It was great to find this 1986 book by Jordan R.Young (Thanks,Bob).
I’m always complaining that not enough Classic performers were interviewed in their later years- especially character actors.
Well, Mr Young made it his mission to seek out 12 of the best and his book is a must read.
Here are some excerpts:
Who can forget Fritz Feld as the eccentric psychiatrist in Bringing Up Baby, or 30 years later, as the maitre d’ in Hello Dolly.
Fritz came to America with Max Reinhardt and soon established himself in Silents and early sound films. He was also involved in directing and worked as a dialog director on many films. He subsequently became editorial assistant to Ernst Lubitsch who was production chief at Paramount..
“I promised Lubitsch never to act again, because I wanted to direct.”
But before he had a chance to direct,Lubitsch departed – first recommending his assistant to director Wesley Ruggles for the role of the indignant Swiss hotel clerk in I Met Him in Paris.
“The reason I’ve played so many parts is because producers trust me not to steal scenes.”
“As a character actor you last longer. We don’t have to worry about our appearance. Each studio had a different way of typing me: at Universal,I played only butlers ; at Paramount,mostly counts with monocles; at MGM,conductors of orchestras; at RKO,gamblers and strange individuals; at Fox, train conductors,postmen and ministers.
Over and over, I played the same parts. Then came hotel clerks, and then waiters. Then every studio wanted me to play a waiter or a maitre d’ . “
” It doesn’t bother me at all, playing so many waiters . Each one is different a little bit. What is the art of acting but observation? How do they smile, how do they walk?
I never mind how small a part is, the fun is to make something out of it.”
Fritz recalled Bringing Up Baby:
“One of the best written scenes in any picture was the one between Katharine Hepburn and I. She sits in a chair and I start to psychoanalyze her; it ends up that I sit and she psychoanalyzes me. The scene was cut out; it was the introduction of my character.”
“Howard Hawks would come in in the morning and say, ‘I don’t feel like working today. Let’s go to the racetrack.’ We went to the racetrack for two days, and he paid for everything.”
Of director Anatole Litvak on Tovarich, Fritz commented,
“He did 36 takes on one scene and said, ‘Print all 36’. The front office fixed him, they printed take one 36 times. He saw the rushes and said, ‘Take seven.’
They said,’That’s take one.”
On actors who have influenced him:
“I learned a lot from Edward Everett Horton. I imitate him many times, in my way of acting. I like the way he did things. ”
In 1985 Fritz Feld had celebrated 45 years of marriage to actress Virginia Christine.
My most recent memory of Charles Lane is in Teacher’s Pet, in which he played a newspaper man alongside Clark Gable. Like all the great character actors, he was completely believable.
His career spanned four decades, from his first, Smart Money in 1931 through Twentieth Century,Mr Deeds Goes to Town,,In Old Chicago,Ball Of Fire, Arsenic and Old Lace. He worked for all the studios.
Charles reminded the author he made nine pictures for Frank Capra over a 17 year period, starting with Broadway Bill in which he played a crooked gambler.
“I’m prejudiced, I’ll say that from the start. but I think Frank Capra is the most talented man we ever had. He knew the camera department as well or better than the head cameraman; he knew the sound department better than the head mixer. He had an intuitive feeling with scripts. On top of that, he had this marvellous ability to relate.”
“Leo McCarey had a wonderful touch; I used to love working with him. Howard Hawks is another favorite of mine. But Frank had more talent in more areas as a director than anybody I knew. His casting used to amaze me. The phone would ring. The voice would say,’Charlie? This is Frank Capra.I know it’s a helluva thing to get you off the golf course, but could you come in and see me.’ ……..You’d roar over to Columbia.The secretary would say,’Oh,yes,Mr Capra’s expecting you.’ You’d walk in and he’d say,’Look,maybe this would be fun,maybe it wouldn’t, I don’t know..’ And that’s the way he’d cast you.”
Capra never typed the actor – he was the revenue agent in You Can’t It With You,the obnoxious reporter in Mr Smith Goes to Washington.
“You break your ass for someone like Capra or Hawks. You try to be as good as you can when you have a relationship with a director like that.. The others, you have this ‘get it over with and get out of here’ attitude.”
Charles made an astonishing 125 pictures from 1936 to 1941 (31 alone in 1941).
“To make as many pictures as I did, we had to work in these B units,like the Sol Wurtzel unit at Fox…….”
Lane acted in some first rate films with Hollywood’s finest.
“Every one of the big people I worked with – and I guess I worked with practically all of them – were 100% pros. I did a lot of pictures with Clark Gable. I was very fond of Clark, he was a very special person. But he was a man of great insecurity in his work. …he was a very hard worker. When he walked into the MGM commissary, silence descended on the room. It takes some kind of presence to project that. Clark was totally unaware of it.”
The other actors who are interviewed are Sam Jaffe,John Carradine,Burt Mustin,Anita Garvin,Rolfe Sedan,Iris Adrian,Beulah Bondi.John Qualen ,Elisha Cook and George Chandler.
( Some of the interviews were done for articles in various publications, from 1975 up to 1986. )
This is my contribution to the great WHAT A CHARACTER BLOGATHON which you can see at Paula’s Cinema Club.