Tuesday, December 03, 2013

One of the Better Scene Stealers

Ah, we have survived Thanksgiving and Black Friday.  That is no mean feat these days.  Of course, this has all been a warm-up to the Christmas season.  Thankfully, the season brings with it a long list of great movies to help us get into the spirit.  One of the better ones is The Bishop's Wife starring Cary Grant, Loretta Young and David Niven.  The supporting cast is just as good, including Monty Woolley as The Professor, Gladys Cooper as Mrs. Hamilton, Elsa Lancaster as Matilda and James Gleason as Sylvester the taxi driver.  Scene stealers all.  Below, Cary eyes Gleason with a look of resignation, no point in competing for a scene with a pro like Jimmy.

                                 The Bishops Wife (1947)

Gleason was 47 years old when he arrived in Hollywood along with the talkies.   After years in stock companies and touring shows, he had already developed the persona which would help him become a highly successful and very busy character actor.  Always older, always balding and always the tough, warmhearted character, Jimmy played variations of the role for 29 years.  His first movie with our Bob was Blondie of the Follies.  He plays 'Pa' McCune, to Marion Davies' Blondie. 

                               Blondie of the Follies (1932)

Nine years later he is Max Corkle in Here Comes Mr. Jordan, the long suffering trainer of Bob's Joe Pendleton.  Max has to put up with Joe's saxophone playing, his reincarnations and the mysterious, invisible Mr. Jordan.  He is just great in the role and is appropriately rewarded with a nomination as best supporting actor. 

                              Here Comes Mr. Jordan (1941)

Jimmy, who was born into a theater family, joined the army at the age of 16 to fight in the Spanish American war and, before serving again in WWI, he marries Lucile.  Lucile was his partner in the theater as well, and became a successful character actress in the movies.  She and Jimmy were two of the 21 founding members of the actor's guild, Lucile becoming the guild's first treasurer.  Jimmy continued to act until a year before his death in 1959.  His last role was as 'Cuke' Gillen in John Ford's The Last Hurrah starring Spencer Tracy.  Quite fittingly, he was one of a superb supporting cast including Pat O'Brien, Basil Rathbone, Donald Crisp, Edward Brophy, John Carradine, Wallace Ford and Frank McHugh.  And does he ever hold his own in his last scene of the movie and his career.  Good job, Mr. Gleason.
                                  The Last Hurrah (1958)


Liz F. said...

Wonderful remembrance of Mr. Gleason Kathy! The master of the double take, love his performance in Mr. Jordan.

Kathy said...

Thanks, Liz. Ah, yes, the double take master, along with Jack Oakie, who could even take it to a triple-take!

Kristina said...

love him and love to see him in anything. Double take, yes, but also gave good stinkeye

Kathy said...

He was simply one of those great character actors you liked/admired the minute they entered a scene. A lost art indeed.

Anonymous said...

These great character actors don't seem to exist anymore. Gleason was one of the best. His performances in The Bishop's Wife and Arsenic And Lace were just awesome. No matter how little screen time he had in some films, Gleason always left his mark.

Anonymous said...

Gleason was one of those character actors who had an even bigger profile behind the scenes in Hollywood (another example: Donald Crisp). I believe he played a part in the design of Oscar, referring the Academy to its eventual designer.