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WHY I LOVE CERTAIN CHARACTER ACTORS


AndyM108
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Having just watched Wild Boys of the Road earlier today, I'm reminded once again why I love so many of the studio era's character actors for their sheer versatility.  Take Robert Barrat for example.

 

In June of 1933, in Heroes For Sale, Barrat plays a Communist inventor who does a 180 and turns into the greediest capitalist of all time as soon as he can smell a buck.

 

Three months later, in October, he plays a compassionate judge in Wild Boys of the Road, who presides over the trial of three children who were inadvertently involved in a robbery, and instead of throwing the book at them, he invokes the spirit of the New Deal's "We Do Our Part" NRA program, and steers them off to jobs and proper medical care.

 

And then just two months after that, in December he plays Barbara Stanwyck's drunken pimp of a father in the opening scenes of Baby Face, treating her so badly that she takes the cook and high tails in to New York.  Even in the pre-code era, there were few portrayals of low-lifes lower than Barrat's.

 

Three movies in six months, three completely different roles, and he nails them all perfectly.  This is why I can't get enough of character actors like Barrat.

 

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Well, it's not that Hollywood trained them to be so versatile. It's because most of them like Barrat came to Hollywood with a vast repertoire of character types they had learned how to play (to perfection) on stage. We are seeing the benefit of their extensive training in these stand-out supporting parts. 

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Well, it's not that Hollywood trained them to be so versatile. It's because most of them like Barrat came to Hollywood with a vast repertoire of character types they had learned how to play (to perfection) on stage. We are seeing the benefit of their extensive training in these stand-out supporting parts.

 

Very good point, but damn, back then there were so MANY of them like that!  Barrat only came to mind because I'd just seen him at the end of Wild Boys of the Road earlier today.

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Well, it's not that Hollywood trained them to be so versatile. It's because most of them like Barrat came to Hollywood with a vast repertoire of character types they had learned how to play (to perfection) on stage. We are seeing the benefit of their extensive training in these stand-out supporting parts.

 

Very good point, but damn, back then there were so MANY of them like that!  Barrat only came to mind because I'd just seen him at the end of Wild Boys of the Road earlier today.

I think the British character actors had even better training. Look at how versatile Dame May Whitty was-- she could be the sweet old lady in THE LADY VANISHES and she could be a murderous fiend in MY NAME IS JULIA ROSS.  Both roles done, believably, with equal skill.

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And there was much more theater in those days, and many more opportunities to learn. Barrat had a long stage career -- he was actually in the original stage production of Chicago in 1926/7.  Many of the actors continued -- and preferred -- to work on stage, Dudley Digges and Charles Coburn being two actors who not only continued to act on stage throughout their film careers, they actually produced plays and managed acting companies.

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My guess? Well, along with both TB's and Swithin's excellent replies here, I'd say an addition reason could be that many "lead" actors were and maybe still are today being "plucked for obscurity", and with possibly little training and/or real talent, for their physical appearance, such as "matinee idol looks", and whereas one might say character actors actually "earned" their movie roles.

 

(...yep, maybe kind'a like how sometimes extremely beautiful women can often seem to have lacked "developing a personality" somewhere along the line and just seem to get by on their looks alone)

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My guess? Well, along with both TB's and Swithin's excellent replies here, I'd say an addition reason could be that many "lead" actors were and maybe still are today being "plucked for obscurity", and with possibly little training and/or real talent, for their physical appearance, such as "matinee idol looks", and whereas one might say character actors actually "earned" their movie roles.

 

(...yep, maybe kind'a like how sometimes extremely beautiful women can often seem to have lacked "developing a personality" somewhere along the line and just seem to get by on their looks alone)

 

Hey,  stop picking on Hedy Lamarr. 

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There's a number of character actors whose presences in theatrical features, Tv movies or television programs are always welcome in my "entertainment viewfinder".  Rather than go through a laundry list I'll just mention one.   

 

ANDERSON, John, 69 (b: October 20, 1922, Clayton, IL  -  d: August 7, 1992, Sherman Oaks, CA)  Anyone who watched television or went to the movies from the mid-1950s through 1992 has very likely seen John Anderson.  Even if you don't know his name, you'd recognize his face. 

 

He was a spectacularly nasty U.S. cavalry officer in the 1970 movie "SOLDIER BLUE". 

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There's a number of character actors whose presences in theatrical features, Tv movies or television programs are always welcome in my "entertainment viewfinder".  Rather than go through a laundry list I'll just mention one.   

 

ANDERSON, John, 69 (b: October 20, 1922, Clayton, IL  -  d: August 7, 1992, Sherman Oaks, CA)  Anyone who watched television or went to the movies from the mid-1950s through 1992 has very likely seen John Anderson.  Even if you don't know his name, you'd recognize his face. 

 

He was a spectacularly nasty U.S. cavalry officer in the 1970 movie "SOLDIER BLUE". 

I agree about John Anderson. He specialized in working class characters-- great actor!

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Love 'em, too.  Yeah, I remember JOHN ANDERSON from a few "TWILIGHT ZONE" and "ALFRED HITCHCOCK PRESENTS" episodes.  Seen him also in some "THE UNTOUCHABLES" episodes, too.

 

We all have our favorite character actors for some reason or other...Some of mine are:

 

CHARLES LANE ( Really first aware of him from his frequent appearances as HOMER BEDLOE on "PETTICOAT JUNCTION".  Over the years I kept seeing him in one old movie after another and had to find out WHO this seemingly hard working charcter actor is.

 

PERCY KELTON  Funny little old man with the funny, raspy voice.

 

BURT MUSTIN  Lookd old even when he was young

 

Walter Brennan  Well, he WAS GRANDPAPPY AMOS, so seeing him in movies was always kind of cool.  Eventually, we learn some history.  Imagine MY surprise when I spotted him in THE INVISIBLE MAN.

 

HENRY JONES

 

WARD BOND

 

HARRY CAREY----SR. AND JR.!

 

WILLIAM FRAWLEY---Who can say anything negative about FRED MERTZ and BUB?

 

JEROME COWAN---Face it.  more a CHARACTER ACTOR than actual "Star".

 

Sepiatone

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One of my favorites among the character actors who had smaller roles, as opposed to larger supporting roles, was Etienne Giradot. Among dozens of other movies, he played the coroner Dr. Doremus in a few Philo Vance films. He was ever exasperated because he could never finish a meal -- they were always calling him to look at a murder victim!

 

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One of my favorites among the character actors who had smaller roles, as opposed to larger supporting roles, was Etienne Giradot. Among dozens of other movies, he played the coroner Dr. Doremus in a few Philo Vance films. He was ever exasperated because he could never finish a meal -- they were always calling him to look at a murder victim!

Somewhere around here there was a thread about mispronouncing the names of actors. Now that is one performer's name I am sorry to say I do not know even know how to begin pronouncing correctly!

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Word is Vivian Vance did quite often! ;)

I love William Frawley.  His voice often times can make his whatever line instantly a million times funnier.  There are a million such instances on I Love Lucy; but one such instance is his appearance in Gentleman Jim.  Toward the end of the film, the Corbett family starts singing and doing a jig.  Frawley cannot believe that his client, Errol Flynn, is having his quiet time interrupted and is doing a jig!  He yells at all of them with his gravely voice and it is hilarious. 

 

Vivian Vance was not a fan of Frawley from the start because she resented the fact that "her husband" was so much older than her.  She made some remark that he was old enough to be her father and Frawley overheard and they were at each other's throats from there on.  I feel like there must have been more to their feud, because it is obvious that there is a great difference in their ages.  Apparently after I Love Lucy ended, there was talk of a Mertz spinoff, which would have paid Vance and Frawley very well; but Vance didn't want to work with Frawley again, even though Frawley was all for doing the show.  Vance's refusal to do the show intensified their feud.  Apparently when Frawley died, Vance was overheard saying "Champagne for everyone!" I really hope that isn't true; but I'm glad for the sake of I Love Lucy that Frawley and Vance were able to remain professional.  If you watch, in the episodes where Fred and Ethel have to kiss on the lips, they don't actually touch each other.  It is very obvious in the episode entitled Equal Rights

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Vivian Vance was not a fan of Frawley from the start because she resented the fact that "her husband" was so much older than her.

 

That's funny, because while it's true that the age difference between Frawley and Vance was indeed great (25 years), when I used to watch the show in the 50's I always thought Vance was closer to Frawley in appearance (and age) than she was to Lucy---who  in reality was only two years younger than she was.  Maybe it's just because Vance and Frawley seemed like little more than a pair of rather dumpy looking character actors who lucked into a big time TV show, whereas Lucy and Desi could have been considered plausible leading players in a romantic comedy---which in fact I think they were in at least one movie.

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Vivian Vance was not a fan of Frawley from the start because she resented the fact that "her husband" was so much older than her.

 

That's funny, because while it's true that the age difference between Frawley and Vance was indeed great (25 years), when I used to watch the show in the 50's I always thought Vance was closer to Frawley in appearance (and age) than she was to Lucy---who  in reality was only two years younger than she was.  Maybe it's just because Vance and Frawley seemed like little more than a pair of rather dumpy looking character actors who lucked into a big time TV show, whereas Lucy and Desi could have been considered plausible leading players in a romantic comedy---which in fact I think they were in at least one movie.

I read in Coyne Sanders' book about Desilu that it was in Vance's contract that the character had to wear frumpy clothing and could not appear chic. Vance agreed but in real life she would attend many public events in very glamorous duds, probably to make a point that she was no real-life dumpy Ethel Mae. In the last season, when the show's setting moved out to Connecticut, she had finally renegotiated her contract upping her salary and allowing her the chance to dress up as Ethel on at least one occasion-- the country club episode featuring a young Barbara Eden comes to mind. 

 

On the second sitcom, The Lucy Show, it was a whole new ballgame. She knew that without Desi, Lucy needed her. And she agreed to commute from her home on the east coast to do the show provided three main concessions were made-- no more Ethel (she would use her real name on the show like Lucy did); she would have an expensive wardrobe and hairstyles; and William Frawley was not to be allowed to guest star (after Vance had departed in the fourth season, Ball and husband Gary Morton did have Frawley do one guest shot, but Frawley was dying and Vance was nowhere near the set when it was filmed). When Frawley died the following year, Vance was doing a play on the east coast. And rumor has it that she ordered champagne for the entire cast and crew and drank to the good news that Frawley was dead.

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I love William Frawley.  His voice often times can make his whatever line instantly a million times funnier.  There are a million such instances on I Love Lucy; but one such instance is his appearance in Gentleman Jim.  Toward the end of the film, the Corbett family starts singing and doing a jig.  Frawley cannot believe that his client, Errol Flynn, is having his quiet time interrupted and is doing a jig!  He yells at all of them with his gravely voice and it is hilarious. 

 

 

Gotta say MY favorite Frawley role has always been his crusty old and cynical "political adviser" to Gene Lockhart's judge role in MIRACLE ON 34TH STREET, particularly the scenes where Frawley tells Lockhart, "If you rule there ain't no Santy Claus, forget gettin' re-elected 'cause you couldn't even get elected dog catcher in this town if ya do!". And then later on, as Lockhart keeps trying to sidestep that little political minefield while on the bench, he keeps looking over at Frawley to see how he's reacting to each decision he's made and Frawley's facial expressions are priceless!

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I read in Coyne Sanders' book about Desilu that it was in Vance's contract that the character had to wear frumpy clothing and could not appear chic. Vance agreed but in real life she would attend many public events in very glamorous duds, probably to make a point that she was no real-life dumpy Ethel Mae.

 

Sorry, but glamorous duds can only take you so far, no matter how much the fashion industry tries to tell you (or I should say sell you) otherwise. You could have given Vivian Vance access to Jackie Kennedy's entire wardrobe, and she'd still have been Vivian Vance.  LucyViv.jpg

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One of my favorite William Frawley roles is as the bartender in Roxie Hart. Re: Vivian Vance, I like her very much, but I think as sitcom neighbors go, my favorite will always be Bea Benaderet as Blanche Morton in "Burns and Allen."  Of course Ms. B. had a career well beyond that role. Another '50s TV neighbor still lives here in NYC, I believe -- Joyce Randolph.

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i recall bea benaderet's guest starring in a 'i love lucy' episode where she plays an old woman who has the hots for ricky.

i never laughed so hard in my entire life.       :lol:
also, in the same episode, edward everett horton (also guest starring) chases after lucy.

 

One of my favorite William Frawley roles is as the bartender in Roxie Hart. Re: Vivian Vance, I like her very much, but I think as sitcom neighbors go, my favorite will always be Bea Benaderet as Blanche Morton in "Burns and Allen."  Of course Ms. B. had a career well beyond that role. Another '50s TV neighbor still lives here in NYC, I believe -- Joyce Randolph.

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i recall bea benaderet's guest starring in a 'i love lucy' episode where she plays an old woman who has the hots for ricky.

 

i never laughed so hard in my entire life.       :lol:

also, in the same episode, edward everett horton (also guest starring) chases after lucy.

That episode is funny. Bea Benederet plays Miss Lewis an elderly neighbor of the Ricardos and Mertzes.  Edward Everett Horton played the man who ran the grocery store (I forgot what his character's name was).  Benederet has a crush on Horton and asks Lucy for advice on how to attract him.  Lucy teaches her how to wiggle her hips and give a "come hither look."  Benederet tries it out on Ricky and he thinks she's experiencing health problems until she advises him that she was "flirting" with him.  Later, Horton comes over and Lucy tries to talk to him about Benederet, except he gets the wrong idea and thinks that she's hitting on him.  Lucy ends up with him coming over to her house for a dinner date.  Lucy does all she can to turn him off and get him interested in Benederet. 

 

This episode is hilarious and like I mentioned in another thread; Lucille Ball worked with many of our great character actors throughout her movie career and she had a great regard for their talents.  She always tried to get them work on her television and radio shows when she could. 

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