Here are 10 things you should know about Charles Butterworth, born 124 years ago today. He’s one of those character actors of the 1930s and ’40s who made movie comedies that much funnier.
Charles Butterworth was born 120 years today in South Bend, Indiana. He’s in the rarefied company of greats like Roland Young, Charles Ruggles and Edward Everett Horton when it comes to making 1930s comedies just that much funnier. Here are ten CB Did-You-Knows:
- Butterworth earned a law degree from the University of Notre Dame, but never practiced, instead entering the journalism field.
- He worked as a journalist for the Chicago American. During those years, he established friendships with Heywood Hale Broun and humorist Frank Sullivan, who was instrumental in Butterworth getting radio work.
- When Butterworth first arrived in New York, he worked for the New York Times as a circulation department canvasser.
- Butterworth also worked as a secretary to author J. P. McEvoy, who was at the time writing the book for a musical called Americana. This gave Butterworth an entrée into the world of theater. He would go on to appear in several Broadway musicals of the 1920s, among them Allez Oop, Good Boy, Sweet Adeline and Flying Colors.
- His first credited film appearance (following a couple of brief, uncredited appearances) was in The Life of the Party (1930).
- Butterworth was known to be adept with humorous ad libs, so much so that some of the screenwriters he worked with in Hollywood came to rely on his ability to fill out an underwritten part with pithy lines of his own making.
- Butterworth was very close friends with fellow humorist Robert Benchley. Benchley is sometimes credited with the line quoted in today’s quote graphic, but he said Butterworth, who spoke the line in Every Day’s a Holiday (1937), but is said to have orginally ad-libbed the quip after falling into a pool at a party.
- Butterworth’s familiar screen character is said to have been the inspiration for cereal mascot Cap’n Crunch.
- He died in 1946 in a single-car automobile accident on Sunset Boulevard. It’s been suggested in some corners that his death was not accidental, that he was despondent over the passing of his pal Benchley some months earlier, but that’s not ever been proven.
- At the time of his death, Butterworth was engaged to actress Natalie Schafer, who would later be cast as Mrs. Thurston Howell III on the television sitcom Gilligan’s Island.
Happy birthday, Charles Butterworth, wherever you may be!
The term “yesterday’s news” is usually meant to denigrate, but for fans of the Golden Age of Hollywood, old news can often be welcome news. Following, in retrospect, the career ebbs and flows — and even the day-to-day lives — of our favorite performers, writers, and directors offers a new/old insight on these fascinating figures.
A terrific resource for such digging through the past is the very worthy blog Hollywood Heyday. Each entry revisits the Tinseltown news and gossip of a particular day in a given year, leaving the reader feeling as if she’s traveled back in time.
The sources are wire services and syndicated columnists, among them such still-familiar names as Luella Parsons and Hedda Hopper and other journalists whose names are not as well known today, including Wood Soanes and Chester B. Bahn.
Charles Butterworth, whose movie career terminated largely because his style of humor is so distinctive that he needed a special author to provide him with material, is returning to the stage for a comedy part in the next Max Gordon revue. Before that happens, however, he’ll work with Chevalier in a picture.
Butterworth was hardly through with the movies at that point in time — he went on to make more than thirty more pictures before his premature death in an auto accident in 1946 — but it’s intriguing to learn that at one point in time, it was thought he was finished in Hollywood.
Other stories remind us that now-familiar names were not always so, as in this tidbit from Bahn on the same date, April 22, 1932:
Universal failed to pick up option of Mickey Rooney, formerly known as Mickey McGuire.
It’s intriguing to think of a time when young Mickey was a) newly dubbed “Rooney” and b) getting dropped by movie studios.
“The Sun Also Rises,” to star Constance Bennett, is more than just a mere rumor. The book has been purchased and Rowland Brown is now reading it and discussing treatment, for he will direct her. Some of the considerable angles will have to be removed but it is fundamentally a splendid story and should give Connie an excellent vehicle.
To the best of our knowledge, that’s a project that never got off the ground, but learning that it was once in the works leaves us wondering just how it might have turned out.
Bela Lugosi did a laugh-clown-laugh stunt at the Carthay Circle theater the other night. He tripped back stage, fell and broke three ribs, but went on with his performance of “Murdered Alive.” He probably felt just that way.
Admittedly, few of the reports offered by Hollywood Heyday are major news, even by Tinseltown standards — they merely offer a glimpse of the daily professional and personal ups and downs of fondly remembered (and some not-so-fondly recalled) members of the picture biz of decades past. There are those who would no doubt scratch their heads and wonder at the appeal of these snippets of yesterday’s news; I think most members of the Cladrite Radio clan, though, will, as we do, find the site fascinating — and habit-forming, to boot.