Felix In Hollywood

A Blog for the Smart Set

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.


savannah said...

that story probably plays out more than we'll ever know for character actors nowadays. hollywood is a different world on so many levels, sugar! xoxox

(btw, drop by super nana's, if you can. she's posted some pics of her place and new hobby!)

FelixInHollywood said...

Savannah, my love -

Yippee! On my way.

Mike, Studio city said...

The actors home in Woodland Hills is filled with these stories. Very sad, and it still happens in our time. Bety Hutton is an example, or how about Bud Abbott? He did broke and alone in the Woodland Hills nursing home.

Mike, Studio city said...

I forgot to spell check. My bad

Miss Janey said...

The actor's life isn't always conducive to maintaining family bliss, that's for sure. Miss J has to wonder what he did with all his $ that he ended up broke. A shame...

FelixInHollywood said...

I was thinking the same thing Miss J, but then I started thinking....

He never made stratospheric star money, he made a good character man salary. If there were, in fact seven kids to raise, and alimony from the first marriage, and almost a year in a private sanitarium, I suppose he could have easily gotten tapped out.

MJ said...

Great post title.

Thanks for this, Felix. Yet another character actor I recognize but knew nothing about.

normadesmond said...

yes, excellent title & good piece. can't say i've given him much thought, but you've changed all that. thanks doll!

wv: reepu- it happens.

Stephen said...

What a lovely y loving tribute!

Paul Nesbitt Smith said...

I arrived in NYC in 57, worked in Broadway shows, met actor pals of Guy Kibbee - all of them spoke very highly of him - "A total pro" one director said "and one of the nicest actors I ever worked with" and so on. Then, in Hollywood, I did a couple plays for THE MASQUERS CLUB - all the old timers there loved Guy. Incidentally, most actors i've known and worked with ended up (as I am) on Soc.Security, since the BIZ is up 'n down, busy then deadly slow, and unless an actor's a lead/star, salaries are ganerally very low and roles squeezed into a few days work, even if it's a principal role.

Joan Blondell (shown here) was one of the nicest gals I ever knew in Hollywood - was a close pal of Sinatra. He and Mae West and Martha Raye were the most generous actors ever - helped countless down 'n out actors, directors, writers.
I'm going on toooo long. Sorry.
Nite all.
Paul Nesbitt

FelixInHollywood said...

With the recollections you have, you are allowed to 'go on' as long and as often as you'd like!

In fact, if you are here in the Hollywood area, how about a cup of coffee sometime.

philip@felixinhollywoodtours.com is my email. Let me know, I'd love to meet you.