Felix In Hollywood

A Blog for the Smart Set

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

The Cast Includes...

The phrase above invariably precedes the names of some of my favorite performers from the Golden Age of movies.  But if you've spent any extended time on this blog, you already know my dirty little secret:  I'm queer for character people!  I've submitted postings on  Guy Kibbee, Edna May Oliver, Constance Collier, and my all time favorite personal god/super hero/dream man Franklin Pangborn!

The words 'Character Actor' can be a little misleading to the uninitiated.  One could be tempted to think it means and actor who can effortlessly disappear into a wide variety of characterizations in the way that, say, Meryl Streep does.  Au contraire.  Perhaps 'Personality Actor' would be a more fitting description.  These people had a schtick, a personality type, that they would repeat (to magnificent effect) in picture after picture after picture.

It would also be tempting to think that these types died with black and white film and the studio system.  Not true.  While you don't see the Margaret Dumont's and the Edward Everett Horton's in movies much anymore, they aren't gone.  They're given TV series'.  Think Paul Lynde, Roseanne Barr, Fran Drescher, Jerry Seinfeld.  You know, Character People!

All that said, it seems like it's time for a new entry, don't you think?

Ladies and Gentlemen, everybody's favorite head waiter/butler/valet:

Eric Blore
Blore (born 1887) had been an insurance agent for two years in his native England when he was bitten with the acting bug in 1908.  With success at home and on tour in Australia, he moved to the New York stage in 1923.  The next 10 years saw a series of performances with terrific reviews.  It was in 1933 that he became a 'made man' in Hollywood (right along with Astaire and Rogers) in a little thing called "Flying Down To Rio".  RKO apparently found Blore to be such an integral part of the Fred & Ginger magic that he played in 5 films with them.

Butling for Warren William in "The Lone Wolf" series.

In the years that followed, he worked at every studio in town doing his thing.  Playing a butler clearly does a fella a lot better financially than being a butler.  I found a 1937 newspaper article that listed a judges ruling of $150 per week in alimony Blore was to pay his ex (that's $2300 in today's dollars!).  But then he was never your average butler.  He was efficient, he had answers when his employers didn't, he was cute, and there was something just a little naughty in there too.  In his last teaming with Astaire (The Sky's The Limit, 1943) he even says, "If I were not such a gentleman's gentleman, I could be such a cad's cad".

The gift to comedy that he was, it's only fitting that his end was a bit screwball.  In 1959, legendary critic Kenneth Tynan referred, in a New Yorker article, to 'the late Eric Blore'.  When the infuriated lawyer of the very much alive Blore demanded a retraction and apology, Tynan's editor frostily informed his writer that it would be the first retraction in the history of the magazine.  The chastised Tynan prepared his mea culpa, the issue was put to bed, printed and delivered.  On the newsstands the next morning was New Yorker magazine apologizing to the actor, next to the morning edition of the newspaper with the obituary for character actor Eric Blore, who passed away the night before!


normadesmond said...

i think you've uncovered the most bizarre coincidence ever. thank you darling!

mrpeenee said...

I'm channeling Franklin Pangborn right now.

FelixInHollywood said...

As usual, you have tuned to the right channel.