Some Good People Born This Past Week
Sometimes, in a crowded week, there might be ten or twelve names we’d like to address for the birth date round-up, but space best permits about four, so here’s a handful of likeable players who share this writer’s own February birth-month. First up is Jack Benny (2-14), and this color shot shows he and wife Mary Livingstone in an early-forties pose. I do still maintain an unwavering opinion that Jack had the funniest ongoing comedy persona of all time. The fact that he mined it for well over forty years, without its becoming stale, is nothing short of miraculous. Even his last NBC specials from the early seventies are gems. Too bad we can’t see those anymore. I used to have a video of a Benny show, I think it’s from around 1954, where his guest was Humphrey Bogart. Amazing. Despite his near elder-statesman status in the business, Bogie still reverted back to the public image his audience knew best --- Duke Mantee --- for his comedy sketch with Jack. That gangster thing followed him to the very end. Well, so did Jack’s miser tag, even though he was well-known off-stage for his generosity, and for being a nice guy in a comedy jungle where a lot of our most "beloved" names were real bastards as soon as the lights went down. Not Jack.
Now honestly, was there ever an actor who projected more sincerity than Hugh Beaumont (2-16)? I’m not even sure it was acting. Maybe all the stuff that was happening to Ward Clever was really happening to Hugh, and we just didn’t realize it at the time. That’s how good he was. Total conviction, and he really seemed to listen to other actors when they spoke. So why didn’t his feature career take off? Well, he wasn’t bigger than life, for one thing. Not the movie star type, exactly. As it turned out, the family sitcom was ideal for him, but I wonder if Hugh wanted more. He didn’t work much after Beaver --- I'll never forget one time on Medical Center, the O.R. door opened, and in walked Hugh, with white hair! Did the producers of that show have any idea of the effect that iconic face would have after what was then a seven-year absence? I don’t recall anything else about that episode, but I sure remember that moment. Hugh ended up in Spartanburg, SC, living with his son, I think. Close enough that I could have looked him up. Bet he would have been very gracious. What a shame he just missed the Beaver reunion TV movie. Lousy as that turned out to be, it could have sure used his reassuring presence. By the way, this still is from Anthony Mann’s Railroaded, a crackerjack noir that’s available on DVD. That’s Mrs. Pat Buttram (Sheila Ryan) and John Ireland with Hugh.
Here’s Ann Sheridan (2-21) lounging on a bear skin rug at Warners. She said years later that she hated that rug. It was tatty, and smelled real bad. Guess it’s kinda hard to machine wash those things, and would a dry cleaners accept them? The ones around here wouldn’t. Anyway, Annie was one of those gals that smoked her lunch every day. Cagney used to watch her at the commissary and be fascinated. She’d order a plate of scrambled eggs, then push them around with her fork as she went through a chain of fags, lighting one after another despite Jim’s health warnings. Well, that’s what got her in the end, of course, that and the alcohol. She’s one of those actresses that really aged quick. By the fifties, it was more or less character work for her, but there were still good ones (ever see Come Next Spring?). One of these days we’ll have to do a Monday Glamour Starter for her. Now that I think of it, why didn’t she do more pictures with Howard Hawks? They would have been a perfect team. At the risk of sounding too autuerish here, I think her performance in Torrid Zone is very Hawksian.
I promised myself I wouldn’t use a Kevin McCarthy (2-15) still from Invasion Of The Body Snatchers, and this nice shot of he and Eddie Robinson from Nightmare is the fulfillment of that solemn pledge. Kevin’s great, of course, and blessed be, he’s still with us. I actually got to spend some time with him back in 1989, when he came to our little NC village with his Harry Truman one-man show. We drove to and from the Greensboro airport together, and had dinner at the Holiday Inn. He was terrific. I’d met a few celebrities before, but never had I spent so much time around one. He regaled me with stories about the making of Hotel (Merle!), Kansas City Bomber, and, of course, the pod movie. What a great experience. Of all the big names this country boy ever encountered (and there haven’t been that many), Kev was by far the nicest. Happy birthday, sir!