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In character with Eugene Pallette


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I am watching the Deanna Durbin fim 100 MEN AND A GIRL this afternoon. Eugene Pallette just steals this movie-- delivering a flawless performance as a tycoon/philanthropist hoodwinked by Deanna and her father (played by Adolphe Menjou).

 

My top five favorite Eugene Pallette performances are:

 

1. HEAVEN CAN WAIT (as husband to Marjorie Main and father to Gene Tierney)

2. 100 MEN AND A GIRL (husband to Alice Brady and foe of Deanna Durbin)

3. SLIGHTLY DANGEROUS (a harried newspaper man tricked by Lana Turner)

4. THE ADVENTURES OF ROBIN HOOD (in Technicolor as Friar Tuck)

5. THERE GOES MY HEART (another newsman role, this time as Fredric March's boss)

 

Of course, there are more-- many more great performances by this superb character actor.

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Eugene Pallette was a true character, with his distinctive waddle and bullfrog voice.  In real life he was just as "colorful" as in his movies.  After WW2 he was convinced that the world was headed for a nuclear holocaust, so he went out and bought a 3,500 acre "mountain fortress" in the middle of nowhere in Oregon, complete with its own cannery and lumber mill, and a bottomless supply of cattle and other food.  He stayed there for two years before he realized that his fears were probably ungrounded.

 

IMO his best role was as Henry Fonda's eccentric millionaire dad in The Lady Eve, where we first see him coming down the stairs to breakfast, singing "For tonight we'll merry, merry be" in his typical bullfrog imitation. 

 

But his best single line came in Marlene Dietrich's Shanghai Express, when Pallette ("Sam Salt") discovers that his traveling companion Warner Oland ("Mr. Henry Chang") is really the leader of a band of Chinese revolutionaries who've just taken over the train.  Here's the ensuing exchange:

 

Sam Salt: I can't make head or tail outta' you, Mr. Chang. Are you Chinese, or are you white, or what are you?
Mr. Henry Chang: My mother is Chinese. My father was white.
Sam Salt: You look more like a white man to me.
Mr. Henry Chang: I'm not proud of my white blood.
Sam Salt: Oh, you're not, are you?
Mr. Henry Chang: No, I'm not.
Sam Salt: Rather be a Chinaman, huh?
Mr. Henry Chang: Yes.
Sam Salt: What future is there in bein' a Chinaman? You're born, eat your way through a handful of rice, and you die. What a country! Let's have a drink!

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Thanks Andy-- good quote.  There's a bit in 100 MEN AND A GIRL I just love. He realizes he has been outfoxed by Deanna and Adolphe, and he tells conductor Leopold Stokowski (and I'm paraphrasing here):

 

I'm gonna' sue. That's what I'm gonna do. I'm gonna' sue them. And I think you should sue, too. And I might even get around to suing you, too, if you don't sue.

 

It's hilarious...then in typical fashion, he storms out.

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Eugene Pallette was a true character, with his distinctive waddle and bullfrog voice.  In real life he was just as "colorful" as in his movies.  After WW2 he was convinced that the world was headed for a nuclear holocaust, so he went out and bought a 3,500 acre "mountain fortress" in the middle of nowhere in Oregon, complete with its own cannery and lumber mill, and a bottomless supply of cattle and other food.  He stayed there for two years before he realized that his fears were probably ungrounded.

 

Since you mentioned that he moved to my home state of Oregon, I had to do some research to see where he lived.  In my 30 years of living here, I can't say that I've ever heard of Imnaha, OR.  I had to look it up on a map to see where it was.  It's so small that it's classified as an unincorporated community.  He definitely was in the middle of nowhere.  The largest town that where he could stock up on supplies is probably about 3-4 hours away.  Good thing he had the cannery and the cattle.

 

My favorite Eugene Pallette performance is probably Friar Tuck in The Adventures of Robin Hood, but I also liked him in My Man Godfrey.  He's also in some other films I've seen like Topper and Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, but I can't remember him well enough to say whether or not I liked his performance.  He seems to be fairly consistent in his work, so I'm going to say I probably liked him.

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I'm gonna' sue. That's what I'm gonna do. I'm gonna' sue them. And I think you should sue, too. And I might even get around to suing you, too, if you don't sue.

 

I love it!  One of my all time favorite character actors.

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My favorite Eugene Pallette performance is probably Friar Tuck in The Adventures of Robin Hood, but I also liked him in My Man Godfrey.  He's also in some other films I've seen like Topper and Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, but I can't remember him well enough to say whether or not I liked his performance.  He seems to be fairly consistent in his work, so I'm going to say I probably liked him.

 

Another very good movie Pallette was in was Bordertown, with Paul Muni and Bette Davis, well before Davis's physical qualities had gone South.  He plays gold digger Davis's millionaire husband, and you can probably guess what his fate turns out to be.

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"In interviews, (Jeanne) Crain alleged that Pallette was not only a bigot, who refused to share a table with black cast member Clarence Muse, but an admirer of Adolf Hitler as well."

 

So I guess he wasn't likely to have gotten one of those NAACP Lifetime Achievement Awards along with Donald Sterling. ;)  

OTOH he'd probably be right at home Up There (or Down There) with the longtime John Birch Society stalwart Adolphe Menjou. 

 

Anyway, it's sad to know about that about Pallette, because he was one great character actor.  I'm glad he didn't start running his mouth before he made all his earlier movies.

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then there's this also:

"In interviews, (Jeanne) Crain alleged that Pallette was not only a bigot, who refused to share a table with black cast member Clarence Muse, but an admirer of Adolf Hitler as well."

Yeah,.I was disappointed.when I read that about one of my favorite character actors. It was while filming Army Wives (released as IN THE MEANTIME DARLING in 1944), Crain's first.starring role. I read.l about it in one of the biographies on Otto Preminger, who directed the film. While I don't remember details, I think the incident went all the way up to Fox studio head Darryl Zanuck.

 

PS....I love Pallette in everything, sith my two favorite roles probably MY MAN GODFREY and HEAVEN CAN WAIT.

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Love Pallette and, of course, he is responsible for one of my all time favorite quotes:

"All you need to start an asylum is an empty room and the right kind of people."

 

MY MAN GODFREY and ROBIN HOOD are 2 (of many) of my favorite Pallette films.

 

Lydecker

 

 

 
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I saw Eugene Palette in an early (maybe silent?) film at a Cinefest a few years back where he was the ROMANTIC LEAD. He wasn't always roley-poley, but a very handsome leading man early in his career.

 

Interesting to think he could have become lost in the shuffle among other, more charismatic romantic leading men. Instead, he went with the flow as a "fat guy" with a unique voice & delivery and became a memorable charactor actor.

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then there's this also:

"In interviews, (Jeanne) Crain alleged that Pallette was not only a bigot, who refused to share a table with black cast member Clarence Muse, but an admirer of Adolf Hitler as well."

Exactly, he may have been a teriffic character actor BUT he was also an alleged bigot, racist and nazi sympather, so if all of you can get past that and carry on about how great he was, I can't.Horrible human being, and that to me is MORE important than a bunch of roles in make believe land.

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Someone pointed out that Pallette was paranoid and thought the world was going to end, or something like that. So like many bigots, he was mentally ill.  Not that mental illness is a justification for bigotry, but it was probably all part of the same pathological condition. Walter Brennan was a racist who was not mentally ill.

 

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I saw Eugene Palette in an early (maybe silent?) film at a Cinefest a few years back where he was the ROMANTIC LEAD. He wasn't always roley-poley, but a very handsome leading man early in his career.

 

Interesting to think he could have become lost in the shuffle among other, more charismatic romantic leading men. Instead, he went with the flow as a "fat guy" with a unique voice & delivery and became a memorable charactor actor.

Here he is playing a supporting role in a Norma Talmadge film from 1916 called GOING STRAIGHT:

1epal.png

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Someone pointed out that Pallette was paranoid and thought the world was going to end, or something like that. So like many bigots, he was mentally ill.  Not that mental illness is a justification for bigotry, but it was probably all part of the same pathological condition. Walter Brennan was a racist who was not mentally ill.

OK, so let's honor a mentally ill, racist, bigoted, nazi sympathizer.Sorry, but I find this thread distasteful and insulting to all the great character actors who weren't awful human beings.

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OK, so let's honor a mentally ill, racist, bigoted, nazi sympathizer.Sorry, but I find this thread distasteful and insulting to all the great character actors who weren't awful human beings.

Personally, I think it's distasteful and insulting to other adults on a message board who are capable of making up their own minds, telling them how to think or how to post.

 

It is one thing to state opinions, and that's fine but it's quite another thing to be applying political correctness to the point that it stifles communication. Common sense would say that if a person dislikes an actor, then go off and focus on other performers in other threads. Just because some appreciate Pallette's work in many classic films does not mean they exactly condone his personal beliefs. 

 

I have created many threads about classic character actors and actresses-- and yes, we are going to come across a few that were a bit controversial in real life. 

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Many here may not have been aware of Pallette's beliefs. Interesting that when the thread was started, that information was left out.Heaping praise on someone who was a dreadful human being is in my view wrong.

There is no conspiracy, there is no promoting of the actor's personal beliefs going on-- there is only an appreciation for Mr. Pallette's characterizations on film, just like I have made other threads appreciating other character actors and actresses' film work. That is all.

 

I left out Pallette's apocalyptic views and his disagreements with Muse and Preminger because I intended the focus to be on the roles he played, especially the ones with Deanna Durbin.  Again, no conspiracy or hidden agenda.

 

Moving on...Thanks.

 

Edited by TopBilled

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then there's this also:

"In interviews, (Jeanne) Crain alleged that Pallette was not only a bigot, who refused to share a table with black cast member Clarence Muse, but an admirer of Adolf Hitler as well."

Exactly, he may have been a teriffic character actor BUT he was also an alleged bigot, racist and nazi sympather, so if all of you can get past that and carry on about how great he was, I can't.Horrible human being, and that to me is MORE important than a bunch of roles in make believe land.

 

Until that quote from Jeanne Crain was posted, I suspect that few of us here realized that Pallette's paranoia about World War 3 stemmed from any sort of racial bigotry.   After all, those  "On the atomic clock, it's five minutes to midnight" scare warnings about nuclear war used to come from liberal scientists, not from racist mouthbreathers.

 

And so what do we do about it, boycott The Lady Eve and My Man Godfrey?  Should we refuse to watch any films made by Walt  Disney or D.W. Griffith, or any starring Mel Gibson, Walter Brennan, Adolphe Menjou, John Wayne, or innumerable other stars whose various bigotries were legendary?   I'm failing to see this.  After all, we're not proposing to award Pallette a brotherhood medal; we're simply recognizing his indisputable contributions as a character actor, nothing else.

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Andy in the quote you used that I posted, I wrote he was he was a teriffic character actor and I might add wasn't he lucky to have been in so many great films, and they would have still probably been great without him. Glad you also agree that many here may not of known about his awful beliefs.

 

Since learning about his world views, yes I'm uncomfortable when I see him in those films.I think that disclosing that he was a bigoted, racist, nazi sympathizer is important to get a complete picture of this actor. That's how I feel and I'm standing by that.

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OK, so let's honor a mentally ill, racist, bigoted, nazi sympathizer.Sorry, but I find this thread distasteful and insulting to all the great character actors who weren't awful human beings.

Not a question of honoring him by any means, you know I abhor all the personal qualities which have been attributed to him. I did not know the extent of his nastiness until I read about it here, but a quick bit of research seems to confirm it.  I'm just chatting about his performances. I don't think we want to get into the crazy politics of all the film people whose work we may admire. For example, in addition to the blatantly racist Walter Brennan, Frank Capra admired Mussolini, and Barbara Stanwyck was not far behind! 

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Not to condone Pallette's political and personal beliefs, because I don't.  However, I don't think by watching Pallette portray Friar Tuck in The Adventures of Robin Hood am I in anyway supporting his racism. 

 

I'm sure if you really dug down deep into a lot of the Hollywood players' lives, you would probably find out all kinds of unsavory things about them.  I don't think that that qualifies an all out boycott of that person.  Some of it is just a sign of the times-- not all of it though, I agree that some of them were probably just straight out, nasty people.  However, if they're able to put that nastiness aside and provide a great performance; I think it's fine to watch it for what it was.  If you boycotted everyone for having beliefs that you disagreed with, then I think it's safe to say that there wouldn't be much of anything left to watch. 

 

There are a lot of very racist portrayals in studio era Hollywood movies.  African American actors were typically portrayed in some sort of servant role.  If they weren't in a service role, then African Americans were depicted in a stereotypical manner-- illiterate, unintelligent, etc.  Ingrid Bergman even calls Sam "boy" at some point in Casablanca.  I believe "boy" was a term used to refer to African Americans.  Holiday Inn features Bing Crosby in blackface during a routine about Abraham Lincoln.  That's pretty bad; however, the rest of the film is enjoyable, so I don't let that keep me from watching it.  (I actually watched this film on TV once, and the whole song with the blackface routine was cut out of the film!)

 

In Peter Pan, the Native Americans are portrayed with red skin and saying "how" all the time.

 

Looney Tunes cartoons depict the Japanese with yellow skin and big teeth!

 

In Breakfast at Tiffanys, Mickey Rooney's portrayal of Mr. Yunioshi is incredibly racist; however, the film is enjoyable and Mr. Yunioshi is funny-- because he's so exasperated with Holly Golightly's flightiness. 

 

My point with all these examples is that racism and other unpleasant attitudes were highly prevalent during that era of film and the 20th century.  It's just a sign of the times.  During WWII, there were many racist portrayals of members of the Axis in films, cartoons, etc. This was a form of propaganda by the Allies to get everyone to support their side and to abhor those who were not united against Germany, Japan and Italy.  Despite these countries not being an issue now, it is interesting from a historical aspect to see how the United States rallied those on the home front to support their cause. To completely boycott it based on your current 21st century beliefs doesn't make sense. 

 

But to each his own.

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