The Secret Life of a Character Actor

The careers of character actors seem to be a study in contradictions: They are unsung in their roles yet highly respected in the industry; they are unknown by name but recognizable by face.  Though today’s character actors can add texture and depth to almost any movie, their numbers can’t compare to the hundreds of supporting players in the films of the 1930s through the 1950s, which was as much a Golden Age for characters actors as it was for classic movies.

Character actors from the classic era were not movie stars. They rarely played the protagonist or leading lady, and expectations of their contributions to movies differed from that of stars. They specialized in well-defined secondary roles that were suited to their physical characteristics or individual voices. Once a character actor established a specific image, viewers learned to recognize the actor’s face and then associate him or her with certain roles. Characters that seemed sketchy or slight on the written page were vividly brought to life and given distinction by the casting of the right veteran character actors. Some of these actors played within a very narrow range, essentially appearing in the same roles for decades. Others enjoyed a versatile persona that allowed for some diversity while still fulfilling viewers’ expectations for their characters.

Though appreciated and even beloved, character actors lacked the glamour, excitement, and sex appeal of movie stars. Fans doted on the intimate details of the lives of the stars, but they knew little about character actors, including their names. Because it wasn’t the job of character actors to lure audiences into the theaters, they were rarely promoted or publicized. They were not fodder for fan magazines.  I think movie-goers would have been surprised by the deeds, accomplishments, or personal lives of some of the character actors. I know I was.

PRODUCTION MEETING WITH CAST FOR ‘FOLLOW THAT DREAM.’ O’CONNELL STANDS ABOVE ELVIS ON THE RIGHT.

Arthur O’Connell was nominated for an Oscar twice in supporting roles for Picnic and Anatomy of a Murder, giving him more recognition than most character actors received. I remember O’Connell as the father in one of my favorite Elvis Presley films, Follow That Dream, and as the father in one of the worst Presley flicks, Kissin’ Cousins. A few years after Kissin’ Cousins, O’Connell spent a month with American soldiers in Thailand and in South Vietnam during the Tet Offensive. While there, he took down the names and home phone numbers of all the soldiers from California. When he returned, he called the parents or families of 250 soldiers to relay personal news from the battlefront. Most of the families had not heard anything from their sons or husbands in weeks, and news of their loved ones was accepted with tears, relief, and happiness. The graciousness and gratitude of the family members stayed with O’Connell for the rest of his life.

JOHN QUALEN AS MULEY IN ‘THE GRAPES OF WRATH’

John Qualen became one of John Ford’s stock players after the director saw him as the Swedish janitor in Street Scene, a role he reprised from the Pulitzer-Prize-winning play. Ford cast him as a Swede in Arrowsmith, though Qualen is best remembered as Muley in The Grapes of Wrath or as the rancher Jorgensen in The Searchers. Qualen made over 170 films in his long career, often playing immigrants with little education. In his personal life, he took great pride in being Treasurer of the Authors Club of Los Angeles, a social and professional organization for writers and lovers of the written word. The L.A. Authors Club was headed by Howard Hughes’s uncle, Rupert Hughes, a novelist, playwright, screenwriter, and silent-era director.  Qualen was also a member of the Masquers, a social organization for the fellowship of actors originally founded in 1925.

DOROTHY LAMOUR VISITS WALTER O’KEEFE, CHILL WILLS, PAUL WELLMAN, & RUPERT HUGHES AT THE AUTHORS CLUB.

As a child, I was a faithful viewer of Hogan’s Heroes, the television sit-com set in a Nazi prison camp– an unfathomable premise to us now. The main Nazi officers and key comic foils in the show were Colonel Klink, played by Werner Klemperer, and Sergeant Schultz, played by John Banner.  Both had fled Nazi Germany during the 1930s and had served in the U.S. military during WWII. After six seasons on the show and two Emmy wins, Klemperer, who was a concert violinist and the son of conductor Otto Klemperer, began a second career as a guest musical conductor and concert narrator for symphonies. Banner had been a matinee idol in the Viennese theater before immigrating to America in 1939, when he quickly landed a role in the Broadway review From Vienna despite the fact that he knew no English. He spoke his part phonetically.

BOB BURNS PLAYS HIS BAZOOKA.

A few years ago, I picked up a collection of 1930s postcards of movie star homes for next to nothing in an antique store in the Midwest. I was excited that the collection featured the homes of some of the era’s biggest stars—Carole Lombard, William Powell, Alice Faye, Marlene Dietrich, Dick Powell and Joan Blondell (married at the time), and Joan Crawford, among others. One name I did not recognize was Bob Burns, though I recalled his face when I researched his name.  Burns became famous for playing rural Southern characters, or “hillbillies.” Though his characters were often uneducated and unsophisticated, Burns had attended the University of Arkansas in his home state. He worked his way up from silent films to costar in musicals, often alongside Bing Crosby. He was also a major radio star during the 1930s, where he told tall tales of Arkansas country folk. He became famous for the invention of an oddball musical instrument called the bazooka, which he originally constructed from two gas pipes and a whiskey funnel. During WWII, the name was given to the first jet-propelled anti-tank weapon because of its resemblance to instrument. Burns invested his earnings wisely in real estate in the San Fernando Valley, becoming a very wealthy man. Of all the names in that collection of postcards, it seems Burns had led the happiest and most rewarding life.

ROD LA ROQUE AND JOSEPH CAWTHORN IN ‘HOLD ‘EM YALE.’

Here’s a name no one will know—Joseph Cawthorn. Yet, his life story is like a one-man history of American show business. Born just three years after the Civil War, Cawthorn began his career as a child actor in a minstrel show farce. He then traveled to England where he played in that country’s famed music halls. By the time he returned to New York, vaudeville was fast becoming the entertainment medium for the masses. He turned to vaudeville and survived for many years before moving to the legitimate stage as a comic actor in such musicals as Little Nugget and The Singing Girl. Acclaimed for his ability to mimic and poke fun at a German dialect, Cawthorn was reportedly President Woodrow Wilson’s favorite comedian. Like many stage veterans, he journeyed to Hollywood during the silent era and then made the transition to talkies.  From Pickaninny Minstrels in the post-Civil War era to classic films like The Great Ziegfeld and Naughty Marietta, Cawthorn’s career reads like one long adventure in show business—the kind of life story  I can’t resist.

LOUISE FAZENDA COULD KNOCK ABOUT WITH THE BEST OF THEM DURING HER DAYS AS A COMEDIENNE AT KEYSTONE.

Comedienne Louise Fazenda retired in the 1930s, living out the remainder of her long life as the wife of respected producer Hal Wallis and establishing a name for herself as a notable humanitarian and prestigious art collector. But, during the early silent era, she was Mack Sennett’s go-to girl who was willing to try any stunt and to tackle any gag. As the story goes, if Mabel Normand complained about a rough stunt or an unclassy gag, Sennett sent for Fazenda.  In Sennett’s one-reelers, she was habitually thrown from great heights, carried around like a prop, tossed in the middle of gag fights, and even dragged by horses. Among her well known sight gags was a penchant for falling bloomers, which often contained more than just Fazenda!

THIS POSTER FOR ‘BUTTERFLIES ARE FREE’ REFLECTS THE DYNAMIC BETWEEN HECKART AND HAWN.

I just caught Eileen Heckart’s Oscar-winning performance in Butterflies Are Free as the overprotective mother of an adult son who is blind. Released in 1972, the film is rife with 1960s themes and references, which are dated, but the performances by Heckart and star Goldie Hawn are not. It might seem that Hawn was costarring opposite male lead Edward Albert, who plays the son, but she was really costarring with Heckart. The two actresses play characters who are complete opposites in age, class, and personality, each vying to be the one major influence on Albert. That they come to a mutual respect that culminates in life-altering changes for both of them is the kind of interplay between women you don’t see any more on the screen. Though Heckart appeared in such films as Miracle in the Rain, Bus Stop, and The Bad Seed, she was most renowned for her roles on Broadway and most recognized for her appearances in every major television show from the 1960s to the 1990s. Considered an actor’s actor, she was called “the best actress alive” by drama critic Kenneth Tynan.

GEORGE DOLENZ & FAITH DOMERGUE IN ‘VENDETTA’

The passing of Davy Jones this year reminded me of how much I still love the ground-breaking television series The Monkees. My favorite Monkee  is Mickey Dolenz, who has been in and around show business his entire life. Not only did he play the title role in the old television series Circus Boy, but his father was actor George Dolenz. A tall and handsome Italian, George worked as an olive picker and tinsmith before leaving his native country to run a restaurant on the Riviera, manage a nightclub in Mexico City, and then work in stock in Havana. Dolenz kept his hand in both acting and the restaurant business after coming to Hollywood. He trained at Max Reinhardt’s dramatic school and signed a contract with RKO, while working as a waiter at the Trocadero and then as an assistant manager at Ciro’s. While starring in the lead role of The Count of Monte Cristo on television, he was the co-owner of a Hollywood restaurant called the Marquis.

These are only a few of the life stories of Hollywood’s hundreds of character actors. Their careers remind me that life experience and life-long learning count as much as acting lessons in making for a consistently good performer.  [Thanks to my good friend Jenny Grist for giving me Character People: The Stalwarts of the Cinema, which prompted this topic.]

Jones, Ken D., Arthur F. McClure, and Alfred E. Twomey. Character People: The Stalwarts of the Cinema. South Brunswick and New York: A.S. Barnes and Co., 1976.

Jones, Ken D., Arthur F. McClure, and Alfred E. Twomey. More Character People. Seacaucus, N.J.: Citadel Press, 1984.

Lamparski, Richard. Whatever Became of…? NYC: Crown Pub., 1986.

0 Response The Secret Life of a Character Actor
Posted By Arthur : October 8, 2012 2:05 pm

In the 1960s a number of male character actors who usually filled out the bill in action flims, like the Dirty Dozen and The Magnificent Seven, people like James Coburn, Charles Bronson and Bruce Dern all of a sudden began to start getting top billing.

Posted By Arthur : October 8, 2012 2:05 pm

In the 1960s a number of male character actors who usually filled out the bill in action flims, like the Dirty Dozen and The Magnificent Seven, people like James Coburn, Charles Bronson and Bruce Dern all of a sudden began to start getting top billing.

Posted By Allen Hefner : October 8, 2012 2:34 pm

Thanks for an excellent article, Susan. My blog celebrates the Bit Actors who add so much to film and television. I chose that topic because I knew I would never run out of material. Please stop by.

I couldn’t imagine a world with Leonard Breman or Charles Lane. And do you remember Clara Blandick (Aunie Em in The Wizard of Oz)? BTW, you missed one of John Qualen’s biggest claims to fame as Berger, the Norwegian freedom fighter in Casablanca (1942).

In the words of famous Bit Actor Dabbs Greer, “Every character actor, in their own little sphere, is the lead.”

Posted By Allen Hefner : October 8, 2012 2:34 pm

Thanks for an excellent article, Susan. My blog celebrates the Bit Actors who add so much to film and television. I chose that topic because I knew I would never run out of material. Please stop by.

I couldn’t imagine a world with Leonard Breman or Charles Lane. And do you remember Clara Blandick (Aunie Em in The Wizard of Oz)? BTW, you missed one of John Qualen’s biggest claims to fame as Berger, the Norwegian freedom fighter in Casablanca (1942).

In the words of famous Bit Actor Dabbs Greer, “Every character actor, in their own little sphere, is the lead.”

Posted By Susan Doll : October 8, 2012 2:59 pm

Allen: I will definitely visit your blog, and I feel the same about these colorful and talented actors.

Posted By Susan Doll : October 8, 2012 2:59 pm

Allen: I will definitely visit your blog, and I feel the same about these colorful and talented actors.

Posted By Jenny Grist : October 8, 2012 3:11 pm

See what good thrift store shopping skills can do!

Posted By Jenny Grist : October 8, 2012 3:11 pm

See what good thrift store shopping skills can do!

Posted By Marisa : October 8, 2012 4:38 pm

Thank you for this great write-up, Susan! I’m particularly fond of John Qualen. Please feel free to visit my blog, The TImothy Carey Experience, which is all about – well, guess! Thanks again for all your articles; I really enjoy them!

Posted By Marisa : October 8, 2012 4:38 pm

Thank you for this great write-up, Susan! I’m particularly fond of John Qualen. Please feel free to visit my blog, The TImothy Carey Experience, which is all about – well, guess! Thanks again for all your articles; I really enjoy them!

Posted By Doug : October 9, 2012 1:15 am

One of my favorite movies, “Double wedding”-Myrna Loy and William Powell-has a great character actress, Jessie Ralph, supporting the leads. Ralph was born during the Civil War, and her character in the film is ‘the spirit and image’ of a lady I know.
As for favorite character actor, for me it’s simple: Mischa Auer,
of both “My Man Godfrey” and “Destry Rides Again”.

Posted By Doug : October 9, 2012 1:15 am

One of my favorite movies, “Double wedding”-Myrna Loy and William Powell-has a great character actress, Jessie Ralph, supporting the leads. Ralph was born during the Civil War, and her character in the film is ‘the spirit and image’ of a lady I know.
As for favorite character actor, for me it’s simple: Mischa Auer,
of both “My Man Godfrey” and “Destry Rides Again”.

Posted By swac44 : October 9, 2012 8:16 am

Love love love love character actors, for me it seems like the main reason I watch so much TCM these days. If there’s a Cary Grant or Bette Davis movie I haven’t seen, it’s not so urgent because I know there’ll be other chances to catch it, but if there’s an obscure title with Franklin Pangborn or William Demarest that had previously escaped my purview, I’m going to program my DVR pronto. I also enjoy seeing films where character actors get the rare chance to star, be it Hugh Herbert and Allan Jenkins in Sh! The Octopus or Herbert and Edna May Oliver in Gregory La Cava’s Laugh and Get Rich (even if the title does give the ending away). This is why I go to Cinefest in Syracuse as often as I can, where else would I see a film like Whom the Gods Destroy starring Walter Connolly as a theatrical producer who escapes death on a Titanic-like shipwreck by dressing as a woman and winds up stranded in a Newfoundland fishing village?

BTW, thanks for posting that photo from Hold ‘Em Yale, I now know where Wheeler & Woolsey got the title for Hold ‘Em Jail. (If you could just change that “Q” in Faith Domergue’s name to a “G” everything would be dandy. The only reason I noticed is because I have the poster for her thriller Spin a Deadly Web hanging over my desk.)

Posted By swac44 : October 9, 2012 8:16 am

Love love love love character actors, for me it seems like the main reason I watch so much TCM these days. If there’s a Cary Grant or Bette Davis movie I haven’t seen, it’s not so urgent because I know there’ll be other chances to catch it, but if there’s an obscure title with Franklin Pangborn or William Demarest that had previously escaped my purview, I’m going to program my DVR pronto. I also enjoy seeing films where character actors get the rare chance to star, be it Hugh Herbert and Allan Jenkins in Sh! The Octopus or Herbert and Edna May Oliver in Gregory La Cava’s Laugh and Get Rich (even if the title does give the ending away). This is why I go to Cinefest in Syracuse as often as I can, where else would I see a film like Whom the Gods Destroy starring Walter Connolly as a theatrical producer who escapes death on a Titanic-like shipwreck by dressing as a woman and winds up stranded in a Newfoundland fishing village?

BTW, thanks for posting that photo from Hold ‘Em Yale, I now know where Wheeler & Woolsey got the title for Hold ‘Em Jail. (If you could just change that “Q” in Faith Domergue’s name to a “G” everything would be dandy. The only reason I noticed is because I have the poster for her thriller Spin a Deadly Web hanging over my desk.)

Posted By Jenni : October 9, 2012 8:25 am

Great article! I especially liked the story of O’Connell getting messages from soldiers in Vietnam to their families back home; very touching as I have a son in the military. I just finished watching some Fred and Ginger movies and those films are chockablock with great supporting actors: Edward Everett Horton, Eric Blore-those two had me laughing so much! Hattie McDaniels was also in a Ginger/James Stewart movie I viewed recently, Vivacious Lady, with great support from Beulah Bondi and Charles Coburn too. I’ve watched enough classic films that when I see great supporting players in the cast, I know it’s going to be a great viewing experience.

Posted By Jenni : October 9, 2012 8:25 am

Great article! I especially liked the story of O’Connell getting messages from soldiers in Vietnam to their families back home; very touching as I have a son in the military. I just finished watching some Fred and Ginger movies and those films are chockablock with great supporting actors: Edward Everett Horton, Eric Blore-those two had me laughing so much! Hattie McDaniels was also in a Ginger/James Stewart movie I viewed recently, Vivacious Lady, with great support from Beulah Bondi and Charles Coburn too. I’ve watched enough classic films that when I see great supporting players in the cast, I know it’s going to be a great viewing experience.

Posted By missrhea : October 9, 2012 10:45 am

Wonderful article! It got me thinking about the people I’m always looking for in small roles. I don’t know if he really qualifies but I love Harry Davenport who usually pops up as a judge or a doctor. I was also thinking about Madge Blake who is in a lot of Gene Kelly’s movies. I remember how surprised I was when I discovered Charles Lane and Frank Cady in old movies since I always associated them with [b] Petticoat Junction [/b].

What is your feeling about people like Lionel Barrymore who were well-known stars but segued into character parts (he also pops up as judges or ministers)?

Posted By missrhea : October 9, 2012 10:45 am

Wonderful article! It got me thinking about the people I’m always looking for in small roles. I don’t know if he really qualifies but I love Harry Davenport who usually pops up as a judge or a doctor. I was also thinking about Madge Blake who is in a lot of Gene Kelly’s movies. I remember how surprised I was when I discovered Charles Lane and Frank Cady in old movies since I always associated them with [b] Petticoat Junction [/b].

What is your feeling about people like Lionel Barrymore who were well-known stars but segued into character parts (he also pops up as judges or ministers)?

Posted By Lisa W. : October 9, 2012 10:45 am

Great article! I’m always reminded of great films I need to go back to enjoy again! Agree with Jenni, above, the O’Connell story is particularly touching and that Edward Everett Horton has always been a fave of mine. Loved those Astaire flicks since I discovered them in my teenage years. Thanks for the great profiles of actors I’ll be looking for!

Posted By Lisa W. : October 9, 2012 10:45 am

Great article! I’m always reminded of great films I need to go back to enjoy again! Agree with Jenni, above, the O’Connell story is particularly touching and that Edward Everett Horton has always been a fave of mine. Loved those Astaire flicks since I discovered them in my teenage years. Thanks for the great profiles of actors I’ll be looking for!

Posted By Pamela Porter : October 9, 2012 11:37 am

No comment about character actors should go without mentioning the amazing Dick Miller, so there you go…”Dick Miller”.

I believe there’s a move on kickstart.com to fund a documentary on the man who, in my estimation, is Roger Corman’s biggest star.

Great article – thanks!

P~

Posted By Pamela Porter : October 9, 2012 11:37 am

No comment about character actors should go without mentioning the amazing Dick Miller, so there you go…”Dick Miller”.

I believe there’s a move on kickstart.com to fund a documentary on the man who, in my estimation, is Roger Corman’s biggest star.

Great article – thanks!

P~

Posted By Heidi : October 9, 2012 12:23 pm

I still watch Hogan’s Heroes on a fairly regular basis. I watched it religiously as a child. I did know that Werner Klemperer was a very skilled musician, I did not know about John Banner. I loved Shultzy. I recently saw Klemperer in a movie, I don’t recall the title, and I have to admit I was waiting for Klink to make an apperance.

Gret post and love the stories of the character actors. They deserved more attention than they received.

Posted By Heidi : October 9, 2012 12:23 pm

I still watch Hogan’s Heroes on a fairly regular basis. I watched it religiously as a child. I did know that Werner Klemperer was a very skilled musician, I did not know about John Banner. I loved Shultzy. I recently saw Klemperer in a movie, I don’t recall the title, and I have to admit I was waiting for Klink to make an apperance.

Gret post and love the stories of the character actors. They deserved more attention than they received.

Posted By Susan Doll : October 9, 2012 3:47 pm

Swac44: I can’t believe you mentioned Sh! The Octopus. So few people know about the movie, but it seems to pop up in my life every so often for some reason! I will correct Domergue’s name. I am always getting that one wrong.

Posted By Susan Doll : October 9, 2012 3:47 pm

Swac44: I can’t believe you mentioned Sh! The Octopus. So few people know about the movie, but it seems to pop up in my life every so often for some reason! I will correct Domergue’s name. I am always getting that one wrong.

Posted By Susan Doll : October 9, 2012 3:49 pm

Missrhea: Lionel Barrymore is an interesting case and an exception. I think he was a star, though obviously not in the traditional sense. I love all the Barrymores. Such an interesting family.

Posted By Susan Doll : October 9, 2012 3:49 pm

Missrhea: Lionel Barrymore is an interesting case and an exception. I think he was a star, though obviously not in the traditional sense. I love all the Barrymores. Such an interesting family.

Posted By swac44 : October 9, 2012 4:09 pm

I’m forever mentioning Sh! The Octopus (blame Mike Schlesinger for that), especially since I was so delighted to learn that Hugh Herbert actually had a starring role in something, which made TCM’s recent airing of Laugh and Get Rich a treat for me as well. I wonder what a feature starring Franklin Pangborn would be like? Generally, my idea of a character actor who has enough charisma to carry a picture on his own is Lee Tracy, who was doing pretty well for himself until he ticked off the studio brass at (I think) MGM.

I guess I’d consider Lionel Barrymore to be more of a “featured player” as opposed to an all-purpose character actor. It’s a fine line to be sure, but having his name in a cast list would lend it a certain amount of weight, I’m sure. I’d be curious to pore through more of those archived fanzines from the ’30s to see what kind of ink would be given to Hollywood’s second tier performers though.

Posted By swac44 : October 9, 2012 4:09 pm

I’m forever mentioning Sh! The Octopus (blame Mike Schlesinger for that), especially since I was so delighted to learn that Hugh Herbert actually had a starring role in something, which made TCM’s recent airing of Laugh and Get Rich a treat for me as well. I wonder what a feature starring Franklin Pangborn would be like? Generally, my idea of a character actor who has enough charisma to carry a picture on his own is Lee Tracy, who was doing pretty well for himself until he ticked off the studio brass at (I think) MGM.

I guess I’d consider Lionel Barrymore to be more of a “featured player” as opposed to an all-purpose character actor. It’s a fine line to be sure, but having his name in a cast list would lend it a certain amount of weight, I’m sure. I’d be curious to pore through more of those archived fanzines from the ’30s to see what kind of ink would be given to Hollywood’s second tier performers though.

Posted By missrhea : October 11, 2012 6:25 pm

Heidi: There is a wonderful episode of Father Knows Best where John Banner plays a street artist of Margaret (the mom, Jane Wyatt).

swac44: Looking at Lionel Barrymore’s and Harry Davenport’s credits it would seem that they were both “stars” of some importance early on in their careers. Maybe they were considered more to be “B” stars? I’m afraid I don’t know enough about cinema hierarchy and who got to be a “star” and who didn’t. I love Ethel Barrymore, too, but she seemed to be more of a stage star than a true screen star. Susan Doll: can you shed any light on that or point to a previous discussion that’s a better fit?

Posted By missrhea : October 11, 2012 6:25 pm

Heidi: There is a wonderful episode of Father Knows Best where John Banner plays a street artist of Margaret (the mom, Jane Wyatt).

swac44: Looking at Lionel Barrymore’s and Harry Davenport’s credits it would seem that they were both “stars” of some importance early on in their careers. Maybe they were considered more to be “B” stars? I’m afraid I don’t know enough about cinema hierarchy and who got to be a “star” and who didn’t. I love Ethel Barrymore, too, but she seemed to be more of a stage star than a true screen star. Susan Doll: can you shed any light on that or point to a previous discussion that’s a better fit?

Posted By missrhea : October 11, 2012 6:26 pm

Oops…that’s supposed to say… “a street artist who did a sketch of Margaret…”

Posted By missrhea : October 11, 2012 6:26 pm

Oops…that’s supposed to say… “a street artist who did a sketch of Margaret…”

Posted By Susan Doll : October 12, 2012 5:03 pm

Miss Rhea: Stars were made by the studios who signed the actresses and actors to contracts. Talent scouts and producers were always on the search for beautiful people with charisma who were adept enough at speaking lines. Then specific images were created that were tailored to their looks and personalities, and stars were expected to play into that image in most of their roles. The stars lured people to the box office, which is why maintaining their images from film to film was important. Character actors were a different story. Some were under contract; some weren’t. Some were trucked in from the theater; some had been around since the silent era when the system was looser. Sometimes, an actor who played character roles was so beloved, or so well known that he transcended the system. I would say Lionel Barrymore was like that– perhaps Paul Muni and Marie Dressler, too.

Posted By Susan Doll : October 12, 2012 5:03 pm

Miss Rhea: Stars were made by the studios who signed the actresses and actors to contracts. Talent scouts and producers were always on the search for beautiful people with charisma who were adept enough at speaking lines. Then specific images were created that were tailored to their looks and personalities, and stars were expected to play into that image in most of their roles. The stars lured people to the box office, which is why maintaining their images from film to film was important. Character actors were a different story. Some were under contract; some weren’t. Some were trucked in from the theater; some had been around since the silent era when the system was looser. Sometimes, an actor who played character roles was so beloved, or so well known that he transcended the system. I would say Lionel Barrymore was like that– perhaps Paul Muni and Marie Dressler, too.

Posted By missrhea : October 15, 2012 11:12 pm

Susan Doll: I guess I’m unsure how the character actors compare with the ‘second tier’ actors like Robert Young and Lew Ayres (yes, I know he won an Oscar) and others that were only featured players at MGM but were above-the-title “stars” when they were loaned out to other studios. (If you’d rather answer privately, that’s fine.)

Posted By missrhea : October 15, 2012 11:12 pm

Susan Doll: I guess I’m unsure how the character actors compare with the ‘second tier’ actors like Robert Young and Lew Ayres (yes, I know he won an Oscar) and others that were only featured players at MGM but were above-the-title “stars” when they were loaned out to other studios. (If you’d rather answer privately, that’s fine.)

Posted By Susan Doll : October 15, 2012 11:37 pm

Missrhea: Stars like Robert Young and Lew Ayres would not have been considered second tier by their studios, even if ultimately, their stardom faded or fizzled or did not reach their potential. They were assigned to play lead roles, including the romantic leading man. People came to the theater to see Young or Ayres because they were fans. Fans knew who they were. Character actors in general were assigned secondary roles. By that I mean their parts were smaller. Movie-goers did not attend a movie based on the appearance of character actors and seldom knew them by name.

Posted By Susan Doll : October 15, 2012 11:37 pm

Missrhea: Stars like Robert Young and Lew Ayres would not have been considered second tier by their studios, even if ultimately, their stardom faded or fizzled or did not reach their potential. They were assigned to play lead roles, including the romantic leading man. People came to the theater to see Young or Ayres because they were fans. Fans knew who they were. Character actors in general were assigned secondary roles. By that I mean their parts were smaller. Movie-goers did not attend a movie based on the appearance of character actors and seldom knew them by name.

Posted By Juana Maria : October 18, 2012 3:24 pm

I know I’ve stated this before of this site,but I’ve got to say it again that character actors make the movies! I mean I can think of a ton of films that I watch not for the people headlining it. No. I watch for the sheer pleasure of seeing my favorite actors–the characters actors in the film. Case in point,”Kansas City Confedential”. Yes,I know John Payne is the lead,but I just don’t care! Lee Van Cleef caught my attention the very first time I saw it(on TCM of course),there’s Jack Elam and Neville Brana. All of them popped up on different shows throughout their careers,but each of them also had their own TV shows:”Laredo”(N.Brand);”Struck By Lighting” & “Easy Street”(J.Elam)neither one lasted long!;”The Master”(LVC).In the article,which is quite good by the way,Susan Doll mentions John Qualen. Thank you thank you thank you,for mentioning him! I’ve seen a ton of his work! You could have mentioned that his was in my favorite film:”Liberty Valance” or the 1942 version of “The Jungle Book” with Sabu,who is another actor I love! When it comes to “Liberty Valance”,that film is packed with character actors. So are films such as “How the West Was Won” and “The Hallelujah Trail”. There are plenty of film noir that I watch for the character actors too! “Kiss Me Deadly” is one example,after I’ve seen Jack Elam and Strother Martin in the film I pretty much don’t care if I see the rest of the film or not. Ha ha. I’m sorta obsessed with character actors,it’s true! I sit and watch and calculate how long it takes for my favorite actors’ scenes to arrive in the film,then when it re-airs I can know precisely when to watch for my favorite scenes. Well,then there is always You Tube or taping them off TV where I pause and rewind and all that good stuff! Every time one of the Movie Morlaocks write about character actors it just does something to me and I begin writing these great lengthy pieces about how much I love character actors. Sorry,I always wanted to be a writer. I get to be one here.Oh! Have any of you seen/read the books:”Bad at the Bijou” or “Names YOu Never Remember,With Faces You Never Forget”? I think they fit with the topic discussed! Adios!

Posted By Juana Maria : October 18, 2012 3:24 pm

I know I’ve stated this before of this site,but I’ve got to say it again that character actors make the movies! I mean I can think of a ton of films that I watch not for the people headlining it. No. I watch for the sheer pleasure of seeing my favorite actors–the characters actors in the film. Case in point,”Kansas City Confedential”. Yes,I know John Payne is the lead,but I just don’t care! Lee Van Cleef caught my attention the very first time I saw it(on TCM of course),there’s Jack Elam and Neville Brana. All of them popped up on different shows throughout their careers,but each of them also had their own TV shows:”Laredo”(N.Brand);”Struck By Lighting” & “Easy Street”(J.Elam)neither one lasted long!;”The Master”(LVC).In the article,which is quite good by the way,Susan Doll mentions John Qualen. Thank you thank you thank you,for mentioning him! I’ve seen a ton of his work! You could have mentioned that his was in my favorite film:”Liberty Valance” or the 1942 version of “The Jungle Book” with Sabu,who is another actor I love! When it comes to “Liberty Valance”,that film is packed with character actors. So are films such as “How the West Was Won” and “The Hallelujah Trail”. There are plenty of film noir that I watch for the character actors too! “Kiss Me Deadly” is one example,after I’ve seen Jack Elam and Strother Martin in the film I pretty much don’t care if I see the rest of the film or not. Ha ha. I’m sorta obsessed with character actors,it’s true! I sit and watch and calculate how long it takes for my favorite actors’ scenes to arrive in the film,then when it re-airs I can know precisely when to watch for my favorite scenes. Well,then there is always You Tube or taping them off TV where I pause and rewind and all that good stuff! Every time one of the Movie Morlaocks write about character actors it just does something to me and I begin writing these great lengthy pieces about how much I love character actors. Sorry,I always wanted to be a writer. I get to be one here.Oh! Have any of you seen/read the books:”Bad at the Bijou” or “Names YOu Never Remember,With Faces You Never Forget”? I think they fit with the topic discussed! Adios!

Posted By Allen Hefner : October 18, 2012 4:03 pm

Juana, please stop by my blog, which is dedicated to Bit Actors. I am not sure this site will allow me to post my URL, but a search for ‘Bit Actor Blog’ will get you there.

I posted my comments on Susan’s wonderful article somewhere above. A few years ago, I thought I would like to do some writing, so I started my blog. I didn’t see much about Bit Actors, and I am never at a loss for subject matter!

Posted By Allen Hefner : October 18, 2012 4:03 pm

Juana, please stop by my blog, which is dedicated to Bit Actors. I am not sure this site will allow me to post my URL, but a search for ‘Bit Actor Blog’ will get you there.

I posted my comments on Susan’s wonderful article somewhere above. A few years ago, I thought I would like to do some writing, so I started my blog. I didn’t see much about Bit Actors, and I am never at a loss for subject matter!

Posted By Juana Maria : October 24, 2012 9:54 pm

Allen: Thanks for writing to me! How nice! Yes,you can put your URL on here,I think. I will try to find your blog. Since you love bit actors, I think you belong in my made up group called SOUP. I’m sorry when I misspell words,being a teacher and all. I guess many teachers are writers deep inside. Probably all the studying.

Posted By Juana Maria : October 24, 2012 9:54 pm

Allen: Thanks for writing to me! How nice! Yes,you can put your URL on here,I think. I will try to find your blog. Since you love bit actors, I think you belong in my made up group called SOUP. I’m sorry when I misspell words,being a teacher and all. I guess many teachers are writers deep inside. Probably all the studying.

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