Your favorite character actors

Discussion of the actors, directors and film-makers who 'made it all happen'

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Sue Sue Applegate
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Re: Your favorite character actors

Post by Sue Sue Applegate »

Lovely article about Harry Townes, Jackie! :lol: So nice to know he was able to expand his horizons and move on to another profession after many of his acting opportunities waned.

I also wrote an article for the What A Character Blogathon about Florence Bates after interviewing her granddaughter and great-granddaughter, improvisational comedian Rachel Hamilton: http://suesueapplegate.wordpress.com/20 ... d-feeling/

And Rachel Hamilton wrote an enjoyable follow up about my article on her website: http://www.rachelhamiltonimprov.com/
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Re: Your favorite character actors

Post by JackFavell »

Those police and detective shows of the seventies really kept a lot of actors working...not just the leads like David Janssen, Telly Savalas, Karl Malden, Mike Connors, Peter Falk, Rock Hudson, William Conrad, and Robert Blake.

Supporting actors like Harry Townes, Henry Silva, Marc Lawrence, James Whitmore, Eileen Brennan, Ruth Gordon, Gloria Grahame, Forrest Tucker, Hector Elizondo, James Coco,Andrew Duggan, Dana Elcar, L.Q. Jones, Herschel Bernardi, William Daniels, Vera Miles, Vic Tayback and William Windom were kept working a bit more because of the cop show.

I think maybe these took the place of westerns in the public eye, giving the character actors a stretch and a job when work in films was scarce, and giving the audience the adventure they were looking for after the demise of the western series. Thank goodness for those character actors! Some of these shows would be nothing without them.

On a side note, watching Columbo on Sunday on MeTV made me laugh hard - Joyce Van Patten showed up as a nun at a soup kitchen who mistook Columbo for a vagrant and just wouldn't let it go... she insisted on giving him a new coat before he finally let her know he was a police officer. She was so kind and sorry for the lieutenant, her pity of his disheveled appearance was hilarious! and of course the drunken bum he was there to interview turned out to be the ubiquitous Vito Scotti - the man who probably made more TV appearances than any other single character actor. He gave a nice twist to the drunk role, quite erudite when not in his cups.

The murderer? Funny you should ask, because this actor got to stretch his acting muscles too maybe for the first time in his long career....

it was Dick Van Dyke. And very good too.
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Re: Your favorite character actors

Post by JackFavell »

Sue Sue, I read your article about fellow Texan Florence Bates back during the November supoorting actor blogathon - it was so great that you were able to contact Bates' family! I'm quite jealous... and you couldn't have picked a better person to write about, Florence is my number 1 supporting actress. I also read the follow up post, and in fact, I think I read every article written during that November series. Moira, I am still waiting for that Pert Kelton post.... :D
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Re: Your favorite character actors

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HI There Folks...I'm playing catch up here on the Oasis and read JaxxXxxon's article on ol' HARRY TOWNES. Yeah...he's one of those very recognizable character actors who was never on the "A-list" but you know he fed his family taking the jobs that he did, continuing to pursue his career. ( Reading he became an Episcopal priest there might not have been wife and kids. ) Spotlighting these folks is a great thread here at the Oasis. We can see these actors and actresses for more than 'the maitre d' 'the telegram messenger' 'the butler' 'the short order cook' 'the waitress' 'the judge' or other 'public official.' This thread shows us that they probably studied acting ( sense memory and all that Stanislavski/Strassberg/Meisner/Uta Hagen-Jazz ) played Broadway or small regional theatre. This thread lets us see their life when you spotlight them. ( Who'd have thunk that bohunk Sterling Holloway EVER did a scene with the great Dietrich? ) I smile every time I see ANN DORAN in the midst of something ( just saw her as Irene Dunne's friend in "Penny Serenade." ) And another actress I always see around the periphery of things...Mary Field:

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Yes, she's here in "Meet John Doe" but also as the waitress in the beginning of "Out of the Past" and also as a single mom getting on the same bus Bogie does at the end of "Dark Passage" after Agnes Moorhead's Madge goes out the window. What's her story...dreams...aspirations?

As I was reading your article about Harry Townes, you forgot to mention one of my favorites of his. Every time I see him or hear his name I think of him with Anita Ekberg in "Screaming Mimi."

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SuperStructure ANITA EKBERG and HARRY TOWNES

And doesn't Harry sort of makes you think of another actor...

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Re: Your favorite character actors

Post by JackFavell »

Hey, thanks for jumping in, Maven! It's so nice when people respond, make conversation, especially with some ideas of their own.

Saw Mary Field (a fantastic choice for this thread!) just this week in 3 movies - Miracle on 34th Street, as the little Dutch girl's adopted mother at the Santa booth; then in Out of the Past; and finally in Life With Father as Nora. She's a stand out for sure for me, I always notice her when she's in a picture - like her amazed and sensitive reaction when Edmund Gwenn starts speaking Dutch to the girl, her demeanor afterwards is most profound, making so much out of a small role, adding enormously to the movie itself. I think that's my favorite scene in the film. It's definitely a scene I wait for.

And if you think Mary Field is a prolific actress, Ann Doran is kind of like Vito Scotti, it would be easier to mention the movies and shows she WASN'T in. :D Field and Doran worked together in at least one movie, Girls of the Road, a gritty, Wellman-esque film about female hoboes, directed by Nick Grinde for Columbia Pictures in 1940. It also stars Ann Dvorak, Helen Mack and your gal Lola Lane as the titular heroines. What a cast! Lola's a pip too. It's one of my favorite lost gems, movies that just don't get any mention, the ones you find on TCM and wonder why no one has written them up. Good stuff.

About Screaming Mimi.... I've never seen it! What's it like? I can't tell by the title what genre it is. Could be a horror movie, could be a comedy...

To me, Harry Townes doesn't look like John Gilbert, but more like Lon Chaney, they both have those sad sad eyes that I'm drawn to. Actually Gilbert had them too:

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Re: Your favorite character actors

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JackFavell wrote:Hey, thanks for jumping in, Maven! It's so nice when people respond, make conversation, especially with some ideas of their own...About Screaming Mimi I've never seen it! What's it like? I can't tell by the title what genre it is. Could be a horror movie, could be a comedy...
Awwww gee JackaAay...I made a crappy new year's resolution to be chaste, boring and properly grown-up in my movie critiques. (( :evil: )) So I provide you with this picture out of all the pictures I could have picked of Ekberg. What's it like, you ask? Click on this and you'll see the trailer:

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It's like "Who Killed Teddy Bear?" A hot tawdry cheap lurid grade-B black 'n white low budget mess. And that's why I LOVE IT. Here's my favorite...Anita Ekberg walking down a back-lot, rain-soaked street with a Great Dane. Some guy says: "A great dame with a Great Dane."

I love this movie! See it.
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Re: Your favorite character actors

Post by JackFavell »

OMG!

"Excitement around every curve!"

I think I'm hooked. Gotta see this movie!
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Re: Your favorite character actors

Post by ChiO »

I can't tell by the title what genre it is. Could be a horror movie, could be a comedy...
Could it be...could it be.... Why, yes, it could be.

Film noir, baby.

Directed by that odd fellow, Gerd Oswald, whose finest films (read: my favorite) are SCREAMING MIMI (1958), CRIME OF PASSION (1957) and A KISS BEFORE DYING (1956).

I'm currently reading the source novel written by Frederic Brown. It's tawdry in the nicest of ways.
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Re: Your favorite character actors

Post by JackFavell »

Ahhh, it all makes sense now. I WAS getting a bit of a "Wicked Woman" vibe.
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Re: Your favorite character actors

Post by RedRiver »

SCREAMING MIMI, the book, has a great Chicago atmosphere. Not the least of which is "Bughouse Square"! I like it even more than THE FABULOUS CLIP-JOINT, a Fredric Brown mystery that seems to be a little better known. Both books, I'm afraid, are superior to Brown's infamous MARTIANS, GO HOME! I have yet to see the film of "Mimi". It's high on my to-do list! Bughouse Square! Don't you just want to go there?
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Re: Your favorite character actors

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Don't you just want to go there?
um..well......

it's making me itchy just thinking about it.
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Re: Your favorite character actors

Post by Sue Sue Applegate »

Jackie, I'm hoping we get to read more about Pert purty soon! :D
How was I able to locate Rachel Hamilton, Florence Bates' great-granddaughter? IMDB, leads, searching the internet, cold calls, unsolicited emails, and dogged perseverance. Jackie, she and Thelma Ritter are tied for my number one spot. :lol:
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Re: Your favorite character actors

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Gad, I'd love to see a grudge match between those two! :D
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Re: Your favorite character actors

Post by moira finnie »

His quintessentially American characters usually went by names such as Spike, Rocky, Zero, Squint, Babe, Lefty, Monk, Knuckles, Cactus Jack or just Sarge--but he went to prison with Bogie, sailed to sea with the Duke, and shared the small screen with a scene-stealing dog named Rin-Tin-Tin--all while becoming one of the most familiar faces in classic movies, even though most of us rarely knew his name.

As reported by reporter Bill Bean of The Guelph Mercury in Guelph, Ontario, he wasn't even American, his name was not Sawyer, and this good, all-round actor was interested in the world, not just acting:
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Recalling Joe Sawyer

GUELPH — When movie directors of the 1930s, '40s and '50s needed a square-jawed tough guy, they looked no further than Joe Sawyer.
His stern, fair-haired Irish looks won him parts as the nemesis or sidekick of some of the best-known actors of the mid-20th century Hollywood: James Cagney, Humphrey Bogart, Glenn Ford, Jimmy Durante, Phil Silvers and John Wayne. And Sawyer is known to baby boomers for his role in a family favourite television program that marks its 50th anniversary this year.

Yes, Joe Sawyer was the quintessential American everyman. Except, he wasn't an American. He wasn't of Irish background. He wasn't even a Sawyer.
The man who entered into the homes of millions of North American families as the gruff but warm-hearted Sgt. Biff O'Hara, in the small-screen classic The Adventures of Rin Tin Tin, was born Joseph Frederick Sauers in Guelph.

While today's digital archives sketch out Sauers' life as a character actor, interviews with family members and family history sleuths flesh out the story of a Guelph native who followed the footlights to Hollywood.
Born in 1906 to German parents, Joseph and Lavina Sauers, Joe Sauers had an unusual childhood, according to Joe's son Riley Sauers, of Harrisburg, Ore.

Joe's father died while Joe was still a toddler. Although he was schooled in Guelph, says Riley, once Joe was old enough, he was regularly packed off halfway across Canada to spend his summers working on an uncle's farm in Saskatchewan.

Riley says that while Joe Sawyer became a bit of a "foodie," even becoming a member of a gastronomic society, he always had an abiding inclination toward "hearty" eating. "He would say to me," said Riley, "you'll never know what a breakfast is, son, until you eat a breakfast on a farm."
But Joe was not destined to stay on the farm. He made his way to California, worked at the Pasadena Playhouse and later took bit parts, often uncredited, but later credited as Joe Sauers and then changed his screen name to Joe Sawyer.

His early appearances did not signal a lifelong career in film. Joe was a bit player. If there was a need for a stocky, Irish-looking guy to be a sergeant, football player, man holding the gun for his buddy or a bouncer, Joe was a likely candidate.

The Internet Movie Database says that his "familiar mug appeared everywhere during the 1930s and 1940s, particularly as a stock player for Warner Bros. in its more standard college musicals, comedies and crime yarns. He could play both sides of the fence, street cops and mob gunmen, with equal ease."

In the early part of his career, Joe appeared uncredited in such films as Shopworn (starring Barbara Stanwyck) and Arsène Lupin (starring Lionel Barrymore and John Barrymore). And being a bit player meant you shared the same makeup mirror with other bit players. One of those unknowns who filled out the scenery with Joe in two films (The Coach and Maker of Men) was a then-unknown John Wayne, who became a poker and fishing buddy.

At age 29, Joe Sawyer's minor role in the 1935 John Ford-directed film noire The Informer brought him some critical attention, at a time when he was getting a lot of screen time. Still playing small parts, Joe appeared in 16 films released in 1934, 14 released in 1935 and 17 released in 1936.
Prominent among the 1936 releases was The Petrified Forest, where Joe plays henchman to the star, Humphrey Bogart. Sawyer appeared in five other Bogart films.

Joe Sawyer's filmography is extensive: there's the boundary-pushing Howard Hughes western The Outlaw and the perhaps lesser known Tarzan's Desert Mystery. In all, Joe worked on more than 200 films — Gilda, Sergeant York, The Grapes of Wrath, They Died With Their Boots On, It Came From Outer Space, North to Alaska — partly because he was not on contract to any one studio, so could work on several films at once.

This fluidity allowed him to work with many directors, including Stanley Kubrick in his complicated heist flick The Killing in 1956. Chuck Stephens writes for the blog The Criterion Collection that The Killing is a gem of film noire, thanks in no small part to Joe Sawyer's contribution in the ensemble cast.

Joe also worked in television, on Maverick, Bat Masterson, Peter Gunn and Frontier Doctor. He played the role of Butch Cassidy on TV, a role made more famous by Robert Redford on the big screen. But Joe Sawyer was probably best known to baby boomers as Sgt. Biff O'Hara from The Adventures of Rin Tin Tin, which ran from 1954 to 1959.

From today's perspective, Rin Tin Tin might sound like a rather thin offering. An orphan boy and his dog are adopted by an American cavalry troop at a fort in the "old West." Every episode, there's trouble. And "Rinty" comes to the rescue. But it was a force majeure in 1950s television.
Susan Orlean writes in Rin Tin Tin: The Life and the Legend that "the show was an instant success by every measure. It had one of the fastest ratings climbs in television history and from its start was ABC's second-highest-rated show overall, trailing only the Walt Disney show. Nine million of the 30 million televisions in the United States were tuned in, several million more than were tuned to Lassie, which had premiered on CBS a month earlier."
Compare that 30 per cent market share to the mere 13 per cent that NBC's Sunday Night Football now commands.

Network television had gruelling shooting schedules, said Sawyer's son, Riley, and Sawyer's daughter-in-law Gloria Sauers, who lives in Trabuco Canyon, Calif. She said that her late husband, Casey Sauers, would recount how his father would leave for work at 4 a.m. and get home at 8 p.m., day in and day out. Riley Sauers said the studio would shoot two 30-minute episodes a week, with each episode crammed into two and a half days of shooting.

But, says Riley, his dad loved the work: "He was a workaholic. He said that he couldn't count on having movie work five days a week, and he liked to have work five days a week."

So, early on in his career, Joe took advantage of the booming housing market in California and did home construction on the side, says Riley: "He drove to the studio with a pickup truck loaded with lumber and then went straight to the construction site after work."

His labours paid off, Riley and Gloria said, with good schools for his children, the ability to indulge in his passions for cigars, sailing, cars and shooting, and a nice home in Glendale, where he could host gatherings with such friends as John Wayne and Bela Lugosi. Gloria said her late husband referred to Joe as a "man's man" with a love for his Corvette and a penchant for using his basement shooting range at any hour.

It was a real Hollywood life, said Riley. His father once told of being awakened in the early morning hours by his agent to learn that billionaire recluse Howard Hughes wanted him to do a reading for a stage version of the soon-to-be-released film The Outlaw, starring Jane Russell and Walter Huston. Joe asked when the reading would take place. "Now," said the agent. So Joe found himself at 1 a.m. rehearsing with Huston under the watchful eyes of Hughes, doing the scene over and over until sunrise. Riley said, "And then Howard Hughes paid my dad a month's salary for the inconvenience of coming out in the middle of the night. He never forgot that."

But personal tragedy ended Joe's screen life in his 50s. His first marriage, to Jeane Wood, daughter of director Sam Wood, had been brief. Then Joe met and married in 1937 the love of his life — June Golden, 10 years his junior. She was, says Riley, one of the young women hired every year by the MGM Studios, some of whom became starlets.

The couple had five children, one of whom died in infancy, and then, in 1960, June died of leukemia. Both Riley and Gloria say that Joe had difficulty coping. He left the Glendale home and moved to a smaller home in Beverly Hills. He turned his back on the film business.
He was talked out of retirement to appear in another John Ford film with his fishing buddy John Wayne: the epic 1962 western How the West Was Won. But it was his last "bit."

He turned full time to property development, and was a key player in the construction of various projects in Southern California, including housing developments, shopping centres and a hospital.

Riley says that later in life, his father was able to indulge in his love of travel: "He loved the world, he loved people and he loved cultures." He was equally at home on an ocean freighter or a passenger liner, although "if he was going on a cruise ship, he would diet for three to four weeks before a trip, because he loved the food."

Riley said his father had many stories about his eating adventures, including a 36-course meal served over three days in Lima, Peru, and pancakes "the size of pizzas" at an eatery in Vancouver.

Illness curtailed Joe's travels, and he moved to Oregon to be closer to Riley. He died April 21, 1982, of liver cancer. He was 75.
"When he died, we got sympathy notes from Pickwick Books (in New York) and other book sellers. He was such an avid reader."
Riley, summing up his father's life, said that despite all the Hollywood connections, his father's focus was on his family. If they went out to dinner, he would gently turn aside fan requests because "he was having dinner with his family."
"He was a great father."
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mongoII
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Re: Your favorite character actors

Post by mongoII »

What a guy, Moira. He was one of my favorite character actors, especially as a bad boy.
Excellent bio.
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