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Bit Actors/Actresses importance


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I have always felt that the small parts, the bit actors, are what makes MANY movies great. Think about how they add to the atmosphere in classic films, and how much they bring to newer films. Where would Roy Rogers be without the many western bit actors? Those movies used the same plots over and over, so they relied on the bit parts to bring variety.

 

I guess sidekicks fit into this category. Extras add to a flick, but not like a real bit actor who has a few lines to clarify a plot, or throw you off the plot only to have the lead straigten it out. Watch any old Bogart film and concentrate on the small roles played by lesser names.

 

I discuss bit actors (and a lot of other stuff) on my new blog http://bitactors.blogspot.com. It has been a hoot so far, writing about this stuff, and every day I think of more and more i want to write about. I would appreciate any comments or suggestions to improve my blog. Please take a look if you are so inclined. Thanx!

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You're absolutely right, BPB.So many of those "bit" players made a tremendous difference to the movies they were in. Sometimes it's just a couple of minutes they've got, but they make the most of it. It's fun to remember the short but effective lines they contribute, often with such pizzazz! The great unsung players of the movies.

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One good thing about the studio system is that certain studios, like Warners, had really good character actors, and since they were already under contract they were used in many movies. Thus we get to see these actors in many different roles. Yea, sometimes they were typed cast but often that was OK because they were so good in that specific role.

 

They should have the star of the month be character actors. Celebrate 3 - 4 each night, one or two days a week during the month.

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I like the idea of highlighting character actors as well. Let's see, if TCM does one a month, that should be enough to schedule movies until 3D TVs are obsolete. By then, we will be plugging the TV cable into a jack on our neck and directly connecting the signal to our visual cortex. 3D TV and surround sound with no hardware!

 

Does anyone want to hazard a guess on how many character actors and actresses there were, in over a hundred years of movies?

 

[My Blog|bitactors.blogspot.com]

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Well like they do with their Star of the Month TCM would have to pick the 'main' charater actors of the classic era to highlight; Ones like Walter Brennen, William Demarest, Hattie McDaniels, etc.. But yea, it might not work since there are just too many of them.

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Louis Mason ( 1888 - 1959 ) was in many films, mostly uncredited, he often played " rural types ". The role that I remember him was in John Fords filmed version of the Steinbeck novel The Grapes of Wrath, as the father who had lost two children to " heart failure ". He tells his tale to the Joads & others at a camp early in the film. Mr. Martin also appearred as the deputy who forces Doc & Dallas out of town in Fords Stagecoach. He also appearred in many George Cukor films.

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I have to agree on Houseley Stevenson. Of course, Dark Passage is my favorite Bogart film. Real chemistry with his wife, Lauren Bacall in that one.

 

I wrote about Dark Passage and Houseley Stevenson on my blog a few weeks ago. See this link - [Dark Passage|http://bitactors.blogspot.com/2010/05/who-is-leonard-bremen.html]

 

The post was really about Leonard Bremen, who played the bus station agent where Bogart is buying his ticket to Arizona. Bremen seemed to appear in everything, and it didn't matter what the genre was.

 

[bit Actors Blog|http://bitactors.blogspot.com]

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I have to add another name here - Monty Wooley. He could possibly be considered more than a bit player, but whenever he appeared in films, most notably "Night and Day," "The Bishop's Wife" and "The Man Who Came to Dinner" he never failed to make an impression. His cultured voice, impeccable beard and sly sense of humor made him perfect for a certain type of role, and I always smile when I catch one of his films.

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Louis Mason's scene in "The Grapes of Wrath" was beautifully played and a critical point in the story. When he asks to see the handbills asking for "pickers" and then tells the Joads and the rest of the people listening at the camp that he got the same handbill - which led to all of his heartbreak and the eventual loss of his family - it changed the mood of the film. I am always amazed when an actor who rarely gets an opportunity to play such a crucial scene just nails it as Louis did in "TGOW." It is one of my favorite films and that scene never fails to break my heart...

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I guess I am having some trouble on my own blog, which is about bit actors. (And I'm still pretty new at this!) The difficulty is defining what constitutes a bit actor. So many actors and actresses start out as extras or in bit parts, move up to supporting roles, and then some became real stars. But where does a bit part start and when does it become a supporting role?

 

You might define an extra as someone who is walking on the street or sitting in a bar, having no dialog. Many extras try to remain totally incognito so they don't start being recognized. Perhaps a bit part includes a speaking part in one scene, maybe two. Then a supporting part would include multiple scenes, but how much screen time?

 

In addition, when does an actor stop being a bit actor and become more? Is it possible to do bit parts even though you may be a big star? I am thinking of John Huston in *The Treasure of the Sierra Madre*. Comments may help here! And check out my [bit Part Blog|http://bitactors.blogspot.com|A blog about bit parts and other things!] if you haven't already. I try to add a post every day.

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Tough question, bitpartblogger. There certainly is a difference from the classic term "character actor," someone like Alan Hale or Ward Bond, both of whom seemed to be in almost every other film made between the early 30's and the late 50's. They played key roles in the films they were in and popped up at several different times throughout the story.

 

The John Huston example is interesting, and maybe that is the right direction for the blog. I also think that the Louis Mason example from "The Grapes of Wrath" would be appropriate - an actor who appears in only one scene in a film but is memorable in that scene. Or take Ned Beatty's role in "Network." He appears in only one scene in the film, but made a huge impression lecturing Peter Finch on the true role of corporations in the world - and for his work in that scene he was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor. Yet he was only on camera for a few minutes in a single scene.

 

That's as far as my thoughts take me. I am sure there will be others who will chime in with equally compelling arguments for what comprises a "bit" part!

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Back in the 60?s a magazine did an article on extras and bit players. I had seen Man of a Thousand Faces which told of how Lon Chaney went from extra to star and wanted to see if anything was different. Yes, now we had sound.

 

One photo showed a woman in pioneer dress and sunbonnet running from one TV Western to another on the same lot. She was divorced with three children and I supposed trying to keep afloat and make time for them. I remember hoping that she made enough to be there when they needed her instead of being stuck in an office 40 hours for $100.00 per week. Another showed a woman in a nun?s habit who sold real estate between bit parts posing in front of a nice car. The habit was from a role she was playing on a TV show.

 

I think the pioneer?s name was Carna Day and the nun?s was Mary Benoit. I remember because I saved the article for a long time hoping I might one day join the ranks or better. I kept thinking ?Wow, they might never be stars but they get to do what they love doing.? It never occurred to me it was what I would loved doing; for them it was just a way of making a living. I hope not, as the houses might be gone but that film is still out there somewhere.

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Hi SueSue,

 

Yes, Mallinson (IMO) should be classified a bit actor! His first film was the military classic, *USS VD: Ship of Shame* and he went on to play many parts such as; reporter, Mac, MP guard on second train, barfly, man outside jail, passerby, etc.

 

Notwithstanding, I also thought he excelled as George Fellsinger, with his soft southern accent. The part was perfectly played as only a great bit actor could. He brought sympathy to the part of Madge with his explanation of their relationship.

 

He has 136 roles (film and TV) to his credit on IMDb so he was a hard worker. I don't think I mentioned him yet on my blog, but I know *Dark Passage* is there. Try the new search box I just added on the right side. I hope it works. Click here for [bit Actors Blog|http://bitactors.blogspot.com|Blog about bit parts and other things].

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Thanks, BPB. I really was struck by the tenderness of his portrayal in *Dark Passage*, and I had seen him in several other bit parts.

 

One of the reasons I think *Dark Passage* is such a classic is that it utilized so many great players, like Tom D'Andrea as the cabby. Who can forget "slip-slop, up the hill?"

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I just took a look at Tom D'Andrea's credits on IMDb. He lived 89 years and was only in 38 roles in film and TV, from 1943 to 1974. Most of the later roles were single appearances on TV shows like "The Dick Van Dyke Show", "The Andy Griffith Show" and other sitcoms.

 

I wonder if everyone remembers him from "The Life of Riley" with William Bendix. I do! That series was written by Groucho Marx, so it was memorable. I also think D'Andrea's voice had something to do with how we remember him. [bitPartBlogger|http://bitactors.blogspot.com|My blog about Bit Actors]

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All the character actors in Dark Passage were great and really made the movie. As much as I love the leads Bogie and Bacall were rather flat in the flim but the bit players along with the San Fran setting help the movie a lot. While Tom D'Andrea time on the screen is small to me the one in the cab is the best in the movie.

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> {quote:title=BitPartBlogger wrote:}{quote}

> I wonder if everyone remembers him from "The Life of Riley" with William Bendix. I do! That series was written by Groucho Marx, so it was memorable. I also think D'Andrea's voice had something to do with how we remember him. [bitPartBlogger|http://bitactors.blogspot.com|My blog about Bit Actors]

 

I remember liking The Life of Riley quite a bit when it was first on, and I was about 4 years old. I didn't recall that Tom D'Andrea was in it. But, I would bet that it was submerged memories of his character on Riley than made me appreciate him as a sort of everyman, when I was watching films with him in them in my 20s.

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Well, Valentine, you can't be faulted for not remembering Tom D'Andrea in "The Life of Riley" when you were only four! There were 217 episodes and D'Andrea was in 41 of them. He played Jim Gillis, the next door neighbor and co-worker of Chester A. Riley, if memory serves.

 

"The Life of Riley" was on from 1953 to 1958, so I was watching it at around the same age as you. Mostly I remember his voice and how he seemed so down to earth.

 

Interesting when you start the research. His wife in that show was Honeybee Gillis, played by Gloria Blondell, Joan's younger sister. Gloria was the voice for Daisy Duck in several cartoons in the forties. It looks like Daisy was originally voiced by Ducky Nash.

 

See my blog for more Bit Parts. [bit Actors Blog|http://bitactors.blogspot.com|My Bit Actors Blog]

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