The most important thing is to enjoy your life - to be happy - it's all that matters.
- Audrey Hepburn

Bit Players We Love

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

Moderators: Sue Sue Applegate, movieman1957, moira finnie, Lzcutter

User avatar
moira finnie
Administrator
Posts: 8176
Joined: April 9th, 2007, 6:34 pm
Location: Earth
Contact:

Bit Players We Love

Postby moira finnie » May 5th, 2009, 11:25 am

In honor of all those unsung classic movie actors out there who, as Ollie mentioned elsewhere on this forum, "make rewatching films so entertaining", here's an entire thread to celebrate your favorite "never-weres", "almost-weres" and "once-weres".

I'll kick this off with one of my easy to spot faves:
Louis Jean Heydt.
Image
Need a guy who looks as though he might be friendly or might harbor some quasi-dark secret? A fellow who might personify everything from a Civil War to Depression era Hard Luck Joe? [Please see GWTW for the former & the MGM short subject, 1938's Crime Does Not Pay No. 18: They're Always Caught for the latter) Someone with a gentle manner and l-o-s-e-r tattooed in invisible ink on his forehead? A great little guy, whose blonde, bland likability, and generally soft-spoken mien, often laced with a sweet smile, made him ideal for human wallpaper roles that required someone who could follow instrux, give exposition of some plot point, show up sober, and look good in a double breasted suit as well as a weathered leather jacket and chinos. On occasion he could be a bit of a needler (Come to the Stable) and even a weasel (The Big Sleep), which kept his many appearances from utter predictability.

Sometimes the most distinctive thing about Mr. H. was his name, which seems to have been real. He also had a wistfulness that always made me wonder about his character's backstory. I'm probably just a weirdo, but I missed the guy after he got plugged, drove away, or just disappeared from the storyline without explanation. There was something about his presence that rarely seemed to find expression on-screen.
Image
In one of his almost-a-breakthrough parts, Louis Jean Heydt played Joe Brody in the incomprehensible but entertaining The Big Sleep (1946). I can't remember the names of those other actors in the picture above. Maybe it'll come to me.


Oh, yes, he also specialized in being the guy in a combat situation [i.e. They Were Expendable (1945), Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo (1944), et al] who makes a fond remark about the wife and kiddos back home. That sort of casual remark most often should have been accompanied by "Dum, da dum dum". Nice knowing ya, Lou!

Image
As a no-better-than-he-should-be salesman having a snort with Mary Beth Hughes on a train in the highly entertaining Mike Shayne mystery, Sleepers West (1941).

I sometimes wonder if Louis Jean Heydt made a very good living taking small parts. I believe that he was under contract at Warners for several years in the '30s and '40s, though he shows up in almost every studio's pictures once in awhile. Maybe he was like Charles Lane, who reportedly had a cab company charge account to rocket him from one soundstage to another pronto on a daily basis, when he might appear in about 3 movies filming simultaneously. IMDb only credits Louis Jean Heydt with 137 appearances on film and tv. Not nearly enough!

One nagging question lingers--did his friends call him Lou, Louis, or Louis Jean?

Your turn, gentle reader.
Avatar: Frank McHugh (1898-1981)

The Skeins
TCM Movie Morlocks

User avatar
MissGoddess
Posts: 5108
Joined: April 17th, 2007, 10:01 am
Contact:

Re: Bit Players We Love

Postby MissGoddess » May 5th, 2009, 11:56 am

I was just thinking about how good "Louie" was as Gloria Grahame's unwanted lover/husband in Crossfire. The way he kept talking and explaining himself (what we'd call providing "too much information" today, ha!) when no one apparently cared to listen.

I like seeing Dorothy Adams pop up here and there, often as a wide-eyed maid or someone's mother, landlady or neighbor. Whenever I forget her name, I look her up on IMDb.com as "Laura's maid", so I guess that is the role I consider her most famous one. She was married to another upiquitous bit player, Byron Foulger, as has been mentioned before because I think I learned it here at the SSO. Byron always reminded me a little of Donald Meek---both kind of colorless, mousey or in Meek's case---meek!

Mr and Mrs Foulger

ImageImage
"There's only one thing that can kill the movies, and that's education."
-- Will Rogers

User avatar
moira finnie
Administrator
Posts: 8176
Joined: April 9th, 2007, 6:34 pm
Location: Earth
Contact:

Re: Bit Players We Love

Postby moira finnie » May 5th, 2009, 12:16 pm

Huh! I didn't know that Dorothy Adams was married to Byron Foulger, who always struck me as Donald Meek's anemic cousin. Foulger makes Meek look positively masterful!

I always thought of Dorothy Adams as an Otto Preminger favorite, since he used her in that flashy, well, flashy might not be quite the word, but noticeable part as the Nervous Nellie maid in Laura. Apparently, Otto only used her once again in Fallen Angel . Wonder what Dorothy and Byron's home life might have been like? Do you think they were both nervous sorts at home, jumping every time the phone rang, and screaming whenever one of them answered the door and someone unexpected was there? I'll tell you one thing: Dorothy probably shouted louder than Byron.

Btw, according to IMDb, the couple appeared together 15 times, including in a Dr. Christian tv show entitled "Rabies!". A package deal--how sweet!

Betcha there was something to "eek!" about in that program.
Avatar: Frank McHugh (1898-1981)

The Skeins
TCM Movie Morlocks

User avatar
moira finnie
Administrator
Posts: 8176
Joined: April 9th, 2007, 6:34 pm
Location: Earth
Contact:

Re: Bit Players We Love

Postby moira finnie » May 5th, 2009, 1:22 pm

Something else just occurred to me and I wonder if it might have had a more profound impact on the lives of bit players more than any other class of actors. When you start to think it over, one of the most remarkable periods in theatrical history occurred during the studio era. A profession that once required non-stop touring, lousy pay and whose members were often regarded as thieves, whores and mountebanks by their audiences were provided with a consistent, sometimes better than average pay for actors and actresses for years on end, allowing them to become citizens, (even politicians!), own homes, and have a family. This was a first in history.

Did it affect the quality of the acting? Yes and no--you be the judge.
Avatar: Frank McHugh (1898-1981)

The Skeins
TCM Movie Morlocks

User avatar
MissGoddess
Posts: 5108
Joined: April 17th, 2007, 10:01 am
Contact:

Re: Bit Players We Love

Postby MissGoddess » May 5th, 2009, 1:53 pm

moirafinnie wrote:Something else just occurred to me and I wonder if it might have had a more profound impact on the lives of bit players more than any other class of actors. When you start to think it over, one of the most remarkable periods in theatrical history occurred during the studio era. A profession that once required non-stop touring, lousy pay and whose members were often regarded as thieves, whores and mountebanks by their audiences were provided with a consistent, sometimes better than average pay for actors and actresses for years on end, allowing them to become citizens, (even politicians!), own homes, and have a family. This was a first in history.

Did it affect the quality of the acting? Yes and no--you be the judge.


Good question, Miss Moira.

I can only see the positives of it---because even if every actor was an Olivier before---who would know? How can we judge. Their audience would be few thousand people over the course of a lifetime for the ones fortunate enough to play big city venues. At least we are STILL able to enjoy Dorothy, Byron and "Louie" and are writing about them today because they appeared on celluloid. And in so many productions! It's like all of Hollywood had one big giant "stock company" of familiar and welcome faces. :D

I always knew I'd have stood a much better chance making a living as an actress in the studio era, with a contract, than I ever did when I was struggling on my own.
"There's only one thing that can kill the movies, and that's education."
-- Will Rogers

User avatar
JackFavell
Posts: 11946
Joined: April 20th, 2009, 9:56 am

Re: Bit Players We Love

Postby JackFavell » May 5th, 2009, 4:31 pm

Oh, gosh, this is a dream topic!

I agree with MissG - it's gotta have been a good thing. Some of us out here in the dark have noticed and remembered.

Your story of Byron Foulger and Dorothy Adams reminded me of another couple, bit players (probably Foulger's name reminded me) Fritz Feld and Virginia Christine. They should have played the lead characters in Tovarich (he actually is in the movie, playing Martelleau). He played barons, butlers and maitre d's. His trademark was to make a noise by putting his hand up to his open mouth and "popping" his lips.(My sister and I used to love to imitate him when we were kids). She was Mrs. Olsen, the Folger's coffee spokesperson and generally played maids, most notably in Judgement at Nuremberg.

Image

Image My favorite bit player of all time is Pat Flaherty. You would recognize his gruff eastern voice in an instant. He is just your average mug, the guy who always says, "Hey, Joe, whaddaya know" to the leading man, then disappears for the rest of the movie. He has the first lines in My Man Godfrey (1936) as forgotten man Mike at the dump (I am in love with the way he says,"Bonsoir" to Godfrey), and plays the coach in The Bachelor and the Bobby Soxer. His last role was that of Dutch, the jailer in The Desperate Hours. In between 1934 and 1955, he managed to make appearances in over 200 movies, usually playing detectives or burly policemen. He also played prison guards and construction foremen. He never has more than a scene, and usually only has one or two lines. He was a professional baseball player, and served as Gary Cooper's backstage baseball coach in The Pride of the Yankees. He is the guy who gives Long John Willoughby the other speech in Meet John Doe. He led a fascinating life, working for the Washington Senators, The Chicago Bears (he also played football) and the DeSylva-Brown music publishing company before coming to Hollywood. He was originally hired to produce pictures for Joseph P. Kennedy at Fox studios, but the Great Depression eliminated his job, so he became an actor. He's my favorite hard-boiled flatfoot or goon, and he's plenty rugged.

Image

klondike

Re: Bit Players We Love

Postby klondike » May 5th, 2009, 5:30 pm

moirafinnie wrote:Oh, yes, he also specialized in being the guy in a combat situation [i.e. They Were Expendable (1945), Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo (1944), et al] who makes a fond remark about the wife and kiddos back home. That sort of casual remark most often should have been accompanied by "Dum, da dum dum". Nice knowing ya, Lou!



In my at-home theatre, we call that kind of give-away "FLW" (famous last words), like when the posturing buddy tells his fellow 20-sumpins to keep on crouching in the dark room while he investigates the noise outside, or when the beloved (but non-critical) sidekick goes out to start the hero's car. :shock:

User avatar
MissGoddess
Posts: 5108
Joined: April 17th, 2007, 10:01 am
Contact:

Re: Bit Players We Love

Postby MissGoddess » May 5th, 2009, 6:06 pm

Thanks for that write-up on your main bit-squeeze, Pat Flaherty, Miss Favell! I am going
to start looking out for him, now that you've put up a couple of pictures and mentioned
a couple of movies. And his background! Like so many back then, he came to Hollywood
with a life already well lived. No wonder these people seemed so "complete" and three
dimensional from the get go---they didn't have to "act" like they'd lived.
"There's only one thing that can kill the movies, and that's education."
-- Will Rogers

User avatar
moira finnie
Administrator
Posts: 8176
Joined: April 9th, 2007, 6:34 pm
Location: Earth
Contact:

Re: Bit Players We Love

Postby moira finnie » May 5th, 2009, 7:18 pm

JF,
Fritz Feld is a wonderful choice. One of my favorite roles for him was as Dr. Fritz Lehman in Bringing Up Baby, as a shrink who keeps encountering the leads. He is quite taken aback but intrigued by Katharine Hepburn's antics and Cary Grant's blustering.

Pat Flaherty was one of those actors you miss after their scenes. He should have had a few better parts. I liked him in Stand-In (1937) as a bouncer and an almost identical role as a ballroom bouncer in City for Conquest. In Hollywood Canteen he played a character called "Dubious Army Sergeant". He could have been described that way in just about every movie--"Dubious Prison Guard", "Suspicious Motorcycle Cop" "Skeptical Bartender", "Cagey Baseball Coach".

Klon,
"FLW" (famous last words)
...may I quote you? I really like that phrase & in addition to the examples you mentioned, in sci-fi movies there is always the guy who leaves the rocket ship first & in war movies there is the fellow who jumps out of the foxhole, crying "You killed Johnny!! I'm gonna get you for that!" All ya wanna say is: Come back, you fool!

Miss G.,
Good point about the economic stability and struggling actors. I know that the studio system produced many hacks and was often unfair, but the cushion it must have given actors, whose privations are often so severe, probably allowed many to blossom too. The rapport that this allowed actors (as well as directors, writers and crew) to develop with one another probably is an X factor that is one reason why we still enjoy their often well-crafted and sometimes amusingly slapdash films. Do you guys think this quality of repertory work was particularly noticeable at Warner Brothers? Any other studios have a similar vibe that anyone has noticed and would like to comment on here?

Thanks for your replies!
Avatar: Frank McHugh (1898-1981)

The Skeins
TCM Movie Morlocks

melwalton
Posts: 508
Joined: October 14th, 2007, 5:58 pm

Re: Bit Players We Love

Postby melwalton » May 6th, 2009, 12:49 am

MOIRA
I agree, it's a dream topic.
I always look for CHARLES LANE, he made so many appearances. ... mel

User avatar
knitwit45
Posts: 4720
Joined: May 4th, 2007, 9:33 pm
Location: Gardner, KS

Re: Bit Players We Love

Postby knitwit45 » May 6th, 2009, 8:37 am

Speaking of Charles Lane, wasn't his last screen appearance in Murphy's Romance, as an octogenarian who was "contemplating marriage"?? Loved him as the "bright young man" who figured he'd be working for George Bailey in a couple of years, in It's A Wonderful Life. You can always count on dry, sarcastic humor if his name is in the credits.

jdb1

Re: Bit Players We Love

Postby jdb1 » May 6th, 2009, 8:47 am

I'm wondering when a "bit player" becomes a "supporting player" or a "character." Where are we drawing the line?

Two names which come to mind are the scratchy-, piping-voiced Percy Helton, and the alternately servile/villainous/professorial Clinton Sundberg.

User avatar
JackFavell
Posts: 11946
Joined: April 20th, 2009, 9:56 am

Re: Bit Players We Love

Postby JackFavell » May 6th, 2009, 9:12 am

Oh my gosh, I forgot to say how happy I am that you mentioned Charles Lane! He has always been a favorite, and was probably the first bit player I ever knew, since he showed up on nearly every TV show ever made. I cried the day he died.....he was like a friend of the family.

User avatar
MissGoddess
Posts: 5108
Joined: April 17th, 2007, 10:01 am
Contact:

Re: Bit Players We Love

Postby MissGoddess » May 6th, 2009, 9:35 am

JackFavell wrote:Oh my gosh, I forgot to say how happy I am that you mentioned Charles Lane! He has always been a favorite, and was probably the first bit player I ever knew, since he showed up on nearly every TV show ever made. I cried the day he died.....he was like a friend of the family.


Re: Charles Lane

My cousin! :wink: :P

Loved seeing him in every film. There was no pulling the rug from under ol' Charles. He
was nobody's fool. Loved him. Remember when he put Lucy on a budget? lol!
"There's only one thing that can kill the movies, and that's education."
-- Will Rogers

User avatar
moira finnie
Administrator
Posts: 8176
Joined: April 9th, 2007, 6:34 pm
Location: Earth
Contact:

Re: Bit Players We Love

Postby moira finnie » May 6th, 2009, 10:19 am

jdb1 wrote:I'm wondering when a "bit player" becomes a "supporting player" or a "character." Where are we drawing the line?

Two names which come to mind are the scratchy-, piping-voiced Percy Helton, and the alternately servile/villainous/professorial Clinton Sundberg.


While nothing would be carved in stone...

Bit Player to me equals:
A small character role that is usually underwritten and requires the skill of a certain type of actor who can imbue the role with much more than is written in the script, bringing his persona and skills to make a tiny part memorable. The actors who take these roles are also often uncredited. The usually two dimensional roles sometimes provide relatively small amounts of information to the audience about the story, but they may be extraneous to the main story, but may relieve dramatic tension, & build up a storyline. The presence of a bit player may just make a film much more enjoyable. Those who regularly fill bit parts may find themselves with more substantial parts in programmers or B movies on occasion.

Character or Supporting Player to me equals:
A role that is sometimes key to central character and plot development and that projects an attitude or commentary on the action that is reflective of the filmmakers' point of view. These roles are often more well thought out, with some really significant amounts of dialogue and should be filled, (ideally) by an actor capable of expressing his character's reality, suggesting a person whose absence from the film would leave a large gap, giving fewer contrasts and highlights to the main characters. They may also be filled by actors whose skills and scene-stealing abilities far outstrip the leading actors.

A character actor can steal an entire movie, a bit player can steal a scene. A character actor could easily be a bit player, but some bit players would find it difficult to become character actors, in part because of stereotyping and limitations on their own talent.
Avatar: Frank McHugh (1898-1981)

The Skeins
TCM Movie Morlocks


Return to “The People of Film”

Who is online

Users browsing this forum: No registered users and 10 guests