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

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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:

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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

 

 

Elisha Cook Jr

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A crazy-eyed neurotic. A nervous noir thug. A sell-out weasel. These are not exactly the most flattering depictions of a character. But these are just a few of the characters Elisha Cook Jr. was best known. “Cookie” was a true working actor with over 200 credits across stage, film, and television for a career that lasted nearly sixty years.

Starting as young as 14 years old, Elisha began in vaudeville and doing stage work. By the 1930s, Elisha kicked off his film career in Pre-Codes. Here’s a lip-sticked Elisha, along with Frances Underwood, from his first on-screen role in HER UNBORN CHILD (1930). The promotional marketing pitched, “A vividly dramatic all-talker of the Broadway stage hit which rocked the nation with its frankness.” I’m hooked.

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Soon, he transitioned from his squeaky clean, youthful roles into a much darker presence. With a petite stature of 5 foot 5″ he became known as Hollywood’s lightest heavy. He could gain the audience’s sympathy as the timid man with equal vigor as he portrayed the cowardly villains. It can be argued that he was the first emotionally-conflicted gangster heavy.

One of his most notable roles came in 1941 as “Wilmer the gunsel” in John Huston’s THE MALTESE FALCON. He is a vivid stand-out even though surrounded by a stellar cast. Even more impressibly, most of his scenes include very little dialogue. As Sydney Greenstreet’s gun for hire, he is frequently and frustratedly humiliated as sport by Humphrey Bogart’s Sam Spade. Unforgettable use of restraint and characterization by Cook’s performance makes him an iconic figure.

A year prior to THE MALTESE FALCON, Cook appeared in STRANGERS ON THE THRD FLOOR, considered by many film scholars as the original Film Noir. Elisha thrived in this style of film, finding a steady stream of work for his ‘type.’ According to a New York Times piece (written upon the occasion of his death 1995), Cook described this era in career…

“I played rats, pimps, informers, hopheads and communists,” he once said, recalling that as a character actor generally assigned to subsidiary roles, he had to take what was offered. “I didn’t have the privilege of reading scripts. Guys called me up and said, ‘You’re going to work tomorrow.”  (“Elisha Cook Jr., Villain in Many Films, Dies at 91” by Robert MCG Thomas Jr/ New York Times/ May 21, 1995)

And he kept working. One of the most memorable Elisha Cook Jr performances is his frenzied, drum solo from the noir classic PHANTOM LADY (1944). After exchanging flirtations with Ella Raines as Carol “Kansas” Richman on the hunt for evidence, Cook as drummer Cliff Milburn with the key to evidence, takes her to his jazz jamming session. There he works up a substance-infused, climatic drumming crescendo that can only be described as orgasmic. The censors must have sweat a few drumsticks of their own. Take a peek for yourself : http://www.tcm.com/mediaroom/video/1324863/Phantom-Lady-Movie-Clip-You-Sure-Know-How-To-Beat-It-Out.html  

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Beyond his work on film noirs and with legendary co-stars and filmmakers, Cook branched out into other genres. One of my favorite classic horrors is a William Castle classic, HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL (1959) starring Vincent Price. But as in all of his work, Elisha Cook Jr.’s small role leaves a strong impression. Here’s our spooky introduction to his role as Watson Pritchard:

 

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“The ghosts are moving tonight, restless… hungry. May I introduce myself? I’m Watson Pritchard. In just a moment I’ll show you the only really haunted house in the world. Since it was built a century ago, seven people, including my brother, have been murdered in it. Since then, I’ve owned the house. I only spent one night then and when they found me in the morning, I… I was almost dead.” Memorable, eh?

As many actors did, Cook garnered more gigs by moving to television in the 1950s, starting with the popular westerns (“Wagon Train,” “Rawhide,” “Gunsmoke,” “Bonanza”). One of his career highlights includes his bit role as Stonewall Torrey in SHANE (1953). Watch him being gunned down in the muddy streets by Jack Palance:

For the most part, TV is where Cook filled his resume for the decades that followed. From looking at his acting credits in the 50s, 60s, 70s, and 80s, I’m not sure if there was a TV show that didn’t include him somewhere. His last acting job was for 13 episodes of “Magnum PI” as ‘Ice Pick’ (1981 – 1988).

Because he worked nearly constantly, I cannot possibly list them all. But here are some fun favorites, in no particular order:

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“The Duo Defy” episode from BATMAN, aired March 30, 1967. Eli Wallach as Mr. Freeze, Leslie Parrish in fur, and Elisha Cook Jr. as Professor Isaacson.

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Ketty Lester sinks her teeth into Elisha Cook Jr. in BLACULA (1972).

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Cook as a hood Frank Lucas, opposite Laurel and Hardy, in A-HAUNTING WE WILL GO (1942).

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Elisha Cook Jr with William Shatner in the “Court Martial” episode of “STAR TREK” (1967).

Born Elisha Van Slyck Cook Jr. in San Francisco on December 26th, 1903, his 115th birthday is approaching soon. The other personal detail that seems very interesting of this reliable, working actor is his love life. Married twice, he married his first wife Mary Lou at the age of 25 and they divorced 13 years later. Mary Lou Cook was an actress as well and died just 3 years after they divorced. Two years after his divorce from Mary Lou, he married his 2nd wife, Elvira Ann “Peggy” McKenna in 1943. Peggy was a huge fan of Carole Landis and her fandom led to a close friendship. Elisha and Peggy divorced in 1968 and divorced. Oddly, they remarried just two tears later and remained married until her death in 1990. It was during the same year of her death that Elisha suffered a stroke that took away his ability to speak. Five years later, he died on May 18, 1995 in Big Pine, CA. Even in real life, he seemed to be pillar of hard work ethic, always sticking to it, no matter what.

Although thought of mostly as the bug-eyed psychotic or as the last surviving member of the MALTESE FALCON cast, Elisha Cook Jr. proved he may come in a small package and take on small roles, but he left a big impact in a variety of lasting work. I found this video tribute to Elisha Cook Jr. Hope you enjoy it, too..

My tribute piece to Elisha Cook Jr. is part of the 7th annual WHAT A CHARACTER! BLOGATHON, December 14, 15, 16th, 2018, hosted by Aurora @CitizenScreen of Once Upon A Screen, Paula @Paula_Guthat of Paula’s Cinema Club, and yours truly. Please enjoy all the fabulous entries from this fun weekend!

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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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Day One: 7th annual WHAT A CHARACTER! BLOGATHON

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Today we bring you the first day of the 7th annual WHAT A CHARACTER! BLOGATHON, hosted by yours truly and my fellow co-hosts, the classic film loving ladies: Paula of Paula’s Cinema Club @Paula_Guthat and Aurora of Once Upon A Screen @CitizenScreen.

As promised, this annual event celebrates the character actors. Those unsung heroes of the silver screen, those familiar faces who often steal every scene from the leads… we salute you! Whether it’s the frustrated hotel manager, or sharp-witted maids, perhaps a sassy sidekick, or even the best friend… in so many ways, the character role is often our favorite, albeit small, performances of a film. We have invited bloggers to scribe on their favorite characters. Here they are!

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Gill of Reelweedgiemidget Reviews @realweegiemidge discusses the usually second- billing, yet always first-rate performances of Engaging Roles from Enigmatic ED HARRIS Read about it here: https://weegiemidget.wordpress.com/starring/actors-2/ed-harris/ 

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Maddy of Maddy Loves Her Classic Films presents SARA ALLGOOD. As Maddy affectionately adds, “She truly was one of the most gifted and natural actresses of the classic film era.” Read more: https://maddylovesherclassicfilms.wordpress.com/2018/12/12/the-seventh-annual-what-a-character-blogathon-sara-allgood/

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Paddy of the Caftan Woman @CaftanWoman scribes on The Villainy of JACK LAMBERT. She describes him, “His craggy face and intimidating physique made Lambert a tough guy walking.” Read all the details on memorable character: https://www.caftanwoman.com/2018/12/what-character-blogathon-villainy-of.html

Actor Nat Pendleton

Sarah of the Mrs. Charles blog scribes on NAT PENDLETON. Sarah explains how she came to know a great deal about this prolific character actor who was much more than just “a likeable, but not too bright policeman, gangster, assistant…” Learn more here: https://mrscharlesonline.wordpress.com/2018/12/12/nat-pendleton/

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Jacqueline of Another Old Movie Blog offers her thoughts on WALTER ABEL. As she writes, “He was worthy of lead roles, but he was one of those actors who managed to turn even a small character part into the lead for even just a few moments.” Find out more here: https://anotheroldmovieblog.blogspot.com/2018/12/walter-abel.html?fbclid=IwAR04JcaUXcv9VSoMrWNz2yYKSINLBaC8siSW5g0cEz2VfXf5VCxJpmvDr6I

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One Gal’s Musings presents, JEAN DIXON. As she describes this scene-stealer, “Jean Dixon was once Hollywood’s Everywoman.” Read more on this relateable character: https://onegalsmusings.blogspot.com/2018/12/what-character-jean-dixon.html

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Theresa of CineMaven’s Essays From The Couch joins us. She reached her choice of character actor as she explains, “And who better to dive into but the tall, dark, ruggedly handsome and oh so dangerous… STEPHEN MCNALLY.” When he’s bad, he’s good! We agree, Theresa! Read on, friends: https://cinemavensessaysfromthecouch.wordpress.com/2018/12/14/stephen-mcnally-when-hes-bad-hes-good/

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Quiggy from The Midnite Drive-In saddles up with a tribute to a frequent John Wayne cowpoke, HANK WORDEN. As Quiggy adds, “And I’d hazard a guess that if you thought of minor characters in Wayne movies, at least one or two in the top 10 would be a character played by Worden.  Some of them were quite memorable.” More: https://midnitedrive-in.blogspot.com/2018/12/hank-worden-and-john-wayne.html

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Next up, Constance of Silver Scenes pays tribute to GEOFFREY KEEN – The Minister From England. As she notes, “He cut an imposing figure, was always well-groomed and cultured ( you’d never catch Keen among lowly people ), and walked in an air of authority.” Read on here:  https://silverscenesblog.blogspot.com/2018/12/geoffrey-keen-minister-from-england.html

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Last but not least, Bill Shaffer as guest blogger on Outspoken & Freckled offers up the distinctively familiar face of SKELTON KNAGGS. As Bill observes, “One look at that face and hearing that voice like a rasping knife and he’s pretty hard to forget.” Discover more about this character with a lesser known name and better known face: https://kelleepratt.com/2018/12/15/skelton-knaggs/

Thanks so much to all of our talented participants (who allow me to learn new and interesting details about characters every time we host this) and big kudos to my fellow co-hosts Paula and Aurora! Be sure to read all of these fascinating entries to our blogathon all weekend long..

Day 2: Once Upon A Screen

Day 3: Paula’s Cinema Club

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Zasu Pitts, Funny Lady with a Funny Name

 

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First things first. Before I can gush on about this distinctively funny lady with the fluttering hands that stole every scene, one must learn how to say her name correctly. Oh sure, many of my ‘old movie weirdo’ friends may know, but it’s a common mistake. To honor her properly, let’s begin with this lesson, provided via Thelma Todd and ZaSu herself:

YouTube: ZaSu Pitts: Learn My Name!

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Now that we all know how say “Say-zoo,” a name which is a combo of her aunts Eliza and Susan, let’s explore the memorable ways this distinctive lady who began life not too far from me in Parsons, Kansas, became one of the most recognized faces in Hollywood.

Her most notable characters were the woeful worrywarts. Physically, her appearance was defined by delicate, thin lines and a frequent focus on her ever- waving, fidgeting fingers. Her tiny mouth was shaped like a kewpie doll with the corners often turned down. Her large, soft eyes were doe-like and she usually looked upward. Her voice had a distinctive mumbling of melancholic concern, often with an “oh dear…” muttering to herself. She gained the reputation of stealing every scene.

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ZaSu’s signature characterizations were such a fan favorite she was parodied in cartoons, a reflection that she was immersed in pop culture. If you’ve seen Olive Oyl from Max Fleischer’s Popeye the Sailor cartoons, you are already familiar with the signature ZaSu Pitts tone and voice. She was also featured in Looney Tunes, in Hollywood-ribbing toons like “Mother Goose Goes Hollywood.”

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Pitts often faced the challenge of looking too similar to Lillian Gish. Here, with Mary Pickford, THE LITTLE PRINCESS (1917).

Born Eliza Susan Pitts on January 3rd, 1894 (her 124th birthday is next month), the family moved to Santa Cruz, California seeking sunnier opportunities. Despite her shy demeanor and bird-like qualities, Pitts was a natural performing on stage and moved to LA by age twenty-one. Working a small part with icon Mary Pickford, A LITTLE PRINCESS (1917) was her first break on the big screen.

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Erich von Stroheim’s masterpiece GREED 

Soon, she was starring in one-reelers and feature films, working with greats like directors King Vidor and Eric Von Stroheim (i.e. the silent masterpiece, GREED)- in a range of parts from tragedy to comedy to drama. Her popularity increased in the 1930s, with a demand for her in character roles in comedies. She was partnered in series with Thelma Todd (Hal Roach promoted the two as a female Laurel and Hardy) and with Slim Summerville.

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mastering comedy with Thelma Todd

The 1940s brought her success to radio, vaudeville and Broadway, working with the biggest names in entertainment. She transitioned easily to television in the 1950s, in popular roles like cruise ship beautician Elvira Nugent on “The Gale Storm Show.” But this decade also introduced ill health, with a cancer diagnosis. As a fitting tribute to her own career, her last role would be in the epic ensemble of comic legends, in IT’S A MAD, MAD, MAD, MAD WORLD (1963). Even with health battles, she continued working until her death at the age of sixty-nine on June 7, 1963.

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Pitts’ last role in IT’s A MAD, MAD, MAD, MAD WORLD

ZaSu Pitts was a true wallflower success story. She proved that a shy girl from Kansas, with more matronly than cover-girl looks, could be a huge star as a character actress. She worked from the silents to the sixties, in every entertainment medium (film, radio, vaudeville, television and on Broadway), from dramatic roles to comedy, and she worked with some of the biggest stars and filmmakers in Hollywood’s heydays.

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The more ZaSu films I watch, the more I am thoroughly charmed by her. And to see her range from tragic epic dramatic roles like GREED to super silly shorts with Thelma Todd, I am also in awe of her talent. What a character!

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This article on character acting legend ZaSu Pitts is my contribution to the 6th annual WHAT A CHARACTER Blogathon, hosted by Aurora of Once Upon a Screen, Paula of Paula’s Cinema Club and yours truly. You can read the other entries on character actors from this blogathon from days one, two and three:

It’s here! 6th Annual WHAT A CHARACTER! Blogathon: Day One

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The anticipation is over! Today we bring you the first day of the 6th annual What A Character Blogathon, hosted by yours truly and my fellow co-hosts, the classic film loving ladies: Paula of Paula’s Cinema Club @Paula_Guthat and Aurora of Once Upon A Screen @CitizenScreenings.

As promised, this annual event celebrates the character actors. Quirky and silly roles in the service industry like the frustrated hotel manager or the reliable and sharp-witted maid, a supportive sidekick, the best friend… in so many ways, the character role is often our favorite scene-stealing performances of a film. We invite bloggers to scribe on their favorite characters. Now let’s begin!

Ruth of Silver Screenings brings us THE BEAUTIFUL REFUGEES OF CASABLANCA . She focuses on the lesser-known players in the iconic film in stunning imagery.

Real Weegie Midget Reviews talks about IAN MCSHANE whom he describes as “always been there in movies, on TV and now making his God-like presence known… from cheeky British Chappie to “Dallas” to God-like parts.”

Jack Deth, as guest blogger on Paula’s Cinema Club, describes the “wise ass to the stars” DANIEL STERN, “creating multiple personae for cinema and television, while holding on tightly to his gift of dry, wry. sarcastic and occasional wise-ass humor.”

Steve Bailey of Movie Movie Blog Blog offers a glimpse into “one of those actors whom most people probably wouldn’t recognize by name, but as soon as they see him on-screen, they say, “Yeah, I’ve seen that guy before.”  BRUCE ALTMAN, UNHERALDED SUPPORTING ACTOR.

Wolffian Classics Movies Digest explores EUGENE PALLETTE, “simply a marvelous actor in any role.”

Chris of Blog Of The Darned profiles CHARLES LANE, “Specializing in crabby authority figures, Charles Lane was the go-to guy when film or TV producers needed a mean miserly lawyer, judge, tax collector, banker, or landlord.”

Paddy of Caftan Woman hears the “full, rich baritone – a round voice, a pleasing voice – a voice in control of itself” of JOHN ALEXANDER We know that voice!

Annette of Hometowns To Hollywood road trips via Minnesota to review CLINTON SUNDBERG 

Quiggy of The Midnite Drive-In takes us on a ROAD TO MADNESS, exploring the many character roles of It’s A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World.

A Person In The Dark reviews “a real pro” who worked both stage and screen, from the silents to the sixties, REGINALD DENNY.

Movie Mom provides her take on THELMA RITTER For her, “Ritter is the very essence of the character actor, creating vitally real, relatable characters who made the world around the stars real and illuminate the story’s themes.”

Thoughts All Sorts shows love for A Strong Character in MARK STRONG.

More to come! Return back here throughout the day for more entries.  As our weekend of What A Character! Blogathon continues, explore Day Two with Aurora at ONCE UPON A SCREEN and Day Three with Paula at PAULA’S CINEMA CLUB.

 

Announcement: 6th Annual WHAT A CHARACTER! BLOGATHON

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Announcing the SIXTH ANNUAL What A Character! Blogathon
December 15-17, 2017

When you think about your very favorite classic movies, what makes them your favorites? The films worth watching multiple times, endlessly discussing, or just chilling out with…what makes them the cinematic equivalent of comfort food? Sure, great writing is key, but those lines are just words without the right actors delivering them. Beautiful costumes are great, but without the right actors wearing them, they’re just clothes. Stunning, authentic art direction and set design are wonderful, but empty, without the right actors inhabiting that world. And gorgeous cinematography can only hold your eye for so long, without the right actors being lit. And so on.

Chances are, it’s not just the perfect leads that win your go-to films their place in your heart — it’s their pals and sidekicks as well. The wise-cracking best friend or fellow chorine, cranky boss, sympathetic bartender, confirmed spinster secretary, intrepid cop, jealous girlfriend, second-in-command racketeer or bomber pilot, workaholic director…faces familiar from their appearances in many films over the years, their names — not so much. To take a couple obvious examples, what would Casablanca be without Dooley Wilson, Sydney Greenstreet, Peter Lorre, Conrad Veidt, S.Z. “Cuddles” Sakall, Madeleine LeBeau, John Qualen, and Leonid Kinskey? How about My Man Godfrey without Alice Brady, Eugene Pallette, Gail Patrick, Jean Dixon, Alan Mowbray, and Mischa Auer? Probably pretty good films, but just not the same, not as lovable, not as classic.

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Thus the objective of 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, but who always elevated any kind of material from Oscar-winning to the most tired, often without saying a word. Please join us- Paula of Paula’s Cinema Club/ @Paula_Guthat, Aurora of Once Upon A Screen/ @CitizenScreen, and yours truly Kellee of Outspoken & Freckled/ @IrishJayhawk66 – for the SIXTH year in a row of paying tribute to the versatility and depth of supporting players.
If a salute to lesser-known but essential Hollywood thespians is right up your movie alley, please review the guidelines below, then leave me a comment below.

  • 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 15, 16, or 17, 2017. Let us know if you have a date preference; otherwise, we’ll split publicizing duties equally among the three days.
  • Please include [one of] the WAC! 2017 event banner[s] included in this post on your blog to help us promote the event. Please also include the banner in your What A Character! post.
  • Please send 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!

Thank you to TCM for the tagline inspiration and to all you bloggers and film fans for your ongoing participation and support for six years running!

Participating blogs and their choice of actors:

Caftan Woman – John Alexander

Movie Movie Blog Blog – Bruce Altman

Taking Up Room – Eve Arden

The Last Drive In – Martin Balsam

Old Hollywood Films – Beulah Bondi

Wide Screen World – Alan Hale, Sr.

The Old Hollywood Garden – Edward Everett Horton

Real Weegie Midget Reviews – Ian McShane

In the Good Old Days of Classic Hollywood – Agnes Moorehead

Wolfian Classic Movies Digest – Eugene Pallette

Carole & Co. – Nat Pendleton

Outspoken & Freckled – ZaSu Pitts

The Hitless Wonder Movie Blog – Michael Ripper

The Dream Book Blog – Elizabeth Russell

A Shroud of Thoughts – William Schallert

Cinematic Scribblings – Haruko Sugimura

Hometowns to Hollywood – Clinton Sundberg

Once Upon a Screen – Mary Wickes

Silver Screenings – European Character Actors in Casablanca

Silver Scenes – TBA

~Kellee

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Joan Blondell, Shining Star Forced to be a Satellite

“I don’t know what the secret to longevity as an actress is… maybe it’s the audience seeing itself in you.” … Joan Blondell

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Joanie should know. Joan Blondell, born Rose Joan Blondell on August 30, 1906, in NYC, lived her entire life performing on stage and screen. She died of leukemia on December 25, 1979 in Santa Monica, CA. It is bittersweet to honor this remarkable woman so close to what will be the 37th anniversary of her death this Christmas day.

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Joan was born to entertain audiences. She cut her teeth working with her comic parents on the vaudeville stages from age three to seventeen, while educated at the Professional Children’s School. She was a seasoned pro by the time she transitioned to the Ziegfeld Follies and then onto the Broadway stage.

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It was a Broadway production that paired her with James Cagney, which lead to five more celebrated film features, starting with John G. Adolfi’s SINNERS’ HOLIDAY (1931) where they reprised their stage roles. The other Blondell/Cagney paired films that followed are:  William Wellman’s OTHER MEN’S WOMEN (1931), William Wellman’s THE PUBLIC ENEMY (1931), Howard Hawks’ THE CROWD ROARS (1932), Lloyd Bacon’s FOOTLIGHT PARADE (1933), and HE WAS HER MAN (1934). The chemistry sizzle on the screen was visible between these two talents, making for memorable performances that launched both of their careers into an explosion of roles in the Pre-Code era. While they supposedly kept their romance limited to the screen, Cagney said she was the only woman other than his wife he ever loved.

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But to give you some perspective on just how much Blondell worked starting with the early talkies of the Pre-Codes and throughout the duration of the 1930s, she was in over fifty films during that decade alone. Most of this ridiculously busy schedule could be attributed to her contract with Warner Brothers. They kept her working fast and furious in roles at a time when being employed was a very good thing. And she enjoyed her WB family of co-star friends and filming crews immensely. The problem was, while she found herself in-demand and in work, she was not only typecast but stuck below the top tier of the marquee.

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While others demanded more and knew how to cause ripples within the political studio system in a persuasive way (like her good friend Bette Davis), Blondell thought of her job as a job. Joan punched the clock and went home when the job was done. She worked extremely hard, acted consistently professional, but didn’t desire to play the ambitious game.

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Working free of the studio playbook in the 1940s and 1950s, the work was less frequent and the pace less brutal; yet offered some meatier roles, such as Gail Richards in TOPPER RETURNS (1941), Aunt Sissy in A TREE GROWS IN BROOKLYN (1945), Zeena Krumbein in NIGHTMARE ALLEY (1947), and Annie Rawlins in THE BLUE VEIL (1951) for which she was nominated for An Oscar, Best Actress in a Supporting Role. Even still, she struggled to garner critical acclaim in a way that moved her name up to the leading lady, mega star status.

The 1950s ushered in the television age and Joan Blondell was determined to be a player. The frequency of roles kept her busier but yet again, she found herself working harder, not smarter in struggling to move her name to the top position in billing.

The 1960s and 1970s brought memorable roles such as Jenny in SUPPORT YOUR LOCAL GUNFIGHTER (1971), Lady Fingers in THE CINCINNATI KID (1965), Sarah Goode in OPENING NIGHT (1977) and Dolly in THE CHAMP (1979). Her TV work continued with roles such as Lottie Hatfield in “Here Come the Brides.” Fans unaware of her saucy and leggy days as a Pre-Code platinum blonde may know her more for her later work such as Vi in GREASE (1978) or caught her in reruns from retro TV networks such her bit parts in 50’s TV westerns, Starsky and Hutch (1976), The Love Boat (1978), Fantasy Island (1979) and so much more.

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She worked right up until the end, even while battling the Leukemia that ultimately took her life in 1979, with her last role being Aunt Coll in THE WOMAN INSIDE (1981), released posthumously. With 160 acting credits to her name, and after publishing her popular 1972 autobiographical novel “Center Door Fancy,” Joan never quit.

Married three times, divorced three times, her first husband famed cinematographer George S. Barnes (m. 1933-1936) was a decision reflecting her “naive sophisticate”(as James Cagney called her) ways of a younger Joanie, fresh in her film career. Emotionally dysfunctional, this relationship was fated for disaster. Barnes was still married to his third wife as their romance grew and he assured her the marriage was on paper only and would be ended swiftly. During this time of officially divorcing his third wife and marrying Joan (he went on to marry for a total seven times), she became pregnant and he arranged for the termination. Their son and only child from the marriage, TV producer/director Norman Scott Barnes was born in 1934 but later changed his last name to Powell in 1938 when Barnes relinquished all parental rights and he was adopted by Joan’s second husband.

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Her second marriage to actor Dick Powell (m. 1936-1944) was more stable but tepid in romance. In addition to adopting Norman, they had a child together, Ellen Powell, who is known for her makeup department work in film and tv, such as her Emmy nominated work in hair styling.

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Joan and Dick made ten musicals together. But after they both had grown weary of the incessant typecasting of formulaic musicals each began over a decade prior, just as they attempted to move their careers in more dramatic roles, their marriage also became stagnant. Right up until the time Dick left Joan for actress June Allyson. In this same pivotal year Dick Powell left one marriage for another, he left his sugary musicals and boyish charm behind with MURDER MY SWEET (1944), launching a dramatically different type in his cinematic world with film noir and never looked back.

Her last husband (m. 1947-1950), producer Michael Todd was said to be physically abusive and a financial mess, thanks to heavy gambling and repeatedly poor investments. She found this relationship to be her most passionate. Great for the bedroom initially but later his behavior revealed itself into abuse. His chaotic ways also wiped out her savings. So she continued to work for the next three decades-because financially she had to.

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She wasn’t always lucky in love or ambition, but certainly made up for it in talent, enduring work ethic and generosity of spirit. Time after time, this unforgettable performer played second-fiddle, the rapid-fire, sharp-tongued best friend, the second lead, the snarky office gal, the lingerie-clad roomie, the sharp opportunist, the frowzy, lovable saloon owner, the gangster’s girlfriend, the wise aunt, and the down-to-earth, tell-it-like-it-is scene-stealer. She was all these nuances of woman and more. She mastered tv and film, Pre-Codes, dramas, and comedies. But she never truly reached the well-deserved splendor of consistent top billing.

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While I admire the entire breadth of Joan Blondell’s work, I am always biased towards her early days of Pre-Codes. You couldn’t find a better pair of sexy gams in those Busby Berkley musicals and she delivered such hilariously sassy lines with the perfect punch. Take a look at her delicious delivery of “As long as they’ve got sidewalks, YOU’VE got a job!” as she proceeds to kick the woman out the door, right in the tuchus, in Lloyd Bacon’s FOOTLIGHT PARADE (1933) or her haunting “My Forgotten Man” in Mervyn LeRoy’s THE GOLD DIGGERS OF 1933. There are too many to list here (because the woman was a damn work-horse during those years!) But no matter how small the role, Joan Blondell made it her own and she made it memorable. So yes, Joanie, you did know the secret to longevity as actress, and perhaps your greatest role in life was that of survivor- a role this audience member and countless other fans can relate.

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*This was my contribution to the What A Character! Blogathon, hosted by Aurora of Once Upon A Screen, Paula of Paula’s Cinema Club, and yours truly. Please review all three days for a recap of fantastic character actor tributes… THANK YOU & ENJOY!! 🙂

day one: kellee

day two: aurora

day three: paula

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Victor McLaglen – A Man as Big as the Screen

*The following is a guest post by my husband Gary, aka Santa on twitter as @SantaIsThinking

I signed up for the What A Character! Blogathon to write a post on one of my favorite character actors, Victor McLaglen (pronounced Muh-clog-len, not Mack-loff-len) because he appears in my favorite movies, adorns one of my walls at home, and reminds me in so many ways of my dad.

As I did research on him I realized that plenty had been written on him so what could I possibly add to that? He’s very loved by so many. So I decided, as I sit here with a Guinness, to focus on two things that I find most interesting about him, his adventurous youth and his big screen (grin) charm. vm-image-1

Victor Andrew de Bier Everleigh McLaglen (10 December 1886 – 7 November 1959)

His Adventurous Youth – Boers, Boxing, and Baghdad

Victor McLaglen was big enough at 14 to enlist in the English Army to fight the Boers. (Sounds like a young English lad’s dream, until he was found out a short time after and had to exit the Army.) When he was 18, he moved to Canada, became a wrestler and a boxer and toured with circuses, vaudeville and Wild West shows.

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He fought under his own name and took on the nickname ‘Sharkey’ McLaglen. In 1909, he survived a 6-round exhibition bout with heavyweight champion Jack Johnson. Commenting later on the fight, “He never knocked me down . . . but he sure beat the livin’ be-Jesus out of me.” In 1918, he was named the heavyweight champion of the British Army. For the record, Victor’s lifetime boxing record (as far as is known) was 11-6-1, with 9 KOs.

He returned to Britain in 1913 and enlisted in the Army, then served as captain (acting) with the 10th Battalion, Middlesex Regiment. Besides serving in WW1, other early chapters in his life included serving as a bodyguard for an Indian Rajah and later as Provost Marshal (head of Military Police) for the city of Baghdad. In the 1920’s, he was off to Hollywood.

His Career – Big Screen Grins and Bromance

Though a big man at 6’ 2 1/2” and broad-shouldered, it was his roguish charm and big toothy smile that took up most of the big screen. He often grinned and fought his was across the screen with the biggest Hollywood stars of the day (including Cary Grant, Douglas Fairbanks, John Wayne, and Maureen O’Hara). The ease and charm with which he interacted with his co-stars served to compliment and enhance their own substantial on-screen charisma.

Victor appeared as MacChesney, in the original bromance adventure movie Gunda Din (1939). The chemistry he had with Cary Grant and Douglas Fairbanks is why this film is in my top 5 films of all time. His comic timing and dialogue delivery was on par with his co-actors. If you’ve not seen it, rent it or buy it. And if you have seen it, might be time to watch it again (so says my Guinness). As you watch these three British sergeants and their native water bearer take on a murder cult in colonial British India, you’ll see a “best buds” heroic action movie DNA that has been passed down and continues to make ripples through many more modern flicks (and not just that poor Temple of Doom movie.)

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In The Quite Man (1952), McLaglen (now late in his career) played the role of Squire “Red” Will Danaher, resident loud-mouthed brother to Mary Kate Danaher (Maureen O’Hara.) In it, Victor squares off with Sean Thornton (John Wayne) over his sister, a farmstead, and that ornery Irish pride. It’s got romance, drinking, brawling, and… brawling. And the extended cast is a who’s who of some of the best character actors of the day. By the time this was filmed, Victor was 64, but he still gave John Wayne a run for his money with his hulking physical presence and personality (though John Ford and Wayne did have to take it easy on him during filming). His performance got him his second Academy nomination for Best Supporting Actor.

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This post isn’t an exhaustive overview of McLaglen’s life and family; others have done a better job of that. Rather it’s a feel-good loving tribute to someone I love watching on film. But if you want a few other notable movies to watch to get his range, try The Informer (1935) for which he won the Academy Award for Best Actor, She Wore A Yellow Ribbon (1949) another great pairing with Ford and John Wayne and The Lost Patrol (1934). The last Pre-Code feature has Boris Karloff in it and is a great survival story.

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McLaglen received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame on February 8, 1960. I discovered his films in the early 70’s with my dad and continue to re-watch them today with my Irish wife. That lovable, hard-nosed character actor will always have a place in my heart…and I hope he can find a place in yours.

This is my entry to the 2016 What A Character! Blogathon, hosted by Kellee at Outspoken & Freckled, Aurora at Once Upon A Screen, and Paula at Paula’s Cinema Club, taking place all this weekend. Check all three day’s of posts this weekend for other fascinating character actor profiles. Catch me as @santaisthinking on Twitter.

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It’s here! 5th annual WHAT A CHARACTER! BLOGATHON: Day 1

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The day has finally arrived to honor those unsung heroes of the silver screen, the character actor. For the 5th year, the classic film obsessed trio of Aurora aka @CitizenScreen of ONCE UPON A SCREEN, Paula aka @TCM_Party & @Paula_Guthat of PAULA’S CINEMA CLUB and yours truly, Kellee aka @Irishjayhawk66 of OUTSPOKEN & FRECKLED bring you this film community tribute to the marvelous scene-stealers.

DAY ONE:

Movies Silently profiles the popular character actor known for his soothing voice, EDWARD EVERETT HORTON in one of his early talkies, After The Silents: LONELY WIVES 1931.

The Wonderful World of Cinema explains How Arthur Kennedy Changed My Cinematic Life.  As Virginie writes, “Arthur Kennedy was Arthur Kennedy, he couldn’t have been anybody else and nobody could have been him.”

Real Weegie Midget Reviews revisits a tribute post with Looking Back at the Actor, the Voice and Movies of ALAN RICKMAN.

Jack Deth, as guest blogger on Paulas Cinema Club, offers up a “Shot and a Chaser” of two works of M. EMMET WALSH:

As he summarizes, “Though I was well-versed in Walsh’s work prior to these initial meetings, it’s these two roles which reached out, took hold, and shook me to this actor’s grossly underestimated talents.”

Then, Theresa of CINEMAVEN’S Essays From The Couch takes on a “Mighty Roman”, RUTH ROMAN, in her performance in “Tomorrow Is Another Day” 1951. 

As she describes Roman, “There’s a touch of danger in her. Her performances are believable and with conviction. I’m not quite sure why she really wasn’t a bigger star.” Read more to see what Theresa unveils.

Next, Thoughts All Sorts examines the many character lives of MICHAEL WINCOTT.

As this blogger aptly scribes on Wincott, “There was something about him that just drew me in…Or, maybe it’s just that he’s a great artist, understated but vital.” We couldn’t agree more.

Next up, The Last Drive In views All Kinds of Observable Differences in the World of RUTH GORDON for us.

As this blogger writes, “There’s a vast dimension and range to Ruth Gordon’s work both her screenwriting and her acting, the effects leave a glowing trail like a shooting star.” Amen to that!


I will continue to update this list throughout the day and don’t forget to look on twitter for contributor shout-outs, too. So check back frequently! These participating writers continue to educate and dazzle us so I encourage you to not only read, but give lovely feedback, to these fine folks.

Look for day two and day three of this mega blogging event via my co-hosts, Aurora and Paula… much more to enjoy throughout the entire weekend!

A huge THANK YOU to all the contributors and my cinematic charming co-hosts! … Kellee

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