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:

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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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Announcement: 9th annual WHAT A CHARACTER! BLOGATHON


Borrowing a catch-phrase from our favorite home of the classics, Turner Classic Movies, Kellee of Outspoken & Freckled / @IrishJayHawk66), Paula of Paula’s Cinema Club / @Paula_Guthat) and Aurora, of Once Upon a Screen / @CitizenScreen) dedicate a blogathon to character actors for the ninth consecutive year. To the faces, the laughs, the drama presented by these wonderful actors whose names all too often go unrecognized we dedicate WHAT A CHARACTER! 2020.

The hosts extend this invitation to the WHAT A CHARACTER! Blogathon 2020, a slightly different event than in the past. We will all host the event on one day promoted across all three blogs. Please join us on December 5, 2020 as we pay tribute to the brilliance of the supporting players and the many films they made better.

Our objective with this TCM-inspired event has always been to spotlight lesser-known actors with talent to spare. We hope you are up for this challenge and are ready to have a bit of fun. All you have to do is adhere to the following guidelines and leave a comment with your choice of actor.

GUIDELINES:

  • Let at least one of the hosts know which character actor is your choice.
  • Do not take it for granted we know exactly who you are or where your blog resides – please include the title and URL of your blog and your Twitter handle if you have one.
  • We will not accept previously published posts, or duplicates, since there are so many greats worthy of attention, but your choices are not limited to classics. You can choose any character actor from any era and from the movies or television, which has featured talented regulars since the beginning
  • Publish your WHAT A CHARACTER! post on or before December 5, 2020. 
  • Please include the gorgeous event banner in your What A Character! post. It would be great if you could help us promote this event.
  • Thank you for sending any of us the direct link to your post once you have published it. Searching on social media sites can lead to missed entries.
  • HAVE FUN and happy blogging!

PARTICIPANTS:

BEULAH BONDI … Aurora/@CitizenScreen of Once Upon A Screen

RICHARD ERDMAN … Paula/ @Paula_Guthat of Paula’s Cinema Club

BARRY FITZGERALD … Kellee/ @IrishJayhawk66 of Outspoken & Freckled

EVE ARDEN … Maddy of Maddy Loves Her Classic Films

GEOFFREY KEEN … Maddy of Maddy Loves Her Classic Films

HARRY CORDING … Paddy/ @CaftanWoman of Caftan Woman

ANNE REVERE … May of Brizzy Mays Books And Bruschetta

HERBERT MARSHALL … Tonya/ @tonyalit of Goosepimply All Over

RAYMOND MASSEY … Rich/ @ratzo318 of Wide Screen World

MARY ASTOR … Lesley/ @zleegaspar of Second Sight Cinema

DIANA RIGG … @realweegiemidge of Real Weegie Midget Reviews

SZ “CUDDLES” SAKALL … Kayla of Whimsically Classic

ERNIE MORRISON … Le/ @startspreading of Critica Retro

CELESTE HOLM … Ruth/ @925screenings of Silver Screenings

Frank McHugh, Everybody’s Pal

Frank McHugh (1898–1981)

Frank McHugh was never destined to be the top banana in a film. He lacked any traditional leading man looks. His voice was never skilled to ever become a songbird. And other than portraying a dancing cat with simple steps while chewing a cigar, he was certainly no Fred Astaire. But he had all the right stuff to be a very popular second banana in over 170 roles from 1929 to 1969, across Broadway, film, and television.

Francis Curray McHugh was born May 23, 1898 in Homestead, Pennsylvania into the entertainment industry to his vaudevillian parents, as he and his siblings joined the family business before Frank turned double digits. As a youngster in his parents’ McHugh Stock Company (Edward and Catherine McHugh based in Braddock, PA), he was schooled in Pittsburgh then joined the Marguerite Bryant Players at the age of 17, alongside Guy Kibbee. He went on to tour stages across the country, including a stint on Broadway in 1925. He married fellow actress Dorothy Spencer in 1928. He moved to Hollywood in 1929 and a year later, he was signed on as a contract player for Warner Brothers.

While he cranked out films in Hollywood like a racehorse, he claimed he never felt like one. If anything, he said that he found acting in Hollywood to be a pretty easy gig. He suggested that he never acted, instead his approach was natural and essentially himself. “Mostly I wound up as the friend- dumb but loyal. I guess my dumb look was convincing.”*

McHugh had the knack for the easy-going sidekick. Frequently as a drunken working guy. In those early talkies, when he wasn’t playing a drunk reporter, he was the prize-fighter’s second. Frank laughed, “… for the next three or four years I did nothing else but play drunken reporters. I finally had to call a halt to it. I didn’t mind being a drunken reporter, but it was getting to that the only time they called for me was for that role.”* 

By 1950, he was in his early fifties and moved his family from Hollywood to Connecticut, just outside NYC. Like many others of his experience and age, McHugh made the transition to television at this time, mostly of the ‘live drama’ productions. But he also found work on westerns, comedy, and variety shows like “F Troop” (1966), “The Red Skelton Hour” (1959), “The Lucy Show” (1967), and as “Willie” for 27 episodes on “The Bing Crosby Show” (1964-65). On September 11, 1981, at the age of 83, he died of natural causes.

Hollywood's Irish Mafia_All Irish Americans the original members of the group were Cagney, McHugh, O'Brien & Tracy_ Ralph Bellamy and Frank Morgan joined later

In the 1930s, decades before the ‘rat pack’ of Sinatra, Dino, Sammy and the rest of the swinging Vegas cool set, Hollywood originated the concept with an Irish-American version known as the ‘Irish Mafia,’ a term coined jokingly by columnist Sidney Skolsky, although they simply called themselves ‘the boys club.’ In addition to Frank McHugh, there was James Cagney, Pat O’Brien, Spencer Tracy. Later came Allen Jenkins, Lynne Overton, George Brent, Louis Calhern, William Gargan, Regis Toomey, Ralph Bellamy, Lloyd Nolan, Frank Morgan, with James Gleason and Bert Lahr tagging along.

In those early years, when he wasn’t paling around with his fellow Irish blokes off-set, he worked nearly every film Warner Brothers made….many with Cagney (11 films), O’Brien, and Jenkins. Because he often served as comic relief- with his unique laugh like a funny, wheezing squeezebox, “ha ha ha…”- he brought a good-natured ease next to some of the biggest names of classic Hollywood. Here are some stand-outs for me…

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In William A Wellman’s LILLY TURNER (1933), McHugh gives a compelling performance as a more complex alcoholic than his typical lighter fare of jovial drunk. It’s a meatier role for Frank. Co-starring Ruth Chatteron and George Brent, it’s a Pre-Code I recommend.

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During this same era of Pre-Code splendor, Busby Berkley musicals reigned supreme. Co-starring his friend James Cagney, Dick Powell, Joan Blondell, and Ruby Keeler, the same year turned out Lloyd Bacon’s FOOTLIGHT PARADE. McHugh gives a memorably funny spin on the exasperated dance instructor, who goes toe-to-toe with the great hoofer Cagney in a big musical production- of feline focus. Take a look as cigar-chewing Frank McHugh practices with crooning Dick Powell: CLICK HERE

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In Tay Garnett’s ONE WAY PASSAGE (1932), escaped murderer William Powell finds true love on the high seas with a terminally ill Kay Francis. McHugh is a mischievous petty thief who has some great albeit small scenes, including one where he fools a bartender. It’s a true Pre-Code so don’t expect a sunny or miraculous surprise. But you get hilarious McHugh (yes, he plays a drunk again but look for an especially funny gag with a mirror), plus Powell and Francis as the leads in a beautifully doomed romance, so who cares?

Frank McHugh (R) in Going My Way (1944)

Finally, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention Leo McCary’s GOING MY WAY (1944). Bing Crosby, Barry Fitzgerald, and Frank McHugh all as Irish-American priests… be still my shamrock heart. McHugh worked on many Academy Award nominated films, and this one, which won the Best Picture Oscar, along with many awards, is certainly a prime example. It’s a beautiful film saturated in Irish culture and McHugh does his smaller role justice aplenty.

Despite being such a reliable inclusion for decades in Hollywood, he earned few awards. He did earn accolades from both the US military and servicemen for his great contributions to WW2 war efforts. McHugh supported the war efforts through star-studded USO tours including the multi-city Hollywood Victory Canteen train tour. For more information, I encourage you to read this piece from the NY Public Library, based on his archived documents, the Frank McHugh Papers.

I don’t believe Frank McHugh gets the attention he deserves for such a prolific career. Hard-working folks like Frank rarely do because they are humble regarding their contributions and their talents make it look easy (when it’s not). What are some of your favorite FM films?


This article was my contribution to the WHAT A CHARACTER! BLOGATHON, Nov. 15 -17th, 2019. Hosted by Aurora @CitizenScreen of Once Upon A Screen, Paula @Paula_Guthat of Paula’s Cinema Club, and yours truly. We have enjoyed hosting this blogathon for eight years. I encourage you to read all entries and leave glowing comments on their sites. 

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*(“No Retirement For Frank McHugh,” The Blade, Toledo, Ohio, Nov. 19, 1967)

Seeing Donald Pleasence

Seeing Donald Pleasence

As a (slightly rusty) artist, I’m always people watching. I don’t sketch as much as I used to, and now it’s mostly dogs, but I still find myself looking deeply at people features, their body language, attitude, smile, and gate… but mostly I look at their eyes.

And it’s for that reason why my entry for the What A Character! Blogathon is the English Actor Donald Pleasence.

Donald had a remarkable demeanor which complemented any role he took on…with his bald, distinct look, his smile that could run the gamut from a sneer to a broad grin, and his eyes… eyes that could telegraph with equal weight and emotion… humor, madness, delight or sincerity. Couple that with his acting range and you find a memorable on screen, stage, and tv personality who will live on for generations.

Though he played a range of wonderful characters in his day, he became known as someone who could pull off the more extreme of character archetypes, from a fanatical President in Escape from New York (1981) to a double agent in Fantastic Voyage (1966) to the arch-villain Ernst Stavro Blofeld in You Only Live Twice (1969).

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But far and above my favorite role was an early one, that of Colin Blythe, a mild-mannered prisoner of a German POW camp in The Great Escape (1963)

He isn’t an exaggerated character in this role, but a struggling one, a gentle, quiet, intelligent, prisoner, who while playing a vital role in a choreographed escape, starts to rapidly go blind. And just as his blindness is discovered and his only hope of escape vanishes, his friend (James Garner) steps in with an offer to take care of him and to lend him his sight. It is throughout all of this I see Donald’s eyes, so expressive in humor, grief, fear, despair, and friendship.

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Beside Butch Cassidy and the Sundance kid (1969), and the trio of friends in Gunga Din (1939), this is my favorite buddy relationship in any film. My reasoning, the characters are heroic and sweet, charming and good-natured, burdened and generous. You feel their growing friendship and leave no man behind promise. To my mind, it’s THE most authentic of any buddy relationship I’ve had a chance to view on film.

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And throughout the film, as he experiences and expresses a range of emotion, from his early scenes forging documents for the escape, to when his realizes he would be a liability to the group, on up until the final moment when Colin meets his untimely end at the hands of a German patrol, I look at his eyes. For it’s there that I find the spirit of this character actor, time and again.


The above article and original artwork is a guest post- created by Gary Pratt. In addition to being my husband, Gary would likely describe himself as a Santa Claus wanna-be, who grew up on a pig farm, then became an artist. He has spent a majority of his adult years leading innovation in the corporate world, and loves being a dad when he’s not otherwise watching old movies and scribbling cartoons. 

This post is a contribution to the 8th annual WHAT A CHARACTER! BLOGATHON, hosted by Kellee Pratt @IrishJayhawk66 of Outspoken & Freckled, Aurora @CitizenScreen of Once Upon A Screen, and Paula @Paula_Guthat of Paula’s Cinema Club. Be sure to read all the entries from this multi-day event. 

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Announcement: It’s the 8th Annual WHAT A CHARACTER! Blogathon

Edna May Oliver & James Gleason - The Penguin Pool Murder (1932)

It’s hard to believe we’ve been hosting this blogathon for eight years now. But perhaps not that shocking considering that discussing those scene-stealing character actors is a crowd-pleasing pastime amongst cinephiles.

Wise-cracking Eve Arden, nurturing Louise Beavers, sassy Thelma Ritter, double-take pro Edward Everett Horton, tart-tongued Edna May Oliver, gravelly-voiced Eddie “Rochester” Anderson, fatherly Charles Coburn, frazzled Franklin Pangborn, bull frog voiced, barrel-chested Eugene Pallette, cigar chomping Ned Sparks… these and so many more lovable character actors are who we look forward to seeing as our dearest ole chums. Couldn’t we all could use a trusted sidekick?

For the eighth consecutive year, we as the blogathon hosting trio of Aurora of Once Upon A Screen@CitizenScreen, Paula of Paula’s Cinema Club@Paula_Guthat, and yours truly- Kellee of Outspoken & Freckled/ @IrishJayhawk66 invite you to join us for the WHAT A CHARACTER! BLOGATHON 2019, November 15, 16, 17, as we pay tribute to the brilliance of the supporting players.

Our objective for the What A Character! Blogathon has always been to shed the spotlight on these lesser-known but equally talented thespians, whose names usually appeared below the title. If you wish salute your favorite on-screen character actor- the quirky maid, that ornery hotel manager, frustrated maître D’, sassy best friend, a hot-tempered heavy, flabbergasted father, sarcastic sidekick, grumpy boss, gobsmacked butler- then you’ve come to the right place. Please review the guidelines below first, and leave me a comment.

  • Let at least one of the hosts know which character actor is your choice.
  • Don’t take it for granted we know exactly who you are or where your blog resides – please include the title and URL of your blog, also your Twitter handle if you have one.
  • We will not accept previously published posts, or duplicates, since there are so many greats worthy of attention, but your choices are not limited to classics. You can choose any character actor from any era and from the medium of television, which has featured talented regulars since the beginning, and continues to do so.
  • Publish your WAC! post on either November 15, 16, or 17, 2019. Let us know if you have a date preference; otherwise, we’ll split publicizing duties equally among the three days.
  • Please include one of our banners (see below) within your What A Character! post.
  • Additionally, please include the WAC! 2019 event banner included in this post on your blog itself to help us promote the event.
  • Thank you for sending any of us the direct link to your post once you have published it. Searching on social media sites can lead to missed entries.
  • My contact info: prattkellee@gmail.com / twitter~ @IrishJayhawk66 ~or, simply leave a comment below
  • HAVE FUN and spread the word!

BANNER:

what-a-character-2019

Participating Bloggers/Character Actors:

Beulah Bondi / Once Upon A Screen @CitizenScreen

Frank McHugh / Outspoken & Freckled @IrishJayhawk66

Bratt Pitt / Paula’s Cinema Club @Paula_Guthat

Richard Erdman / Paulas Cinema Club @Paula_Guthat

Hedda Hopper / Carole and Co. @vp81955

Frank Faylen / A Shroud of Thoughts @mercurie80

Thelma Ritter / The Last Drive-in

Fay Bainter (in The Lady and the Mob (1939) / The Movie Night’s Group Guide to Classic Film

Barton MacLane / Silver Screen Classics Blog @PaulBee71

Charles Coburn / Second Sight Cinema @zleegaspar

Keenan Wynn / The Cinephile & Mrs. Muir

George Zucco / Caftan Woman @CaftanWoman

Una O’Connor / Wide Screen World @ratzo318

Charlie Ruggles / Nickie’s Vintage Life (Instagram)

William Powell / That William Powell site

Franklin Pangborn / Silver Screenings @925screenings

 

 

Skelton Knaggs

This following is a guest post on SKELTON KNAGGS for the 7th annual WHAT A CHARACTER! BLOGATHON. The author is Bill Shaffer- President of the Kansas Silent Film Festival, recently retired as Director of KTWU for over 40 years, the go-to fella for anything happening in the “old movie realm” in this corner of the Sunflower State, a spaghetti western aficionado, and a helluva swell guy and personal friend…

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Skelton Knaggs is one of my favorite character actors because – wait a second! Skelton Knaggs? Who is that? Well, I often remember him as the creepy little guy in various 1940’s-era horror movies – three for Val Lewton’s unit at RKO and three more for Universal. However, the most famous bit I ever saw him in was as a menacing gunslinger hanging around Jane Russell’s hotel in Paramount’s terrific Bob Hope comedy, THE PALEFACE from 1948. One look at that face and hearing that voice like a rasping knife and he’s pretty hard to forget.

Knaggs was born in 1911 across the pond in the Hillsborough district of Sheffield, England. He moved to London where he attended the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art and became a Shakespearean actor. Aside from doing the Shakespeare plays on stage, Knaggs appeared in a few British films including 1939’s Michael Powell production, THE SPY IN BLACK where he was cast as a German orderly. He quickly found his way to Los Angeles and began appearing in Hollywood films including TORTURE SHIP (also 1939) and DIAMOND FRONTIER (1941). He was often cast in sinister parts in horror films due to his diminutive and eccentric looks, his prominent teeth and his bony, pock-marked face. He didn’t have too many lines. One look at that face and you’ll remember him.

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His first association with producer Val Lewton was not a particularly good one, although the film, THE GHOST SHIP (1943) turned out to be one of his best. Knaggs played the part of a mute sailor who narrates the story even though he never speaks. This impressively suspenseful Lewton film was directed by Mark Robson, but it became the center of a plagiarism case in which the plaintiff won and all prints of the film had to be pulled from theaters. It sadly did not see the light of a movie or TV screen until the mid-1990’s. A stunning DVD version appeared in 2006, thanks to Warner Home Video. For Lewton, there were also performances in ISLE OF THE DEAD (1945) and BEDLAM (1946), both with Boris Karloff. He also supported Karloff in DICK TRACY MEETS GRUESOME (1947) and landed another part in DICK TRACY VS. CUEBALL (1946).

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For Universal, Knaggs had good bits in THE INVISIBLE MAN’S REVENGE (1944) with Vincent Price, the all-star monster mash, HOUSE OF DRACULA (1945) and the Sherlock Holmes thriller, TERROR BY NIGHT (1946). In between all of these genre productions, Knaggs also managed appearances in some top-rated films like NONE BUT THE LONELY HEART (1943) with Cary Grant, THE LODGER (1944) with Laird Cregor, THE PICTURE OF DORIAN GRAY (1945) with Hurd Hatfield and Donna Reed, FOREVER AMBER (1947) with Linda Darnell and the aforementioned PALEFACE (1948) with Bob Hope and Jane Russell.

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After MASTER MINDS in 1949 with the Bowery Boys, Knaggs returned to London where he married Thelma Crawshaw and then returned to Hollywood for a number of film performances. There was CAPTAIN VIDEO: MASTER OF THE STRATOSPHERE, a 1951 serial for Columbia Pictures that ran for 15-chapters in as many weeks, BLACKBEARD THE PIRATE (1952) with Robert Newton, ROGUE’S MARCH (1953) with Peter Lawford and Richard Greene, BOTANY BAY (1953) with Alan Ladd, CASANOVA’S BIG NIGHT (1954) again with Bob Hope and finally, MOONFLEET in 1955, a period adventure film with Stewart Granger and James Mason. It was the final American film to be directed by German-emigre, Fritz Lang. It would be the last film for Skelton Knaggs. He was battling alcohol addiction and died of cirrhosis of the liver at the age of 43 in Los Angeles.  

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This post is an entry in the 7th annual WHAT A CHARACTER! BLOGATHON, as hosted by Aurora @CitizenScreen of Once Upon A Screen, Paula @Paula_Guthat of Paula’s Cinema Club and Kellee @IrishJayhawk66 of Outspoken & Freckled. Follow up with all 3 days of this mega blogging event, Dec 14 – 16, 2018, for informative contributions!     

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Announcing the 7th Annual WHAT A CHARACTER! BLOGATHON

Announcing the SEVENTH ANNUAL What A Character! Blogathon
December 14-16, 2018

GoldDiggersOf193324-650x493When you re-watch your favorite films, what keeps you coming back for more? A great story with sharp writing? No doubt. Beautiful costumes, swanky set designs, and stunning cinematography? Most assuredly. But the performances are key to any movie. While we all look forward to the popular leading actors, it is the stand-out, scene-stealing supporting actors that feel like “home.”

Wise-cracking Eve Arden, nurturing Louise Beavers, sassy Thelma Ritter, double-take pro Edward Everett Horton, tart-tongued Edna May Oliver, gravelly-voiced Eddie “Rochester” Anderson, fatherly Charles Coburn, frazzled Franklin Pangborn, bull frog voiced, barrel-chested Eugene Pallette, cigar chomping Ned Sparks… these and so many more lovable character actors are who we look forward to seeing as our dearest ole chums. We all could use a trusted sidekick.

For the seventh consecutive year, we as the blogathon hosting trio of Aurora of Once Upon A Screen/ @CitizenScreen, Paula of Paula’s Cinema Club/ @Paula_Guthat, and yours truly Kellee of Outspoken & Freckled/ @IrishJayhawk66 invite you to join us for the WHAT A CHARACTER! BLOGATHON 2018, December 14, 15, 16, as we pay tribute to the brilliance of the supporting players.

Our objective for the What A Character! Blogathon has always been to shed the spotlight on these lesser-known but equally talented thespians, whose names usually appeared below the title. If you wish salute your favorite on-screen character actor- the quirky maid, that ornery hotel manager, frustrated maître D’, sassy best friend, a hot-tempered heavy, flabbergasted father, sarcastic sidekick, grumpy boss, gobsmacked butler- then you’ve come to the right place. Please review the guidelines below first, and leave me a comment.

  • Let at least one of the hosts know which character actor is your choice.
  • Don’t take it for granted we know exactly who you are or where your blog resides – please include the title and URL of your blog, also your Twitter handle if you have one.
  • We will not accept repeats (previously published posts), or duplicates, since there are so many greats worthy of attention, but your choices are not limited to classics. You can choose any character actor from any era and from the medium of television, which has featured talented regulars since the beginning, and continues to do so.
  • Publish your WAC! post on either December 14, 15, or 16, 2018. Let us know if you have a date preference; otherwise, we’ll split publicizing duties equally among the three days.
  • Please include one of our banners (see below) within your What A Character! post.
  • Additionally, we appreciate when you include [one of] the WAC! 2018 event banner[s] included in this post on your blog itself to help us promote the event.
  • Thank you for sending any of us the direct link to your post once you have published it. Searching on social media sites can lead to missed entries.
  • My contact info: prattkellee@gmail.com / twitter~ @IrishJayhawk66 ~or, simply leave a comment below
  • HAVE FUN and spread the word!

Here are the spectacular banners Aurora has created for you to promote on your blogs…

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Participating blogs and their choice of actors:

Walter Abel ~ Another Old Movie Blog

Sara Allgood ~Maddy Loves Her Classic Films

Lionel Atwill ~ Paula’s Cinema Club

Beulah Bondi ~ Once Upon A Screen

Elisha Cook, Jr. ~ Outspoken & Freckled

Jean Dixon ~ One Gal’s Musings

Alan Hale (Sr) ~ Silver Screen Classics

Margaret Hamilton ~ Wide Screen World

Ed Harris ~ Reel Weedgie Midget Reviews

Eileen Heckart ~ The Last Drive-In

Frieda Inescort ~ Sister Celluloid

Skelton Knaggs ~ Bill Shaffer, guest blogger on Outspoken & Freckled

Jack Lambert ~ Caftan Woman

Charles McGraw ~ The Old Hollywood Garden

Stephen McNally ~ CineMaven’s Essays From The Couch

Agnes Morehead ~ In The Good Old Days of Classic Hollywood

Eugene Pallette ~ Carole & Co.

Elizabeth Patterson ~ Backstory: A Guide To Classic Film

Nat Pendleton ~ Sarah as guest blogger on Once Upon A Screen

Thelma Ritter ~ A Shroud Of Thoughts

Everett Sloane in LADY FROM SHANGHAI ~ Silver Screenings

Kay Thompson ~ The Lady Eve’s Reel Life

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Vanessa

*This WAC! Blogathon is dedicated in memory to two very fine character actors whom we lost this year. James Karen (1923 – 2018) was a hard-working actor who was a personal friend of Buster Keaton and frequent attendee of the Buster Keaton Celebration in Kansas and the TCMFF. Vanessa Marquez (1968 – 2018) was an extraordinary actress of film and TV and an even better friend. She is greatly missed and we continue to hold her close in our hearts.

Thank you to TCM for the tagline inspiration and to all you bloggers and film fans for your ongoing participation and support for seven years running! And a big ShoutOut to my fellow co-hosts who inspire me all year long for being such marvelous and lovely characters themselves!

~Kellee

 

 

 

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