A PAST OF CHARACTERS

For some time, I’ve had it in the back of my mind to do a post on one-of-a-kind character actors from Hollywood’s Golden Age, most of them long forgotten except to old film buffs like myself. There are familiar exceptions, of course — non-starring actors who appeared in classic films which continue to be shown today, such as Margaret Hamilton (the Wicked Witch of the West in THE WIZARD OF OZ) and Peter Lorre and Sydney Greenstreet (Ugarte/Joel Cairo and the fat man, respectively, in CASABLANCA and THE MALTESE FALCON). But today I want to focus on the rule, not the well-remembered exceptions.

It was while researching April 5th birthdays for notables born on this date (and finding the likes of Spencer Tracy, Bette Davis and Gregory Peck) that I saw among them a long forgotten character actor whose name (Grady Sutton, born 4/5/1906) rang a bell….so I decided to do such a post today and include him among those I pay tribute to. To make it a bit (player) more interesting, I’ll list six names, followed by clips (not in the same order) of scenes in which they separately appear. Can you spot one of the six in each clip?

1. Eric Blore
2. Margaret Dumont
3. James Finlayson
4. Billy Gilbert
5. Hattie McDaniel
6. Grady Sutton

a. 

b.

c.

d.

e.

f.

How many could you identify? Hint: the names match the clips in reverse order; e.g.,
1. Eric Blore is the British valet being “summoned” in “f.” For more on Blore, click here:
Eric Blore: What a Character!

2. Margaret Dumont (clip “e”) should pose no recognition problem for Marx Brothers fans. For those who aren’t Marxists, mark this: http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0241669/bio

3. James Finlayson (clip “d”) should pose no recognition problem for Laurel & Hardy fans. When you can’t imagine any other actor in his L & H roles, you know he was truly unique: http://www.wayoutwest.org/finlayson/

4. Billy Gilbert is the man (Pettibone) in the middle in this clip (“c”) from HIS GIRL FRIDAY (1940). Like Finlayson and Dumont, another one-of-a-kinder: http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0317970/

5. Hattie McDaniel (clip “b”) plays Aunt Tempy and sings “Sooner or Later” opposite James Baskett (as Uncle Remus) in this scene from Walt Disney’s SONG OF THE SOUTH (1946). Best known role: Mammy, in GONE WITH THE WIND (1939): http://www.biography.com/people/hattie-mcdaniel-38433

6. Grady Sutton (clip “a”) plays new assistant (Chester) to W.C. Fields in this scene from YOU CAN’T CHEAT AN HONEST MAN (1939). He was also a Fields foil in MAN ON THE FLYING TRAPEZE (1935) and THE BANK DICK (1940).

Yes, my friends, there were great character actors in the land of make-believe in those days. If some were but “bit” players, they made their small parts singularly indispensable. We shall not see their like again.

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10 comments on “A PAST OF CHARACTERS

  1. Don Frankel says:

    You know I was thinking Hattie McDaniel is well known. I mean she has an Academy Award and she had her own TV show… and then I realized, no I’m just old enough to remember. But these are those great actors that would pop up in all those old movies and they were very believable in all their roles.

    There’s another actor in the Billy Gilbert clip and wasn’t he the Judge in Miracle on 34th Street?

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    • mistermuse says:

      Don, you’re right about the Judge in Miracle on 34th Street being the same actor (Gene Lockhart) as the sheriff (the man with no hat) in the Billy Gilbert clip. Lockhart appeared in many films and was interesting in his own right, but Gilbert and the other guy in that clip (Clarence Kolb) steal the scene. Their fast-paced exchange, especially in the last 20 seconds or so of the clip, is hilarious.

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  2. arekhill1 says:

    I’ll just take my “F,” please.

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    • mistermuse says:

      In my classroom, you get an “A” just for showing up (or, if you prefer, an “a” for “arekhill1”). You also deserve an “A” for Attendance (as in perfect attendance).

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  3. Mél@nie says:

    wonderful and emotional tribute to those non-starring actors of several classic films(“films-culte in French!) – we call them “personnages secondaires”(secondary roles)… they play small parts, but most of the times they’re great actors who have contributed to the success of the film…
    * * *
    I’ve seen all these movies, but I must have watched “Casablanca” 4-5 times, and I’ve never been tired of it!!! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • mistermuse says:

      For those of us who either grew up with, or later came to appreciate, those old movies and the essential part the non-starring actors played in them, we know the part they have played in making our lives richer. Vive le Casablanca and all the rest! 🙂

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  4. linnetmoss says:

    I love Erik Blore, whom I know from the Astaire-Rogers films. Another brilliant comic actor along these lines is Erik Rhodes (“Your wife is safe with Tonetti! He prefer spaghetti!”)

    Liked by 1 person

  5. mistermuse says:

    Coincidentally, I was going to include Erik Rhodes in my “cast of characters,” but decided to limit the number to six in order to keep the post to a reasonable (however arbitrary that may be) length. Rhodes was absolutely wonderful in that role, and I well remember the lines you quote!

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  6. RMW says:

    “Character” actors make a very good living without all the hassles of being “stars.” If I had another life to live that is one of the careers I think would be very satisfying to me. Would not want to be a “star” for any amount of money.

    Liked by 1 person

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