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.

Friday, April 19, 2013

Lloyd Corrigan

Here is another face you will know, but perhaps not his name. Lloyd Corrigan (1900 - 1969) worked in entertainment for 41 of his 69 years.

He started in 1925 as a bit actor in a silent film called The Splendid Crime. It starred Bebe Daniels (1901 - 1971) and Neil Hamilton (1899 - 1984) and was directed by Cecil's brother, William C. de Mille (1878 - 1955). The pay was probably not very good for a young man just starting out, and he found that he was better suited to writing. From 1926 to 1939 he would write and direct films, rather than act in them.

He did make one more silent film of note. He had small part in It (1927), which starred Clara Bow (1905 - 1965) and was the source of her nickname, The It Girl.

As a writer, his most famous work would have been the three Fu Manchu films starring Warner Oland (1879 - 1938). The Mysterious Dr. Fu Manchu (1929), The Return of Dr. Fu Manchu (1930), and Daughter of the Dragon (1931) which he also directed. He was a writer or director on eight films that starred Bebe Daniels and nine with Neil Hamilton. Hamilton, of course, went on to become Commissioner Gordon on the "Batman" TV show.

In 1939 Lloyd decided he had enough behind the scene work and moved back into the camera's field of view. He would stay there for the rest of his life.

Corrigan was in Young Tom Edison (1940) with Mickey Rooney, which I just watched on TCM. (Thanks!) That same year he made 12 other films, including The Ghost Breakers with Bob Hope, and The Return of Frank James with Henry Fonda.

In 1941 he starts off in Men of Boy's Town with Spencer Tracy, Mickey Rooney and the great Bit Actor Bobs Watson (1930 - 1999). This would also be the year he starts work in the Boston Blackie series as Arthur Manleder in Confessions of Boston Blackie. Chester Morris played Blackie, as he did in 14 installments. This was the second movie in that line, and Lloyd would be in six of them.

I would like to see some of Corrigan's lesser movies from this era. A look at the cast of North to the Klondike (1942) shows Broderick Crawford, Andy Devine, Lon Chaney, Jr. and Keye Luke. It has to be a good movie. That same year he appears in The Great Man's Lady, starring Barbara Stanwyck and Joel McCrea, and another ten movies! This decade, including the war years, has Corrigan in quite a variety of movies, from Hitler's Children to the Roy Rogers film, King of the Cowboys, and some stinkers like Captive Wild Woman and Tarzan's Desert Mystery. Along with Hitler's Children he made other war/propaganda films, including Passport to Destiny and Rosie the Riveter.

There is not much to write about during the later half of that decade. She-Wolf of London (1946), and Homicide for Three (1948) were two movies for only hard-core 1940s movie buffs. He did appear in Blondie Hits the Jackpot (1949) with Penny Singleton and Arthur Lake.

After a few better movies with bigger stars in the early 1950s, such as My Friend Irma Goes West (1950 with Martin and Lewis, Cyrano de Bergerac (1950) with Jose Ferrer, and Son of Paleface (1952) with Bob Hope, Lloyd starts work in television.

TV brought Lloyd mostly guest spots in teleplays. In 1954 he was cast as a regular on "Willy" starring June Havoc (1912 - 2010). I don't remember that series, or ever hearing about it. His TV appearances were varied, but we do see him in a lot of westerns. He has some recurring roles in "The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp," "The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet," and "Happy" starring Ronnie Burns.

In 1963 he plays the mayor in It's a Mad Mad Mad Mad World, along with a cast of thousands (of comedians). Corrigan's final regular work on TV was in "Hank" starring Dick Kallman (Who?) and he ends his work in "Petticoat Junction."

I guess I remember him for all those little television roles. I recently saw him in "Have Gun, Will Travel" and it jogged my memory. I may go back and find some of the Boston Blackie films, where he did some serious character acting as the millionaire. When you see his face, you will remember Lloyd Corrigan.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Hal LeRoy, Tap Dancer

I was watching one of my favorite things on Turner Classic Movies the other night, "TCM Extras." I sometimes find myself tuning in to TCM about 20 minutes before the next film is scheduled, just to watch for an Extra. I realize how much work it is to maintain a web site, but I do think Turner could do a better job of listing the wonderful short films they use as fillers between features.

They should also offer these great shorts in collections in their store. I searched the store for 'extras' and found E.T. The Extra Terrestrial (1982) and a series called "Extras" starring Ricky Gervais (b. 1961) that was on television a few years ago. No joy there either.

Back to my viewing experience. The short musical film I caught was The Knight is Young (1938) starring Hal Le Roy (1913 - 1985) and June Allyson (1917 - 2006). This was Allyson's eighth film, all of her work on screen was in shorts (short films, I mean) up until then.

June is trapped in her apartment because she doesn't have the rent money, and Hal is a sign painter she can see from the window. Hal shows June what tap dancing is all about, and later returns to rescue her through the window. Before he comes back, June has a fantasy day-dream about a Scotsman on the new sign Hal just painted, and we enjoy a dance routine by the Gae Foster Girls. June and Hal then go dancing at the Sign Painters' Ball...all in 19 minutes, including a surprise ending.

Two-reelers like this are a load of fun, requiring no thought at all. Just sit back and enjoy. They should be required viewing at every movie theater, taking the place of some of the ads.

When this short started on TV, I thought I remembered Hal Le Roy's name. Sure enough, I had the pleasure of meeting Hal at a Son's of the Desert event in 1982. Since he never became a big movie star, he fits in perfectly here as a Bit Actor.

Hal Le Roy was a vaudevillian, and he played all over. He started dancing on the stage at age 15 and was an instant hit. He was popular through the 1930s at music halls including Radio City, and would occasionally get a dancing role in a movie. His film career was not as good as his Broadway or vaudeville work.

Hal only appeared in 22 films, mostly shorts, and a few television shows. His first feature was Wonder Bar (1934) starring Al Jolson (1886 - 1950), Kay Francis (1905 - 1968), and Dolores del Rio (1904 - 1983). Hal was in black face, but Jolson appeared that way many times. This film was released just a few months before the Hays Code censored anything untoward on the screen. With Dick Powell, Guy Kibbee and Hugh Herbert also in the cast, this is a film I want to see.

Hal's next film gives him a starring role in a feature. Harold Teen (1934) also includes Clara Blandick (1880 - 1962) who would go on the become Auntie Em in The Wizard of Oz (1939).

In 1937 he worked with June Allyson in Swing for Sale. I guess it had some swing dancing. He would also work with June in Ups and Downs (1937), which was Phil Silvers' (1911 - 1985) first screen appearance, and The Prisoner of Swing (1938) which includes Eddie Foy, Jr.

Hal worked with Jimmy Durante (1893 - 1980) in Start Cheering (1938); danced with Betty Hutton (1921 - 2007) in her first film, Public Jitterbug No. 1 (1939); and his final film was Too Many Girls (1940) with Lucille Ball, Desi Arnaz, Ann Miller and Frances Langford.

Le Roy's dancing style has been likened to Ray Bolger. Both were incredibly thin and seemed to be made of rubber. Hal did a great job of incorporating dance into the most unlikely stories. He was a washing machine salesman who excelled by dancing his sales pitch!

I don't remember much about my conversation with Hal or our time together. I did take his photo for you to enjoy. Hal passed away just three years after I met him.

This photo is free for non-profit use.
Please list my credit if your re-post it.
Higher quality is also available. Just e-mail.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Robert Young, with an H.

Here is a Bit Actor that had a good start, hit some tricky obstacles, went on to make some good movies, and died young. Robert Young, that is, Robert H. Young (1917 - 1951) was known in his later career as Clifton Young.

Clifton started out billed as Bobby Young in some Our Gang comedies as one of Hal Roach's Rascals. He was known as 'Bonedust' for some reason. His first short was called Better Movies (1925) and it starred Joe Cobb and the rest.

Bobby was able to work through the change from silents to talkies while at Hal Roach Studios. His first talkie was School's Out (1930). He also saw the switch of distribution of the Our Gang films from Pathe to MGM, which happened around the same time.

The 1926 silent short called Thundering Fleas was a Hal Roach comedy starring Our Gang, but it also included Oliver Hardy, Charley Chase and James Finlayson. This was one of many films Hardy made without Stan Laurel, although they were being billed as a team by that time. Roach kept Stan and Ollie on separate contracts for almost their entire stay at his company, so he could do what he wanted with them.

Toward the end of his Our Gang career, Bobby got to work with Jackie Cooper. I always wonder how associations like that affect the future of young actors. Bobby's final short with this group was (as far as I can tell) Little Daddy in 1931. He made at least 19 Our Gang films.

Now you have Robert Young who is 14 years old in 1931. He would find out that he couldn't continue his career with that name. Robert G. Young (1907 - 1998) has just made his debut in the Charlie Chan film, The Black Camel (1931). Since Bobby was never billed as Robert, he chose to use Clifton as his stage name. It was his mother's maiden name.

The name didn't really come in to play until later. Young made several films in the 1930's, but he was uncredited in them. He went off to war, as all 24 year olds did, and started acting again in 1945. His post-war debut was in a 13 episode serial called The Master Key (1945) starring Milburn Stone (1904 - 1908). Stone, of course, would become famous as Doc Adams on "Gunsmoke." Young was in episodes 7 and 8. The serial had a great tag line, "Government agents battle a gang of Nazis who are trying to use the Orotron machine, which can turn seawater into gold."

One thing about writing a blog like mine is that I bump into films I think I would love to see. I guess I will have to keep looking, but there are so many. Clifton had a small part in one of those missed films I am putting on my list. Deception (1946) is a Bette Davis, Paul Henreid, Claude Rains Film Noir with Young as a taxi driver. Could it get any better? It even has Benson Fong, another great Bit Actor.

In the 1940's there was a series of short, instructional comedy films with a character called Joe McDoakes. They starred George O'Hanlon and totaled 63 entries that extended to 1956. Clifton Young would show up in several of them from So You Want to Play the Horses (1946) to So You Want to be an Actor (1949). O'Hanlon would go on to fame as the voice of George Jetson in "The Jetsons."

Young is now employed as a contract player at Warner Brothers. Not bad. He is working with Ann Sheridan, Robert Mitchum, Joan Crawford, Van Heflin, and other big stars. I'll stick my neck out and say that his finest role (possibly after some work in Our Gang) was as Baker in Dark Passage (1947) starring Lauren Bacall and Humphrey Bogart.

Also in Dark Passage is Bruce Bennett, who I wrote about recently. Young and Bennett also worked together in Nora Prentiss (1947) and The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948). Some great films, even though the roles for Young were small. In Treasure, he played a bum in the flop house and had no lines.

Clifton also made a few westerns. His best was most likely, Blood on the Moon (1948) starring Robert Mitchum and Barbara Bel Geddes. Another film I should look for.

The rest of Clifton's films are watchable. No blockbusters, but good films I would turn on if they were on TV. Borderline (1950) with Fred MacMurray; Bells of Coronado and Trail of Robin Hood, both 1950 Roy Rogers films; to his last film, Love Nest (1951), with Marilyn Monroe. I just saw that one, and I never saw Clifton in it.

Sadly, Clifton Young died while smoking in bed at age 33. He had quite a career in his short life, and he brought his talent to some great films, including my favorite film, Dark Passage.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Herman Brix A.K.A. Bruce Bennett

I just had the pleasure of seeing The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948) again. It is a movie that exists on several levels. Not only is it a fine action picture, but it can be seen as a real study of human nature. I'll leave the analysis to the other movie blogs, though. I am here to review Bit Actors.

In a fairly small part of this very big movie, we have Bruce Bennett (1909 - 2007) playing Cody, the unwanted and ill-fated companion of three prospectors.

Bruce was an athlete his entire life. He won the Olympic silver medal for the shot put in 1928. He could have gone on to win many more medals but he injured himself making his first movie, Touchdown (1931). His place in the Olympics was taken over by Johnny Weissmuller (1904 - 1984), who went on to become another Tarzan. At the time, Bruce was still known by his real name, Herman Brix.

Herman decided on a movie career. His early screen time is filled with roles, logically, as an athlete. He was a football player, a wrestler, a student, a man in the bar, it all fit at the time. He worked with Jack Oakie, Bing Crosby, W. C. Fields, Ted Healy and his Stooges, and others in those early days.

His first big film had him in a small part. He did appear in Treasure Island in 1934 as a man in the tavern. In 1935 Herman had his biggest break. A serial called The New Adventures of Tarzan was to be filmed in Guatemala. And Herman would have the title role.

Unfortunately, the serial was a financial disaster. Brix and the rest of the cast and crew never made much more than having their expenses paid for all their effort. BTW, Juggs played Nkima the chimp, which was his second film appearance after working with Laurel and Hardy in Dirty Work (1933).

Herman appeared in quite a few films between Tarzan and the late 1930s, but few were notable. He was a Bit Actor in Bit Films and serials. He was typecast in his Tarzan persona and had difficulty convincing studios to let him do much else. He decided to change his name to Bruce Bennett.

As far as I can tell, the first film with Bruce Bennett in the credits is My Son is Guilty (1939) starring Bruce Cabot of King Kong (1933) fame. But the name change didn't seem to make a lot of difference in his career. The films he works on are not all great movies. He even made four Three Stooges shorts as Bennett.

But it isn't all bleak and there are some good films where he shows that he does have acting talent. He is even a co-star in a few films of the era, though not blockbusters. The 1940s were the era of film noir and great war stories. Bruce was in 21 films during the WWII years, in spite of serving in the military himself.

It is also in this time frame that Bruce worked with Humphrey Bogart on four films. The first was Invisible Stripes (1939) with George Raft in the lead and Bennett uncredited. Next was Sahara (1943) and Bennett is near the top of the cast as Waco Hoyt, the tank crewman who risks his neck to go off in search of help.

Without question, my favorite of the four Bennett/Bogart films is Dark Passage (1947). This is my favorite Bogart film, and perhaps my favorite film. It has everything...Bogart with Bacall, a real film noir style, and a perfect cast with Agnes Moorehead as the bad guy you can easily hate.

Bit Actors Tom D'Andrea and Leonard Breman filled in the needed color for a great movie, and Houseley Stevenson put 'noir' in the film. (Read about D'Andrea and Breman by clicking on their names or the Dark Passage link in my label list to the right.) Bruce Bennett plays Bob, Bacall's former boyfriend who nobly steps aside for Bogart. I am still trying to find that bar in Peru! GREAT FILM!

Of course, his last film with Bogart is The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948). What more can I say?

One other standout film for Bennett in the forties was Mildred Pierce (1945) starring Joan Crawford. After Treasure, his acting career would go downhill (again). In the next three decades he would appear in many films and television shows, but only a few are worth mentioning.

Task Force (1949)
Angels in the Outfield (1951)
Strategic Air Command (1955)
Love Me Tender (1956, Sorry! I had to put that in for Elvis fans.)

But, as an actor you should know something is wrong with your career when you start taking pictures called The Cosmic Man (1959), The Alligator People (1959), and The Fiend of Dope Island (1961).

Bruce Bennett's last American film was The Clones (1973). He did appear in many TV shows and that kept his career moving forward, and the income would have been decent. It is said that he had an interest in parachuting and his last jump was at age 92. He stayed fit, he was good in business, and I put him in the ranks of some of the best Bit Actors.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Red Ryder!

I certainly hope everyone got the official Red Ryder carbine-action, 200 shot, range model air rifle with a compass in the stock and the thing which tells time for Christmas. I asked for one, but I got the movie instead. I really can't use a BB gun in my condo, so the movie and the sequel (along with a bottle of liquid entertainment from Kentucky) was just fine for me.

Of course I am talking about A Christmas Story (1983) which has become a holiday classic in many households. But, who was Red Ryder? Come with me now to those thrilling days of yesteryear...sorry, that was "The Lone Ranger."

Red Ryder started life as a comic strip in 1938, which became syndicated and incredibly popular. A lot of marketing was added to the name, hence the BB gun that is still available from Daisy.

The next important reincarnation was the 1940 movie serial, The Adventures of Red Ryder, starring Don 'Red' Barry (1912 - 1980). Barry was quite an accomplished actor in his long career, but much of his work came as a guest star on television. He was in everything from "Dragnet" in 1955 to "Knots Landing" in 1980.

In his early days, he was a regular in the Dr. Kildare series of films, and he certainly made his mark in a load of B westerns. In fact, you would be best to look for any of his early work, rather than the movies he made later in life. Blazing Stewardesses (1975), Dr. Dracula (1978), etc. Some were better than those, but his parts were usually small and many times uncredited.

Also in the original Ryder series was Tommy Cook (b. 1930) as Little Beaver, and Noah Beery (1882 - 1946) as Ace Hanlon. In 1941 Cook worked in another serial called Jungle Girl. After working on the Red Ryder radio serial in 1942, he made quite a few movies in the 1940s and 1950s and then moved into TV. As an adult, he had difficulty getting acting roles and his popularity and acting career ended. Noah Beery's part as one of the villains in this serial does not continue into later films.

In 1944 we see Bill Elliott (1904 - 1965) take over for the first of a series of Red Ryder movies for Republic. This one is called Tucson Raiders, and Little Beaver is now played by Bobby Blake (b. 1933), a former Our Gang kid who managed a good career before turning weird in his personal life.

Elliott made 16 Red Ryder films, plus over 240 other films, mostly before Red Ryder. He was known as Wild Bill Elliott for much of his career after starring in The Great Adventures of Wild Bill Hickok in 1938. He made 13 films as that character.

For the 16 Elliott/Ryder  films, we also see Alice Fleming (1882 - 1952) as Red's aunt in the entire series. Peggy Stewart (b. 1923) appears in many of the films. She had been married to Red Barry for a few years, and she is still working. Look for her in the Adam Sandler (b. 1966) film That's My Boy (2012). It amazes me that she could be in so many of the Ryder series and play different parts each time. Didn't anyone notice?

The final Ryder film with Bill Elliott was Conquest of Cheyenne in 1946.

Next up in the Red Ryder role is Allan 'Rocky' Lane (1909 - 1973). The Rocky Lane character would reappear 36 times for Allan in his best remembered B westerns from 1947 to 1953. Bobby Blake continued as Little Beaver, and Peggy Stewart appears several times in the Lane/Ryder movies.

Santa Fe Uprising (1946) is the first of seven Red Ryder films for Lane, and Red's aunt this time is played by Martha Wentworth (1889 - 1974). Lane ended his stint in Marshal of Cripple Creek (1947), and this was also the last Ryder flick for Republic Pictures.

Jim Bannon (1911 - 1984) finishes the Red Ryder film franchise at Equity Pictures with four movies in 1949. Ride, Ryder, Ride through Cowboy and the Prizefighter. Little Beaver is played by Don 'Little Brown Jug' Kay Reynolds (b. 1937 or '38...) the son of a horse trainer and a great trick rider in his time. Jug only made a few films, all westerns.

Ryder's aunt is now played by Marin Sais (1890 - 1971) and Peggy Stewart is still along for the Ryde in various roles. You may notice the character of Ace Hanlon returning in Roll, Thunder, Roll (1949). This time it is played by Glenn Strange (1899 - 1973) who went on to tend bar at The Longbranch for Miss Kitty in "Gunsmoke."

"Red Ryder" would continue on television in a few episodes starring Allan Lane and Jim Bannon, but by the early 1950s it had run it's course. Information on these episodes is sparse and I am not an expert here. Please write about your memories of Red Ryder on TV.

All of the actors mentioned above, with the possible exception of Jug Reynolds, were Bit Actors of the highest acclaim. None of them have less than 90 titles in their credits and many have more than 200. The fact that Red Ryder was brought back into the public consciousness by Jean Shepherd's (1921 - 1999) story and later movie, is just one more reason for classic film lovers to reach out to the younger generation and show them the background that will enhance their understanding of the new story.

Talk it up with your kids. Maybe they won't shoot their eye out.