Universal Horrors: a Film Study

In the Autumn of 2022, I instructed a film study course on a selected filmography of Universal Pictures. I’ve been teaching for many years in the college town in Lawrence, Kansas. As I have done so across many topics of classic film, I start with an overview of the film genre, director including signature elements, historical context and background. Then we screen and discuss the films- like a book club for classic film. In this case, I guided the class through the most influential period of horror films. I’ll share my notes with you here- let’s start with the overview…

UNIVERSAL CLASSIC MONSTERS

We’re embarking on a cinematic journey this Autumn that takes us back to the early pioneering days of horror films. Horror stories did not begin with cinema, nor did horror films initiate via sound films. But in the early years of “talkies,” there was one studio in particular- Universal Pictures- that created horror films so thrilling that they influenced the genre to this day.  

Through a study of the iconic films of this specific time and place, we will also take a deeper look into the artists, technology, and historical influences that helped create these masterpieces of the silver screen. Yes, we’ll enjoy the fright of these “monsters of madness” as we did in our youth, but perhaps we’ll walk away appreciating the art form and hopefully learn something, too.

Our films will be as scheduled:

Sept 6- Intro and Kevin Brownlow’s documentary, UNIVERSAL HORROR (1998), narrated by Kenneth Branagh

Sept 13- DRACULA (1931)

Sept 20- FRANKENSTEIN (1931)

Sept 27- THE MUMMY (1932)

Oct 4- THE INVISIBLE MAN (1933)

Oct 11- THE BLACK CAT (1934)

Oct 18- BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN (1935)

Oct 25- WEREWOLF OF LONDON (1935)

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CARL LAEMMLE and UNIVERSAL PICTURES:

You cannot discuss the early years of Universal studio without Carl Laemmle. Laemmle was born on January 17, 1867 as Karl Lammle in (what is now) Germany. He emigrated to the United States in 1884, working in Chicago. 20 years would pass (he also worked bookkeeping awhile in Oshkosh, WI) when he started in the motion picture industry- first in distribution by buying up a string of nickelodeons*, under the title, “Laemmle Film Service.” He expanded west and into Canada. But he resented having to pay royalties to Edison’s Motion Picture Patents Company. He moved into film production and founded IMP (Independent Motion Picture Co.) out of New York. Like many other struggling independent producers (such as future studio heads Jesse L. Lasky and Adolph Zukor), Laemmle fought Edison and his “General Film Company” (aka “the Trust”) in hundreds of legal action cases. He fought against Edison’s monopolization tactics. And won. While others headed west to Hollywood to avoid the Edison battles, in 1912, Laemmle co-founded Universal Pictures in the heart of the American filmmaking industry… Fort Lee, New Jersey.  

*[A nickelodeon was a pioneering pre-cursor to the modern-day movie theater. Brief in time, the height of popularity was from 1905 to 1913. For a nickel, audiences could enter converted retail space that was elaborately plastered in promotional posters on the outside but bare inside, minus the hard wooden chairs. In competition with vaudeville houses, the films were 10 to 15 minutes in length and showcased a variety of content. As spectators demanded more, intertitles became more frequently used and the movies grew in length, ushering in “features.” Motion pictures were evolving into longer, more coherent stories, and audiences upscaled into bigger venues that offered comfortable seating for those longer features and a nickel was no longer enough.]  

The years 1912 to 1914 was a fast and furious period of change and growth for Carl Laemmle. IMP morphed into Universal Pictures. A few additional independents were included in this transition. During this time, Laemmle moved his filming operations from the east coast to California- which included both Hollywood and “Oak Crest Ranch” in San Fernando valley. By 1914, he built an entirely new studio in Hollywood for Universal Pictures at the “Taylor Ranch.”  

Up until 1925, “Universal City” was the largest, most productive studio in the world. “Uncle Carl” as he was often called, treated his studio like family. Quite literally, as he employed family members frequently, including his nephew William Wyler. His son Carl, Jr. would step up in production roles (head of production from 1929 to 1936) and his niece Carla had a bit part in DRACULA (1931)- the first speaking lines in Universal’s first horror talkie.

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The monster films at Universal began with Lon Chaney in the 1920s with hits like HUNCHBACK of NOTRE DAME (1923) and PHANTOM of the OPERA (1925). With well over a hundred roles for Universal, Chaney proved that not only was he “a man of a thousand faces” with his unparalleled artistry in makeup, and mastery of pantomime, but he also possessed magnetic acting prowess. By 1917, Chaney’s contract with Universal was allowed to lapse and he was a free agent. His career progressed untethered with some of his very best work with both MGM and Universal studios. His trajectory came to a screeching halt when his health issues intervened. He died of cancer in 1930, resulting from a throat hemorrhage.  

By the end of the 1920s, the film industry had embraced sound productions as its exhilarating new future. Jewish German emigrant Carl Laemmle, motivated by the threat of Hitler’s rise of power, pushed hard to make a serious anti-war film, ALL QUIET ON THE WESTERN FRONT (1930). It won Universal’s very first Academy Award for Best Picture that following year. With Lon Chaney’s absence, Universal needed to find a replacement for audience’s growing fascination for horror. Soon, actor Boris Karloff and makeup genius Jack Pierce would forever alter Universal history. But, not before a thick-accented Hungarian would come along to set the tone. Instrumental in creating these epic Pre-Code monsters, directors including Tod Browning and James Whale would bring their visions to the big screen.

Making up from losses from the Depression combined with overspending on productions (“Junior” had the reputation of not controlling costs he incurred with his successful talkies), both Sr. and Jr. Laemmle were forced out in 1936. Carl Laemmle died in 1939 at the age of 72 years old. Universal would rebound, and even shed new light on their beloved monsters- often via comedy. 

Another legacy that Carl Laemmle must be remembered for was his life-saving humanitarian actions. From 1932 to his death in 1939, Laemmle personally saved over 300 Jewish families- that’s more than 1,000 men, women, and children- from Nazi extermination. Like an American version of Oskar Schindler, he fought the many obstacles of government red tape by personally financing their passage to the U.S., by housing them, and by signing affidavits to prove they would be covered and not a burden to Depression-worn United States. He also convinced his children and Hollywood friends to do the same on his behalf (although he was financing it) when the State Dept. grew concerned in case these refugees outlived their benevolent benefactor, “Uncle Carl.”     

We will explore seven films that each reflects the essential elements and style of these early Universal horrors. We will further discuss:

-German expressionism**

-European influence (and “the Nazi problem”)

-Pre-Code elements

-sex factor in horror

-story origins

-the Great Depression

-supernatural themes (religion vs secular) and religious objections

-tricks of the trade

-less is more with horror

-mad scientists, “the outsider,” and other themes

-Boris Karloff

-Jack Pierce makeup artistry

-Bela Lugosi

-Karl Freund

-Tod Browning

-James Whale

-sequels, spinoffs, parodies, teaming up characters (monster mashups), and enduring influences

** By definition, German Expressionism “was an artistic movement that began in earnest at the start of the 20th century. It is characterized by the use of twisted shapes, vivid colors, and jarring contrasts to create images with emotional intensity.” What exactly does that mean? Visual elements that are hyper exaggerated and reflective of the fears and inner angst of the German society of the 1920s can be best described via on-screen examples such as: THE CABINET of DR. CALIGARI (1920), NOSFERATU (1922), METROPOLIS (1927). We will revisit terms like ‘German Expressionism’’ as we delve deeper into each film and the artists.   

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UNIVERSAL MONSTER FILMS:

1931… DRACULA, DRACULA (Spanish version), FRANKENSTEIN

1932… MURDERS in the RUE MORGUE, THE MUMMY

1933… THE INVISIBLE MAN

1934… THE BLACK CAT

1935… THE BRIDE of FRANKENSTEIN, WEREWOLF of LONDON, THE RAVEN

1936… DRACULA’S DAUGHTER

1939… SON of FRANKENSTEIN, TOWER of LONDON

1940… THE INVISIBLE MAN RETURNS, THE MUMMY’S HAND, THE INVISIBLE WOMAN

1941… MAN-MADE MONSTER, THE WOLF MAN

1942… THE GHOST of FRANKENSTEIN, INVISIBLE AGENT, THE MUMMY’S TOMB

1943… FRANKENSTEIN MEETS the WOLF MAN, CAPTIVE WILD WOMAN, PHANTOM of the OPERA, SON of DRACULA, THE MAD GHOUL

1944… THE INVISIBLE MAN’S REVENGE, THE MUMMY’S GHOST, HOUSE of FRANKENSTEIN, THE MUMMY’S CURSE

1945… HOUSE of DRACULA

1946… HOUSE of HORRORS, SHE-WOLF of LONDON

1948… ABBOTT and COSTELLO MEET FRANKENSTEIN

1951… ABBOTT and COSTELLO MEET the INVISIBLE MAN

1954… CREATURE from the BLACK LAGOON

1955… REVENGE of the CREATURE, ABBOTT and COSTELLO MEET the MUMMY

1956… THE CREATURE WALKS AMONG US  

What A Character! Afternoon Edition

After a delicious breakfast of entries this morning for the What A Character! Blogathon hosted by my co-host Aurora, I’m now ready to share a yummy buffet of character actor pieces. Curated for your blog reading delights, welcome to the afternoon edition!

*Aurora’s Morning Edition: https://aurorasginjoint.com/2023/01/08/what-a-character-11-morning-edition/

*Paula will finish up this fabulous event later tonight (stay tuned!)

Now for your next round of participants…

A Person In The Dark blog offers up their favorite examples of RUTH DONNELLY. As she says, “When I see Ruth Donnelly in the cast, I breathe a little contented sigh.” We couldn’t agree more. Read here: http://flickchick1953.blogspot.com/2023/01/ruth-donnelly-sneer-with-no-peer.html

Co-host Paula of Paula’s Cinema Club takes a closer look at prolific character actor whose acting credits spanned eight decades in everything from military roles to film noir. Here she reviews RICHARD ERDMAN in CRY DANGER. Read more: https://paulascinemaclub.com/2023/01/08/what-a-character-richard-erdman-in-cry-danger/

Terry at A Shroud of Thoughts explores the journey of crowd favorite, JACK CARSON. As he explains, Carson was a lovable buffoon who could play both drama and comedy. Read on… https://mercurie.blogspot.com/2023/01/jack-carson-what-character.html

Gill of RealWeegieMidget Reviews looks at THREE PICTURES of CHARLES GRAY. As she describes the obscure roles of one menacingly debonair Englishman… read more here: https://weegiemidget.wordpress.com/random-real-stuff/starring/films-and-tv-three-pictures-of-charles-gray/

Finally, co-host Aurora of Once Upon A Screen highlights the inimitable EDNA MAY OLIVER: She Had a Long Face and She Stuck It Where She Wanted. “As the perfect example of the sharp-tongued biddy at her best.” Read more: https://aurorasginjoint.com/2023/01/07/edna-may-oliver-she-had-a-long-face-and-she-stuck-it-where-she-wanted/

PAUL LYNDE: Sardonic Clown

It’s difficult to say what role I first discovered Paul Lynde. I was born in the winter of 1966, and throughout my childhood in the late sixties and seventies, he was everywhere. Never a leading man, yet he was a standout in small roles in the most popular films, tv shows, and game shows. For a comedic actor who always got the minor roles, he was so beloved that he had his own television show- even his own Halloween special.

Paul Edward Lynde was born June 13, 1926 into a large family (2 sisters and 3 brothers) in Mount Vernon, Ohio. His parents were Hoy Corydon Lynde and Sylvia Bell Doup. His father owned and operated a meat market and was also a local police officer, including time spent as the sheriff of the jail. Both Hoy and Sylvia died in 1949, months apart, in their early 50s. The family tree bad ticker would be passed down as an early death for their son, Paul, too.

Inspiration for a life as an entertainer came early to Paul. When he was barely five years old, his mother took him to see the dramatic silent epic Ben-Hur (Ben-Hur: The Tale of Christ, 1925). His dreams were locked in from that moment forward. He was musically inclined- played the bass drum in the Mount Vernon High School band. Paul graduated from Northwestern University in 1948 where he studied drama, then made his way to New York City. His fellow Northwestern classmates included Cloris Leachman, Jeffrey Hunter, and Patricia Neal. Upon revealing his plans for pursuing an acting career in the ‘big apple,’ PL was quoted, “my dad hit the roof and I hit the road, simultaneously.” After juggling odd jobs, he started doing stand-up acts in the supper club, “Number One Fifth Avenue,” then eventually landed acting on Broadway.

His big Broadway break was in the musical revue, “New Faces of 1952” which included comedy and musical skits and introduced rising newcomers Eartha Kitt, Alice Ghostley, Robert Clary, and Carol Lawrence. After hundreds of runs, it was later filmed as, “NEW FACES” in 1954. In 1956, Lynde co-starred with Buddy Hackett and Carol Burnett in the sitcom, “Stanley” and “The Martha Raye Show.”

The 1960s was Paul Lynde’s sweet spot. He was constantly working on every medium, in high-demand. He began his role as the father Harry MacAfee on the original Broadway production of “Bye Bye Birdie” in 1960. He would later reprise that same role in the popular 1963 film. Noting the eclipsing popularity of co-star Ann-Margret, Lynde recalled, “I was in ‘Bye Bye Birdie’ on Broadway – played the father. I was in the film version, but they should have retitled it ‘Hello, Ann-Margret!’ They cut several of my and the other actors’ best scenes and shot new ones for her so she could do her teenage-sex-bombshell act.”

In 1960, he wrote and released a comedy album, “Recently Released.” All six tracks are his original material. But, television would be his most popular home during this decade. Starting in the early sixties, he would pop up as a familiar face on variety shows like “The Ed Sullivan Show” and “The Dean Martin Show,” and many sitcoms including “The Munsters,” “I Dream of Jeannie,” “Gidget,” “That Girl,” “The Beverly Hillbillies,” “The Phil Silvers Show,” “The Patty Duke Show,” “The Flying Nun,” and “F Troop.” He was also a regular on “The Red Buttons Show” and various Perry Como shows/specials.

This decade ushered in his film career beyond BYE BYE BIRDIE (1963), with hits like: SON OF FLUBBER (1963), UNDER THE YUM YUM TREE (1963), FOR THOSE WHO THINK YOUNG (1964), SEND ME NO FLOWERS (1964), BEACH BLANKET BINGO (1965), THE GLASS BOTTOM BOAT (1966), and HOW SWEET IT IS! (1968). Two of these films he co-starred with my personal favorite funny leading lady, Doris Day.

In his typical scene-stealing hilarity, Lynde performs in drag for a bathroom scene. He noted,” I had a drag scene in Doris Day’s The Glass Bottom Boat (1966). An elegant gown. Actually, it was more expensive than any of the ones Doris had to wear. That day that I came in fully dressed and coiffed, I was the belle of the set! Everybody went wild! Doris came over and looked me up and down and told me, ‘Oh, I’d never wear anything that feminine.'”

Beginning in 1965, Paul Lynde took on his most famous television role, Uncle Arthur on “Bewitched.” He was so beloved as the prankster warlock that many would assume his performances well outnumbered the only 11 episodes he acted. In fact, his initial role on “Bewitched” was a completely different role. During the first-season episode “Driving is the Only Way to Fly” (air date March 25, 1965), he portrayed a mortal, “Harold Harold,” Samantha Stephens’s nerve-wrecked driving instructor. Audiences clamored for more Lynde. Star Elizabeth Montgomery and her husband director/producer of the show William Asher agreed. Thus the recurring “Uncle Arthur” was created. “The Joker is a Card” (air date October 14, 1965) was his debut. His final appearance was in “The House That Uncle Arthur Built” (February 11, 1971) in the series’ seventh season.

One of the most distinctive traits about Paul Lynde is his delivery of lines. His uniquely sarcastic, drawn-out speech often followed by his own laughter became his signature. This allowed him a career in animation. His voice work included one of my warm memories from my childhood, the cranky but lovable rat “Templeton” in “Charlotte’s Web” (1973). His other voice works include: “Mildew Wolf” from “Cattanooga Cats” (1969 – 1971, Hanna-Barbera), “Claude Pertwee” on “Where’s Huddles?” (1970, Hanna-Barbera), and “Sylvester Sneekly” on “The Perils of Penelope Pitstop” (1969 – 1970, Hanna- Barbera).

His longest running role is undoubtedly on the game show, “The Hollywood Squares.” A simple premise of tic-tac-toe hosted by Peter Marshall premiering in 1966, Lynde was an immediate hit with his sharp one-liners that often took on a double-entendre edge. He was placed as “center square” regular on the show which provided a higher likelihood for his frequent appearances. The show ran for over a decade, with both daytime and primetime time slots. Lynde appeared in a whopping total of 707 shows. He left the program in 1979 over a dispute on salary, and was persuaded to return in 1980 after ratings slipped after his absence. He remained until the show’s cancelation in February of 1981.

His one-liners from those fifteen years on “The Hollywood Squares” are so hilarious they are still considered comedy gold to this day. You can find clips on YouTube and I highly recommend if you ever need a pick-me-up from an arduous day. (The Best of Paul Lynde on Hollywood Squares: https://youtu.be/ebBh2pjpIXc )

Lynde’s life was not void of controversy and heartache. His sexuality was an open secret in Hollywood. His jokes were often veiled jabs at his closeted homosexuality. Hiding and then mocking his own sexuality was likely a major contributor to his own alcohol and drug abuse. Like so many brilliant artists that excel in comedy, there is often a mask hiding the pain. For Lynde, he lived in a time when Hollywood wanted queerness hidden- or the center of the party joke. Lynde had to deliver both.

Tragedy hit July 13, 1965 when Paul Lynde and his friend, a 24 yo struggling actor from Nebraska James “Bing” Davidson, returned to their hotel room at the Sir Drake hotel in San Francisco after a night of hard partying. Drunk and loud, Davidson was known for his pranks and tempted fate at the balcony. According to sfgate.com,

“Davidson, heavily intoxicated and in a jocular mood, turned to Lynde and told him, “Watch me do a trick.” Lynde watched, laughing, as Davidson opened the eighth-floor window and climbed out. For a moment, Lynde thought Davidson had his feet on a ledge down below. But then Davidson’s face turned ghastly and he gasped, “Help me, I’m slipping!” 

Lynde ran to the window, reaching for his friend’s wrists. Down below, a pair of passing beat cops heard screams and joined a gathering crowd staring up at the Sir Francis Drake. Davidson could be seen scrambling, trying desperately to boost his leg back up to the open window. He tried three times before his hands lost their weak grip and he fell to the pavement below. He died on impact.”

That horrible accident didn’t affect his career. But I have a hard time believing that Lynde’s mental health was not forever and deeply rocked by this event. Likely deepening his already present substance addictions. The 1970s brought fewer roles and more frequent public intoxications. After appearing as an occasional guest on “The Donny and Marie Show” (1976 – 1978) for a couple of years, Lynde engaged in a drunken argument with the police outside a local tavern and never appeared in the show again.

According to his biographers, Steve Wilson and Joe Florenski of “Center Square: The Paul Lynde Story,” (2005), Lynde was ‘Liberace without a piano’ and that most 70s viewers described him as “a frustrated bit player and character actor on a daytime game show.” Well, I certainly hope not.

By the early eighties, Paul was ready to become sober for a comeback. Yet it was too little, too late. Paul Lynde died of a massive heart attack at the age of 55 in 1982, discovered at his Beverly Hills home after failing to appear at a birthday party. He is interred at the Amity Cemetery in Mount Vernon, Ohio next to family, including his beloved brother Private Coradon Lynde, who died at the Battle of the Bulge in WW2. Paul’s estate was willed to his two surviving sisters.

Paul Lynde brings me so much joy whenever I see him, no matter how brief the role. To me, that level of scene-stealing talent is the very definition of “what a character!” I’ll leave you with a few highlights of Paul Lynde’s witty zingers…

Peter Marshall: “In “Alice in Wonderland,” who kept crying “I’m late, I’m late?” Paul Lynde: “Alice, and her mother is sick about it.”

Peter Marshall: “Paul, can you get an elephant drunk?” Paul Lynde: “Yes, but he still won’t go up to your apartment.”

Peter Marshall: “What is a pullet?” Paul Lynde: “A little show of affection…”

Peter Marshall: “Paul, Snow White…was she a blonde or a brunette?” Paul Lynde: “Only Walt Disney knows for sure…”

This article is my contribution to the 11th annual What A Character! Blogathon, hosted by Aurora of (https://aurorasginjoint.com/2023/01/08/what-a-chacracter-11-morning-edition/ )Once Upon a Screen/ @CitizenScreen, Paula of Paula’s Cinema Club/ @Paula_Guthat, and yours truly. We encourage you to read all the participating bloggers’ articles published throughout today.

Announcement: 11th Annual What A Character! Blogathon

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Eleven years ago, it began with a spark of inspiration. What practically every film fan can agree upon… what do we all look forward in our cinematic fandom? What is the celluloid glue that holds us all so dearly? Our love of character actors.

From the earliest years of Turner Classic Movies (TCM), the network has broadcast interstitial shorts honoring various character actors. Many of the most popular supporting players have been highlighted over the years including tributes to Marjorie MainEdna May OliverBeulah BondiWilliam Demarest, and Butterfly McQueen. Thus, the WHAT A CHARACTER! Blogathon was born. Paula, Aurora, and I decided to dedicate a blogging event in their honor. Now, for the eleventh consecutive season, we continue the tradition.

Aurora of Once Upon a Screen and @CitizenScreen,  Paula of Paula’s Cinema Club and @Paula_Guthat, and yours truly Kellee of Outspoken & Freckled and @IrishJayhawk66, would like to extend this invitation to the 11th WHAT A CHARACTER! Blogathon to all bloggers who appreciate the laughter, the good taste, the double takes, the heart, the tears, and the warmth all the character actors have brought us through the years.

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What better way to kick off your New Year than with a loving tribute to one of your favorite second bananas? A heartfelt thank you to all who have participated in this event so graciously for the past decade. Your dedication, enthusiasm, and passion with which you have approached our beloved character actors are always a joy to read. We hope you will join us again for this special tradition.

The WHAT A CHARACTER! Blogathon

When: Sunday, January 8, 2023

How:

  • Let the hosts know which character actor you choose by leaving a comment below (or contacting them directly)
  • We prefer no repeats
  • One blogger per character actor
  • Please don’t reuse content from your earlier posts. However, you can write about actors who have been covered in past WAC! blogathons by other bloggers
  • Character actors can be from any era of film or television
  • Please include the name and URL of your blog and your Twitter handle to help us promote your work properly
  • Publish your post on or before Sunday, January 8, 2023
  • Blogathon contributions will be distributed across a morning, afternoon, and an evening post, each one posted by each host
  • Include the event banner courtesy of Paula Guthat on your blog to help us promote this special event (see attached)
  • HAVE FUN and spread the word!

Who:

PAUL LYNDE … Kellee of Outspoken & Freckled 

EDNA MAY OLIVER … Aurora of Once Upon A Screen 

CHARLES GREY …Gill of Real Weegie Midget Reviews

RUTH DONNELLY …A Person In The Dark

MARY FIELD …Jacqueline of Another Old Movie Blog

MONTAGU LOVE …Donna of Strictly Vintage Hollywood

TAKASHI SHIMURA …Classic Film and TV Corner

JACK CARSON …Terry of A Shroud of Thoughts

DOROTHY MORRIS … Taking Up Room

RICHARD ERDMAN …Paula of Paula’s Cinema Club

ELISHA COOK, JR …Jo of The Last Drive-In 

JOHN HOYT …Vienna’s Classics Hollywood

ALLEN JENKINS …Whimsically Classics 

Banner:

WAC 2022 graphic

 

A Dog, a Dinosaur Bone, and a Delinquent… Go to the Beach with BACHELOR FLAT (1962)

After an unusually cold April, May suddenly feels more like a scorching July and makes me yearn for the beach. Or, classic beach movies. When I nostalgically recall of summers of my youth, silly sex comedies of the 60s often filled my days. I wasn’t old enough to see them first-run so my screenings were likely a decade or two later, running in syndication on television. Squeezed in amongst the carefree flicks of Annette and Frankie and Elvis, I have fond memories of Frank Tashlin’s BACHELOR FLAT (1962).

The story is simple enough and whips along with chaotic energy, driven by the basic premise of mistaken identity… and sex. Starring Tuesday Weld, Richard Beymer, Terry-Thomas, and Celeste Holm, BACHELOR FLAT offered a popular cast. Terry-Thomas portrays British professor Bruce Patterson, a highly-disciplined and mild-mannered college professor who seeks the calm, simple life: digging up dinosaur bones, the serenity of his beach house, and the love of his fashion designer fiancee, Helen Bushmill (portrayed by Celeste Holm). Problems arise when this (until recently) lifelong, shy bachelor is hounded by sex-starved women; many are his students, who find his old school British accent and stoicism more than just charming- also challenging and irresistible. The professor rents his beach house from Helen while she’s out of the country, building her international fashion career. Helen also rents her parking pad adjacent to her beach house to law school student Mike Pulaski (Richard Beymer), who lives in his modest camper with his cute dachsund dog, “Jessica.” Trouble brews again when a seventeen year old girl named “Libby” (Tuesday Weld) shows up, who claims to be a street-wise teenager delinquent on the lam from the law. She manages to charm both bachelors Bruce and Mike before her true identity is revealed. Even sweet “Jessica” finds trouble in a way that echoes a famous dog (Skippy) character, “George” from BRINGING UP BABY (1938).

At the time of filming, Tuesday Weld was eighteen years old yet had been acting since early childhood- a childhood where she was expected to be the bread winner and grew up fast. Very fast. By the time she turned a mere twelve years old, she had already spent the last 2 years battling heavy drinking, love affairs, a nervous breakdown, and a suicide attempt. Her ability to play a teen role for many years, coupled with her acting skills and professionalism, kept her in high demand. Weld’s private life was about as famous as the roles she turned down, including: LOLITA (1962), BONNIE AND CLYDE (1967), TRUE GRIT (1969), CACTUS FLOWER (1969). In this film, she seems much older than her character’s high school senior status, even though she’s playing someone her own age. Not surprising.

Not even 2 months after wrapping up his role as “Tony” on WEST SIDE STORY (he was nominated for a Golden Globe for this performance, Best Actor, Comedy or Musical), Richard Beymer began production on this light comedy, filmed over at 20th Century Fox studios and on location along the Pacific Coast Highway in Malibu. No doubt this young actor was a hot ticket and on the rise to stardom. He was nominated in 1962 for another Golden Globe for “Most Promising Newcomer, Male” and a Golden Laurel award for “Top Male New Personality.” He continued to work, mostly in television, including his iconic return to the David Lynch famed “Twin Peaks” series (1989 – 1991, 2017). Beymer discovered his creativity exceeded beyond acting and pursued writing, cinematography, and filmmaking documentaries.

British born Terry-Thomas was an actor who found international appeal and fame. Born Thomas Terry Hoar-Stevens, he chose the stage name Terry Thomas when he tried his hand at theater after a long string of vocations that failed to pan out. He later added the hyphen, which he felt represented his signature gap between his teeth. With his trademark looks and catchphrases (“jolly good show”), Thomas was equally popular in films on this side of the pond. By the 1960s, he became a beloved actor in meatier character roles, often with a low-brow comedy edge, such as: IT’S A MAD MAD MAD MAD WORLD (1963), HOW TO MURDER YOUR WIFE (1965), THOSE MAGNIFICENT MEN IN THEIR FLYING MACHINES… (1965), HOW SWEET IT IS! (1968). Thomas was diagnosed with Parkinson’s in 1971. He tried to pick up parts here and there in the 1970s and 1980s, but it grew more difficult to act as the disease progressed. He became nearly destitute financially, selling off his estate, living in a meager flat with growing medical costs and unable to work. Friends and fellow actors created a fundraiser on his behalf so he could live out his days in dignity. He died in 1990 at the age of 78 years old.

Celeste Holm was a successful and prolific actress across stage, television, and film. She gave strong performances early in her film career including GENTLEMAN’S AGREEMENT, 1947 (she won both an Academy Award and a Golden Globe for her performance as Best Actress in a Supporting Role), THE SNAKE PIT, 1948, COME TO THE STABLE, 1949 (she was nominated for an Academy Award as Best Actress in a Supporting Role), ALL ABOUT EVE, 1950 (again nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actress in a Supporting Role). Starting early in the 1950s, Holm transitioned to mostly television roles for the rest of her career, which continued right up until her final year. She passed away at age 95 in 2012, after working over a hundred acting credits.

Holm was a popular actress with a highly likable screen persona but somehow got stuck always playing second fiddle to the lead. Ya know, that Eve Arden type who was a gal’s best pal who would repeatedly play the bridesmaid, but never the bride. (In regards to both Holm and Arden, I’d say I’m dumbfounded as to why these first-rate actors could ever be considered second bananas.) Interestingly, Celeste Holm is finally the bride in BACHELOR FLAT, although we never quite make it to the wedding. It’s disappointing we don’t see more of Holm in this picture, as we do the other main cast. I would blame the youth-focused 60s for pushing the Weld and Beymer romance more, but Thomas gets a lion’s share of screen time in comparison. Then again, he’s being chased by bikini-clad young women (who also look too old to be in school) so that may explain his more generous screen time.

Director Tashlin was ready for a rom-com in familiar waters. He began his directing career with animated Looney Tune features in the 1930s and 1940s. With a strong instinct for slapstick and physical comedy, Tashlin transitioned to feature films, directing films starring powerhouses such as Bob Hope, Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis, Jayne Mansfield, and Doris Day.

Fascinating trivia. What do Marilyn Monroe and Debbie Reynolds have in common with this film? There’s a little mystery surrounding a dress worn by Roxanne Arlen as “Mrs. Roberts,” a neighbor. At first sight it is clearly a copy of one of the most famous dresses in fashion in film history, the ‘subway dress’ worn by Marilyn Monroe in THE SEVEN YEAR ITCH. But could it be the actual Marilyn dress designed by Travilla, which was later auctioned as part of the Debbie Reynolds collection? Was it loaned out by the studio for this film and altered to fit this actress? Many rumors and speculations have circled over the decades to this mystery. This article from The Marilyn Monroe Collection site breaks down the details. What do you think?

Is this the real deal- or a knock-off?

I believe 60s sex comedies are highly misunderstood. They’ve been given a bad rap as too silly and misogynistic. But I contend these films like BACHELOR FLAT are actually a parody of sexism and rooted in a deep history of physical comedy with nods to slapstick and screwball comedy. And who doesn’t long for the nostalgia of the summer flicks of our youth?

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This piece on Frank Tashlin’s BACHELOR FLAT (1961) is my contribution to the CMBA (Classic Movie Blog Association) Spring Blogathon. I am a proud member of this group of talented writers. Please explore the other bloggers’ submissions for this year’s “Fun in the Sun” theme.

A Sunny Tribute…THE GLASS BOTTOM BOAT (1966)

When the classic film community discovered the sad loss of a beloved fellow blogger recently, Paddy aka Patricia Nolan-Hall of CAFTAN WOMAN, ANOTHER OLD MOVIE BLOG and LADY EVE’S REEL LIFE mobilized to create a blogathon to honor her memory.

When I think of Paddy, I am moved by her generosity and kindness. She was very committed to not only participating in nearly every single blogathon of her fellow bloggers, but she was also the most reliable blogger in our community to actually read all of our articles and reply with positive feedback. Her consistently kind and generous comments brought sunshine into all of our hearts. So, how do I possibly pick a theme or classic film to reflect her spirit?

It’s likely no secret that Doris Day is my favorite classic era actress. When I think of Doris Day, I would describe her as possessing many shared qualities as Paddy. I think they’d both appreciate a tribute via Frank Tashlin’s THE GLASS BOTTOM BOAT (1966).

In the midst of the Russian/American space race (1957 – 1969), this film emerged, which reflected the pulse and the styles of the day, all with a light-hearted, comic twist. The silly premise involves Doris Day as a bubbly, clumsy widow, “Jennifer Nelson,” who works PR at an aerospace research lab while also working part-time on her dad’s (Arthur Godfrey) glass-bottomed boat as a “mermaid.” In one of her entertaining dives in the Catalina bay, she gets tangled up with Rod Taylor as “Bruce Templeton” – who turns out to be the genius inventor at the lab where she works. Romance blossoms and slapstick ensues as Taylor works to keep his top secret formula hidden from Russian spies. But could his new girlfriend be a space age Mata Hari herself?

Here’s my top reasons this film brings joy, worthy of Paddy’s sunny smile…

Physical Comedy. Director Frank Tashlin was no stranger to slapstick. His background prior to this film was directing cartoons for Warner Brothers from the 1930s and several Jerry Lewis films. When THE GLASS BOTTOM BOAT runs through frenzied scenes of chaotic comedy and pantomime, it was by the director’s design. One such example is a silly, crazed scene between Doris Day and Dom DeLuise. He’s a technician up on a ladder. She’s carrying in a banana cream cake. You can imagine where it goes from there. Both Day (a PRO and veteran in physical comedy) and DeLuise (a relative newbie at this point) play this out with brilliance.

Character Actors Galore. For me, one sign of a great film, especially a classic comedy, includes a treasure trove of reliable supporting actors that really make a movie sing. In the 1960s and 1970s, many favorite character actors from the big screen found a plethora of work on the small screen, too. In this film, many are recognizable from popular tv series of the day including “Bewitched” and “The Man from U.N.C.L.E.” You’ll recognize John McGiver (too many to list), Ellen Corby (of “The Waltons” fame), Edward Andrews (in addition to a ton of tv roles, he worked with Day in both THE THRILL OF IT ALL (1963) and SEND ME NO FLOWERS (1964)), Dick Martin (a comedian on the rise who would premiere “Laugh-In” two years later and eventually directed comedy tv series including “The Bob Newhart Show”), Paul Lynde (who co-starred with Day in SEND ME NO FLOWERS), plus George Tobias and Alice Pearce. They essentially reprised their “Bewitched” roles as Mr. and Mrs. Kravitz, with Pearce again as the neighborhood snoop. Both Tobias and Pearce worked frequently across stage, film, and tv. Alice Pearce began her on-screen career as the sniffling, chinless character in ON THE TOWN (1949) and ended it just 2 weeks after her final performance on the tv series “Bewitched,” losing her battle to ovarian cancer. She won an Emmy posthumously for her beloved nosy neighbor character. There’s also a Robert Vaughn cameo with a nod to “The Man From U.N.C.L.E.” He pops in and out quickly, so don’t blink or you’ll miss it.

Paul Lynde in drag. In this era of Hollywood, drag was a gag. While used for humor, you just know Lynde was having the time of his life because he does it so well. He and Day pull off a rather funny bit in the ladies’ bathroom. Paul Lynde is one of the funniest comedy actors in the biz and he always delivers. Side note: I thought it was witty to use the “Templeton” name as Rod Taylor’s role because Day’s role in LOVER COME BACK (1961) is named “Carol Templeton.” And later, Lynde’s role as the gluttonous rat in the animated feature CHARLOTTE’S WEB (1973) was also named “Templeton.”

Spy spoof. This film was made when America was on course to reach the moon, with a contentious rivalry with Russia. Not unlike today, America was racing to master technologies first and held a deep mistrust of their biggest contender, Russia. The theme of the day was not only space age, but also of espionage. While the Cold War was an era of geopolitical tensions between the Soviet Union and the United States from 1947 to 1991, the James Bond books and subsequent films (first film, DR. NO released in 1962) were introduced, reflecting the tone of this time. As pop culture often dictates, comedies and parodies followed. While not as farcical as the spy parody CASINO ROYALE (1967), this film takes on these themes with a burst of comedic punch.

Homes of the Future. If the inventor of the “roomba” robotic sweeper tells you they weren’t inspired by this film, they’re outright lying. Well, perhaps they were inspired by the Jetsons cartoons first. At the center of this space age spy comedy is a very futuristic house. It’s supposed to be a reflection of its owner, the future-thinking inventor, Templeton (Rod Taylor). As a fan of Mid-Century Modern architecture and design, this concept was very on trend across America. In post WW2 America, housing was booming and practical. As we entered the space race era, designers/architects/home builders took it a step further by creating homes that captured both the aesthetic and high tech function of what they perceived to be the future. From the egg beater that pops up from below the counter to the robotic sweeper that goes rogue, these gadgets went on to be in everyday homes in real life but were first met with slapstick fodder with clumsy “Jennifer” (Doris Day), not unlike her character “Cathy Timberlake” in THAT TOUCH OF MINK (1962) when she creates punch card chaos.

Another draw to this funny flick are the costumes. Always impeccable in her fashions, Doris Day looks incredible in a bright sunny yellow. But even in the more casual outfits befitting this character, Day manages to squeeze in some stellar looks in array of offerings. The costume designer was Ray Aghayan, who was nominated for multiple Oscars and famous for his costumes in FUNNY LADY (1975), LADY SINGS THE BLUES (1972), and “The Judy Garland Show” just to name a few. He was also the lifetime partner of Bob Mackie, who famously worked on “The Carol Burnett Show” and dressed stars, such as the iconic gowns of Cher.

This comedy was a film I discovered later in life. I’m not sure how I somehow missed this gem earlier in my Doris Day collection of classics. But it’s worthy of screening, in case you’ve overlooked it, too. Of course the number one reason to see THE GLASS BOTTOM BOAT is Doris Day herself, paired with hunky Rod Taylor doesn’t hurt the eyes either. If you believe in heaven and such, I like to imagine that Paddy is reading this and it brings her a smile. I wish I could read the sweet and delightful commentary she would undoubtedly leave here, too.

10th Annual What A Character! Blogathon: Afternoon Edition

HOORAY! The moment has finally arrived. As we detailed in our announcement post with our fun banners created by co-host Paula, we are here to give tribute to our beloved character actors. As I tell my kiddos, “buckle up, buttercups!” because here comes the blogging event of the year!

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The tenth What a Character! Blogathon brings you an incredible array of supporting players, each bringing their own magic to every role. Thank you to all the bloggers who add their own talents of honoring these actors. Us three “WAC” hosts are trying something slightly different for this year’s special anniversary- the entries are being presented in three installments throughout the day. Be sure to visit for an enjoyable trip down movie memory lane:

The Morning Edition with Aurora at Once Upon a Screen

The Afternoon Edition with Kellee at Outspoken & Freckled

The Evening Edition at Paula’s Cinema Club at 9pm ET

As we noted in the announcement post, this tenth anniversary of What a Character! comes with give-a-ways from Turner Classic Movies (TCM) and The University Press of Kentucky, both of which are contributing books to ten lucky participants. We will gather entries and pick winners at random toward the end of the weekend. Winners will be notified on social media or by email.

Now let’s get this party started…

A Person In The Dark blog pays tribute to GEORGE TOBIAS, as she affectionately states, “For me, the best character actors are the ones who press that automatic happiness button that’s wired in our movie-loving brains…” Read more here in: George Tobias: Hey! That’s Abner Kravitz!

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Next up, Real Weegie Midget Reviews presents DIANA DORS. “Diana proved her worth in even more horror, comedies, dramas and even appeared in a pop video”… Read for yourself in: “FILMS and TV… Diana Dors in a Triple Dose of Horror and Suspense”

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Silver Screenings asks, “Who Is CHARLES LANE and Why Does He Matter?” As Ruth explains, “This is what an established character actor does: He or she saves time and extraneous explanation in movie storytelling. They add texture and subtext, and, in classic Hollywood, many of them had the best lines in the film.” 

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Taking Up Room invites us to go “Hanging Out With FELIX BRESSART” As they explain, “Affable, supportive, and a little goofy, Bressart was typically cast as the friend, the co-worker, the genius, sometimes the buffoon, or maybe a combination of all of those, but whatever shoes he landed in, he was always a welcome sight.” 

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A Shroud of Thoughts celebrates, “HANS CONREID: Scene Stealer In Radio, In Movies, & On Television” 

As Terry describes, “Hans Conried was a versatile actor who may have been best known for playing pretentious intellectuals, but he played a whole host of other character types as well.”

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Caftan Woman details the long life, love, and career of KATHLEEN HARRISON.  

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Finally, co-host Paula of Paula’s Cinema Club outlines why LURED is my favorite Lucille Ball film- with its riches of delightful supporting roles in … “The Cast of LURED (1947)” 

images-1Thank you for reading all these informative, fascinating, and delightful tributes. Thank you to my fabulous co-hosts Paula and Aurora. And, thank you to all our bloggers! Don’t forget to hang tight and then check back tonight for Paula’s evening edition for even more articles for this special WAC event. 

 

Cloris Leachman: What a Character!

“I don’t think “comedy” or “serious”. I always brought seriousness to comedy and comedic things to serious roles.” … Cloris Leachman

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At the beginning of this year (January 27, 2021) we lost an extraordinary actress. Cloris Leachman was an American actress and comedienne who spent seven decades making indelible impressions with every role, no matter how small.

Depending upon your age/generation, you may have been introduced to Leachman via a variety of roles that range from the “Gran” voice in the animated THE CROODS (2013), or as “Ida” on “Malcolm in the Middle” sitcom which earned her years of Emmy noms and wins, or as the oldest contestant on the 7th season of “Dancing With The Stars” when at age 82 she broke the record for their oldest dancer (which still stands today). Or perhaps, like me, you knew her first as hilarious characters in Mel Brooks films and as quirky “Phyllis” from the landmark show, “The Mary Tyler Moore Show.” No matter how you first came to know her, with her memorable performances across comedy and drama over the span of seven decades, no doubt you were hooked and left wanting to see more.

On April 30, 1926, Cloris Leachman was born in Des Moines, Iowa, heir to the family lumber business. But she had other dreams and studied drama in college. Her classmates at the Drama Department of Northwestern University included Paul Lynde, Patricia Neal, Agnes Nixon, Charlotte Rae, and Martha Hyer. She was titled Miss Chicago of 1946, performed with the Des Moines Playhouse, then headed to New York where she found her way into small roles in TV. For the next couple of decades, most of her career focused in television work.

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But her few films from the 50s and 60s were memorable, including her explosive role in Robert Aldrich’s film noir, KISS ME DEADLY (1955). Her performance as the terrified, hitchhiking runaway, wearing nothing but a trench coat, “Christina Bailey” was compelling enough to gain the sympathies from a hardened private dick like Mike Hammer- and from us, too. She also made the most of a bit part as “Agnes” in BUTCH CASSIDY and the SUNDANCE KID (1969). Apparently it was her idea to sing “The Sweetest Little Fellow” from Paul Robeson’s song “Mighty Like a Rose.” She was less than thrilled when she thought it sounded like a cat mewing, but they left it in anyway.

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Cloris won the Academy Award for her supporting roles as a cheating coach’s wife in a tiny, lifeless Texas town, “Ruth” in Peter Bogdanovich’s THE LAST PICTURE SHOW (1971). The film remains a classic with high praise from critics and established Leachman as a serious dramatic actor. But the 1970s would also bring Leachman immense popularity as a comedic actor in both television and film.

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As “Phyllis Lindstrom” Leachman portrayed Mary’s delightfully clueless, chatty, and self-absorbed neighbor/friend/landlady in “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” from 1970 – 1975. Phyllis was a frequent guest in the first 2 seasons but appeared less so in seasons 3 through 5. Cloris Leachman was given a chance to expand the “Lindstrom” character when “Phyllis” became a spin-off in 1975. It lasted 2 seasons/48 episodes. “Rhoda” (1974 – 1978) and “Lou Grant” (1977 – 1982) were also spin-off shows from “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” (1970 – 1977).

This decade launched her film partnership with Mel Brooks. She would do a total of three films with Brooks, starting with her legendary “Frau Brucher” in YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN (1974). As one of my all-time favorite films, I can attest we quote “Frau Brucher” on a weekly basis in my home. It often begins if someone says something along the lines of “be careful” which I generally reply with, “zee staircase can be ver-we treacherous,” in my best Brucher accent. One of the reasons this film is considered side-splitting funny to this day is due to Cloris Leachman’s natural humor instincts.

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According to The Hollywood Reporter article (by Ryan Parker) published following the news of her death this year, Cloris got a kick out of making Gene Wilder break character on the YF set because he found her so hilarious…

“As I turned to Gene, he’d be laughing, his face was in two pieces laughing,” she said in the interview. “We did about 15 takes. I hear him laughing, and I have not said anything. I just tickled him to pieces.” She added, “Everything I did in the movie tickled Gene to pieces. And it was so much fun to work with him.” Brooks said of Leachman’s passing, “Such sad news — Cloris was insanely talented. She could make you laugh or cry at the drop of a hat. Always such a pleasure to have on set. Every time I hear a horse whinny I will forever think of Cloris’ unforgettable Frau Blücher. She is irreplaceable, and will be greatly missed.”

Her next Mel Brooks film would be as “Nurse Diesel” in HIGH ANXIETY (1977). This film is a spoof of practically every top-grossing Hitchcock film, but her character is more akin to a “Nurse Ratched” dominatrix wet dream. From her bullet bra that could give you stitches, her clinched teeth, and her penciled-on features, Leachman kept us all in stitches. Her last on-screen Brooks role was as “Madame Defarge” in HISTORY of the WORLD: Part 1 (1981), a parodic look at events from world history. One of my favorite lines she delivers with superb wit…

Madame Defarge: “We are so poor, we do not even have a language! Just this stupid accent!”

Fellow Revolutionist: “She’s right, she’s right! We all talk like Maurice Chevalier!”

Married to director/producer George Englund from 1953 to 1979, together they had 5 children, and 7 grandchildren. And yet, she somehow managed to work in 287 credits to her acting career- starting as an uncredited dancing patron in Edgar G. Ulmer’s CARNEGIE HALL (1947) starring Marsha Hunt, to her final film, a holiday film completed and ready to be released this year, HIGH HOLIDAY (2021).

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She earned eight Emmy Awards from 22 nominations, making her the most nominated and, along with Julia Louis-Dreyfus, most awarded performer in Emmy history. Here is a list of her many awards and nominations*:

  • Academy Award for Best Actress in a Supporting Role (1972) for THE LAST PICTURE SHOW
  • Emmy Nomination*, Outstanding Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role in Comedy (1972, 1973) for “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” (CBS)
  • Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Single Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role (1973) for “A Brand New Life: Tuesday Movie of the Week” (ABC)
  • Emmy Nomination*, Best Lead Actress in a Drama (1974), “The Migrants CBS Playhouse 90” (CBS)
  • Best Supporting Actress in Comedy (1974), “The Mary Tyler Moore” (CBS)
  • Outstanding Single Performance by a Supporting Actress in a Comedy or Drama Series (1975), “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” (CBS)
  • Outstanding Continuing or Single Performance by a Supporting Actress in Variety or Music (1975), “Cher” (CBS)
  • Emmy Nomination*, Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series (1976), “Phyllis” (CBS)
  • Emmy Nomination, Outstanding Continuing or Single Performance by a Supporting Actress in Variety or Music (1976), “Telly… Who Loves Ya, Baby?” (CBS)
  • Emmy Nomination*, Outstanding Performance by a Supporting Actress in a drama or comedy special (1978), “It Happened One Christmas” (ABC)
  • Emmy Nomination*, Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Limited Series or a Special (1984), “Ernie Kovacs: Between the Laughter” (ABC)
  • Outstanding Individual Performance in a Variety or Music Program (1984), “Screen Actors Guild 50th Anniversary Celebration” (CBS)
  • Outstanding Guest Actress in a Drama Series (1998), “Promised Land” (CBS)
  • Emmy Nomination*, Outstanding Guest Actress in a Comedy Series (2001, 2003, 2004, 2005), “Malcolm In The Middle” (FOX)
  • Outstanding Guest Actress in a Comedy Series (2002, 2006), “Malcolm In The Middle” (FOX)
  • Emmy Nomination*, Outstanding Guest Actress in a Drama Series (2005), “Joan Of Arcadia” (CBS)
  • Emmy Nomination*, Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Miniseries or a Movie (2006), “Mrs. Harris” (HBO)
  • Emmy Nomination*, Outstanding Guest Actress in a Comedy Series (2011), “Raising Hope” (FOX/ Twentieth Century Fox Television)
  • Emmy Hall Of Fame, Honoree (2011)

The full list of all of her awards (all 28 wins and 42 nominations) can be found here: https://www.imdb.com/name/nm0001458/awards

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She really could do it all- from every genre to every medium. Drama, comedy, film noir, horror, westerns, sitcoms, holiday films, television, play productions, Broadway, film. Heck, she was even in an “After-School Special.” Most importantly, no role was ever too small for her because she stole every scene. I believe she is worthy of singing her praises because in addition to her obvious talent and vibrance, she possessed an authentic grounded appeal. Perhaps it’s that Midwestern hard work ethic. She seemingly held no vanities in order to get a good laugh, which is the sign of a natural-born comic. As a true working actor, she performed right up until the end, to the age of 94. She died from natural causes (a stroke) but it should be noted that the final medical reports revealed she had COVID-19 and it is believed that contributed to her stroke and subsequent death.

**This article is a contribution to the What A Character! Blogathon, hosted by Aurora of Once Upon A Screen, Paula of Paula’s Cinema Club, and yours truly- Kellee of Outspoken & Freckled. I encourage you to explore all the contributing authors to this 10th annual blogging event, which tributes character actors, is being held Saturday, Dec. 4th, 2021.

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BREAKING NEWS! The 10th anniversary of WHAT A CHARACTER! Blogathon is here!

It all began with Turner Classic Movies (TCM) and an interstitial series of dedications the network has aired honoring character actors. You have no doubt seen them, video tributes to Edna May OliverBeulah BondiWilliam DemarestButterfly McQueen, and many other supporting players whose work stands the test of time. With these tributes WHAT A CHARACTER! was born and, unable to resist those actors, Paula, Aurora and I decided to dedicate a blogging event in their honor. Now, for the tenth consecutive year, we continue the tradition.

Aurora of Once Upon a Screen and @CitizenScreen,  Paula of Paula’s Cinema Club and @Paula_Guthat, and yours truly Kellee of Outspoken & Freckled and @Irishjayhawk66, would like to extend this invitation to the 2021 WHAT A CHARACTER! Blogathon to all bloggers who appreciate the laughter, the good taste, the double takes, the heart, and the comfort all the character actors have brought us through the years.

This entry also serves as a heartfelt thank you to all who have participated in this event so graciously for nine years. The talent, enthusiasm, and passion with which you have approached our beloved character actors are beyond anything we could have imagined. We hope you join us again for this special celebration.

The WHAT A CHARACTER! Blogathon

When: Saturday, December 4
How:
  • Let the hosts know which character actor you choose by leaving a comment below
    • We prefer no repeats and character actors can be from any era of film or television
  • Please include the name and URL of your blog and your Twitter handle to help us promote your work properly
  • Publish your post on or before December 4
  • Include the event banner courtesy of Paula Guthat on your blog to help us promote this special event
  • HAVE FUN and spread the word!

Giveaways!

A tenth anniversary is a big deal, a fact recognized by Turner Classic Movies and The University Press of Kentucky who have offered books to give away to 10 lucky U.S. and Canada participants of the WHAT A CHACRACTER! Blogathon.

From the TCM Library, we have 5 copies of The Essentials: 52 Must-See Movies and Why They Matter by Jeremy Arnold with foreword by Robert Osborne. A big thank you to Justin Gottlieb, Entertainment Marketing, Social Media Manager at Turner Classic Movies for securing these books for us.

While you may well be familiar with TCM, you may not know about The University Press of Kentucky, which has a wonderful array of film history-related biographies and analytical studies in its Screen Classics series. For our event, Director of Sales & Marketing, Brooke Raby has offered a sampling of their offerings, one copy of each of the following titles:

Charles Boyer: The French Lover by John Baxter

Natalie Wood: A Life by Gavin Lambert

Otto Preminger: The Man Who Would Be King by Foster Hirsch

Cecil B. DeMille’s Hollywood by Robert S. Birchard

Radical Innocence: A Critical Study of the Hollywood Ten by Bernard F. Dick

Thank you to Raby Brooke for the terrific list of books.

Before we get to blogging with character, I want to express my appreciation and a hearty congratulations to my friends and co-hosts, Aurora and Paula. One decade down: forever to go. Happy WHAT A CHARACTER! Anniversary!

Chosen Actors & Participating Blogs

Cloris Leachman – Outspoken & Freckled

Hans Conried – A Shroud of Thoughts

Wally Cox – Journeys in Classic Film

Mildred Dunnock and Patricia Collinge – The Last Drive In

Hope Emerson – Shadows and Satin

Valerie Perrine – Real Weegie Midget Reviews

Felix Bressart – Taking Up Room

Jack Carson – Second Sight Cinema

Theresa Harris – Blog of the Darned

George Tobias – A Person in the Dark

Kathleen Harrison – Caftan Woman

Lucille La Verne – The Classic Movie Muse

Elisha Cook, Jr. – Whimsically Classic

Conrad Veidt – Lady Eve’s Reel Life

William Frawley – By Rich Watson

Doro Merande – Trivial History

Edward Everett Horton – Silent Film Music

Eugene Pallette – Top 10 Film Lists

Lillian Randolph – Another Old Movie Blog

Barry Fitzgerald

A shy little man, with a twinkle in his eye that left a big impression on screen. If there was a classic Hollywood version of a leprechaun, Barry Fitzgerald was it. As campy and stereotypical as that depiction sounds, Fitzgerald was indeed funny, but there’s no doubt this was a supremely skilled dramatic actor. Small in stature perhaps, but his performances in minor roles left unforgettable mark in Hollywood masterpieces.

Born William Joseph Shields on March 10, 1888 in Portobello (Dublin), Ireland, he was working as a civil servant when his younger brother Arthur Shields (eight years younger) was acting on stage and he decided to join along as a side gig. His brother Arthur fought in Ireland’s Easter Rising in 1916, and even though William did not, he decided a stage name of Barry Fitzgerald might be best to keep his brother’s politics distant from his acting pursuits. While initially keeping his day job for steady income, William realized he had a true knack for comedy, moonlighting on stage.

“Barry Fitzgerald” started at the famed Abbey Theatre in 1917. Working with playwright Sean O’Casey, he found himself in England, starring in Alfred Hitchcock’s JUNO and PAYCOCK (1930), based on O’Casey’s successful play. Touring with Abbey in the 1930s, and thanks again to a story by Sean O’Casey, both Barry and his brother Arthur were discovered by John Ford and starred (along with Barbara Stanwyck) in Ford’s THE PLOUGH and the STARS (1936). Thus began their transition to Hollywood.

In the 30s, 40s, and 50s, Fitzgerald had gradually become a not-overnight, mature-aged success. With his thick Irish brogue and tiny physique, he was not a fit for every role, but audiences and Hollywood adored him. In fifty-one film credits, he lit up the silver screen in even the smallest parts, including an Oscar winning performance. I’ll share a few of my favorites here…

Fitzgerald faces cat-astrophe in Hawks’ BRINGING UP BABY. Photo credit: Blonde at the Film

Fresh into his Hollywood career, one of my first memories of Barry Fitzgerald was in the minor role of the caretaker in Howard Hawks’ BRINGING UP BABY (1938). The screwball rom-com stars Cary Grant and Katharine Hepburn as they chase after and mix up a couple of leopards- one tame and one a man-eater. The comedic chaos called for a delightfully confused Fitzgerald as Mr. Gogarty who thinks he surely must be nipping at the whisky too much to see such a ‘big kitty’ in Connecticut.

Barry reunites with his brother and John Ford in the beautiful masterpiece that tells the story of a family of a Welsh mining town in Ford’s HOW GREEN WAS MY VALLEY (1941). It’s not easy to stand out in the powerhouse of the Ford stock company, especially in a film this beautiful. In my opinion, this film that was nominated for 10 Academy Awards and won five, famously beat out CITIZEN KANE, deserves its reputation as a practically perfect film. And yes, the Shield brothers hold their own.

To me, there is no doubt that Barry Fitzgerald’s shining role was the one for which he earned his Oscar- for Best Actor in a Supporting Role, as Father Fitzgibbon in GOING MY WAY (1944). He delivers a truly heartfelt, sympathetic, and enduring performance as an aging priest. He’s set in his ways, very old school, resistant to change. But there’s a remarkable sweetness to this stubborn character. Perhaps it’s my own fondness for anything Irish, but an unforgettable scene is when Crosby’s Father Chuck O’Malley sings Fitzgerald’s Father Fitzgibbon an Irish lullaby as he reminiscences about his mother and his Erin homeland. It renders me weepy every time. The interesting thing about that film’s Oscar lineup, is that Fitzgerald was nominated for both Best Actor in a Supporting Role AND Best Actor in a Leading Role (competing against Bing Crosby who won). This was rectified by the Academy the following year when they outlawed such double noms within a single role. This Oscar win took place towards the end of World War 2, when metal rationing was still marching on. Fitzgerald’s statuette would normally be gold-plated bronze, but was made with plaster that year. As such, Barry accidentally and easily destroyed it in a golf swing mishap. Seems his line from the film about golf rang true. Barry Fitzgerald: “A golf course is nothing but a pool room moved outdoors.” Fitzgerald was known for playing Catholic priests but was, ironically, raised Protestant in real life.

I’ve made no secret that John Ford’s THE QUIET MAN (1952) is one of my favorite films of all-time. It couldn’t be as magical if it weren’t for John Ford’s passion to create a love song to Ireland, via his stock company. Fitzgerald steals every scene, especially when sharing scenes with larger-than-life presence of John Wayne and the dynamic beauty and sass of Maureen O’Hara. At my house, we often quote Fitzgerald’s Michaleen Oge Flynn from many of his witty lines. “When I drink whiskey, I drink whiskey. When I drink water, I drink water,” as O’Hara’s Mary Kate Danaher asks if he wants water for his whiskey.

Other films of note that I recommend, to see his range in dramatic roles within his filmography, are Rene Clair’s AND THEN THERE WERE NONE (1945), Richard Brooks’ THE CATERED AFFAIR (1956), and Jules Dassin’s THE NAKED CITY (1948). In the film noir THE NAKED CITY, Fitzgerald portrays Lt. Dan Muldoon. It’s a stark casting against type. Not exactly the gentle and cutesy character as typical from his past roles, Muldoon behaves like a real, work the work detective. The streets are gritty and the investigation is procedural. Nothing fancy or glam here. This police drama style set the tone for many crime dramas to come that spilled over into popular tv shows of the 1950s.

Barry Fitzgerald’s last feature film was George Pollock’s BROTH of a BOY (1959). Barry was a lifelong bachelor. He shared a Hollywood apartment with Gus D Taillon, his stand-in, who died in 1953. In 1959, Fitzgerald moved back to Dublin. Barry Fitzgerald died on January 14, 1961 at the age of 72 years old.


This article was my contribution to the 9th annual What A Character Blogathon. Co-hosted by friends and classic film gurus Aurora @CitizenScreen of Once Upon A Screen and Paula @Paula_Guthat of Paula’s Cinema Club. Be sure to read all the fascinating and informative contributions from fellow film bloggers!

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