Here are 10 things you should know about Constance Bennett, born 116 years ago today. She was a glamorous star who downplayed her own talents, but her career spanned a full half-century.
Here are 10 things you should know about Eugene Pallette, born 131 years ago today. He was an immensely talented and prolific character actor whose career ended under a cloud of controversy.
Here are 10 things you should know about Hoagy Carmichael, born 120 years ago today. He’s best remembered as a composer and musician, but he enjoyed success as an actor, too.
If you’re an old-movie aficionado, you’re familiar with the face of J. Farrell MacDonald, born 141 years ago today in Waterbury, Connecticut (at least one source says MacDonald was born June 6, 1875, and we honestly don’t have a clue which is correct, but we’re going with today). Even if you only occasionally tune to Turner Classic Movies when nothing else is on, there’s a good chance you’ve encountered MacDonald’s mug in a motion picture or two.
MacDonald is one of those actors who turns up in seemingly every third film of the 1920s, ’30s and ’40s, and though his range may have been limited (at least, the range he was allowed by those in charge of casting), he was always memorable. J. Farrell MacDonald played tough guys—sometimes amiable, some times grumpy, sometimes they were good guys, sometimes not—who were frequently, like MacDonald himself, of Irish descent.
Lest you think we’re exaggerating MacDonald’s ubiquity, consider this: Over the course of his 41-year career, he appeared in more than 325 motion pictures (he also directed 44 flms from 1912 to 1917—in fact, he was the principal director for L. Frank Baum‘s Oz Film Manufacturing Company, a short-lived studio that aimed to make family-friendly pictures in an era when children were seeing mostly shoot ’em-up westerns.
MacDonald attended Yale University, where he played football and graduated with a B.A. in 1903. He then continued on to study law and geology at Stewarttown University in Ottawa. His first job after graduation found him taking part in a government geological survey through Mexico, Colorado and into the Rockies.
Farrell began his acting career as a minstrel performer before touring in legitimate theatrical productions for two years. He made his first appearance in a motion picture in 1911 and didn’t stop until shortly before his death in 1952. He frequently played cops, but he appeared in a good number of westerns too. He was seen frequently in the films of Frank Capra (for whom he appeared in four pictures), Preston Sturges (eight pictures) and John Ford, for whom MacDonald appeared in more than twenty pictures from 1919 through 1946.
As one might expect of someone who worked so frequently, not all of MacDonald’s pictures are well-remembered today, but he appeared in a number of films that are considered classics, among them Topper, It’s a Wonderful Life, My Darling Clementine, Sullivan’s Travels and even Superman and the Mole Men. His film appearances were frequently (though not always) brief, but nearly always memorable.
Happy birthday, Mr. MacDonald, wherever you may be!
Any old movie fan can quickly come up with a list of stars whose name in the opening credits is reason enough to give a motion picture a look.
But we suspect that only true aficionados would include the name Roland Young, who was born 128 years ago today, on that list.
Well, you can count us in the latter group. Mr. Young, for our money, is among the elite of motion picture stars of the 1930s and ’40s.
Born the son of an architect in London, England, Young attended the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art and made his stage debut in 1908, his Broadway debut four years later, and after serving (with the U.S. Army, interestingly enough) in World War I, his movie debut in 1922, playing Watson to John Barrymore‘s Sherlock Holmes.
But it was in talkies that Young really found his stride. He excelled at playing upper crust types, with his neat little mustache and his fumbling, mumbling way of speaking, and so, though he would play the occasional dramatic part (and very ably, too) over the course of his movie career, it was in romantic and screwball comedies that he truly made his mark.
Roland Young is perhaps best remembered for his portrayal of the henpecked Cosmo Topper in the popular Topper series of pictures, but his roster of credit includes a number of top-notch comedies, among them One Hour with You (1932), Ruggles of Red Gap (1935), The Philadelphia Story (1940), and Tales of Manhattan (1942), but even in lesser known films, he shines.
Young also worked in radio, starring in a 1945 summer replacement series based on the Topper movies and guesting on other programs, and on television, including such programs as Lux Video Theatre, Studio One, Pulitzer Prize Playhouse and The Chevrolet Tele-Theatre.
Young died of natural causes at age 65 in his NYC apartment on June 5, 1953.
Here’s to you, Mr. Young. Thanks for the laughs!