The gruff but lovable William Demarest was born 125 years ago today in St. Paul, Minnesota. Here are 10 WD Did-You-Knows:
- If Demarest doesn’t strike one as the typical Minnesotan, that’s probably because his family moved to New Jersey when he was a baby, a state that better gibes with his irascible persona. His father was a second-hand furniture dealer.
- Demarest was a veteran of World War I, serving as a sergeant in the United States Army.
- Demarest’s performing career began when he was a very young; he played cello in an act with his two older brothers that played resort hotels in New Jersey. He then work as a dancer and comedian in cabarets and worked two seasons with the Alcazar Theatre Stock Company in Stockton, California.
- Demarest had a brief boxing career, fighting under the name “Battling McGovern,” but he preferred not to discuss that period in his life in his later years.
- Demarest later played vaudeville, first as a solo act and later teaming with his first wife, Estelle Collette (her real name was Esther Zychlin).
- Demarest received his first screen test for Warner Brothers in 1926. “We filmed in L.A.,” he later said, “and you could have smelled it in New York. It was just awful.” Nonetheless, he signed a five-year contract with Warners the next year, appearing in a dozen silent pictures.
- Though he went uncredited, Demarest can be spotted in the role of Buster Billings opposite Al Jolson in the first talking feature, The Jazz Singer.
- Demarest was a member of Preston Sturges‘ stock company. His facility with physical comedy suited the director’s style particularly well.
- Demarest made over 100 pictures and received one Oscar nomination, for his supporting role in the 1946 biopic The Jolson Story.
- Demarest is best remembered today for his work on television, particularly for the role of Uncle Charley O’Casey on My Three Sons. He replaced William Frawley, who was in frail health, on tha popular sitcom. Demarest received one Emmy nomination for his work on the show, on which he appeared from 1965 to 1972.
Happy birthday, William Demarest, wherever you may be!