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In character with S.Z. Sakall


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I can see where some stars would not want to work with such a scene-stealer, but in my opinion, 'Cuddles' Sakall usually makes the pictures he appears in more memorable.

Tonight while watching him teach Barbara Stanwyck a few cooking tips in a scene from CHRISTMAS IN CONNECTICUT, it seems obvious to me that he has a special recipe for successful character acting:

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He's truly a delight in this picture.

What is your favorite S.Z. Sakall moment in the movies?

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I liked him in the scene in Rick's Bar in the movie Casablanca. The older German couple were showing off to S.K. Sakall their newly acquired command of the English language. And S.K. Sakall said something to the effect " You will fit right in".

 

But he did have so many priceless lines in all the movies he was in. That is why he was so popular. My son bought his autobiography for me. I really think he was part of writing the book because "it does sound just like his character".

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>I liked him in the scene in Rick's Bar in the movie Casablanca. The older German couple were showing off to S.K. Sakall their newly acquired command of the English language. And S.K. Sakall said something to the effect " You will fit right in".

 

CASABLANCA will be airing on April 14th.

 

>But he did have so many priceless lines in all the movies he was in. That is why he was so popular.

 

I agree. And his mannerisms/facial expressions were certainly priceless as well.

 

>My son bought his autobiography for me. I really think he was part of writing the book because "it does sound just like his character".

 

I will have to see if I can find a copy of it.

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Sakall was never one of my favorites, but that isn't saying I DIDN'T like him. He always did come off as irresistably lovable. I enjoyed his appearances best when his character showed hints of being much wiser than his usual behavior would indicate, as he did in "Casablanca".

 

Sepiatone

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>Sakall was never one of my favorites, but that isn't saying I DIDN'T like him. He always did come off as irresistably lovable. I enjoyed his appearances best when his character showed hints of being much wiser than his usual behavior would indicate, as he did in "Casablanca".

 

I am wondering if he ever played against type in his earlier roles back in Germany, or on stage. His motion picture career actually stretches back to 1916 and silent films. From what I gather, it seems like he usually played older characters, even when he was much younger-- several of his early film parts have him cast as a doctor. In those days, before he came to Hollywood, he was billed as Szoke Szakall.

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I think that one of S. Z. Sakall's most effective comedic support opportuities was in Errol Flynn's San Antonio. This was the first film of his career, I believe, in which he was allowed to dominate lengthy scenes allowed to run on.

 

Flynn wrote the following about the actor in his autobiography, and gave an interesting insider's perspective on working with him. He liked Sakall very much even if he did misspell his name in the following account:

 

Zakall was a funny old guy. I always liked him for his screwy, mushy personality, but most other actors hated him. He messed up the English language so much they couldn't get their cues. I let him run on. It was fun to see the effect of him on the other character players. He ran off with many scenes, and that was enough to make him despised by others.

 

(Alan) Hale couldn't stand him. They hated each other and refused to work with each other. To see them together was like a meeting of two prima donnas at a tea party. Naturally I brought them together as often as I could, and on this night Hale hollered, "For Christsakes, Zakall, ain't it time you learned to speak English? You been here long enough!"

 

"And for vy I should **** Englich better, ven mitt dis Englich I em makin more vot is you!"

 

That English tortured shot must have gotten Hale right between the eyes!

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Thanks Tom for taking the time to include that excerpt from Flynn's book. I think they appeared in four films at Warners: THANK YOUR LUCKY STARS (can't remember if they had any scenes together); SAN ANTONIO; NEVER SAY GOODBYE; and MONTANA.

 

Alan Hale Sr. was not the only one who did not want to work with Cuddles. Apparently, James Cagney was no fan, and after YANKEE DOODLE DANDY, he refused to appear in any more pictures with him.

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TopBilled - my son bought "The Story of Cuddles (my Life under The Emperor Frances Joseph, Adolf Hitler and The Warner Brothers)" from someone in England. I wondered why my son bought the book from someone in England. And then I saw the book was published by Cassell & Co., London.

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>TopBilled - my son bought "The Story of Cuddles (my Life under The Emperor Frances Joseph, Adolf Hitler and The Warner Brothers)" from someone in England.

 

Thanks for the heads up, MaryLyn. It must be out of print. I tried looking on Amazon and ebay but found no sellers.

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Does anyone have the Cagney bio book? I did but either lost it, or loaned it out. Or the dog ate it? Anyway, I distinctly remember Cagney mentioning just a few people who he couldn't stand working with and one of them was "Cuddles".

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Here is some information I cobbled together from a few internet sources about S.Z. Sakall:

 

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S.Z. "Cuddles" Sakall was born on February 2nd, 1883 in Budapest, Hungary. His birth name was Jacob Ger?, though it is sometimes listed as Ger? Jen?. He began writing and acting in vaudeville shows while in his teens, taking the stage name of Sz?ke Szak?ll, which means blond beard. As a young man he worked on stage and wrote gags for a popular comedian in Budapest. He also worked in silent films in not only his native country, but in Austria as well. In Vienna, after WWI, he studied under actor-director Max Reinhardt.

 

In 1916, he married his first wife, Giza Grossner, but the marriage was short-lived, with her dying just two years later. Two years after that, he wed his second wife Elisabeth Anna Kardos, which made him indirectly related to producer Joe Pasternak by marriage. Pasternak would cast him in his first Hollywood film, which was the Deanna Durbin picture IT'S A DATE, at Universal in 1940.

 

A year earlier, Sakall had fled Europe and the Nazis to avoid persecution, since he was Jewish. He managed to escape to the United States as World War II began. After his memorable role in the Durbin musical, he was cast in other pictures at Universal. There was another Durbin vehicle called SPRING PARADE, a film with Kay Francis-- THE MAN WHO LOST HIMSELF-- and there was a George Raft picture loosely based on Raft's early days, entitled BROADWAY.

 

Quickly, Sakall found his niche as a character actor. He was known for his lovable and befuddled personality, and he would be assigned roles with names like Professor Magenbruch (in BALL OF FIRE); Mr. Van Maaster (in SEVEN SWEETHEARTS); Poppa Carl (in SHINE ON HARVEST MOON); and Uncle Latsie (in THE DOLLY SISTERS).

 

In no time at all, his charming accent, comical exasperation and trademark cheeks earned him the nickname "Cuddles." The part that made him famous was his comic relief at Rick's Cafe in CASABLANCA, a role that he initially did not want to do.

 

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From 1940 until a year before his death from heart failure in 1955, he appeared in 41 Hollywood films. Frequent costars included Janis Paige, Doris Day, Errol Flynn, June Haver, Barbara Stanwyck, and Deanna Durbin.

 

Among the most famous silent films he made were: HEAVEN ON EARTH (1927); MARY LOU (1928); and WHO WILL CRY WHEN YOU COME APART (1929).

 

Successes in European sound films were: HEADFIRST INTO HAPPINESS (1930); COUNTESS MARITZA (1932); A WOMAN LIKE YOU (1933); and MISS LILLI (1936).

 

_Memorable lines from some of his Hollywood films:_

(to Barbara Stanwyck in CHRISTMAS IN CONNECTICUT)-- "Everything is hunky-dunky."

 

(to Edward Everett Horton in THANK YOUR LUCKY STARS)-- "I got you into this complication, and it's up to me to make a mess out of it."

 

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His autobiography was published just before his death.

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With all the great dialogue that blessed Casablanca, I'm glad that Cuddles got some of it too.

 

I remember when his character, Carl, tells Rick about his seating of Major Strasser in the cafe.

 

"I gave him the best seat in the house, knowing that he was German and would take it anyway."

 

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This is a shot of Sakall and wife Elizabeth as they are sworn in as American citizens on December 13, 1946 in Los Angeles.

 

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My Step-Father was Hungarian. Mom married him when I was eight years old. Many of HIS older family members spoke with the same accent as "Cuddles", so I never had too much of a problem understanding him. My Grandfather on my bio-dad's side spoke with such a thick Polish accent, that other's accents were a piece of cake!

 

Sepiatone

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I don't think Sakall butchered English too badly. Recently I was watching a rerun of Night Court and I could barely understand guest star Yakov Smirnoff. So I think there are performers in Hollywood that are much worse at enunciating than Sakall.

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>I can't see Cagney being so insecure that he would have an issue if Sakall stole a scene or two.

 

My understanding is that it wasn't insecurity so much as it was Cagney's belief that Sakall was not a team player-- trying to upstage others.

 

Actually, I think Sakall came from the (then) old school of acting-- meaning vaudeville-- where you have to work hard to hold the audience's attention or else you get the hook. Sakall probably thought he was adding to the film's overall value and movie-goers' enjoyment if he could help enliven the proceedings.

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Well it is up to the director NOT fellow actors (even stars), to decide if a character actor is adding value to a scene when they embellish.

 

So I could understand if Cagney or any other lead actor made a comment to the director; e.g. something along the lines of ?do you really thing his antics are adding to the scene, I feel it distracts from the point of the scene?. Then the director can view the takes and decide if the scene should be reshot or not and if he want future scenes with said actor to stay closer to the vest or embellish.

 

Therefore I still have an issue with Cagney if that was his reaction. But hey I love Cuddles!

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We shouldn't make more out of this then it deserves. I just referenced Cagney and Sakall and the only film they did together was *Yankee Doodle Dandy* . And "Cuddles" was only in a short segment so he must have given Cagney a hard time (in Jimmy's eyes) during that bit. I'm sure Cuddles' act was adorable for some people and others found it annoying. I don't remember Cagney taking too many people to task in his bio book, except for a Mr Jack Warner of course.

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