Familiar Faces #7: Gordon Jones, Working Class Hero

Brawny actor Gordon Jones (1911-1963) was never a big star, but an actor the big  stars could depend on to give a good performance. Stars like John Wayne, Roy Rogers, and Abbott & Costello knew Gordon could deliver the goods in support, and he spent over thirty years as a working class actor. Not bad for a small town kid from Alden, Iowa!

Gordon as The Green Hornet with Keye Luke as Kato

Jones originally came to California on a football scholarship, playing guard for UCLA. Like his fellow Iowan John Wayne , Gordon began his film career in uncredited parts, and soon moved up in casts lists with films like RED SALUTE (1935), STRIKE ME PINK (1936), and THERE GOES MY GIRL (1937). Gordon’s big lug persona made him ideal for second leads as the hero’s pal, though he did get some leading roles in Poverty Row vehicles like THE LONG SHOT (1938), opposite Marsha Hunt. His big break came in the title role of THE GREEN HORNET, a 1940 serial based on the popular radio program, with Charlie Chan’s #1 Son Keye Luke playing his aide Kato.

‘The Wreck’ menaces Richard Quine as Janet Blair & Rosalind Russell look on in “My Sister Eileen”

Gordon displayed a flair for comedy, and one of his best parts was in 1941’s MY SISTER EILEEN as “The Ramblin’ Wreck from Georgia Tech”, neighbor to sisters Rosalind Russell and Janet Blair. He made his first film with The Duke in 1943’s FLYING TIGERS as Alabama, a member of Wayne’s volunteer squadron fighting the Japanese in China before the onset of Pearl Harbor. Like many actors of the era, Jones served in WWII, and returned to the screen with 1947’s THE SECRET LIFE OF WALTER MITTY, starring Danny Kaye as James Thurber’s notorious daydreamer.

Gordon as Mike the Cop on “The Abbott & Costello Show”

Also in 1947, Jones made his first appearance with Abbott & Costello in THE WISTFUL WIDOW OF WAGON GAP, with Marjorie Main co-starring. Gordon’s the comic villain of the piece, and his work here led to his being cast as antagonist Mike the Cop in the team’s TV series. He makes the perfect foil for Costello’s zany antics, becoming more frustrated and exasperated every time Costello does something stupid… which is always! Jones was one of two cast members retained after A&C revamped the show in its second season, along with vaudeville vet Sidney Fields, a sure sign the boys appreciated his talents.

Lobby card from 1950’s “Sunset in the West”

Along came Roy Rogers, who employed Gordon as a comic sidekick in six of his cowboy movies. Jones played the character ‘Splinters’ McGonigle in TRIGGER JR, SUNSET IN THE WEST, NORTH OF THE GREAT DIVIDE, TRAIL OF ROBIN HOOD (all from 1950), SPOILERS OF THE PLAINS, and HEART OF THE ROCKIES (1951). TRIGGER JR. is considered by many sagebrush aficionados to be Roy’s best, while TRAIL OF ROBIN HOOD is an All-Star ‘B’ Western featuring veteran cowboys Rex Allen, Ray “Crash” Corrigan, George Chesebro, William Farnum, Monte Hale, Jack Holt, Tom Keene, Kermit Maynard, and Tom Tyler all playing themselves, as Roy and Gordon help save Holt’s Christmas Tree farm from poachers!

The 1950’s found Gordon again supporting John Wayne in the anti-Communist film BIG JIM MCLAIN (1952) and William Wellman’s plane crash drama ISLAND IN THE SKY (1953), but most of his work was now on television. Besides the Abbott & Costello show, Gordon had recurring roles in three other sitcoms: MEET MR. MCNULTEY (also known as THE RAY MILLAND SHOW) cast him as a friend of Ray’s all-girls-college professor; SO THIS IS HOLLYWOOD found him as the stuntman boyfriend of Hollywood hopeful Mitzi Green; and he was one of a succession of neighbors to OZZIE AND HARRIET. Of course, there were plenty of guest shots, too: THE GENE AUTRY SHOW, MY LITTLE MARGIE, WYATT EARP, LARAMIE, HAWAIIAN EYE, SURFSIDE-6, PERRY MASON, THE RIFLEMAN, THE REAL MCCOYS, MAVERICK, etc, etc.

Gordon and Strother Martin in 1963’s “McLintock!”

Jones made his Disney debut in 1959’s THE SHAGGY DOG as a police captain, and followed it with THE ABSENT MINDED PROFESSOR (1961) and it’s sequel SON OF FLUBBER (1963), playing the football coach in both. His last role was again with The Duke, as the smarmy land agent Douglas in 1963’s MCLINTOCK. This comedy Western features another All-Star cast (Maureen O’Hara, Stefanie Powers, Chill Wills, Jerry Van Dyke, Yvonne DeCarlo, Edgar Buchanan), and Gordon’s right in the thick of things. Unfortunately, Gordon Jones was felled by a heart attack five months before the film’s premiere, passing away at age 52.

Gordon Jones may not have been a big star, but his contributions to film and television did not go unnoticed: That’s right, he has his own star on the fabled Hollywood Walk of Fame! Like I said earlier, not bad for small town kid from Alden, Iowa!

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Familiar Faces #7: Jack Norton, Hollywood’s Favorite Souse

For fifteen years, whenever Hollywood producers needed a drunk, they called Jack Norton. The perpetually inebriated man with the funny moustache made a career out of playing drunken barflies, mostly in uncredited bit parts. Everyone knew they were in for a good laugh when Jack, the ultimate Familiar Face, staggered onscreen. In real life, Jack Norton was a teatottler who never touched the stuff, and learned to “play drunk” by following tipsy people around and copying their mannerisms. Now that’s dedication to your craft!

Jack in 1934’s “A Duke for a Day”

Jack Norton was born in Brooklyn in 1882, and began his show biz career in vaudeville. He soon moved to Broadway, starring in Earl Carroll’s Vanities. Coming to Hollywood in 1934, Jack played his first lush in FINISHING SCHOOL, an early effort for Frances Dee and Ginger Rogers. After that, his specialty would be in constant demand, though he did do other, non-alcoholic roles, such as reporters in films like ALIBI IKE , PAGE MISS GLORY, and AFTER THE THIN MAN.

with William Demarest in Preston Sturges’ “The Palm Beach Story” (1942)

Comical drunks became his bread and butter though, and Jack had a long and prosperous career reeling his way across the screen. He worked with all the comedy greats of the era, including the Ritz Brothers (KENTUCKY MOONSHINE), Bob Hope (GHOST BREAKERS, LOUISIANA PURCHASE, MY FAVORITE SPY), Olsen & Johnson (CRAZY HOUSE, GHOST CATCHERS), The Great Gildersleeve (GILDERSLEEVE ON BROADWAY, GILDERSLEEVE’S GHOST ), Laurel & Hardy (THE BIG NOISE), Jack Benny (THE HORN BLOWS AT MIDNIGHT), Abbott & Costello (THE NAUGHTY NINETIES), and Danny Kaye (THE KID FROM BROOKLYN). Jack was featured in the first Three Stooges Columbia short WOMEN HATERS, and again in RHYTHM AND WEEP and MALACE IN THE PALACE.

Jack (in pith helmet) as director A. Pismo Clam in “The Bank Dick” (1940)

Classic comedy fans cherish best his turn as drunken movie director A. Pismo Clam in W.C. Fields’ THE BANK DICK , so bombed the producers hire Fields (as Egbert Souse’, not exactly the model of sobriety himself!) to replace him! Jack was also a favorite of Preston Sturges, who used him as part of his stock company in THE PALM BEACH STORY, MIRACLE OF MORGAN’S CREEK, HAIL THE CONQUERING HERO, and THE SIN OF HAROLD DIDDLEBOCK (Harold Lloyd’s failed comeback attempt).

Jack with Billy DeWolfe in 1946’s “Blue Skies”

Jack pops up in movies both classic and no-so classic, adding his particular talent to RUGGLES OF RED GAP, SHE GETS HER MAN, GOLDDIGGERS OF 1937, PICK A STAR, THE GREAT GARRICK, JEZEBEL, THE LONE WOLF SPY HUNT, THE ROARING TWENTIES , THE VILLAIN STILL PURSUED HER, COVER GIRL … the list, like a barfly’s story, goes on and on. Illness forced him to slow down after 1949; he made just a handful of TV appearences before passing away in 1958. Jack Norton was never a major star, but his crocked cameos in so many films are one of the reasons we all love watching classic movies so much. Our eyes light up when he pops up three sheets to the wind, and we smile and say, “Hey, there’s THAT GUY again!”. A Familiar Face indeed, and one of those unsung working actors we all know and love!

Familiar Faces #6: The Law and Mr. Hinds

I first became aware of actor Samuel S. Hinds watching those old Universal pictures that played frequently on my local channels. What I didn’t know about the stately, distinguished thespian is he had a secret past: Hinds was a successful, practicing attorney for over 30 years before the stock market crash of 1929 wiped him out, and he decided at age 54 to pursue his second love, acting. Hinds, born in Brooklyn in 1875, was a Harvard educated lawyer who had a long interest in amateur acting. When he made the decision to turn pro, he wrangled film parts large and small, credited and uncredited. His first talking picture was 1932’s all-star comedy drama IF I HAD A MILLION, in which he played…. you guessed it, a lawyer! (Hinds previously had a small role in the silent 1926 THE AMATEUR GENTLEMAN starring Richard Barthelmess).

Hinds had a small role as a dinner guest in 1933’s MURDERS IN THE ZOO, a Pre-Code horror starring Lionel Atwill , but it wasn’t until 1935 he came into his own in scary movies. THE RAVEN cast him as Judge Thatcher, father of beautiful Jean (Irene Ware), with Bela Lugosi’s mad, Poe obsessed Dr. Richard Vollin determined to posses her – or else! Vollin, driven insane by Jean’s rejection, straps the Judge to a slab and lowers a PIT AND THE PENDULUM-inspired blade designed to slice the jurist in two! Boris Karloff lends strong support as Bela’s reluctant henchman Bateman in one of the Demonic Duo’s best efforts, and Hinds adds a touch of sanity to the demented proceedings.

Sam returned to horror with 1941’s MAN MADE MONSTER, which introduced Lon Chaney Jr. to genre fans. Hinds is well cast as kindly Dr. Lawrence, whose attempt to help Chaney’s ‘Dynamo’ Dan McCormick is thwarted by his evil assistant Dr. Rigas (Atwill again). THE STRANGE CASE OF DR. RX (1942)  typecast him as a lawyer in a spooky murder mystery with Atwill a red herring. Hinds and Chaney reteamed for Robert Siodmak’s SON OF DRACULA (1943), with Lon as the undead Count and Sam in the small role as yet another judge. Hinds closed out his Universal Monster career with a bit as a coroner in 1944’s JUNGLE WOMAN, the second entry in the Paula Dupree/Ape Woman series.

Hinds was also kept busy on the Universal lot supporting the studio’s comedy kings Abbott & Costello. The team scored big with 1941’s BUCK PRIVATES , and Sam was right in the thick of things as the base commander. RIDE EM COWBOY (1942), one of my favorite A&C flicks, has him as the owner of a dude ranch, and father of lovely Anne Gwynne. PARDON MY SARONG (1942) has the dignified actor as a native chieftain on a South Seas island, once again encountering Lionel Atwill. 1943’s IT AIN’T HAY, his last with the comedians, finds him as owner of champion race horse Tea Biscuit.

The actor appeared in his share of classics, as well. The screwball YOU CAN’T TAKE IT WITH YOU (1938) saw Sam as Jean Arthur’s dad. 1939’s DESTRY RIDES AGAIN cast him as the crooked mayor of wild west town Bottleneck. Both films starred James Stewart, who figured prominently in what’s perhaps Hinds’ best known role: Pa Bailey in the 1947 Christmas classic IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE. Hinds is also known for playing Lew Ayres’ dad in six of the Doctor Kildare films.

From film noir ( SCARLET STREET, CALL NORTHSIDE 777) to Westerns (SHEPHERD OF THE HILLS, BADLANDS OF DAKOTA) to comedies (HELLZAPOPPIN’, THE EGG AND I), Samuel S. Hinds lent his easy-going, dignified presence to over 200 movies of the 30’s and 40’s. His last, 1949’s THE BRIBE , was released posthumously; the actor passed away October 13, 1948 at age 73. He worked right up to the end, a real trouper, and I for one am glad he gave up the dramatics of the courtroom for the dramatics of the screen. Hollywood was all the better for it!

 

 

Familiar Faces #5: She’s Like A Rainbeaux!

I’ve got a confession to make: I’ve had an insane crush on 70’s exploitation queen Cheryl “Rainbeaux” Smith ever since I first saw her brighten the screen in Jack Hill’s 1974 THE SWINGING CHEERLEADERS. Never a big star by any stretch of the imagination, the delightful, delectable blonde graced us with her presence throughout the 70’s and 80’s, making even the tiniest of parts memorable. This girl was just soooo damn cute!

Cheryl Lynn Smith was born on June 6, 1955. A typical California girl with blonde hair and freckles, Cheryl used to hang out on the Sunset Strip, a fixture at all the rock clubs: The Whiskey A-Go-Go, The Roxy, The Rainbow. She allegedly got the nickname “Rainbeaux” from the owner of these venues, the legendary rock impresario Mario Maglieri. Cheryl was well-known in the LA rock scene, and later in life played drums in an incarnation of The Runaways featuring Joan Jett.

Cheryl’s first claim to fame came with the 1973 cult classic LEMORA: A CHILD’S TALE OF THE SUPERNATURAL, in which the 18-year-old plays 13-year-old Lila Lee, daughter of a Deep South gangster who’s taken in by the church and dubbed “The Singin’ Angel” (she gets to warble “Just a Closer Walk With Thee” and “Rock of Ages”). This grim fairy tale is filled with bizarre imagery and sound (those creepy kids laughter!), as Lila’s Christian values are pitted against evil vampiress Lemora (Lesley Gilb). The low-budget work of writer/director Richard Blackburn (who went on to cowrite another cult hit, 1983’s EATING RAOUL) is claustrophobic and disturbing, and a must-see for horror buffs. LEMORA turns up occasionally on “TCM Underground”, and is available on YouTube (where I recently viewed it). It serves as a fine showcase for young Cheryl’s acting abilities.

Most of her other films focus more on Cheryl’s other attributes rather than her thespic talents. 1974 was a banner year for the actress, now being billed as Rainbeaux Smith. CAGED HEAT, Jonathan Demme’s directorial debut, casts her as convicted murderess Lavelle in one of the “women in prison” genre’s best efforts, with a cast that includes Erica Gavin (BEYOND THE VALLEY OF THE DOLLS) and horror icon Barbara Steele . The aforementioned THE SWINGING CHEERLEADERS finds her as virginal Andrea, and VIDEO VIXENS has Rainbeaux in a commercial parody as “The Twinkle Twat Girl” (yes, really!).

There was more exploitation to come: In 1976’s THE POM POM GIRLS, Rainbeaux is once again a cheerleader, one of “class stud” Keith Carradine’s conquests. That same year’s REVENGE OF THE CHEERLEADERS was a milestone of sorts for her; she had become pregnant by her musician boyfriend, and appears in the end credits holding her baby boy, Justin. Another cult classic, MASSACRE AT CENTRAL HIGH, finds our Cheryl in peril being threatened by bullying rapists. SLUMBER PARTY ’57 takes Rainbeaux back to the past in a film notable only as Debra Winger’s debut.

Rainbeaux got the opportunity to headline once again in 1977’s CINDERELLA, a softcore musical sex farce with heavy emphasis on the SEX! Rainbeaux (back to being billed as Cheryl here) gives a charming performance as the poor stepsister who goes to the ball thanks to her “fairy godmother” (who’s actually a gay brother!), and is given a magical “snapping pussy” that takes the prince to kingdom come! Produced by the infamous Charles Band and directed by actor Michael Pataki, it’s loads of good dirty fun, with a catchy disco-flavored soundtrack allowing Cheryl to sing once again, showing off her wonderful vocal talents (as well as the rest of her ample charms!). CINDERELLA, from the Golden Age of Erotic Cinema,  is my favorite Rainbeaux Smith role, and despite all the lewdness is well worth watching. They just don’t make ’em like this anymore!

FANTASM COMES AGAIN (1977) returned her to softcore porn territory, along with genre stalwarts Rick Cassidy, Uschi Digart, and Serena. LASERBLAST (1978) was another Charles Band classic, with Cheryl the girlfriend of alien possessed Kim Milford. She also managed to score small parts in more mainstream films of the era: FAREWELL MY LOVELY, DRUM (the sequel to MANDINGO, as Warren Oates’ horny daughter!), THE CHOIRBOYS, MELVIN AND HOWARD, and two with her old Sunset Strip buds Cheech & Chong, UP IN SMOKE and NICE DREAMS. But by the early eighties her film opportunities were drying up.

Cheryl had developed a heroin habit with her musician boyfriend, and after bits in VICE SQUAD (1982), DEAD MEN DON’T WEAR PLAID (doubling for Veronica Lake), and INDEPENDENCE DAY (1983) disappeared from the screen altogether. Her addiction led to losing custody of Justin, homelessness, prostitution, and two bids in prison. She was in and out of recovery until finally getting clean with the help of methadone maintenance, but it was too late. The ravages of heroin addiction had taken their toll, and Cheryl died of liver failure brought on by untreated Hep C on October 25, 2002. She was just 47 years old.

Cheryl “Rainbeaux” Smith never became a big star. Her films were mostly in the world of low-budget exploitation, and mainstream success eluded her. She’s fondly remembered by fans for her girl next door looks and giving her all in whatever she appeared in. She lit up the screen with her presence, and when given a chance to act (LEMORA, CAGED HEAT, CINDERELLA) proved she could’ve been bigger. Her downfall into heroin addiction is just another Hollywood cautionary tale; the movies she left behind, and her son Justin, are Rainbeaux’s brightest legacies.

Familiar Faces #3: Esther Howard, Grand Dame of Film Noir

Esther Howard (1892-1965) graced the screen in over 100 appearances, but it’s her work in the shadowy world of film noir for which she’s best remembered. A deft comedienne, Esther was also a member in good standing of Preston Sturges’ stock company, cast in seven of his films. Her matronly looks and acting talent allowed her to play a rich, haughty dowager or drunken old floozy with equal aplomb. Esther may not have been a big star, but her presence gave a lift to any movie she was in, big or small.

Esther in 1931’s “The Vice Squad” (w/Judith Wood)

She was already an established stage actress when she entered movies in 1930. Talkies were all the rage, and Esther began her screen career appearing in Vitaphone shorts opposite the likes of Franklin Pangborn. Her first feature was 1931’s THE VICE SQUAD, a Pre-Code drama starring Kay Francis and Paul Lukas, with Esther billed sixth. More movies found her down in the cast lists, or sometimes unbilled: MERRILY WE GO TO HELL (1932), THE FARMER TAKES A WIFE (’35), DEAD END (’37), and REBECCA OF SUNNYBROOK FARM (’38) were among her many credits.

Esther’s got her eyes on Ollie in 1944’s “The Big Noise”

Esther’s flair for comedy found her supporting many classic comics of the era. Wheeler & Woolsey’s COCKEYED CAVALIERS (’34) places her square among the team’s medieval mirth. The short THE MISSES STOOGES (’35) has Esther hosting a swanky society party ruined by Thelma Todd & Patsy Kelly. The bawdy KLONDIKE ANNIE (’36) pairs her with the inimitable Mae West. 1939’s THE GRACIE ALLEN MURDER CASE sees her briefly as a florist. In MY FAVORITE BLONDE (’40), she’s involved with Bob Hope’s zany shenanigans. Laurel & Hardy’s THE BIG NOISE (’44) has Esther on the make for Ollie. She has a bit in the Three Stooges short IDLE ROOMERS (’44), and played Andy Clyde’s wife in seven of his Columbia shorts.

As Miz Zeffie in Preston Sturges’ “Sullivan’s Travels” (1941)

Her association with writer/director Preston Sturges began with his first in the director’s chair, 1940’s THE GREAT MCGINTY. From there, Esther went to  appear in six more Sturges classics. SULLIVAN’S TRAVELS   (’41) casts her as a man-hungry farm widow setting her sights on Joel McCrea. THE PALM BEACH STORY (’42) finds Esther married to the wealthy “Wienie King”. She had three Sturges films released in 1944: MIRACLE OF MORGAN’S CREEK has Esther embroiled in the saga of Trudy Kockenlocker (Betty Hutton), she serves as a dentist’s guinea pig in THE GREAT MOMENT, and plays Mayor Raymond Walburn’s wife in HAIL THE CONQUORING HERO. Her last with Preston Sturges was also his last American-made film, 1949’s THE BEAUTIFUL BLONDE FROM BASHFUL BEND.

As boozy Mrs. Kraft in 1947’s “Born to Kill”

Despite all this, it is her roles in film noir for which Esther Howard is most closely associated. In 1944’s MURDER, MY SWEET , she plays a key role as the duplicitous drunk Jessie Florian, who tries to throw Philip Marlowe (Dick Powell) off Velma’s trail. Her part as the waitress in Edgar G. Ulmer’s DETOUR (1945) is small, but her presence adds much to this low-budget masterpiece. In DICK TRACY VS CUEBALL (’46), she has a meaty role as Filthy Flora, proprietor of the Dripping Dagger. My favorite Esther Howard noir is Robert Wise’s BORN TO KILL , where she plays nosy boarding house owner Mrs. Kraft, menaced by Lawrence Tierney and his sneaky sycophant Elisha Cook Jr. She closed out her film noir career with a pair of 1949 films: Mark Robson’s CHAMPION (as boxer Kirk Douglas’s mother) and THE CROOKED WAY (a bit as a hotel proprietor).

Mrs. Florian (Esther) is wary of Philip Marlowe (Dick Powell) in 1944’s “Murder, My Sweet”

Esther Howard closed out her film career completely by returning to comedy as Joe Besser’s aunt in the 1952 short CAUGHT ON THE BOUNCE. She’s still remembered today for both the dark worlds of film noir and classic comedy. Actresses like Esther Howard are part of what makes watching these films so special, their small but memorable contributions enhancing our viewing experience. All hail Esther Howard!

 

Familiar Faces #2: Need a Nasty Nazi? Better Call Kosleck!

Martin Kosleck, that is! The German-born actor was the go-to villain for 40’s casting directors looking for a slimy sieg heiler (and later other foreign menaces). Kosleck was born in 1904, and as a young man studied acting under the legendary Max Reinhardt. He made his mark on the European stage, but his virulent anti-Nazi stance caused him, like many of his artistic compatriots, to flee the oppressive regime, landing in America in 1932.

Kosleck (in white suit) as Joseph Goebbels in 1939’s Confessions of a Nazi Spy

Kosleck made his stateside film debut as an uncredited dance instructor in FASHIONS OF 1934. Hollywood didn’t exactly break his door down with offers, so he headed east and began appearing on Broadway. Director Anatole Litvak caught Kosleck onstage in Shakespeare’s “The Merchant of Venice”, and offered him a part in his new picture. CONFESSIONS OF A NAZI SPY (1939) was Tinseltown’s first feature to tackle the Nazi threat head-on, with Edward G. Robinson playing an FBI agent investigating German Bundt activity in America. Kosleck was given the role of propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels, a role he’d return to again in THE HITLER GANG (1944), HITLER (1962), and 1954’s TV production “The Last Days of Hitler” on MOTOROLA TELEVISION THEATER.

Martin menaces Dana Andrews in Berlin Correspondent

Unlike many German ex-pats of the era, Kosleck took delight in portraying evil Nazis, exposing their heinous ways onscreen as a sort of catharsis, and spitting in the face of their totalitarian authority.  He depicted both generals and henchmen in films like ALL THROUGH THE  NIGHT, BERLIN CORRESPONDENT, NAZI AGENT, and BOMBER’S MOON. In Hitchcock’s FOREIGN CORRESPONDENT, he plays a crucial role as the tramp in the windmill whose presence flummoxes hero Joel McCrea. Koselck also menaced movie detectives Nick Carter (NICK CARTER, MASTER DETECTIVE), Philo Vance (CALLING PHILO VANCE), and even Sherlock Holmes himself in PURSUIT TO ALGIERS, playing the knife-throwing circus performer Mirko, in reality a Russian agent.

With “Creeper” Rondo Hatton in House of Horrors

Kosleck is also remembered for his classic horror roles. 1944’s THE MUMMY’S CURSE finds him as Ragheb, slimy henchman of Dr. Ilor Zandaab (Peter Coe), the latest high priest in charge of undead Kharis (Lon Chaney Jr). His most famous horror movie is by far 1944’s HOUSE OF HORRORS, where Kosleck stars as mad sculpter Marcel DeLarge, a real looney-tune who uses newfound friend “The Creeper” (Rondo Hatton!) to dispatch of his critics. He plays a mad scientist who creates a race of ravenous monsters in the 1964 cult classic THE FLESH EATERS. Other horror-related Kosleck films include THE MAD DOCTOR, SHE-WOLF OF LONDON, THE FROZEN GHOST, and MST3K favorite AGENT FOR H.A.R.M.

Kosleck vs Maxwell Smart and Agent 99 on an episode of Get Smart

Television proved a meaty medium for Kosleck’s talents as well. He starred in a 1953 adaptation of Edgar Allen Poe’s “The Tell-Tale Heart” for MONODRAMA THEATER. In the 1962 THRILLER episode “Waxworks”, based on Robert Bloch’s short story, he’s on the side of goodness(!) as an inspector on the trail of a murderous wax museum owner (Oscar Homolka). 1965’s OUTER LIMTS entry “The Brain of Col. Barham” casts him as a surgeon in a riff on DONOVAN’S BRAIN. 1965 also found Kosleck as an ersatz bloodsucker in the GET SMART episode “Weekend Vampire”. NIGHT GALLERY’s 1971 “The Devil is Not Mocked” has him returning to Nazi Germany against a fearsome foe… Dracula (Francis Lederer)! Of course, you’ll also spot Kosleck on all the 60’s WWII shows (JERICHO, 12 O’CLOCK HIGH, GARRISON’S GORILLAS), and on BATMAN, THE WILD WILD WEST, THE MAN FROM UNCLE, and even an episode of SANFORD & SON!

A portrait of Marlene Dietrich by Martin Kosleck

Kosleck was also a painter of no small talent whose works appeared at galleries and were purchased by notables like Bette Davis and Marlene Dietrich. He made his last film in 1980, THE MAN WITH BOGART’S FACE before retiring from acting. Martin Kosleck passed away in 1992 at the age of 89, leaving behind a film legacy of performances as one of those actors we just love to hate. His contributions to film and television are still fondly remembered by fans, yet he doesn’t have a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Let’s rectify that oversight; Kosleck deserves it!

Kosleck (2nd from left) with the Boys in the Bundt (The Hitler Gang, 1944)

 

 

 

Familiar Faces #1: Hank Worden, Everyone’s Favorite Supporting Cowboy

(You know how, when watching a classic movie or TV episode, you’ll spot someone in a small part and say, “Hey, I know that guy (or gal)? This new series will shine the spotlight on those unsung heroes of the Golden Age, the supporting actors we all know and love!)

There’s no mistaking Hank Worden for anyone else in films. The tall, bald, lanky, soft spoken old codger with a face like a buzzard graced the screen with his presence in 170 features and numerous TV episodes, sometimes uncredited but always recognizable. He was a member in good standing of the John Ford/John Wayne Stock Company, worked with everyone from Howard Hawks and Clint Eastwood to Ma & Pa Kettle and Sonny & Cher, and even starred in a documentary about his life and career. Not bad for an old buzzard!

Hank (right) ties up Tex Ritter in 1938’s “Rollin’ Plains”

Hank didn’t just play cowboys onscreen; he was the real deal. Born in Iowa in 1901 and raised on a ranch in Montana, young Hank Worden learned to ride and rope with the best of them. He put his skills to good use on the rodeo circuit, and before long was playing New York’s famed Madison Square Garden, where he was spotted and signed to appear on Broadway in a new play titled GREEN GROW THE LILACS, along with another newcomer, a young singer named Tex Ritter.

Hank as a Southern soldier in John Ford’s “Fort Apache”

Hollywood soon beckoned, and Hank began appearing in his old costar Tex’s low-budget Westerns, sometimes as a sidekick, sometimes the villain’s henchman. He became a favorite of director Howard Hawks, acting in five of his films, but it’s his collaborations with John Ford and John Wayne for which he’s best remembered. Hank first joined the two in Wayne’s 1939 breakout film STAGECOACH as an extra, but came to the forefront in 1948’s FORT APACHE, showing off his riding skills to good advantage.

Hank’s most famous role – Old Mose in 1956’s “The Searchers”

His biggest and best loved role is undoubtably as Old Mose Harper in Ford’s 1956 classic THE SEARCHERS. Mose is an old tracker who’s a bit touched in the head, and serves as an annoyance to Wayne’s mean, prejudiced Ethan Edwards. Old Mose may be a fool, but he still knows his stuff, for he’s the one who finally locates the renegade Indian Scar (Henry Brandon). All the slightly crazy Mose wants in return is a rocking chair, “just like you promised, Ethan”. The old man gets his wish, sitting happy and content in front of the Jorgensen family’s fireplace. It’s a warm, lighthearted performance in a dark, brutal film, and Worden makes the most of the part.

Hank as The Old Waiter, his last role, on TV’s “Twin Peaks”

Hank Worden continued to work with Wayne in MCLINTOCK!, TRUE GRIT, CHISUM, BIG JAKE, and other movies. He was in demand on television too, making appearances on THE LONE RANGER (six times), BONANZA, WAGON TRAIN (with fellow Ford alumni Ward Bond), RAWHIDE, GUNSMOKE, and most of the Westerns of the day. Sometimes he pops up in the strangest places, like 1978’s SGT. PEPPER’S LONELY HEARTS CLUB BAND, as one of the original band members! He’s probably best known to modern audiences for his turn as the Old Waiter in David Lynch’s bizarre TV series TWIN PEAKS, his last acting job before passing away in 1992 at the grand old age of 91. But no matter where you find him, Hank Worden is always a welcome presence whenever he shows up, one of my truly favorite Familiar Faces.

(Do you Dear Readers have any suggestions for future Familiar Faces posts? As always, you’re comments and feedback is most welcome here at Cracked Rear Viewer! Let me know, and I’ll get Cracking!)