J. Carrol Naish, Changeling

Careening across the countryside in a gypsy wagon, a lovesick hunchback cries out piteously for release from his twisted form. A hardworking Jewish-American father tries to appease his young son on his birthday, seeking to interest him in a baseball bat rather than an expensive violin.

A tired general on the Western frontier finds a few moments of solace in soldiers’ singing. An Italian soldier, willing to do anything to get back to his wife and baby, is stranded in the war-torn desert. A stoic Indian chief joins a wild west show, finding a way to keep his dignity despite his reduced circumstances. A broken matador tells an up and comer some hard truths. A Mexican dictator regretfully but decisively goes to war. A Japanese editor tries to correct his American-educated son’s corrupt Western ways.  And a half-monkey, half-man broods endlessly about his plight, especially since he’s stuck being an unpaid houseboy for his creator.

What do each of these diverse (and sometimes pretty outlandish) characters and at least 200 more have in common? Character actor and changeling J. Carrol Naish (1896-1973). I can’t possibly touch on the range of Naish‘s roles in this blog, but his remarkably productive career includes an enormous range of characters, far beyond the roles as heavily accented types he is often best remembered for today.

J. Carrol Naish as a morose Daniel in House of Frankenstein, with a mocking Elena Verdugo looking onSince Halloween is almost at our throats once again, a brief appreciation of Naish seemed appropriate for this week’s character actor nod. Joseph Patrick Carrol Naish, (called “Joe” by those who knew him), appeared in ghoulish roles in movies ranging from the unwieldy but strangely memorable House of Frankenstein (1944), which featured the actor as a murderous hunchback looking for love, (seen at right with the fickle light of his character’s life, played by Elena Verdugo). As a Mad Doctor, the Wolfman, and an anemic Dracula, monster veterans Boris Karloff, Lon Chaney, Jr. and John Carradine were also along for the ride in this entry in the franchise. While much of this movie seems to have a script that might have been jotted on the back of a paper napkin during a long coffee break at Universal, it is fun to watch, in large part because of the verve brought to the thin material by Karloff and Naish, whose tag team antics wreak havoc as they break out of a madhouse and make their way to the ancestral home of the Frankensteins, looking for revenge, romance and the answer to some slippery metaphysical questions of identity, (i.e. if Naish‘s character can ever get the procrastinating Karloff to transfer his brain into a new and supposedly better body, will he be more cheerful? Will he finally get a date?). In the end, the more foolish, and entertaining aspects of the plot seemed to fade in light of the sincerity of Naish’s performance. His plight seems to rise above this movie mulligan stew. His Daniel the hunchback comes to life with hope and despair memorably expressed in his posture, his pathetic yet touching responses to Verdugo’s toying with his emotions, as well as his constant manipulation by Karloff. Lon Chaney Jr. and J. Carrol Naish in Dracula vs. Frankenstein (1971)

Naish was equally at home in an earlier horror movie, the obscure Return Of The Terror (1934) in which he played an asylum attendant whose charges threaten to overwhelm him; as well as a role in Dr. Renault’s Secret (1942) as a passive-aggressive Javanese houseboy with a simian air, (a movie celebrated delightfully by RHSmith here last Fall).

Joe Naish was even persuaded to come out of retirement for a last monster hurrah in 1971 to appear together with Lon Chaney, Jr. in a strangely enjoyable if often atrociously cheesy movie, Dracula vs. Frankenstein (1971). The latter casts an elegiac mood on most viewers fond of both Naish and his co-star, a largely mute but game Chaney. Despite the fact that both actors were facing a host of soon fatal illnesses in real life, their professional approach to the ludicrous script and the resulting film have achieved a kind of cult status, which is discussed at length here.

Apparently never a man to turn down a role, no matter how odd, Naish, “the man of a thousand races”, also appeared in movie serials such as  Batman (1943), in which he threatened the nation as a Japanese spy with zombies at his command (see photo at right), brought one of his sometimes controversial portrayals of Italian Americans to radio and tv in Life with Luigi in the late ’40s and early ’50s, played a nemesis of Mr. Moto in Think Fast, Mr. Moto (1937), and even essayed a version of Charlie Chan on a television series for a brief time in the ’50s. Interestingly, within the context of the times, Naish’s portrayal of the Luigi character in particular, which began to follow the fictional immigrant’s quest to become an American, included heavily accented comments such as “Some-a country when a Washingtona-drive off in a Lincoln!” A few years later, however, the actor gave a compelling gravitas and dignity to the supposedly cliched role of Joe Buco, an Italian mob boss on the skids in a 1960 episode of The Untouchables called “The Noise of Death” that you can see beginning here on youtube. The violence associated in the popular imagination with the Italian-American community is not absent, but the role is enhanced by the older Naish‘s effective acting, especially in his exchanges with the polished Elliot Ness played by Robert Stack.

Naish (right) as Daka in the serial, Batman (1943)

While this was acceptable on radio for the general public, as time went on, and when the program was transplanted to television, it came under greater attack for its sometimes condescending depictions of Italian-American life, emphasizing a volubility, emotionalism and a desire to become assimilated among Luigi and his neighbors. Naish’s The New Adventures of Charlie Chan (1957-1958) was received with less vocal criticism, perhaps because the Asian community had yet to find its collective voice in American culture, and due to Naish’s more realistic portrayal of the quietly intelligent detective. By the time of his portrayal of the Mexican leader, General Antonio Lopez de Santa Ana in the 1955 version of events around the time of the Alamo in The Last Command, the actor’s commanding presence and humanizing portrait suggested that the somewhat inaccurately written but historical figure was a complex person, driven by ambition, pride and strategies that were understandable, thanks to Naish‘s nuanced portrayal of Santa Ana in this less well known film, overshadowed by John Wayne’s epic version a few years later. 

J. Carrol Naish as Santa Ana in The Last Command (1955-Frank Lloyd)Wildly politically incorrect now, Naish‘s myriad appearances in all media of such varying quality may have contributed to his lack of status in the Hollywood hierarchy of his day, even though his jaw-dropping work ethic and sometimes unintentionally insulting imitations of other races and ethnic backgrounds now look increasingly outré to us. I think these parts actually give us a pop culture window on general attitudes about those who are different than a supposedly more homogenized “us” in our past.

One of the horror movies most fondly remembered by me featuring J. Carrol Naish was the atmospheric The Beast With Five Fingers (1946), directed by Robert Florey at Warner Brothers in his usual florid style, aided by a script filtered through the imagination of Curt Siodmak. Competing against ostensible leads Robert Alda and Andrea King, and the likes of adept camera hogs Peter Lorre, Victor Francen, and Charles Dingle for screen time–not to mention a creeping hand that could play a mean piano–Naish‘s “Police Commissario Ovidio Castanio” might have been a colorless cipher in the background of this rather queasy comic tale of occult terror, murder, greed and mayhem in a gloomy Italian palazzo. Instead, Naish makes his impatient, quite dim and officious bureaucrat touchingly pompous and intolerant of any breach of his authority, even if the miscreant might be beyond the reach of his temporal authority. His characterization of this Italian character is among the more broadly drawn characters in the movie, but it adds an oddly welcome note of humor to an often lugubrious movie.

As he did in his many horror movies, the New York born actor may have rarely played a leading role, but his presence in a cast insured some style in the final product, no matter what the budget or genre of a film. His many movies provided a festival of ethnic types, sometimes seeming to reinforce racial and ethnic stereotypes, occasionally humanizing society’s outsiders, and often transcending the material he was handed.

j. carrol naish in rio grande as general philip sheridan

Over the years the actor, who specialized in almost every ethnicity but his own, repeatedly told reporters that “When the part of an Irishman comes along, nobody ever thinks of me.” Most of the time he was hired to play one of the dozens of Italian, Hispanic, Native American, Polynesian and even Asian roles required in movies between 1926 and 1971, but even he must have forgotten that he did play an Irish-American character at least once, when he gave a good, muted performance as a pensive Gen. Philip Sheridan in John Ford’s Rio Grande (seen at the left), a real life Civil War veteran, who, in the context of the frontier, is struggling to reconcile his responsibilities with his warrior instincts. Naish plays the officer as a canny but weary figure who suggests a man haunted by sometimes painful memories, but determined to find a way around the diplomatic boundaries of his limited power as a federal government representative. Actually, that memory lapse about his Irish role is pretty understandable given the range of parts that Naish played over time.

Born in New York City into a middle class family of Irish descent, (with some reported Spanish antecedents as well), the dark, curly haired actor, standing well under 6 feet tall, was blessed with an intensely expressive face, lit by alert brown eyes and a gift for mimicry that became his bread and butter. He began his path away from the Naish clan’s traditional careers in civil service and business when he reportedly ran away from home at the age of 16 to join the U.S. Navy, just before the eruption of the First World War. After service in the signal corps, and, experience in the cockpit of early fighter planes, (at least according to some suspect studio bios), Naish roamed the earth with the merchant marine, acquiring several languages in the many countries he visited in his travels, and observing the manners and customs of a vast array of humanity. In the mid-twenties, finding himself stranded in California while his ship was in dry dock for repairs, he began to pick up extra work in the movies, including an uncredited appearance in What Price Glory? (1926-Raoul Walsh).

An exaggerated Italian character captured by J. Carrol Naish (probably a publicity still for the radio and television character he played in  Life with Luigi

Becoming enamored of acting as a career, he somehow found a spot for himself with a traveling stock company appearing in theaters throughout the country. Eventually he earned a spot in the cast of the then scandalously edgy melodrama, The Shanghai Gesture, (how much would you want to bet this role gave him a chance to try out his ethnic wings in an Asian role?). Naish was quite well known in the theater community by 1929, with no less a friend than the legendary Mrs. Leslie Carter , who became the godmother of his and actress Grace Heaney‘s only child, a daughter, Carol Elaine Naish. When the talkies began to take advantage of his versatile way with dialects and his chameleon-like ability to portray many ethnicities on screen.

He appeared in a dizzying number of large and small movies, and struggled to rise above many a moth-eaten script, poverty row production values, and a series of melting pot cliches. Today, many of his more outrageous exaggerated characters–especially his Italian and Asian portrayals–are seen for the caricatures they often were–on paper. Yet he clearly tried to imbue his characters with something ineffably his own, humanizing the many sinister and benevolent characters he played with the zeal of a man trying to keep his working life interesting and alive to every dramatic and comedic scrap tossed his way. So why hasn’t he received his due among classic film fans?

Perhaps it is due to the fact that Joe Naish does not appear to have had a long term studio contract at any of the plusher dream factories, but freelanced at just about every studio, with numerous appearances at Warner Brothers, a studio that might have seemed a natural home for his earthier working class characters and racially diverse depictions. One of the most interesting parts he played very early in his movie career, was the role of a Chinese immigrant “Sun Yat Ming” who had prospered in California in director William Wellman‘s fascinating pre-code, The Hatchet Man (1932). Leading man Edward G. Robinson, also playing in “yellowface”, was a hit man designated by the local Tong society to mete out justice to his “closest friend, a man who” had traveled from China by boat with him–Sun Yat Ming.

J. Carrol Naish in The Hatchet Man (1932)The stoic Naish character prepares for his own predicted demise meticulously, accepting his fate in such a way that he forgives and understands Robinson‘s position. While by today’s standards this melodramatic movie of culture clash would hardly seem realistic, it is difficult to fault Naish‘s uncanny ability to submerge his recognizable self into his character’s demeanor, dress and essence while making him into a human being. The actor even seems taller and thinner than his reported height of 5’8″ in The Hatchet Man (1932), which will be shown on TCM on Jan 21st at 9:00AM EST, (I don’t believe that it is yet available on commercial DVD).

In the same period, Naish worked for Howard Hawks in the director’s fifth talkie, Tiger Shark (1932) a movie that provided the template for a kajillion other Warner Brothers movies about two friends, one a warmhearted buffoonish braggart and the other a sincere young man. Naish plays neither, but has an exceptionally vivid part in one scene, appearing as a lecherous “paisan” type named Tony who was interested in co-star Zita Johann. As in The Hatchet Man the roles of the leading characters are drawn from a supposedly exotic ethnic group–in Tiger Shark it is Portuguese fisherman. While Naish‘s sleazy character is not as broadly sketched as Robinson‘s hearty sailor, the character actor must have been taking notes. Both characters alerted the film industry to the presence of a new type of utility player in their midst, capable of delivering a He recreated another salty dog, Mediterranean style, playing “Socrates”, a sponge fisherman twenty years later in Beneath the 12-Mile Reef (1953).

Other, later Asian characters were somewhat more sinister and disturbing, especially as the war approached. One of these roles came along in the World War II melodrama from RKO, Behind the Rising Sun (1943), when Naish played a disillusioned Japanese citizen and father of Tom Neal (also playing a Japanese) in a movie that now seems very odd, even though in its time it brought “true to life” details about Japanese society in the grip of militarists to the screen under the guidance of director Edward Dmytryk, in one of his earlier directorial efforts.

j. carrol naish with tom neal in behind the rising sun

Naish‘s character is an observer of his disintegrating society, witnessing the destruction of all social ties in the totalitarian and again he humanizes a role that might have been a shrill, one note affair if he had not been able to invest his fairly nuanced character with some self-awareness, drawing a viewer’s empathy for the enemy only two years after Pearl Harbor. The cast, rounded out by Philip Ahn of Korean descent, and Chinese-American actor Benson Fong, was largely composed of white actors in Asian makeup, but managed to imply that the Japanese people were human beings at a time when many popular American films exaggerated their qualities as aggressors, fostering racist beliefs in their audience that arise in every war about an enemy.When the part called for it, as it did in MGM’s Dragon Seed (1944), Naish was required to play the one dimensional part of an imperialistic Japanese officer managing a kitchen, while being tempted by and unlikely Katharine Hepburn (as a Chinese woman resisting the Japanese invasion) his entertaining turn as the lecherous invader made his dramatic but abrupt demise a pity, since he seemed to bring one of the few signs of fun to an overly dramatic and oddly cast adaptation of a Pearl Buck novel.

J. Carrol Naish in Waterfront (1944)By the late ’30s, Naish started to pop up in numerous B movies at Paramount, notably in an interesting programmer in which he played a hoodlum who is one of the Persons in Hiding (1939) with Patricia Morison (in her first movie). This brief but engaging movie has a seedy but intriguing proto-noir premise allegedly penned by none other than J. Edgar Hoover; but given a dash of desperation by Naish in one of his rare anti-hero roles. Later work even allowed the actor to appear in a few musicals, notably at MGM, where he appeared twice with Mario Lanza in That Midnight Kiss (1949) and The Toast of New Orleans (1950), playing appropriate variations on his ethnic shtick as an Italian and an Arcadian. According to one source, when making the latter movie with David Niven in the cast, the bubbly flowed on the set thanks to the British actor’s sense of fun. A comical looking J. Carrol Naish in the Mario Lanza movie, The Toast of New Orleans (1950)By mid-afternoon, on such days, Lanza was glassy-eyed and Joe Naish was napping in a corner between shots, while Niven showed no effects!

During the ’40s, Naish also appeared in numerous movies at Columbia, Republic, Monogram and PRC, winning some interesting roles that allowed him more time in the spotlight, helped him to escape some of the limitations of notably in the Waterfront (1944) as an erudite optometrist who may be a spy, but whose sense of isolation and superior presence in the fogbound setting add more to the atmosphere than the smoke machine and the bleak settings. Another interesting movie from this period was made at Columbia in the first of The Whistler movies, in which he plays Richard Dix relentless nemesis. Dix, in a moment of despondency after learning that his wife is probably dead after being captured by the Japanese, hires “The Killer” (J. Carrol Naish) to eliminate an individual–himself. As the film progresses, the Dix and Naish relationship becomes more intense and strained, especially after Dix tries to cancel the contract. The film’s overwhelming sense of dread, dark streets and cheap sets all contributed to the lingering effect of this movie.

Despite a lack of a powerful publicity machine provided by the studio flacks and a consistent type of role for audiences to remember, the war years gave J. Carrol Naish more opportunities to display his versatility. Two of Naish‘s most sympathetic roles in the 1940s allowed the actor to use his skills as a chameleon and to play characters with their own dignity beyond the usual Hollywood stereotypes. They also won the actor two Oscar nominations as Best Supporting Actor and a Golden Globe in 1946.

J. Carrol Naish in Sahara (1943)The first film which garnered Naish a nomination was Sahara (1943), directed by Zoltan Korda, (and based on a 1937 Soviet film set during the Russian Civil War between the Whites and the Reds, called Trinadtsat, directed by Mikhail Romm). This tale, set during the sturm und drang surrounding the battle for North Africa, follows a WWII united nations of English, French, Sudanese and American soldiers on their trek across the desert. Working with emerging star Humphrey Bogart as the commanding sergeant of a lone tank, Naish portrayed Giuseppe, an Italian everyman who is seen as a person caught up in the fascist nightmare, despite his lack of interest in politics and his rather poignant desire to escape his desperate state. The character is an exceptionally sympathetic creation for a film in the middle of the war. The Italian infantryman; cut off from his own army, missing his family, and eager to share water and the companionship of the troupe of wandering Allies, is both pathetic and ennobled by his simple gratitude to his rescuers and eagerness to be of use to them. Acting in the company of the salty tongued Bogart, a stalwart Bruce Bennett, the skilled Dan Duryea, a youthful Lloyd Bridges, and the charismatic Rex Ingram, by the unexpected end of Giuseppe’s ride with the Allies, his comical and touching presence has grown beyond the one dimensional character he might have been. You can see a key sequence in this film featuring Naish in the center spotlight here:

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Having given one of his finest performances in Sahara, the actor soon went on to another role which earned him great notices, but unfortunately is very rarely seen anywhere today, which is especially vexing considering its pedigree.

A scene from A Medal for Benny with Grant Mitchell, J. Carrol Naish, Arturo de Cordova, and Dorothy LamourA Medal for Benny (1945-Irving Pichel) was written by John Steinbeck with Jack Wagner as a commentary on the distortions and hypocrisy bred by war. When a young Paisan in California’s Salinas Valley, a screw-up named Benny, who is never seen, is run out of his town after burning all his bridges, he leaves behind his father (J. Carrol Naish) who loves him despite his failings, as well as his girlfriend (Dorothy Lamour). After he is drafted into the army. When he is killed under fire, a Congressional Medal of Honor is awarded to him posthumously, garnering the town considerable prestige and causing a turnabout in their attitude toward Benny in retrospect. Lamour, who is becoming attracted to a local man, (Arturo de Cordova), finds her loyalties torn between her realistic memories of the shiftless Benny and her concern for Naish’s feelings, and she tries to protect him from the truth.

The “respectable” townspeople, including such familiar character actors as Frank McHugh, Grant Mitchell and Douglas Dumbrille complicate matters more by trying to exploit their community’s new-found fame, despite their underlying contempt for Benny, and the Paisan population in general. While Naish’s character is called Charlie Martin, (pronounced mar-teen), his lovable character is a bit long on folksy sayings, which is how Naish played him. (The paisanos, btw, were usually of mixed Indian and Spanish blood). While most contemporary reviews said that the “characters are colorful vagrants, amoral and full of small deceits”, the film tries to show “their frailties are those of average humans. And, deep in their hearts, they are good. This spirit has been glowingly translated pictorially in Frank Butler‘s script and in the brilliantly naturalistic direction of Irving Pichel. The performances are exceptional. J. Carrol Naish is warm and picturesque as the ignorant father” while he received good support from Dorothy Lamour (who surprised many with her sincere manner after appearing in so many comedies and spectacles). Though Naish was nominated for an Academy Award, as was Wagner and Steinbeck for their story, he had to settle for a Golden Globe for this performance, which, as far as I can discover, was never issued on commercial home video in any form. Interestingly, J. Carrol Naish appears to have given some of his finest performances in ensemble pieces in which he had other actors to work with, bolstered by strong writing and sensitive direction.

One outstanding example of Naish‘s gifted ensemble work was in Don Siegel‘s formal directorial debut at Warner Brothers. Siegel, an ambitious and talented man whose innovative work in creating montages in the special effects department at the studio had led to a lack of advancement, described the film short Star of the Night (1945) with some contempt in his autobiography, A Siegel Film. A cynical J. Carrol Naish (right) confronting drifter Donald Woods' idealism in  Star in the NightAssigned by Jack Warner to the small scale re-telling of the nativity story set in the Arizona desert at a roadside inn, the director, who would go on to direct gritty stories such as Riot in Cell Block 11 (1954) and numerous Clint Eastwood films, felt little affinity for this Christmas-themed tale. Despite this, Siegel created a warm and simple 25 minute movie out of Robert Finch and Saul Elkins‘ spare story, with J. Carrol Naish as the exasperated owner of the roadside business. Playing a heavily accented Nick, he is a deeply cynical man, fed up with the complaints of his guests and the world in general. As he tries to get a lighted star in place to advertise his diner, a mysterious hitchhiker (Donald Woods) stops by on Christmas Eve asking for a few moments to warm himself inside, the bilious innkeeper expresses his contempt for all those who celebrate the holiday one week of the year, only to return to the world’s callousness again, despite the stranger’s talk of goodwill toward men on that night.

“What-a you talk, goodwill? There’s-a no such-a thing.” barks the man. “You see that-a sign? It cost-a me plenty money. Even-a second-hand cash. I can’t a-buy ‘em with goodwill – I can’t a-buy nothing with goodwill, see?”

In contrast to Nick, his wife Rosa (Rosina Galli) radiates a warm spirit, explaining when he is out of earshot that she decided to marry Nick when she saw him weeping over a horse who had collapsed in the street. A series of bitter and self-centered guests (played by a fine collection of character actors, including Irving Bacon, Dick Elliott, and Virginia Sale) stream through Nick’s diner, until a certain Jose and Maria Santos (Anthony Caruso and Lynn Baggett) stop by just as Maria goes into labor. When the formerly mean-spirited clients return to learn of this event, they demonstrate an unexpected and heedless generosity to help the couple, leading to Nick’s realization that despite all that goes wrong, there is still good in the world, as he silently turns out the light in his business and looks out the window. Perhaps the best analogy for this movie for those who haven’t seen it might be to compare it to an exquisite, slightly corny but nevertheless touching episode of The Twilight Zone. While the Oscar that this little movie won may have galled the director a bit, he did express his appreciation for those who contributed their talent to this film, with chief among them, J. Carroll Naish.

J. Carrol Naish in Star of the Night Years later actress Mary Nash, recalled the actor’s helpfulness when she met him on the set of Jean Renoir’s portrait of The Southerner (1945), in which Naish appeared as Devers, a greedy farmer. While she played his daughter, he encouraged her to remember that it was important to support her fellow actors in scenes to give them something concrete to play off, a lesson the grateful neophyte treasured. Naish was also remembered by the exotic Acquanetta (born Mildred Davenport in Wyoming), an aspiring actress on the set of Jungle Woman, one of the numerous B movies he played in during the thirties and forties.

“[J. Carrol Naish] helped me more than any actor or actress that I ever worked with, because he was a fabulous actor.” she explained. “I think one of the greatest. Why he didn’t achieve stardom other than as a character actor, I don’t know. [Hollywood] missed the boat. But he was always offering suggestions and being very helpful and kind and gentle. What a nice man…”

Despite the simplistic writing characteristic of many of the movies he appeared in from a 21st century viewpoint, the rushed schedules which must have compelled some thumbnail portraits, and the attempted stereotyping of a gifted actor by a sometimes unimaginative industry, it might be fairer to see this talented character actor’s overall career as a bridge between a period when newly arrived immigrants were regarded with suspicion and the ability of movies and those who made them in his time to make those who were different somehow more acceptable and fully human.

Upcoming Movies with J. Carrol Naish on TCM can be seen here.

32 Responses J. Carrol Naish, Changeling
Posted By Mary : October 30, 2009 8:43 am

Does anyone know why A Medal for Benny has never been available on VHS or DVD? Is it a rights issue??

Posted By Mary : October 30, 2009 8:43 am

Does anyone know why A Medal for Benny has never been available on VHS or DVD? Is it a rights issue??

Posted By smitty1931 : October 30, 2009 10:58 am

His villain in the the serial Batman circa 1943 has to be seen to be believed. This must have been a low spot for him and he is hammy as hell!

Posted By smitty1931 : October 30, 2009 10:58 am

His villain in the the serial Batman circa 1943 has to be seen to be believed. This must have been a low spot for him and he is hammy as hell!

Posted By moirafinnie : October 30, 2009 12:45 pm

Hi Mary,
As I mentioned in my blog, I don’t believe that A Medal for Benny has ever been issued on VHS or DVD, though I may be wrong. I’m not even sure that it was ever broadcast in decades past either. However, given the opening of new revenue streams by Warner Archive and the recent announcement of a “release on demand” dvd-r partnership between Universal and TCM, and the possibility that this may be a trend-setting move for the industry, I’m hoping that a no frills version of this unjustly obscure Paramount film will be forthcoming in the future. You would think that the Oscar nominations for this movie and John Steinbeck‘s attachment to the project alone would be reason enough to make this marketable. I have seen A Medal for Benny dvd-rs for sale on the internet in the recent past, though their quality is unknown and they are not sanctioned by the copyright holders of this piece.

If I find out more in the future, I’ll try to post it here. Perhaps some knowledgeable individuals can also contribute more info about this movie’s history.

Hi Smitty,
Having seen Naish’s Dr. Daka menace Batman with his living zombies in that 1943 serial some time ago, I mentally filed the actor’s heavily made up Japanese caricature as one of those propaganda pieces that might not bear too much scrutiny–even if it was great for a laugh. The references by the narrator to “shifty-eyed Japs” certainly makes it a fascinating if slightly appalling artifact of its period. I believe that the Batman serial is available on DVD, as is Mascot’s 1933 Mystery Squadron, which features Naish in a small part. Frankly, J. Carrol Naish‘s B movie work and his serials are highly enjoyable, if sorely in need of the MST3K treatment on video. I’ve added a photo of Naish in the role in the in Batman’s serial to the above blog for your viewing pleasure.

Btw, I should also mention that a squirm-worthy public hygiene film made during WWII for defense plant workers starring Naish has received the nod from Legend Films (where MST3K star Mike Nelson is perched lately). It is a part of a collection of ten educational shorts from that period, called Shorts-Tacular Shorts-Stravaganza!. You can read more about this epic (of sorts) here.

Know For Sure (1941), a short reportedly directed by Lewis Stone for the government, features Joe Naish as an Italian grocer (natch), who learns the devastating effects of syphilis first hand…not something I’m eager to see, but the actor–as usual–is said to give this material his all. The man was the walking embodiment of an actor’s commitment to his part,(or do I mean paycheck, some days?), though I’m sure it was regarded as a patriotic act as well.

Thanks for taking the time to comment here.

Posted By moirafinnie : October 30, 2009 12:45 pm

Hi Mary,
As I mentioned in my blog, I don’t believe that A Medal for Benny has ever been issued on VHS or DVD, though I may be wrong. I’m not even sure that it was ever broadcast in decades past either. However, given the opening of new revenue streams by Warner Archive and the recent announcement of a “release on demand” dvd-r partnership between Universal and TCM, and the possibility that this may be a trend-setting move for the industry, I’m hoping that a no frills version of this unjustly obscure Paramount film will be forthcoming in the future. You would think that the Oscar nominations for this movie and John Steinbeck‘s attachment to the project alone would be reason enough to make this marketable. I have seen A Medal for Benny dvd-rs for sale on the internet in the recent past, though their quality is unknown and they are not sanctioned by the copyright holders of this piece.

If I find out more in the future, I’ll try to post it here. Perhaps some knowledgeable individuals can also contribute more info about this movie’s history.

Hi Smitty,
Having seen Naish’s Dr. Daka menace Batman with his living zombies in that 1943 serial some time ago, I mentally filed the actor’s heavily made up Japanese caricature as one of those propaganda pieces that might not bear too much scrutiny–even if it was great for a laugh. The references by the narrator to “shifty-eyed Japs” certainly makes it a fascinating if slightly appalling artifact of its period. I believe that the Batman serial is available on DVD, as is Mascot’s 1933 Mystery Squadron, which features Naish in a small part. Frankly, J. Carrol Naish‘s B movie work and his serials are highly enjoyable, if sorely in need of the MST3K treatment on video. I’ve added a photo of Naish in the role in the in Batman’s serial to the above blog for your viewing pleasure.

Btw, I should also mention that a squirm-worthy public hygiene film made during WWII for defense plant workers starring Naish has received the nod from Legend Films (where MST3K star Mike Nelson is perched lately). It is a part of a collection of ten educational shorts from that period, called Shorts-Tacular Shorts-Stravaganza!. You can read more about this epic (of sorts) here.

Know For Sure (1941), a short reportedly directed by Lewis Stone for the government, features Joe Naish as an Italian grocer (natch), who learns the devastating effects of syphilis first hand…not something I’m eager to see, but the actor–as usual–is said to give this material his all. The man was the walking embodiment of an actor’s commitment to his part,(or do I mean paycheck, some days?), though I’m sure it was regarded as a patriotic act as well.

Thanks for taking the time to comment here.

Posted By Al Lowe : October 30, 2009 1:47 pm

I recall the TV series Guestward Ho that Naish appeared in from 1960 to 1961 on ABC.
This time his nationality was American Indian. He was Chief Hawkeye, who ran a local trading post. The star was Joanne Dru. Back then I had not seen Red River or Wagonmaster and did not know she was Peter Marshall’s sister. All I knew was that she stirred my young hormones. She played a model who was married to an advertising executive played by Mark Miller. The New York couple buys and moves to a dude ranch in New Mexico.

Naish was part of the assembly in the famous photo of the MGM stock company taken in the late 40s. Of course, in another three or four years some of these contract players, including Naish, no longer worked for Metro.
It is odd how many of the biggest stars were absent from the photo – such as: Elizabeth Taylor, Lana Turner, Marjorie Main, Greer Garson, Cyd Charisse, Lena Horne, Deborah Kerr, Margaret O’Brien, Robert Walker, James Whitmore, Frank Morgan.
It is also odd that the assembly in the photo included Clinton Sundberg (seated between Lewis Stone and Robert Taylor).
Who?
He played key minor supporting parts in movies like Easter Parade and Annie Get Your Gun.

I enjoyed Naish in some of his movies. Like Lloyd Nolan, he made some movies work. He was a pro who made some outlandish plots believable.

Posted By Al Lowe : October 30, 2009 1:47 pm

I recall the TV series Guestward Ho that Naish appeared in from 1960 to 1961 on ABC.
This time his nationality was American Indian. He was Chief Hawkeye, who ran a local trading post. The star was Joanne Dru. Back then I had not seen Red River or Wagonmaster and did not know she was Peter Marshall’s sister. All I knew was that she stirred my young hormones. She played a model who was married to an advertising executive played by Mark Miller. The New York couple buys and moves to a dude ranch in New Mexico.

Naish was part of the assembly in the famous photo of the MGM stock company taken in the late 40s. Of course, in another three or four years some of these contract players, including Naish, no longer worked for Metro.
It is odd how many of the biggest stars were absent from the photo – such as: Elizabeth Taylor, Lana Turner, Marjorie Main, Greer Garson, Cyd Charisse, Lena Horne, Deborah Kerr, Margaret O’Brien, Robert Walker, James Whitmore, Frank Morgan.
It is also odd that the assembly in the photo included Clinton Sundberg (seated between Lewis Stone and Robert Taylor).
Who?
He played key minor supporting parts in movies like Easter Parade and Annie Get Your Gun.

I enjoyed Naish in some of his movies. Like Lloyd Nolan, he made some movies work. He was a pro who made some outlandish plots believable.

Posted By Patricia : October 30, 2009 5:40 pm

How pleasant to click and find your article on Naish, whom I will forever after refer to as “Joe”.

“Star of the Night” was one of the first things I saw on TCM when it became available in this area a couple of years ago. His Phil Sheridan is near the top of my favourite Naish performances.

Favourite line, however, comes from “Charlie Chan at the Circus” -
Cop: How did the snake get in here?
“Joe”: How did the ape get out of the cage?

Who knows why some things crack us up? They do like to answer questions with questions in movies.

Posted By Patricia : October 30, 2009 5:40 pm

How pleasant to click and find your article on Naish, whom I will forever after refer to as “Joe”.

“Star of the Night” was one of the first things I saw on TCM when it became available in this area a couple of years ago. His Phil Sheridan is near the top of my favourite Naish performances.

Favourite line, however, comes from “Charlie Chan at the Circus” -
Cop: How did the snake get in here?
“Joe”: How did the ape get out of the cage?

Who knows why some things crack us up? They do like to answer questions with questions in movies.

Posted By Bronxgirl : October 31, 2009 4:37 am

One of my favorite character actors gets the brilliant moira treatment.

Posted By Bronxgirl : October 31, 2009 4:37 am

One of my favorite character actors gets the brilliant moira treatment.

Posted By jbryant : October 31, 2009 3:57 pm

Naish is pretty great in Robert Florey’s KING OF ALCATRAZ (1938). I wish TCM would dust that one off, if they have it.

Posted By jbryant : October 31, 2009 3:57 pm

Naish is pretty great in Robert Florey’s KING OF ALCATRAZ (1938). I wish TCM would dust that one off, if they have it.

Posted By Suzi Doll : November 1, 2009 5:14 pm

J. Carrol Naish deserved the Moira treatment. Magnificent job.

Posted By Suzi Doll : November 1, 2009 5:14 pm

J. Carrol Naish deserved the Moira treatment. Magnificent job.

Posted By moirafinnie : November 2, 2009 12:39 am

Hi Al,
Though I’ve never seen the series ‘Guestward Ho!’, the book by Patrick Dennis (the author of Auntie Mame) was something I consumed as a kid on the hunt for humor in book form. From what I’ve heard about this series in the past, I wonder if J. Carrol Naish was really laying the groundwork for the satire on Cowboys and Indians that emerged in F Troop some years after this short lived series? Btw, your fascination with Joanne Dru is quite understandable. I agree completely about Lloyd Nolan. He is one of my favorite actors in anything, making even prosaic movies a pleasure to see, as did Naish.

Hi Patricia,
Thanks for those references, and I think that we all might feel as though we “know” Joe Naish due to the sheer number of performances that underpin so many movies that we love from Charlie Chan movies to dramas such as Sahara to the short, Star of the Night, one of the discoveries uncovered by TCM in the last 15 years. I should mention that Star of the Night is included on the DVD of Christmas in Connecticut (1945).

Hi Bronxie and Suzi,
Thanks for your kind words. I’m so glad that you enjoyed this attempt at a tribute to an essential character actor.

Jbryant,
I would love to see King of Alcatraz too as well as many Robert Florey movies as are available on TCM. King of Alcatraz was a Paramount film, and, as you know, many of their films from the studio era are not in release, though there seem to be incremental additions to available for broadcast films in recent years. Florey‘s films almost always have moments of great flair to recommend them.

Posted By moirafinnie : November 2, 2009 12:39 am

Hi Al,
Though I’ve never seen the series ‘Guestward Ho!’, the book by Patrick Dennis (the author of Auntie Mame) was something I consumed as a kid on the hunt for humor in book form. From what I’ve heard about this series in the past, I wonder if J. Carrol Naish was really laying the groundwork for the satire on Cowboys and Indians that emerged in F Troop some years after this short lived series? Btw, your fascination with Joanne Dru is quite understandable. I agree completely about Lloyd Nolan. He is one of my favorite actors in anything, making even prosaic movies a pleasure to see, as did Naish.

Hi Patricia,
Thanks for those references, and I think that we all might feel as though we “know” Joe Naish due to the sheer number of performances that underpin so many movies that we love from Charlie Chan movies to dramas such as Sahara to the short, Star of the Night, one of the discoveries uncovered by TCM in the last 15 years. I should mention that Star of the Night is included on the DVD of Christmas in Connecticut (1945).

Hi Bronxie and Suzi,
Thanks for your kind words. I’m so glad that you enjoyed this attempt at a tribute to an essential character actor.

Jbryant,
I would love to see King of Alcatraz too as well as many Robert Florey movies as are available on TCM. King of Alcatraz was a Paramount film, and, as you know, many of their films from the studio era are not in release, though there seem to be incremental additions to available for broadcast films in recent years. Florey‘s films almost always have moments of great flair to recommend them.

Posted By Patrick Carrol Naish : March 29, 2010 7:37 pm

What a wonderful article. This has got to be one of the most in-depth pieces written in a very long time. I was named after my Uncle, who was my Father’s oldest brother. In fact my Dad, Herbert Naish, often times was a double for Uncle Carrol (Honestly, I had never known him to be referred to as “Joe”; my Dad always called him “Carrol”. But that very well could have been the case, in some circles.). I was 11 years old when he passed in 1973 and about 16 when my Aunt Gladys (formerly Gladys Heaney) passed many years later. But I do remember many visits to and by them.

It’s truly great to hear all of the comments and that he is still remembered.

Posted By Patrick Carrol Naish : March 29, 2010 7:37 pm

What a wonderful article. This has got to be one of the most in-depth pieces written in a very long time. I was named after my Uncle, who was my Father’s oldest brother. In fact my Dad, Herbert Naish, often times was a double for Uncle Carrol (Honestly, I had never known him to be referred to as “Joe”; my Dad always called him “Carrol”. But that very well could have been the case, in some circles.). I was 11 years old when he passed in 1973 and about 16 when my Aunt Gladys (formerly Gladys Heaney) passed many years later. But I do remember many visits to and by them.

It’s truly great to hear all of the comments and that he is still remembered.

Posted By moirafinnie : March 29, 2010 8:24 pm

Patrick, I am so touched to see your response to my attempt to honor your Uncle Carrol. He is one of my favorite actors and his presence in any movie always enhances any story that I happen to see him in. As you can see from the affectionate remarks of the commentators above, the enjoyment of his life work continues to this day.

Thank you so much for taking the time to respond to this blog.

Posted By moirafinnie : March 29, 2010 8:24 pm

Patrick, I am so touched to see your response to my attempt to honor your Uncle Carrol. He is one of my favorite actors and his presence in any movie always enhances any story that I happen to see him in. As you can see from the affectionate remarks of the commentators above, the enjoyment of his life work continues to this day.

Thank you so much for taking the time to respond to this blog.

Posted By Thomas Pflimlin : May 2, 2010 7:58 pm

If Patrick Naish receives this, I wanted to tell him that his father,Herb,was one of my co’s in the 109th USASA Battalion in Los Angeles. He and Max Schwartz were both majors in the reserve. They would ride around in a jeep and keep us highly entertained during summer camps. If J.Carroll was as sweet a guy as Herb Naish, then he must have been a terrific uncle. And he was, of course, one of the greatest character actors in film history.

Posted By Thomas Pflimlin : May 2, 2010 7:58 pm

If Patrick Naish receives this, I wanted to tell him that his father,Herb,was one of my co’s in the 109th USASA Battalion in Los Angeles. He and Max Schwartz were both majors in the reserve. They would ride around in a jeep and keep us highly entertained during summer camps. If J.Carroll was as sweet a guy as Herb Naish, then he must have been a terrific uncle. And he was, of course, one of the greatest character actors in film history.

Posted By Una Barry : March 2, 2011 11:58 am

Hi, this is the Irish side of the J. Carrol Naish family. I too have enjoyed your facinating, indepth piece on J C. I am always astonished at how much information is available about him online but this has to be the most interesting. If you have the contact details for Patrick Carrol Naish could you pass this on to him. Our common connection is that the maternal grandmother of J Carrol Naish is my great,great grandmother. Patricks age doesn’t seem to fit the time line and I am just wondering if he is Herbert’s grandson? Kind regards. Úna Barry

Posted By Una Barry : March 2, 2011 11:58 am

Hi, this is the Irish side of the J. Carrol Naish family. I too have enjoyed your facinating, indepth piece on J C. I am always astonished at how much information is available about him online but this has to be the most interesting. If you have the contact details for Patrick Carrol Naish could you pass this on to him. Our common connection is that the maternal grandmother of J Carrol Naish is my great,great grandmother. Patricks age doesn’t seem to fit the time line and I am just wondering if he is Herbert’s grandson? Kind regards. Úna Barry

Posted By EMO/Santa Barbara : March 30, 2011 3:04 am

My uncle was Yul Brynner and various ocassions I had the pleasure of meeting many giants in film who were stars!but yet we know what makes them stars,the supporting cast. When I would meet the caliber of an actors like Claude Rains,Victor Mature, Judy Garland, Ava Gardener, Robert Mitchum and many others, my uncle would always tell me that he is who he is because of the great character actors such as Mr. Naish who helped him pretend and play his part better!!!!!! remember folks acting is pretending and its an art!!!!!!!!! these people can pretend better than you or me. Their were 2 occasions when I had the opportunity and the honor to meet Mr. Naish. Thanks EMO, Montecito,Calif

Posted By EMO/Santa Barbara : March 30, 2011 3:04 am

My uncle was Yul Brynner and various ocassions I had the pleasure of meeting many giants in film who were stars!but yet we know what makes them stars,the supporting cast. When I would meet the caliber of an actors like Claude Rains,Victor Mature, Judy Garland, Ava Gardener, Robert Mitchum and many others, my uncle would always tell me that he is who he is because of the great character actors such as Mr. Naish who helped him pretend and play his part better!!!!!! remember folks acting is pretending and its an art!!!!!!!!! these people can pretend better than you or me. Their were 2 occasions when I had the opportunity and the honor to meet Mr. Naish. Thanks EMO, Montecito,Calif

Posted By Barb Dublin Ireland : April 22, 2011 1:38 pm

Good evening from Dublin Ireland.
I at present tracing my family tree on my Mothers side-her maiden name was Caren.. this has nothing to do with J Carroll Naish, except all my life I have been told about the ‘great american actor’ who was a distant ‘cousin’..I have found a connection with him from relatives in Shanagolden Limerick. Now i have discovered that in my great great grandmothers generation the surname Heaney keeps coming up. I’m wondering if anyone can tell me where Gladys Heaney’s family originates from.

As we grew up here we watched all J Carroll Naish movies, my Mom and her sisters took great pride in seeing him on the television.

Any information would be appreciated
Regards

Posted By Barb Dublin Ireland : April 22, 2011 1:38 pm

Good evening from Dublin Ireland.
I at present tracing my family tree on my Mothers side-her maiden name was Caren.. this has nothing to do with J Carroll Naish, except all my life I have been told about the ‘great american actor’ who was a distant ‘cousin’..I have found a connection with him from relatives in Shanagolden Limerick. Now i have discovered that in my great great grandmothers generation the surname Heaney keeps coming up. I’m wondering if anyone can tell me where Gladys Heaney’s family originates from.

As we grew up here we watched all J Carroll Naish movies, my Mom and her sisters took great pride in seeing him on the television.

Any information would be appreciated
Regards

Posted By Lilian : December 24, 2012 12:54 am

I really love your blog.. Excellent colors & theme. Did you make this amazing site yourself?
Please reply back as I’m planning to create my very own website and would love to know where you got this from or just what the theme is called. Kudos!

Posted By Lilian : December 24, 2012 12:54 am

I really love your blog.. Excellent colors & theme. Did you make this amazing site yourself?
Please reply back as I’m planning to create my very own website and would love to know where you got this from or just what the theme is called. Kudos!

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