Louie (bwayboogiewooge) wrote in moviebuffs,

Classic Character Actors

Everyone has their favorite “stars” but who else here has their favorite character actor? You know, the familiar face playing the neighborhood gossip or the wise-cracking butler. The mustachioed villian or the town floozy. Character actors are the unsung heroes of the cinema. They do all of the work that the big stars do but get none of the notoriety (or at least a tiny fraction of what the Gables and Garlands get) and substantially less pay. They are in the background of the scene and they usually play the same role from film to film. Yet despite all of this we do notice them and remember them fondly. Who can forget the raspy-voiced, Andy Devine riding shotgun for the Stagecoach in John Ford’s quintessential western. Or Gary Cooper’s toothless sidekick, Walter Brennan going on about the “heelots” in Frank Capra’s classic cautionary tale of the corrupting power of the media and what one man can do against the system. And who else makes the perfect celluloid mother than Spring Byington? Possibly Beulah Bondi, for one.
So behind the cut you will find some of my favorite character actors that I have seen time and time again in many of my most favorite films (Coincidence? I think not.) and a short list of their more popular credits. Enjoy.

Edward Arnold

---Typecast as grasping tycoon, a sinister businessman, or crooked politician. Frank Capra's go to villain.
Film Highlights-
You Can’t Take It With You (1938)
Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939)
Meet John Doe (1941)
Take Me Out to the Ball Game (1949)
Annie Get Your Gun (1950)

Eric Blore

---The gentleman's gentleman. Usually cast as a servant or butler with a sharp wit, most notably in several of the Astaire/Rogers musicals.
Film Highlights-
Top Hat (1935)
Swing Time (1936)
Shall We Dance (1937)
The Lady Eve (1941)
Sullivan’s Travels (1941)
The Sky’s the Limit (1943)

Walter Brennan

---The perfect "old man" sidekick to the most virile of male stars including John Wayne, Gary Cooper and Bogart. Often steals the scene from the star [see Rio Bravo]. Winner of 3 Academy Awards: Come and Get It (1936), Kentucky (1938), The Westerner (1940). Also nominated for Sergeant York (1941).
Film Highlights-
Fury (1936)
The Story of Vernon and Irene Castle (1939)
Meet John Doe (1941)
Sergeant York (1941)
The Pride of the Yankees (1942)
To Have and Have Not (1944)
My Darling Clementine (1946)
Red River (1948)
Bad Day at Black Rock (1954)
Rio Bravo (1959)

Felix Bressart

---Soft spoken German emigre with the knack of bringing a deep sense of warmth and an old gentle soul to his roles making him a memorable character.
Film Highlights-
Ninotchka (1939)
The Shop Around the Corner (1940)
To Be or Not To Be (1942)
Portrait of Jennie (1948)

Charles Coburn

---Usually appeared in comedic films in fatherly figures, such as Barbara Stanwyck's card shark father in The Lady Eve, Jimmy Stewart's rich father in Vivacious Lady, and Benjamin Dingle in The More the Merrier, a roomer of Jean Arthur in crowded wartime Washington D.C. a role that earned him an Academy Award. Two other nominations: The Devil and Miss Jones (1941), The Green Years (1946)
Film Highlights-
Vivacious Lady (1938)
Bachelor Mother (1939)
The Lady Eve (1941)
The More the Merrier (1943)
Gentlemen Prefer Blonds(1953)

Walter Connolly

---A versatile actor originally on Broadway. Capable of screwball comedy (It Happened One Night, 20th Century) as well as high drama (The Good Earth) but always with a bit of comedy to lighten the mood.
Film Highlights-
It Happened One Night (1934)
20th Century (1934)
Libeled Lady (1936)
Nothing Sacred (1937)
Fifth Avenue Girl (1939)

Andy Devine

---Trademark rasp-voice and rotund figure. Appeared in over 400 films. Easily moved between "B" westerns to "A" pictures. Appeared in some of the best classics the western genre had to offer.
Film Highlights-
Destry Rides Again (1932)
A Star is Born (1937)
Stagecoach (1939)
The Red Badge of Courage (1951)
Two Rode Together (1961)
The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962)

William Demarest

---Member of Preston Sturges "stock" troupe of actors. Replaced William Frawley as Uncle Charley on the hit TV shoe "My Three Sons". Only Academy Award nomination for The Jolson Story.
Film Highlights-
Love on the Run (1936)
Mr Smith Goes to Washington (1939)
The Lady Eve (1941)
Sullivan's Travels (1941)
The Palm Beach Story (1942)
The Miracle of Morgan's Creek (1944)

Edward Everett Horton

---His character were usually "pleasant and dignified, but politely hesitant when faced with a potentially embarrassing situation."
*PIC #3 - the 47 year old Horton with 17 year old Betty Grable dancing in The Gay Divorcee
Film Highlights-
Trouble in Paradise (1932)
The Gay Divorcee (1934)
Top Hat (1935)
Shall We Dance (1937)
Holiday (1938)
Arsenic and Old Lace (1944)

James Gleason

---Known by his hard exterior and Brooklynese/Irish manner of speech. Usually played army officers or law enforcement. Oscar nominated for Supporting role in Here Comes Mr Jordan.
Film Highlights-
Meet John Doe (1941)
Here Comes Mr. Jordan (1941)
A Guy Named Joe (1943)
Arsenic and Old Lace (1944)
The Clock (1945)
The Bishop's Wife (1947)

Cecil Kellaway

---Nominated for two Oscars: Luck of the Irish (1949), Guess Who is Coming to Dinner (1967).
Film Highlights-
Wuthering Heights (1939)
Gunga Din (1939)
The Letter (1940)
The Post Man Always Rings Twice (1946)
Portrait of Jennie (1948)
Harvey (1950)
Guess Who's Coming to Dinner (1967)

Guy Kibbee

---Specialty: daft and jovial characters. Jolly old uncles.
Film Highlights-
42nd Street (1933)
Joy of Living (1938)
Mr Smith Goes to Washington (1939)
Fort Apache (1948)

Thomas Mitchell

---Appeared in five classic films from that much fabled year 1939- Stagecoach, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, Only Angels Have Wings, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, and Gone with the Wind. Oscar winner for Stagecoach (1939). Also nominated for The Hurricane (1937).
Film Highlights-
Only Angels Have Wings (1939)
Stagecoach (1939)
Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939)
Gone with the Wind (1939)
It's a Wonderful Life (1946)
High Noon (1952)

Alan Mowbray

---Often played a butler during the screwball days of the 1930s with a "pompous blowhard" quality. One of the founding members of the Screen Actors Guild.
Film Highlights-
My Man Godfrey (1936)
Topper (1937)
Merrily We Live (1938)

Eugene Pallette

---"The typical Pallette role was the comically exasperated head of the family (as in My Man Godfrey and The Lady Eve), the cynical backroom sharpy (as in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington), or the gruff detective. However, Pallette's best known role may be as Friar Tuck in The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938)." Trademark: frog-like voice, pot belly.
Film Highlights-
My Man Godfrey (1936)
The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938)
Mr Smith Goes to Washington (1939)
The Lady Eve (1941)

Franklin Pangborn

---Portrayed "a lot of clerk, floorwalker, and, perhaps most of all, hotel manager roles. These latter were the basis for Pangborn typed as the straight-laced, nervous minor official or service provider or manager of whatever whose smug self-assurance in his orderly world is sorely tested."
Film Highlights-
Mr Deeds Goes to Town (1936)
My Man Godfrey (1936)
Carefree (1938)
Now, Voyager (1942)

S.Z. Sakall

---"Often playing a lovable if somewhat excitable and/or befuddled uncle, businessman or neighborhood eccentric... Because of his befuddled amiability on-screen, his trademark jowls and comical exasperation, he was nicknamed "Cuddles" and was often billed that way."
Film Highlights-
Ball of Fire (1941)
Yankee Doodle Dandy (1942)
Casablanca (1942)
Shine on Harvest Moon (1944)
In the Good Old Summertime (1949)

Phil Silvers

---Often the supplier of quick witted one-liners and sarcastic cracks. Later starred in the widely popular TV sitcom, The Phil Silvers Show. Wrote the lyrics for the Frank Sinatra classic "Nancy (with the Smiling Face)" in honor of Sinatra's daughter.
Film Highlights-
Tom Dick and Harry (1941)
A Lady Takes a Chance (1943)
Covergirl (1944)
Summerstock (1950)

Walter Slezak

---usually portrayed the villain or thug, of Austrian decent so many opportunities to play Nazis during the war years, such as in Hitchcock's Lifeboat [pictured above].
Film Highlights-
Once Upon a Honeymoon (1942)
Lifeboat (1944)
The Pirate (1948)

C. Aubrey Smith

---portrayed the stereotypical Englishman of stern determination, a man "who know about honor, tradition, and the correct path."
Film Highlights-
Tarzan the Ape Man (1932)
Trouble in Paradise (1932)
Rebecca (1940)
Waterloo Bridge (1940)
Madame Curie (1943)

[no image available]
Clinton Sundberg

---"his rather meek countenance and light, raspy tenor tones befitted a comfortable niche playing courteous servile types as various desk clerks, waiters and menservants in mostly sentimental tales." played opposite a large list of the greatest musical stars even though he himself was not a singer.
Film Highlights-
Song of the Thin Man (1947)
Good News (1947)
Easter Parade (1948)
Words and Music (1948)
The Barkleys of Broadway (1949)
Annie Get Your Gun (1950)

Keenan Wynn

---Urged his father the Vaudevillian, Ed Wynn, into film acting. Appeared together in: The Hucksters (1947), Annie Get Your Gun (1950) and Kiss Me Kate (1953).
Film Highlights-
For Me and My Gal (1942)
Since You Went Away (1944)
Week-End at the Waldorf (1945)
Three Little Words (1950)
Royal Wedding (1951)
Angels in the Outfield (1951)


Eve Arden

---Known for her quick witted replies, she usually played the "the wise-cracking, fast-talking friend to the lead." Nominated for Supporting Oscar for her role in Mildred Pierce (1945) [pictured above].
Film Highlights-
Stage Door (1937)
Cover Girl (1944)
Mildred Pierce (1945
Anatomy of a Murder (1959)

Beulah Bondi

---"Typecast as mothers and, later, grandmothers, and played James Stewart's mother four times, most famously as "Ma Bailey" in It's a Wonderful Life (1946)." Two Oscar Nominations: The Gorgeous Hussy (1936), Of Human Hearts (1938).
Film Highlights-
Vivacious Lady (1938)
Mr Smith Goes to Washington (1939)
Penny Serenade (1941)
One Foot in Heaven (1941)
It's a Wonderful Life (1946)

Billie Burke

---During the 1930s frequently played the scatter brained wife in many a screwball comedy, all stemming from her breakout portrayal of Mrs Jordan in Dinner at Eight. Nominated for Oscar: Merrily We Live (1938). Most commonly recognized as Glinda, The Good Witch from The Wizard of Oz
Film Highlights-
Dinner at Eight (1933)
Topper (1937)
Merrily We Live (1938)
The Wizard of Oz (1939)
The Man Who Came to Dinner (1942)
Father of the Bride (1950)

Spring Byington

---"She became the quintessentially wise, concerned and understanding mother/relative in scores of films, often to her detriment. The roles were so kind, polite and conservative that it was hard for her to display any of her obvious scene-stealing abilities. As a result, she was often overlooked in her pictures. Her best parts came as a pixilated parent, snooty socialite, flaky eccentric, inveterate gossip or merry mischief-maker." One Oscar nomination for You Can't Take It With You (1938)
Film Highlights-
Mutiny on the Bounty (1935)
Dodsworth (1936)
Theodora Goes Wild (1936)
Jezebel (1938)
You Can't Take It With You (1938)
Meet John Doe (1941)
In the Good Old Summertime (1949)

Elsa Lancaster

---Many roles as maids or nannies, such as the short cameo in Mary Poppins as the departing "Kattie Nana." Made ten films with her husband Charles Laughton. Two Oscar nominations: Come to the Stable (1949), Witness for the Prosecution (1957).
Film Highlights-
Bride of Frankenstein (1935)
The Private Life of Henry VIII (1933)
The Bishop's Wife (1947)
Witness for the Prosecution (1957)
Marry Poppins (1964)

Marjorie Main

---Always played the no-nonsense, straight-talking mother or house keeper, the mother hen looking over the little chicks. Portrayed "Ma Kettle" in ten films. Oscar nomination for The Egg and I (1947).
Film Highlights-
Stella Dallas (1937)
The Women (1939)
Another Thin Man (1939)
Meet Me in St. Louis (1944)
The Harvey Girls (1949)
  • Post a new comment


    Anonymous comments are disabled in this journal

    default userpic

    Your IP address will be recorded