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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Barry Fitzgerald

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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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WHAT A CHARACTER! BLOGATHON: Day 1

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Today we bring you the first day of the 8th annual WHAT A CHARACTER! BLOGATHON, hosted by yours truly and my fellow co-hosts, your ambassadors of classic film: Paula of Paula’s Cinema Club @Paula_Guthat and Aurora of Once Upon A Screen @CitizenScreen.

In celebrating this annual event, this weekend we honor the unsung heroes of big and small screens everywhere, the unforgettable character actors. Who are those familiar faces who repeatedly steal every scene from the leads that you look for? Here and now, we salute you! Whether it’s the frustrated hotel manager, or sharp-witted maids, that 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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Joey at THE LAST DRIVE-IN aka @LastDrivein writes in his entry on THELMA RITTER… “With her warm and weather worn face, Thelma Ritter is the quintessential expression of a working class dame, the working class mother, the everywoman. And no one can deliver a snappy quip quite like Thelma Ritter.” Read on for What A Character! Blogathon 2019: Thelma Ritter “Always a bridesmaid and never the bride”  

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FlickChick over at A PERSON IN THE DARK scribes on ESTELLE WINWOOD, describing her as fascinating in her personal life as her on-screen persona… “She was smart, she smoked, she drank, she loved men and she looked down her veddy English nose at just about everyone. She lived to be 101 and remained feisty, irreverent and utterly charming in her crusty, dismissive and oh-so-British way.” Read more of, What A Character: The Ever Scandalous Estelle Winwood.” 

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Terry aka @mercurie80 at A SHROUD OF THOUGHTS outlines the prolific career of FRANK FAYLEN, including “…his three best known roles are very different from each other. Bim in The Lost Weekend is sadistic and actually takes joy in his taunting of the patients in his charge. Ernie Bishop in It’s a Wonderful Life is respected in his community and would do anything for his community. He truly has a heart of gold. Herbert Gillis is a bit of a curmudgeon, particularly with regards to his son Dobie, but in the end he is only looking out for his son’s best interests.” Discover more… “Frank Faylen: More Than A Cab Driver.”

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Patricia at THE MOVIE NIGHT’S GROUP GUIDE TO CLASSIC FILM presents FAY BAINTER in “The Lady and the Mob” (1939). As Patricia states, “It’s not often that Ms. Bainter gets to lead a film, but when she does, it’s always a pleasure. She takes an okay script and an average part, and gives the audience a decidedly better experience.” To read more… “Fay Heads The Mob.” 

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Maddy over at MADDY LOVES HER CLASSIC FILM offers us HENRY DANIELL. As Maddy explains, “Henry could dominate and steal even the smallest scene that he appeared in. He always brought his A game to every single performance. He was also one of those actors like George Sanders, Richard Burton, or Claude Rains, who had been blessed with a truly magnificent and distinctive voice.” Explore more of Maddy’s thoughts on him… “What A Character Blogathon 2019: Henry Daniell.”   

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Rich of WIDE SCREEN WORLD brings us UNA O’CONNOR. As Rich reveals, “Best known for playing saucy old broads with a wry sense of humor. A standout visibly as well as audibly: big round eyes and a, um, characteristic nose coupled with a sharp voice that was usually accented in either Cockney English, Scottish, or her own Irish brogue.” Explore more on his thoughts as he visits her gravesite… “Una O’Connor and Her Final Resting Place.”  


More entries are on their way. Keep check checking back with us here, and with my fellow co-hosts all weekend.

Saturday, 11/16: Day 2… Aurora/ @CitizenScreen at Once Upon A Screen

Sunday, 11/17: Day 3… Paula/ @Paula_Guthat at Paula’s Cinema Club

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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:

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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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