Wednesday, March 31, 2010
Kibbee In Bits
One of my very favorites members of the venerable Warner Bros. stock company of players would, without a doubt be Mr. Guy Bridges Kibbee. He could play whatever you wanted: funny, serious, drunk, befuddled, self important, rich, poor, or adorable sugar daddy. He played in everything from rags to white tie, and with a range like this, I've never seen him hit a false note.
In "Gold Diggers of 1933" he does 'old Boston money' so perfectly, that it's hard to imagine he was born (1882) in El Paso, Texas. When only 13, the bug had bitten so deeply that he left home in pursuit of a life on the stage. While dreaming the ultimate actor dream of Broadway, he earned his chops performing on Mississippi Riverboats and Vaudeville runs. Sometime after the turn of the century, he got himself to New York at long last, where Broadway was no longer an ephemeral dream; it was a street!
For the next 20-25 years (an entire career span for many) he was cast in Broadway shows -- after they left Broadway. Touring productions. Back on the road. Time and again over these years, he would go back at the end of a tour and hover around Broadway, hoping. But the money would always run out and he'd have to go back out on the road.
Finally the Gods of The Great White Way, gave him the once over and he was cast in "Torch Song". The role of Cass Wheeler was 10th down on the cast list, but it was at the 1100 seat Plymouth Theater, ON BROADWAY. So on the night of August 27, 1930, 48 year old Guy Kibbee walked on to his first Broadway stage and made a noise that went from New York to California and back again. Seemingly before he could get the grease paint wiped off on opening night, Hollywood started calling. Kibbee couldn't have been less interested. He was quickly establishing himself exactly where he had always wanted to be. Well Hollywood doesn't recognize "no" when it wants something and the calls and offers became ever more insistent.
Kibbee had cause to reconsider when his second New York show, "Marseilles", closed after sixteen performances. Why not take a little air trip to California and make a picture, the money was good and it might be fun. It would be years before he ever used that return ticket. He came to Hollywood at the beginning of '31 and hit the ground running. He did pictures for Paramount, Warners and MGM, and five months later, on May 16, 1931 he signed with Warner Bros.
He couldn't possibly have time to get homesick as Warners wasted no time in getting their moneys' worth out of him. In just 18 months, (by the end of '32) Guy had appeared in 20 titles released by the company. In fact IMDB lists 111 film credits for him the last being in 1948, when he moved, finally, back to New York. Between '48 and '50 there were numerous television appearances.
But the tremors were already starting to be quite visible and the the acting work stopped. Parkinson's was the verdict. By the end of 1953, completely in the grip of his disease, he spent over nine months in a private sanitarium in Rye, NY.
On September 20, 1954, penniless (his only income was Social Security) he arrived at
The Percy Williams Home for Sick and Needy Actors in East Islip NY. "I've come to the bottom of the barrel", he told the admissions officer.
Now here's what I don't understand: according to various sites that I researched Guy was wed from 1918 to 1923 to a Helen Shea. That marriage produced four children. And from 1925 until his death he was wedded to Esther Reed with whom he had three more children. Where were these people? Where was his Hollywood community? Jack Warner? The ever-odious Walter Winchell had the callousness to blurb in an Oct. '54 column, "Guy Kibbee is watching the parade go by at a nursing home."
Obviously there is more to the story. I don't know, maybe he was a horrible man or a drunkard, but it just breaks my heart to think that after bringing so much joy for so many years he would end up this way.
During his stay at the Percy Williams home he was often incoherent and had little interest in the things around him, the exception being when one of his old movies played on TV, he would alertly watch them, laughing and comment that they were "kinda funny." He passed away on May 24, 1956.