Thursday, June 26, 2014

J. Pat O'Malley was in everything

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Fabulous Films of the 50's Blogathon Time

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Beatrice Campbell

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

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

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

Some actors who may be more familiar

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Yes, THAT is John Larch

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And into the 1970s in:

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

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

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

Now do you remember him?

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Dickens and Fenster

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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