of the most famous silent films ever made. If you have never seen it, please go out and buy The Birth of a Nation (1915), watch it first, and then get Intolerance. Historically they go together in that order.

Lillian Gish (1893 - 1993), who has a career spanning 75 years, is in both films, as is Mae Marsh (1894 - 1968), the silent star and later Bit Actress, who I wrote about back in April 2011. But they are stars and not for my column today.

I looked down the full cast list. There I saw Walter Long (1879 - 1952), a name I knew. An actor with over 200 films spanning 60 years starting in 1910. One of his early films, The Life of General Villa (1914) also included Mexican revolutionary Pancho Villa (1878 - 1923) himself in the cast. Villa made four films as himself from 1912 to 1916, but it is not clear if he acted in them or they just used other footage he was in.

Walter made about 19 films under D. W. Griffith (1875 - 1948), including Birth and Intolerance. In The Birth of a Nation he played a slave in black face. He made ten films with Mae Marsh and eight with Lillian Gish. Also in the silent era, Walter worked with Douglas Fairbanks (1883 - 1939) and Mary Pickford (1892 - 1979) in two pictures with each. They, of course, went on to marry and found United Artists.

Big silent star Rudolph Valentino (1895 - 1926) worked with Long in three pictures, including The Sheik (1921) and Blood and Sand (1922), two of his best. He also made nine films with William Boyd (1885 - 1972), six of them before Hopalong Cassidy came along in 1935.

His silent films came to an end in 1928 (along with most other silent films) when his first talkie, Gang War, was released. There isn't much info about that one so it is probably lost. Long quickly adapts to sound films and his career continued.

In the decade of the 1930s, he also appeared in several Laurel and Hardy films, including Pardon Us (1931), Any Old Port (1932), Going Bye-Bye (1934) and The Live Ghost (1934). These are some of the better L&H films and Walter has important parts in each.

He appears in Moby Dick (1930) starring John Barrymore, and in 1931 he plays Miles Archer in the Ricardo Cortez (1900 - 1977) version of The Maltese Falcon. In 1932 he also has a small part in I Am a Fugitive From a Chain Gang, starring Paul Muni. I have not seen that film, but after reading some reviews, it sounds like one to look for.

Here is one of my favorites. You can catch Long in Six of a Kind (1934) starring Charles Ruggles (1886 - 1970), George Burns (1896 - 1996), Gracie Allen (1895 - 1964) and W. C. Fields (1880 - 1946). That was a fun movie featuring Fields' famous pool cue routine.

I may never get to 1950 at this rate! Here is a list of Walter Long's notable movies -
The Thin Man (1934)
Operator 13 (1934)
Three Little Pigskins (1934 with the Three Stooges)
Annie Oakley (1935)
Union Pacific (1939)
Dark Command (1940, plus three other John Wayne movies)
Dillinger (1945)

Walter finally got to work on television on "The Ed Winn Show" and "Fireside Theatre" in those early days of TV. I have mentioned quite a few movies above. Spend some time watching them and try to look for Long's gruff face.

Although Walter Long was never a big star, his body of work was extensive, and his appearance as a tough guy helped many films, dramatic and comedic, to tell their stories. This is what a great Bit Actors does, and Walter was one of the best.

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Hank Worden

Here is an actor, or should I say a Bit Actor, who has added a lot to the enjoyment of many over a career that spans 1935 to 1991. Hank Worden (1901 - 1992) has 212 titles listed on IMDb. Have you heard of him?

I recently was channel surfing and bumped in The Searchers (1956) already in progress. John Wayne had just arrived at the cabin and the Rev. Captain Clayton, played by Ward Bond (1903 - 1960), was signing up recruits for the coming Indian battle. Among his group was a fellow who appeared to be just a bit 'touched.' It was Hank, playing Mose Harper. Now do you remember him?

Hank was a real cowboy, raised on a ranch in Montana. He worked in the rodeo with Tex Ritter (1905 - 1974) and handled all sorts of odd jobs before his acting began. He was everything from a taxi driver to a trail hand, with some acting on the side.

In the early part of his career he played in many B westerns, including a dozen with Tex. He was basically an extra, playing henchman, barfly, deputy, or ranch hand.

1939 would be his most important year. Stagecoach would bring Hank a job as a cavalryman in the movie, but it would also be the start of a friendship with John Wayne and director John Ford.

Hank worked with Gene Autry in several 1940 films, but up until the early 1940s, his roles were almost all uncredited. Of course, in the era before actor's rights, most of the smaller parts did not receive screen credit.

All of his work wasn't in westerns. As the 1940s progressed, he got parts in So Proudly We Hail (1943), Bud Abbott and Lou Costello in Hollywood (1945), The Bullfighters (1945 with Laurel and Hardy) and The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (1947). But that was just work.

During the same period, he shows up in A Lady Takes a Chance (1943), Angel and the Badman (1947), 3 Godfathers (1948), Fort Apache (1948), Red River (1948) and The Fighting Kentuckian (1949) all with John Wayne.

After The Searchers in 1956, look for Hank in a much more important role as the town simpleton in The Quiet Gun (1957) starring Forrest Tucker (1919 - 1986) and Lee Van Cleef (1925 - 1989). This is the kind of film to watch for in Encore Westerns.

The 1950s also brought television and all those wonderful TV western series'. Hank took advantage of them, appearing first in "The Lone Ranger" and then in many other shows. He was seen an a few Walt Disney productions on TV and also in Bedknobs and Broomsticks (1971).

Worden plays the parson in The Alamo (1960) again with The Duke, the doc in One-Eyed Jacks (1961) with Marlon Brando, and an undertaker in The Music Man (1962). He does more work with Wayne in McLintock! (1963), True Grit (1969), Rio Lobo and Chisum in 1970, Big Jake (1971), and Cahill U.S. Marshal (1972). In all, he made 17 films with Wayne and eight with John Ford.

John Wayne only made four more films after Cahill. Hank had appeared in a couple episodes of "Rawhide" so he must have hooked up with Clint Eastwood (b. 1930) that way. Worden was in Every Which Way but Loose (1978) and Bronco Billy (1980) with Eastwood.

For a change of pace, try Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band (1978). Hank was one of the Old band members. Some of Hank's final movies are not worth talking about. Please Don't Eat the Babies (1983) and Space Rage (1985) lead the list of Worden films to avoid.

Hank finishes his acting on television in "Cop Rock" and "Twin Peaks" in 1990 - 1991. He had won no awards during his long career, but remember him for his westerns. I am sure he would have wanted it that way.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Denis Lawson - Star Wars and Other Stuff

Do you remember Denis Lawson (b. 1947)? He is a Scot who appeared in the first three releases of the original Star Wars trilogy, episodes IV, V and VI, where his name was misspelled as Dennis in the first two.

Acting must run in his family. His sister is producer Carol McGregor, who is the mother of Ewan McGregor (b. 1971) who played Obi-Wan Kenobi in the first three episodes of the Star Wars story.

Lawson does not have many movies in his filmography, which is a shame. He is talented and handsome, and would do well in America if he had more exposure. But, perhaps that is not what he is after. He is very well known in Great Britain, as a stage and television actor, and a comedian.

Of course, I first saw him as Wedge Antilles in Star Wars, Episode IV (1977). He was the leader of the Red Squadron that helped destroy the Death Star. He would play the same part in the next three S.W. releases, The Empire Strikes Back (1980) and Return of the Jedi (1983). Later, in 2001, he voiced Wedge for a video game.

His first film, Providence, was released the same year as Star Wars and starred Sir John Gielgud (1904 - 2000). It also included Ellen Burstyn (b. 1931), Dirk Bogarde (1921 - 1999) and David Warner (b. 1941).

I first noticed Denis in Local Hero (1983), which starred Burt Lancaster (1913 - 1994) and Peter Riegert (b. 1947). That was an interesting film, made in Scotland about a rich oil man, Lancaster, who wants to buy an entire town. Riegert is sent to Scotland to handle the negotiations. Lawson plays the hotel/pub owner who acts as the spokesperson for the town and authors a good deal for everyone. The magic happens as Riegert is taken in by the quaint location and the quirky nature of everyone he meets.

The Star Wars Trilogy was by far the biggest thing Lawson was a part of, but his part was so small, he was difficult to notice. There was just too much going on. You become aware of these details after viewing the films three or more times, unless you are specifically looking for someone and know where to look.

Most of Denis' work has been on British television and in films made specifically for British or European audiences. If you have access to BBC America on cable or FiOS, you can probably catch him in some of the series' such as "Robin Hood" or "Bleak House." It seems that BBC America isn't showing much other than "Top Gear" these days, but they throw other things in from time to time.

In 2011, Denis got to work with nephew Ewan McGregor in a British movie called Perfect Sense. I haven't seen it, but from all the movies listed on Denis Lawson's filmography, this one seems to be most interesting. In fact, every movie Lawson was in has received very good ratings on IMDb. That's a tribute to his skill, not only in acting, but in choosing quality projects.

Perfect Sense also stars Eva Green (b. 1980) who has only 13 titles listed, but one of them was a prime role in Casino Royale (2006).

Denis Lawson may only be a Bit Actor in Hollywood, but he is one more reason to wish I were British!

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Rance and Clint Howard

Here is a father and son team of Bit Actors with a huge combined filmography. Rance Howard (b. 1928) has 247 titles on IMDb, and son Clint Howard (b. 1959) has 215. Of course they worked together many times. Let's take a look.

Rance's first movie was Frontier Woman (1956) about Polly Crockett, daughter of Davy Crockett. Not a movie to rush out and buy. He makes a few appearances on television and then has an uncredited role in The Music Man (1962). More television work followed, including a few appearances on "The Andy Griffith Show" which is good for any career. Then he makes a truly terrible movie, Village of the Giants (1965) starring Tommy Kirk (b. 1941) and Johnny Crawford (b. 1946). 

1967 was a good year for Rance. He appeared in Cool Hand Luke (uncredited), but he also had a role in Gentle Giant starring Dennis Weaver and Clint Howard. It was the story of a huge bear and a little boy, which would be the inspiration for "Gentle Ben" on TV. That series starred Weaver and Clint, and Rance had a recurring role. 

Rance has a few roles on "Rod Serling's Night Gallery," "Bonanza," "Kung Fu," "Gunsmoke," and the like, and a small role in Chinatown (1974) with Jack Nicholson. In that same period he appears a few times on "The Waltons" as Dr. McIvers. In 1976 and 1977 he makes a brace of car movies, Eat My Dust and Grand Theft Auto.

Rance's career is mixed with television and movies. Some hits and some misses, but usually working. He shows up in Splash (1984), Cocoon (1985), The 'Burbs and Parenthood both in 1989. Some of his better films, though not big parts, were Apollo 13 (1995), Independence Day (1996) and A Beautiful Mind (2001). He continues to work now, well into his 80s.

Clint started as a child actor at age 4 on television. He also appeared in a few "The Andy Griffith Show" episodes, and quickly found a regular gig on "The Baileys of Balboa" with a quirky cast including John Dehner (1915 - 1992), Paul Ford (1901 - 1976) and Sterling Holloway (1905 - 1992).

Many "Star Trek" fans will recognize him as Balok from a 1966 (1st year) episode called "The Corbomite Maneuver." He was 7 at the time and had his voice dubbed. After Gentle Giant and "Gentle Ben" he continued on many TV shows until his next series, "The Cowboys" based on the 1972 John Wayne film by the same name.

Clint appeared with dad in Eat My Dust and Grand Theft Auto. As he got older, he gravitated toward parts in horror films. Well, somebody has to make them.

After appearing in Gung Ho (1986) with Michael Keaton, he gets a spot in "Gung Ho" on TV for it's only season of nine episodes. Small roles follow in Tango & Cash (1989), The Rocketeer (1991) and Far and Away (1992).

In 1995 he stars in a comedy/horror film Ice Cream Man, and has roles in a rom/com Forget Paris with Billy Crystal and Debra Winger, a gangster film Dillinger and Capone with Martin Sheen, a Tom Hanks drama Apollo 13, and a thriller called Twisted Love that nobody remembers. In 1998 he has a small role in the Paul Newman film Twilight, and in 2002 he plays Whobris in How The Grinch Stole Christmas. Quite a varied career.

There is quite a bit more work to see from Clint and Rance. Clint has only won a single award so far, for Lifetime Achievement at the MTV Movie Awards. Rance also won a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Asheville Film Festival in 2004, and was nominated for one Emmy Award in 1982. And that's it.

Oh, and one more fact about this family. Super celebrity director/actor Ron Howard (b. 1954) is Rance's other son and Clint's older brother. That would make an acting career with what amounts to very little recognition, a little easier to handle. Don't they all look alike?

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

B4 They Were Stars - Leonard Nimoy

I am hoping I haven't bitten off more than I can chew today. I have chosen to write about the early career of one of the most well known actors in Trekdom. Leonard Nimoy (b. 1931) was, at one time, a Bit Actor.

Nimoy started acting in children's theater in Boston. His first screen appearance, according to the all-knowing IMDb, was in Queen for a Day (1951). Queen was a movie based on a radio program called "Queen for Today" and would eventually become television's "Queen for a Day" that ran from 1956 to 1964, hosted by Jack Bailey (1907 - 1980). I know I was a weird kid, but I used to watch it. They would pick a woman (usually an older woman) out of the audience and honor her with wonderful gifts like a new washer and dryer. She got to sit on a throne with a cape, tiara and a bunch of roses...tears of happiness flowing! What fun!

Also in 1951, you can find Nimoy in Rhubarb, a movie about a cat that inherits a baseball team. I haven't seen Rhubarb, but with Ray Milland, Gene Lockhart and William Frawley in it, it can't be too bad. The next year we see Nimoy in the title role of Kid Monk Baroni, another movie I haven't seen. This one includes Bruce Cabot (1904 - 1972), veteran Bit Actor and star of King Kong (1933).

No one could argue that 1965 wasn't THE golden year for Leonard Nimoy (when he became Mr. Spock in the pilot for "Star Trek"), but 1952 was a good one as well. After he played Kid Monk, he was cast in the serial, Zombies of the Stratosphere. What a cool title. And it was 12 chapters, ample time to hone your career as a space traveler/actor.

Next look for Nimoy in the third installment with the famous talking mule called Francis Goes to West Point (1952) with Donald O'Connor. In Old Overland Trail (1953), Nimoy plays a Native American chief, and a bad guy. This was a Rex Allen (1920 - 1999) film and the first time we see Nimoy in the red man's makeup.

Let's stick with his movies before we talk about television. Nimoy plays a military man in Them! (1954). I don't remember what happens to him, but I hope the ants didn't kill him. From zombies to giant ants, and in his next film he gets to work with parasites from the center of the Earth. The Brain Eaters (1958) was not as good as Them! 

Leonard only made two more films before reaching the stars in 1966. The artsy Shelley Winters, Peter Falk film, The Balcony (1963), and the forgettable Deathwatch (1966). Both were adaptations from Jean Genet (1910 - 1986) plays, so I suspect it was Nimoy's intellect that caused him to take the parts. Or perhaps he was connected to the author in some way. I don't really know. These films are a far cry from zombies, ants and brain eaters.

In the early 1950s, Leonard started working on the small screen in a big way, first appearing in teleplays like "Four Star Playhouse" and "Fireside Theatre." You can find him in many of the early series' such as "Navy Log," "Broken Arrow," "West Point," " and "Highway Patrol." He worked in many westerns as well, "Cimarron City," "The Rough Riders," "Colt .45," and "Tombstone Territory," sometimes as a Native American.

I wonder if he knew Lloyd Bridges well. He appeared at least eight times on "Sea Hunt" but not in a regular role or as the same character. He also shows up multiple times on "Wagon Train" as Hispanic and Native American characters. Could it be the ears?

He has a single appearance on "The Twilight Zone" and shows up on "The Untouchables," "Perry Mason," "Dr. Kildare," and two episodes of "The Outer Limits." Multiple appearances on "Kraft Suspense Theatre," "The Virginian," "Combat," and "Gunsmoke" made him ready to take on the galaxy in "Star Trek."

I suspect that his television work did more than his movie experience to help prepare him for the variety of situations he had to portray as Mr. Spock. When you throw alien worlds into your everyday life, almost anything can happen.

Leonard is now 81 years old, and he is still working to some extent. He does some voice work, and I am sure he would still take the right part for TV or a movie if it came along. I was 16 years old when "Star Trek" debuted, and Mr. Spock affected me as he did so many others at that time. I have been a lifelong Trekker, mostly because of Leonard Nimoy rather than William Shatner. So Mr. long and prosper.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Cheerio Meredith

Now there's a name for a Bit Actress...Cheerio Meredith (1890 - 1964). Cheerio started acting on the stage, but moved into film in 1944. Her career on the screen lasted 20 more years.

Of her 51 titles on IMDb, only ten were motion pictures, the rest of her work on the screen was in television, which she did well. Her first two movies, A Fig Leaf for Eve (1944) and The Fat Man (1951) were forgettable films where she had small roles. But in 1955 she became a regular on "The Ames Brothers Show" and that would have been enough to start a TV career. You will recognize her because she was almost always the 'old lady,' the 'landlady,' or aunt something.

Cheerio had appearances on many of the early shows in the 1950s. She was on "Studio 57," "Father Knows Best," "The Millionaire," and even had a guest spot on "The Johnny Carson Show" in 1955, long before he reinvented "The Tonight Show" in 1962.

She continued working through the late 1950s in -
"The Adventures of Rin Tin Tin"
"The Adventures of Jim Bowie"
"The Gale Storm Show"
"December Bride"
"77 Sunset Strip"
"The Jack Benny Program"
"The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet"

Plus, she appeared in a small role in Gidget (1959) as the nosy woman.

And into the 1960s in "The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis" and "Pete and Gladys." Finally, another regular spot on "One Happy Family" that only lasted one happy season. She also had a recurring role as Emma (either Emma Brand or Emma Watson) on "The Andy Griffith Show."

In 1962 she plays an old maid in a toothpaste commercial in The Three Stooges in Orbit. Sorry, but after  Moe Howard (1897 - 1975) hit 65 years old, the Three Stooges went downhill fast. Larry Fine (1902 - 1975) was also 60 years old, and we won't talk about Joe DiRita (1909 - 1993).

More wonderful TV guests spots for Cheerio in the mid 1960s -
"The Donna Reed Show"
"Hawaiian Eye"
"McHale's Navy"
"Petticoat Junction"
"Burke's Law"
"The Dick Van Dyke Show"

In fact, she was on both of my all time favorite television shows with Andy Griffith (b. 1926) and Dick Van Dyke (b. 1925). It doesn't get any better than that.

The final film for Cheerio Meredith was Sex and the Single Girl in 1964. Look for her near the end of the film, in the chase scene. She is seated next to Burt Mustin (1884 - 1977) in an antique car. Cheerio died the same day Sex and the Single Girl was released, December 25, 1964.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Spring Byington

One of my favorite early TV actresses was Spring Byington (1886 - 1971). I have no idea why, but I watched "December Bride" on TV as a child. That show was on from 1954 to 1959. Like Eve Arden, maybe it was Spring's voice and mannerism that attracted me.

I shan't (there's a word I don't use very often) give you her complete biography or details of her early career. She has a very good biography on IMDb if you are interested. But Spring wanted to be an actress starting in high school, and she made her dream come true.

After some success on Broadway, she was signed by RKO to play Marmee in Little Women (1933), starring Katharine Hepburn. Early on, she was cast into roles that would focus on her maternal character. But she showed strength and a great sense of humor, not to mention her comedic talent, in whatever she did.

In 1935 she has parts in the Charles Laughton, Clark Gable version of Mutiny on the Bounty, and for a change of pace, Ah, Wilderness! starring Wallace Beery and Lionel Barrymore. She would make five films with Barrymore.

Ah, Wilderness! was also the start of her work with Jed Prouty (1879 - 1956). Jed only had a small part in that film, but in 1936 Back to Nature was made. It was the start of 16 films about the adventures of the Jones Family. In that era, a whole series could be made about the most mundane happenings, and the movie going public ate it up. Here is the story line for Back to Nature from IMDb -
The Jones family goes to a convention traveling in a trailer. The oldest daughter gets involved with a convict, the oldest son has a love affair, and the youngest son gets into photography. Written by Ed Stephan  
Not exactly a film you would see Angelina Jolie in these days. The Jones series lasted until 1940, and it helped Spring become a minor star, and certainly a known commodity in Hollywood. I know nothing about Jed Prouty, but he may become a topic for a later post.

In 1936 Spring made her only Busby Berkeley film, Stage Struck, starring Dick Powell and Joan Blondell. She also worked in two Errol Flynn films, The Charge of the Light Brigade (1936) and Green Light (1937).

In 1938 she has a part in Jezebel, a film dominated by Bette Davis and Henry Fonda, and also in You Can't Take it With You, a film not dominated by any one cast member, but by the ensemble. Jezebel was directed by William Wyler, a great director by all accounts, but You Can't Take it With You is a Frank Capra film and it shows.

Here are a few highlight films from Spring's career -

  • The Story of Alexander Graham Bell (1939)
  • The Devil and Miss Jones (1941)
  • Meet John Doe (1941)
  • Heaven Can Wait (1943)
  • In the Good Old Summertime (1949)
  • Angels in the Outfield (1951)

And just as her career on the big screen seems to be winding down (she was 64 years old in 1950), she was discovered for the small screen.

Of course "December Bride" was her most famous TV role. Being the type of person she always was, she made a perfect Daisy Cooper on "Laramie" as well. In fact, Spring Byington is on many of the major television series' from "Alfred Hitchcock Presents" to her final appearance on "The Flying Nun" in 1968.

She was even Doris Day's mom in her final motion picture, Please Don't Eat the Daisies (1960). It was a wonderful career for a Bit Actress who was also a star.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Clara Blandick

Everyone knows Clara Blandick (1880 - 1962). Maybe not by her screen name, but I know that if you are reading this blog, you have seen her.

Clara has over 120 film roles over a span of 50 years. She started on the stage, and appeared to prefer that. She had a few small parts in silent films from 1911 to 1917, then left the screen until 1929. In 1930, after making half a dozen movies, she was in Romance, starring Greta Garbo, and in those early years she worked with Franklin Pangborn, Myrna Loy and others with less familiar names. Also in 1930, Jackie Coogan made Tom Sawyer, and Clara became Aunt Polly.

1931 was Clara's busiest year. She repeated her Aunt Polly role in Huckleberry Finn (1931), again with Coogan. She also worked with Garbo again in Inspiration that year. In the horror film The Drums of Jeopardy, Clara played opposite Warner Oland, who played a character named Dr. Boris Karlov! She was also in Laughing Sinners, starring Joan Crawford and Clark Gable, with the great Bit Actor, Neil Hamilton. She worked with Gable and Crawford again that year in Possessed. Also in 1931, she teamed up with Gary Cooper and Carole Lombard in I Take This Woman. In The New Adventures of Get Rick Quick Wallingford, she worked with Jimmy Durante (1893 - 1908). It was Durante's second film. Clara made 13 movies in 1931 alone. No wonder this was called the Golden Age.

Continuing on, look for her in Three on a Match (1932), with Joan Blondell, Bette Davis and Humphrey Bogart. She also had a small role in the Janet Gaynor 1937 version of A Star is Born.

1939 was the banner year for Clara. She starts out in the Mickey Rooney version of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Then, the role that would engrave her name in Hollywood history, as Auntie Em in The Wizard of Oz. (See? Everyone here has seen Clara Blandick.) Her next film that year was The Star Maker starring Bing Crosby, and then Drums Along the Mohawk with Claudette Colbert and Henry Fonda.

While she never worked with Judy Garland again, she did make other films with Oz alumni. She worked four times with Charley Grapewin (Uncle Henry), three with Frank Morgan (The Wizard) and Maggie Hamilton (WWW), and twice with Jack Haley (The Tin Man).

Other good post-Oz films featuring Clara Blandick include Northwest Mounted Police (1940), The Wagons Roll at Night (1941), The Big Store (1941), Du Barry was a Lady (1943), Heaven Can Wait (1943), and Life with Father (1947). Her final film was Love that Brute (1950) starring Paul Douglas, with Cesar Romero and Keenan Wynn.

Sadly, Clara decided to end her own life in 1962 at age 81. She was in constant pain from arthritis and also facing blindness. But there will only be one Auntie Em.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Julia Roberts' Brother, Eric

First of all, Happy Anniversary to the Drive-In Movie! It was 79 years ago today that the first drive-in opened in New Jersey. Where are they now?

Eric Roberts (b. 1956) is a very experienced actor, but I had never taken notice of him before. He is also Julia's older brother. Eric sports 245 titles on IMDb, compared to his sister's 50 roles, but I bet she made money money! That alone probably makes him a Bit Actor. Julia won an Oscar and has 39 other awards. Eric was nominated for an Oscar and won 3 other awards.

Eric started his career on the stage and moved into television work in 1974. His first movie was King of the Gypsies (1978) starring Susan Sarandon and Judd Hirsch. Next came Raggedy Man (1981), starring Sissy Spacek (b. 1949) and it was a big opportunity. He would go on the star in several movies, but his career never fully carried him to real stardom. His next movie, Star 80 (1983) would bring him some notice among casting directors. Star 80 also brought his first award as Best Actor by the Boston Society of Film Critics.

In 1984 he starred with Mickey Rourke and Daryl Hannah in The Pope of Greenwich Village. By this time, his character was becoming known as the brooding young man with a gravelly voice. It worked well for him.

In 1985 he was nominated for the Best Supporting Actor Oscar in Runaway Train, starring Jon Voight. He was also in Nobody's Fool (1986) co-starring Rosanna Arquette (b. 1959). Not long after these good parts, he made more movies like Rude Awakening (1989) with Cheech Marin. Definitely a step down.

By the late 1980s, Eric had fallen from popularity and was taking roles that didn't do him any good. He was fighting with drug addiction, but he managed to get himself straightened out. He married Eliza Garrett, now Eliza Roberts, and they have appeared on screen together at least 20 times. Eric also worked once with Julia in Blood Red (1989), which was also not very good.

Some better roles started coming Eric's way. He played a dark character, well within his grasp, in Final Analysis (1992) starring Richard Gere, Kim Basinger and Uma Thurman. Not bad, and also a pretty good movie! He also appeared in The Specialist (1994) with Sylvester Stallone and Sharon Stone, though this is not one of my favorites.

Eric has now started pouring on the work. Previously making 4 or 5 movies a year, he turns out 14 movie and TV titles in 1996, including the role of Perry Smith in the mini series "In Cold Blood" from Truman Capote. 14 titles a year would repeat in 1999 and 2001. He does some fine television series work in "C-16: FBI," "Falcone," "Less Than Perfect," and "Heroes." Most recently you can find Eric in "The Young and the Restless."

Eric was also making many, many movies, but no real hits, and no real big roles in blockbusters. But does that really matter? He is working, and working very hard. For an actor who loves his work, that is all that matters. For movie and TV fans, it presents a challenge to see how many times you can recognize Eric Roberts when you see him. Maybe you can start a notebook.

We just recently saw Eric and his wife, Eliza, in a great kid's movie, First Dog (2010). Eric and Eliza played the president and first lady, but he still came across as the brooding character he used to play so well. I doubt that I would have voted for him, and when he first appeared on the screen I thought, 'That's the president? He looks like trouble.' He turned out to love kids and dogs, so I will give him a chance.

Most of Eric's awards and nominations came between 1979 and 1986, his best years. He is now starting to gather a few new ones, with a 2012 win in the L.A. Indie Awards for Silver Case (2011). On IMDb he lists 34 projects that are not yet released, including Lovelace, the bio pic about Linda Lovelace that was originally to go to Lindsay Lohan, but will star Amanda Seyfried. Keep up the good work, Eric! Maybe stardom can still be yours.