Know Your Character Actors
The other night I watched a movie called The Bad and the Beautiful. Made in 1952, it starred Kirk Douglas, Lana Turner, Walter Pigeon and Dick Powell. At the time, it was considered the ultimate Hollywood insider’s picture. I won’t bother describe the plot to you; I will say, however, that it was corny as hell, sometimes bad, sometimes beautiful, but very entertaining for me to watch.
I watch a fair amount old movies on the Turner Classic Movie channel — to the point where I’m really beginning to spot the B-list character actors, those invaluable second bananas the movie industry relies so heavily upon. I consider them the baseball equivalent of the long man out of the bullpen who can be used as a spot starter — nothing flashy, not a star by any means, but your team would be in bad shape without him. Anyway, I recognized the guy who played Gaucho, the Latin lover-type movie star in the The Bad and the Beautiful, as the same actor who played an alternately jovial and feisty shrimp fisherman in the James Stewart movie Thunder Bay. It seems I can’t watch an old movie anymore without picking out actors like that.
A while ago I reread David Copperfield. While reading it, the mental image I had of David’s eccentric yet lovable aunt, Miss Betsey Trotwood, was the above character actress, Edna May Oliver, who appeared in roughly a gazillion movies from the silent film era on up to the early forties. As she got older, she seemed to specialize in the comedic spinster or matron roles. With her horse face and exaggerated hauteur, you couldn’t help loving her. I saw her in the Olivier version of Pride and Prejudice playing the role of Lady Catherine de Bourgh (in a surprisingly sympathetic treatment of the character) and thought, next to Greer Garson, she was the best thing in the picture. So I thought she would be perfect for the role of David Copperfield’s aunt. And guess what? On a whim yesterday I decided to look up her filmography and you’d never believe what character she once played: Aunt Betsey Trotwood in David Copperfield! Can I call ’em or what?