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.