Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Happy birthday, Clarence Wilson!

Before character actor Charles Lane cornered the movie and television market playing cranky old curmudgeons and mean guys who danced jigs while evicting widows and orphans, the heavy lifting in those sourpuss roles was done by Clarence Hummel Wilson, a character actor great born in Cincinnati, OH on this date one hundred and thirty-four years ago…and a man whom's Bruce Eder observed was “evidently weaned on a diet of pickles and vinegar.”  Clarence began his nearly fifty-year acting career in a stock company in the City of Brotherly Love, and toured the U.S. and Canada in various road shows before getting work in New York in supporting roles onstage.

Wilson first started turning up in “the flickers” in 1920, and with his hatchet-face and bald pate was a natural for the screen, though many of his roles were uncredited.  His high-pitched whine of a voice aided him in the transition to sound; he found ample employment at the Hal Roach Studios, where he played opposite the great Charley Chase in shorts like You Said a Hatful!, Nurse to You! and Public Ghost No. 1.  He also worked alongside such comedic talents as Wheeler & Woolsey (Kentucky Kernels, The Rainmakers) and W.C. Fields (Tillie and Gus, The Old-Fashioned Way).  Other films that feature Clarence include Ruggles of Red Gap, Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm and You Can’t Take It With You.

Clarence’s best-known movie roles include that of sheriff Peter B. “Pinky” Hartman in the 1931 film The Front Page and (even though he’s uncredited) Helen Mack’s inebriated animal trainer father in 1933’s Son of Kong.  In fact, I managed to catch him with a fairly substantial role in 1932’s Penguin Pool Murder last week on TCM—and because I couldn’t find a decent enough photo of Mr. W on the Internets “liberated” the above photo from the recording I made.  But if Wilson is to be immortalized for any part, it’s probably that of the pure dagnasty evil Mr. Crutch in the classic Our Gang short Shrimps for a Day—a part that allows him to pull out all the stops with his broad, over-the-top villainy.  It’s fitting that his silver screen swan song would be in one of the few M-G-M Our Gang shorts I can stomach, Come Back, Miss Pipps.

Happy birthday, Clarence…and the happiest of natal anniversaries to these good people, too:

August Ferdinand Möbius (1790-1868) – German mathematician and astronomer who discovered the Möbius strip

Vaughn Glaser (1872-1958) – Stage and screen actor best known as the dour principal Mr. Bradley in the Henry Aldrich movies

Crane Wilbur (1886-1973) – Stage, screen and radio actor-director-writer who contributed to such films as Canon City, He Walked by Night, I Was a Communist for the FBI and House of Wax

Frank Fay (1891-1961) – Stage and screen actor-comedian best known for originated the role of Harvey’s Elwood P. Dowd on stage; his films include The Show of Shows, God’s Gift to Women and Nothing Sacred

Douglas Shearer (1899-1971) – Academy Award-winning engineer who headed up the sound department at M-G-M for many years; brother of actress Norma

Sara Haden (1899-1981) – Stage, screen and television character actress best remembered as Aunt Milly in the Andy Hardy movies

Lee Strasberg (1901-1982) – Actor-director and acting coach who co-founded the Group Theatre, served as the director of the Actors Studio and later founded the Lee Strasberg Theatre and Film Institute; his films include The Godfather, Part II, Going in Style and …And Justice for All

Mischa Auer (1905-1967) – Russian stage, screen and television character actor whose vehicles include My Man Godfrey, Destry Rides Again and Hellzapoppin’

Betty Bronson (1906-1971) – Stage, screen and television actress whose stardom was at its peak in the silent era with films like Peter Pan, Ben-Hur and A Kiss for Cinderella

Charles Walters (1911-1982) – Motion picture choreographer and director whose oeuvre includes Easter Parade, Annie Get Your Gun, Summer Stock and Lili

William Tannen (1911-1976) – Ubiquitous character actor best known for his role as deputy Hal Norton on TV’s The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp; his films include Whistling in the Dark, Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde and Jungle Jim in the Forbidden Land

Harry Ackerman (1912-1991) – Emmy Award-winning television executive producer whose work at Screen Gems included Father Knows Best, Dennis the Menace, The Donna Reed Show, Hazel, Bewitched and several others

Jack Lescoulie (1912-1987) – Radio and television announcer best remembered as one of the early participants on The Today Show; his impressions of Jack Benny were frequently used in some of the Warner Brothers cartoons of the 30s/40s

Frank Maxwell (1916-2004) – Ubiquitous character actor best known for his role as Duncan MacRoberts on the series Our Man Higgins; his film appearances include Lonelyhearts, Ada, The Intruder and The Haunted Palace

Shelby Foote (1916-2005) – Novelist and historian whose book The Civil War: A Narrative became the basis for the Ken Burns’s PBS documentary The Civil War in 1990, on which he was a participant

Byron Keith (1917-1996) – Film and television character actor best remembered as Lt. Roy Gilmore on TV’s 77 Sunset Strip; also played Mayor Linseed on Batman

Rock Hudson (1925-1985) – Film and television beefcake star whose films include several vehicles with Doris Day (who once said: “I call him Ernie because he’s certainly no rock”); also starred on TV’s McMillan and Wife

Robert Brown (1926-     ) – Film and television actor best known as Jason Bolt in the TV series Here Come the Brides; later starred in the television series Primus

Rance Howard (1928-     ) – Film and television character actor who’s best known as the father of former moppet actors Ron and Clint

Peter Cook (1937-1995) – TDOY comedy god who once partnered with Dudley Moore; his vehicles include The Wrong Box, Bedazzled, The Bed Sitting Room and TV’s Not Only…But Also, The Two of Us and Gone to Seed

Gordon Lightfoot (1938-     ) – Canadian singer-songwriter who scored a huge hit record about a shipwreck

Gene Clark (1941-1991) – Byrd

Colby Chester (1941-    ) – Film and television character actor best known for his roles on TV’s Sword of Justice and The Young and the Restless

Martin Scorsese (1942-     ) – Academy Award-winning motion picture director whose oeuvre includes Mean Streets, Taxi Driver, Raging Bull, Goodfellas and The Departed

Lauren Hutton (1943-     ) – Actress/model and talk-show host whose vehicles include Paper Lion, Welcome to L.A., American Gigolo and Once Bitten

Lorne Michaels (1944-     ) – Emmy Award-winning Canadian comedy writer/standup comedian (with Hart Pomerantz) who was one of the creators of Saturday Night Live

Danny DeVito (1944-     ) – Emmy Award-winning stage, screen and television actor who achieved boob tube immortality as Louie De Palma on the sitcom Taxi; currently appears on the sitcom It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia

Roland Joffé (1945-    ) – Motion picture director whose oeuvre includes The Killing Fields, The Mission, Fat Man and Little Boy and The Scarlet Letter

Steven E. de Souza (1947-     ) – Film and television screenwriter whose works include 48 HRS., The Running Man, Die Hard, Die Hard 2 and TV’s The Powers of Matthew Star

Jon Avnet (1949-     ) – Motion picture director-producer whose oeuvre includes Fried Green Tomatoes, Up Close & Personal and 88 Minutes

Stephen Root (1951-     ) – TDOY character actor god best known as billionaire Jimmy James on the sitcom NewsRadio and the voice of luckless loser Bill Dauterive on King of the Hill

Dean Paul Martin (1951-1987) – Actor-singer son of Dean Martin who performed in the rock ‘n’ roll trio Dino, Desi & Billy and appeared on the TV series Misfits of Science

Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio (1958-     ) – TDOY actress fave whose vehicles include The Color of Money, The Abyss, Class Action and TV’s Without a Trace and Law & Order: Criminal Intent

William R. Moses (1959-     ) – Film and television actor best known as Cole Gioberti on TV’s Falcon Crest but I keep seeing him (as Ken Malansky) in those Perry Mason TV-movies currently being run on the Encore Mystery channel

RuPaul (Charles) (1960-     ) – Actor/drag queen and host of RuPaul’s Drag Race

Jonathan Ross (1960-     ) – British jack-of-all-trades (comedian, talk show host, game show emcee, DJ, film critic) who I remember from the series The Incredibly Strange Film Show

Eric Olson (1962-     ) – Moppet actor who I remember from both Apple’s Way and the TV series adaptation of Swiss Family Robinson

Felice Schacter (1963-     ) – Moppet actress who I liked very much on The Facts of Life but in an exercise of poor judgment the producers sent her packing

Sophie Marceau (1966-     ) – Actress who I just watched the other day in the first-rate psychological thriller Don’t Look Back (Ne te retourne pas); her films include Braveheart, A Midsummer Night’s Dream and The World is Not Enough

Diane Neal (1975-     ) – Film and television actress/model best known as A.D.A. Casey Novak on TV’s Law & Order: Special Victims Unit—a character my brother-in-law calls “the worst lawyer in the history of television”

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quizshowbob said...

I guessed wrong on which Lightfoot song it would be.

RuPaul turns 50...Heaven forbid!

Cliff Aliperti said...

What a great choice to highlight in Clarence Wilson, he seems to be in practically everything I watch. What a great distinctive face he has, all angles.

mndean said...

However different their persona, I suspect that Wilson and Ned Sparks got their vinegar from studio labs, filling hip flasks with stop bath.

Scott said...

Felice Schacter was too pretty and posed a threat to Blair. But she was the female lead in Zapped!, opposite Scott Baio and Willy Aames, and nobody can take that away from her!

MST3K fans will remember William R. "Billy" Moses as the subterranean alien with the now-you-hear-it-now-you-don't Australian accent in the Comedy Central-era episode Alien From L.A., opposite the ultra-sonic Kathy Ireland.