This rare 1954 memoir by S. Z. ‘Cuddles’ Sakall (1883-1955) can be read online at Archive.org and I have put the link at the end of this post.
The bulk of the book covers Cuddles’s life in Europe , but there are some good stories about his life in Hollywood.
His real name was Gero Jeno and he was also known as Szoke Szakall. His wife called him Yani.
Born in Budapest, he was a stage actor/ writer/ producer in Austria and Germany , and he made many films in Hungary. He married in 1920. Sadly, during the war, his three sisters died in concentration camps.
Universal producer Joe Pasternak was a relative by marriage and he offered Cuddles a role in Deanna Durbin’s “It’s a Date ” in 1940 and so he and his wife moved to Hollywood. He played a playwright visiting from Vienna.
That same year he was in another Deanna Durbin film, “Spring Parade” . And shortly after he joined Warner Brothers and remained there for the rest of his career.
I love the comic scene with Humphrey Bogart in Thank Your Lucky Stars.
Cuddles comments on this film:
“The picture “Thank Your Lucky Stars” is one of my unforgettable experiences. It was in this film that I became acquainted with David Butler, one of the kindest men in the world, who is also an outstanding director.
We have made ten pictures together……Butler was very fond of me…..he crowded my roles with jokes and gags.
I met many interesting people while making “Thank Your Lucky Stars”: Dinah Shore, Edward Everett Horton, Dennis Morgan, Irene Manning and of course Eddie Cantor……I was enchanted with his versatility….a charming, unaffected man..
But the most fascinating person was the producer himself, the late Mark Hellinger of blessed memory……Everybody without exception loved him. “
Probably his most famous role, ‘Carl’ in CASABLANCA. The waiter who admires how his boss ‘Rick’ helps the young couple at the gambling tables.
That lovely scene where Cuddles drinks with the couple who are leaving for America – Ilka Gruning, Ludwig Stossel.
Cuddles describes , in comedy terms how an actor gets a role:
“From its birth to completion, each picture goes through so many phases…….it all begins with the actor walking harmlessly ,without suspicion, on the studio lot.
A writer meets him and tells him that he is writing a wonderful part for him…..he even relates one or two scenes.
When the writer has finished describing the story, he places his index finger on his lips and looks at the actor with a serious, pleading expression. This means that the actor mustn’t say a word to anybody about the whole business…..WHY it’s supposed to be a secret, the writer doesn’t know, not does the executive who has told him to keep his mouth shut.
A few weeks later the actor is told by the producer that he is in the film, but this isn’t ‘official’ yet.
The next mystery is the question is when the shooting script will be finished and when actual production can start …….If I didn’t know that these people were engaged in making pictures, I would think they were manufacturing counterfeit five-dollar bills….”
With Barbara Stanwyck in Christmas in Connecticut (1945).
Cuddles in the middle. Ball of Fire .
Cuddles: “After the shooting of “The Time, The Place and the Girl”, I received a great honour. My boss bestowed on me the nickname of “Cuddles”. I was very happy, though people poked a lot of fun at me.
(Did he mean Jack Warner?)
Mr and Mrs. Sakall.
Mrs.Boszi Sakall often wrote home to her relatives , and one of her letters in 1941 is quoted:
- “I am so happy to tell you that Yani has signed a contract with Warner Brothers…..the studios are owned by three brothers. In the Burbank studio there are only two of them. Perhaps there isn’t a third at all – perhaps he was invented for tax purposes only…..we still haven’t seen any one of them yet.
- As for the studio, I must tell you it is a dream city…..each studio is a separate little country. It has its own police, its own post office, its own hospital. It hasn’t got its own cementary, though.
- The studio has its own king too. Usually the vice-president is the king. The subjects of the little country are without exception royalists. If the king tells a joke, the whole studio laughs. The king is master over life and death.
The film kings are on very cordial terms, and if one of them gets angry with somebody he can ruin his career even in the neighbouring ‘countries.’
- Both Yani and I have grown very fond of the studio. Everybody says that the boss Jack Warner is always joking and laughing. His brother Harry Warner is just the same. Both are very decent people and tops the lists of any charity appeal.
- By the way, today we’ve seen Albert Warner, who’s not only a real person, but a colonel and a very nice guy.
PS – Yesterday we went to a cinema where you could drive in with your car. Yani liked it very much. In Europe he drove only once into a cinema with his car, and they took away his driver’s licence.”
(Mrs. Sakall displays quite a sense of humour !)
Cuddles! “When I made the picture “Sugarfoot”, I fell down a flight of stairs. It was a painful experience. I hurt myself badly. Later, when I saw the picture, I realised that I had deserved the punishment – in advance!”
His last film was THE STUDENT PRINCE in 1954.
One of Hollywood’s best remembered character actors.
Link to the book:
You didn’t mention the film he made in England in 1937, The Lilla Domino. Adapted from an operetta it had two American stars, June Knight and Michael Bartlett. I have a copy but have not watched it as yet. He was billed as Szocke Sakall.
Sorry that should be LILAC Domino.
I did read about it on IMDB, his only British film.
I must watch it to see if he is any different to how he appeared in Hollywood. Loved his several teamings with Florence Bates. They had real chemistry together.
He was always entertaining to watch, and those quotes from him and his wife are very funny.
I wonder if he ever played a bad guy?
I think he and his wife enjoyed life in Hollywood and avoided the machinations of studio politics.
Actually the Randolph Scott western, “Sugarfoot” is the only film I can think of where he didn’t play his usual comedy persona. But a bad guy? -never!
Thanks for the link, I shall browse that at leisure. He was very enjoyable in Casablanca and also in Christmas in Connecticut. That said, I recall he was irritating, in my opinion anyway in a couple of Errol Flynn westerns – San Antonio and Montana – neither of which were great movies anyway, to be honest.
I guess it all depends on the script, dialogue, character. His appearance, age and accent pretty much determined his screen character.
Yes, this is true. He was also one of those types who slotted comfortably into certain genres and milieus, but was an extraordinarily bad fit for others.
A great spotlight and details new to me on this colorful character actor who always elicits a smile.
Thanks, Mike. And yes, you smile every time Cuddles appears!