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Archive for the ‘Charactor Actor Of The Day’ Category

Working on the commentary for Kino Lorber’s upcoming The Spoilers (1942) Blu-Ray, I was reminded of just how great Russell Simpson is. He’s a hoot in that one. Simpson’s seen above, second from left, in The Gal Who Took The West (1949) starring Yvonne De Carlo.

Russell Simpson was born in San Francisco in June of 1880. He prospected for gold in Alaska at just 18. He eventually decided to become an actor, was in a number of touring companies, played on Broadway and eventually made his film debut in the 1914 version of The Virginian.

Second from left again, as a stern Mormon in Wagon Master (1950).

In the late 30s, Simpson became part of John Ford’s stock company — appearing in Drums Along The Mohawk (1939), The Grapes Of Wrath (1940, as Pa Joad), Tobacco Road (1941), They Were Expendable (1945), My Darling Clementine (1946), Wagon Master (1950) and The Sun Shines Bright (1953). His last picture was Ford’s The Horse Soldiers in 1959.

He’s one of those actors that makes everything he’s in at least a little bit better — even a John Hart episode of The Lone Ranger.

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Been meaning to do a piece on Hank Worden for quite a while. He turned up in an episode of The Lone Ranger last night, so I figured now’s the time.

His real name was Norton Earl Worden, and he was born in Rolfe, Iowa in 1901. He grew up on a ranch in Montana, attended both Stanford University and the University of Nevada, served in the Army, and worked on the rodeo circuit as a bronco rider. While rodeoing in Madison Square Garden, he and Tex Ritter were chosen to play cowhands in Green Grow The Lilacs on Broadway.

That’s Hank in the yellow shirt to the right of Tex Ritter.

Worden broke into the movies with Cecil B. DeMille’s The Plainsman in 1936, and was soon appearing in Tex Ritter’s B Westerns.

Hank with Joanne Dru in Red River (1948)

Hank had a small part in Howard Hawks’s Come And Get It (1936), and they say Hawks recommended Worden to John Ford. For Hawks, he did Red River (1948) and The Big Sky (1952). (Why wasn’t he in Rio Bravo?)

Right, as one of the vile, dim-witted Cleggs in Ford’s Wagon Master (1950)*

As a member of John Ford’s stock company, Worden’s in Stagecoach (1939), Fort Apache (1948), Three Godfathers (1948), Wagonmaster (1950), The Searchers (1956, up top) and more.

As the Parson with Frankie Avalon in Wayne’s The Alamo (1960)

Hank continued to work with John Wayne — as part of his stock company. Their last picture together was Cahill, US Marshall in 1973.

Left, with Forrest Tucker and Kathleen Crowley in The Quiet Gun (1957)

He turns up in so much stuff: a couple of the Ma and Pa Kettle movies, Hellfire (1949), The Quiet Gun (1957), Dragoon Wells Massacre (1957), One-Eyed Jacks (1961‚ Marlon Brando killed him off way too early), Smokey And The Bandit (1977) and Clint Eastwood’s Bronco Billy (1980). On TV, he was on The Lone Ranger, Bonanza, Wagon Train, Petticoat Junction, even a few episodes of Twin Peaks (his last role).

Hank Worden added something special to every movie he was in, but it’s Mose Harper in The Searchers that he’ll always be remembered for. And that’s not a bad thing at all.

* One of my favorite photos ever posted on this blog.

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Since wrapping up a commentary for El Paso (1949), the Pine-Thomas Western starring John Payne, Gail Russell and Sterling Hayden, I’ve been thinking about Gabby Hayes.

George Francis “Gabby” Hayes was born in his father’s hotel, the Hayes Hotel, in Stannards, New York. He played semiprofessional baseball in high school — and ran away from home at 17. He toured with a stock company, joined a circus, and became a successful vaudevillian.

Hayes married Olive E. Ireland in 1914, and she joined him in vaudeville. Hayes was so successful that by 1928, at just 43, he retired to Long Island. But he lost everything in the 1929 stock-market crash, and Olive persuaded George to try his luck in the movies. They moved to Los Angeles.

In his early days in Hollywood, Hayes played all kinds of roles — sometimes two parts in a single film. He did well in Westerns, though he didn’t know how to ride a horse until he was in his 40s and had to learn for a movie. In fact, he didn’t care much for Westerns.

From 1935 to 39, Hayes played Windy Halliday, the sidekick to Hopalong Cassidy (played by William Boyd). In 1939, Hayes left Paramount in a salary dispute and moved over to Republic. Paramount owned the name Windy Halliday, so he became Gabby.

As Gabby Whitaker, he appeared in more than 40 pictures between 1939 and 1946, usually with Roy Rogers, Gene Autry or Wild Bill Elliott — and often working with director Joseph Kane.

Hayes, Wayne and Rogers would all appear in Raoul Walsh’s The Dark Command (1940). Its dream cast also includes Claire Trevor, Walter Pigeon, Marjorie Main and Joe Sawyer. Its success would spur Yates to put more money into their John Wayne movies, and it hints at the bigger pictures Republic would do heading into the 50s. It’s a good one.

George “Gabby” Hayes’ last feature was The Cariboo Trail (1950) with Randolph Scott. He then headed to TV and hosted The Gabby Hayes Show from 1950 to 1954 on NBC and on ABC in 1956. When the series ended, Hayes retired from show business for a second time. He passed away in February 1969.

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I’ve been meaning to resurrect this series for ages, and I finally got around to it. Our Character Actor Of The Day is Leo Gordon.

Leo Gordon stands tall as one of the screen’s greatest heavies. At six foot two, with a deep voice and icy stare, he’s one of the few guys around who could really come up against someone like John Wayne (Hondo, McLintock!) or Clint Walker (Cheyenne, Night Of The Grizzly) and not look silly.

Don Siegel, who directed Gordon in Riot In Cell Block 11 (1954, above), called Gordon “the scariest man I have ever met.”

Leo Vincent Gordon, Jr. was born December 2, 1922, in Brooklyn, New York. His family lived in poverty and he left school in the eighth grade to work in construction and demolition. Next came the Civilian Conservation Corps. After that, in 1941, Leo enlisted in the Army and served two years.

After the war, Gordon was arrested for armed robbery in southern California. During the ordeal, he pulled a gun and was shot in the stomach. Leo served five years in San Quentin, where he furthered his education by reading nearly every book in the prison library. (The mugshot was for a fight later, not the robbery arrest.)

Gordon attended the American Academy Of Dramatic Arts on the G.I. Bill — and married one of his classmates, Lynn Cartwright in 1950. They’d work together a number of times (such as Black Patch and some episodes of Adam 12 — often written by Leo) and their marriage would last until his death in 2000.

Gordon was soon cast in the London and Canadian companies of Mister Roberts. After a few years of stage work, Hollywood came calling. Lots and lots of crime pictures and Westerns.

His first Western was City Of Bad Men (1953). Then there’s Gun Fury (1953), Hondo (1954), Ten Wanted Men (1955), Tennessee’s Partner (1955), Yellow Mountain (1954, up top), The Tall Stranger (1957), Quantrill’s Raiders (1958, he’s Quantrill), McLintock! (1963), Night Of The Grizzly (1966), Hostile Guns (1967, below, one of those A.C. Lyles things) and My Name Is Nobody (1973, produced by Sergio Leone). There are lots, lots more.

Gordon turned up in crime pictures like Baby Face Nelson (1957, as John Dillinger), The Big Operator (1959) and The St. Valentine’s Day Massacre (1967). You’ll also find him in Tobruk (1967) and The Haunted Palace (1963). He was versatile and he stayed plenty busy.

On TV, Leo Gordon had recurring role on Maverick (below) as Big Mike McComb, and James Garner would later recruit him for several episodes of The Rockford Files. He’s terrific on The Andy Griffith Show as a guy who’s released from prison — and comes looking for Sheriff Taylor. On Cheyenne, he and Clint Walker are great in some real knock down drag out fights.

All in all, he’d go on to appear in more than 170 movies and TV shows from the early 1950s to the mid-1990s. His last feature was Maverick (1994), and his tiny part is the only reason to sit through that thing.

Gordon was a screenwriter, too. He wrote for shows such as Bonanza, Gunsmoke, Maverick, Cheyenne and Adam 12 (right). And he penned features like Black Patch (1957), Hot Car Girl (1958), Escort West (1959), The Wasp Woman (1959), Attack Of The Giant Leeches (1959), Bounty Killer (1965) and Tobruk. There were several novels, too, including the historical Western Powderkeg.

Though often the heavy, Leo Gordon had a way of not just making his presence known, but turning in a real performance. (He’s really terrific in The Intruder.) There’s an odd sympathetic angle to a lot of his villains. He was one of the best.

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Return of Jack Slade NB MB

Since watching Fury At Gunsight Pass (1956), Neville Brand has been on my mind. (Blake Lucas brought him up, too.)

If I was to make a list of underappreciated actors, Neville Brand would be near the top. He’s so good in so many pictures — big ones and small ones. And there was so much more to him than just a bad guy.

After serving in World War II — where he was awarded the Silver Star, Purple Heart and other decorations, Brand studied acting on the G.I. Bill. His first sizable film role was in D.O.A. (1950). His career as a heavy was off to the races.

Neville Brand: “With this kisser, I knew early in the game I wasn’t going to make the world forget Clark Gable… I don’t go in thinking he’s a villain. The audience might, but the villain doesn’t think he’s a villain… I just create this human being under the circumstances that are given.”

Brand Laredo with bookFrom time to time, he’d play something other than a thug, or his thug would have a decent amount of screen time, and he’d really shine. Something like Halls Of Montezuma (1950), Stalag 17 (1953), Anthony Mann’s The Tin Star (1957) or Don Siegel’s Riot In Cell Block 11 (1954). There’s Reese Bennett on Laredo (1965-67). And he had great chemistry with John Wayne in Cahill: U.S. Marshall (1973), giving the film a much-needed shot in the arm.

Brand fought Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and alcoholism. Was a veracious reader with a huge library (some of it was lost in a fire in the 70s). And everyone seems to say the same thing: that he was a tough guy — but also a really nice man.

He’s seen up top with Mari Blanchard in The Return Of Jack Slade (1955), one of the many movies to benefit from his presence, and reading on the Laredo set.

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Last Of The Comanches Saunders

Character actor Hugh Sanders stayed busy throughout the 50s, in both features and on TV — with parts in pictures like The Wild One (1953), Jailhouse Rock (1957) and To Kill A Mockingbird (1962).

From Illinois, Sanders worked in radio before making the move to Hollywood in 1949. He made a number of Western features before his death in 1966 (at just 54), such as Last Of The Comanches (1953, above), The Guns Of Fort Petticoat (1957) and Warlock (1959, below). He played a lot of lawmen, as he did in City Of Bad Men (1953). And as is so common with character actors in this period, he often went without credit.

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On TV, you’ll see him in Western shows like The Lone Ranger, Rawhide, Tales Of Wells Fargo and Maverick, along with Perry Mason, The Twilight Zone and The Lucy-Desi Comedy Hour. And that’s just scratching the surface.

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It’s been a while since I did a Character Actor Of The Day, so I decided on a big one: Robert J. Wilke (May 18, 1914 – March 28, 1989).

Wilke started out as a stuntman in the 30s, and was soon a very prolific bad guy in movies and eventually on TV. He has hundreds of credits, most in Westerns. Here he is (center) with Lee Van Cleef and Sheb Wooley in High Noon (1952). He was appearing in many of the Tim Holt pictures from around the same time.

Before breaking into the movies, he was a high diver at the 1933 Chicago World’s Fair. And he was known as one of the best celebrity golfers in Hollywood. Wonder if he and Randolph Scott set up a game during Badman’s Territory (1946)?

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