Actor Appreciation: Mae Clarke

On this day in 1910, actress Mae Clarke was born as Violet Mary Klotz in Philadelphia. Who is Mae Clarke? you may ask. Well, she’s best remembered for a film role in 1931 for which she did not even receive onscreen credit.

Clarke plays Kitty in The Public Enemy, the unfortunate recipient of a grapefruit to the face courtesy of James Cagney’s gangster character, Tom Powers. Clarke did not receive billing in the film’s credits (the other love interest, Jean Harlow, did), but this memorable “morning after” scene is an iconic image of pre-Code filmdom.

Another famous (and credited) role came to Clarke in 1931: playing a damsel in distress in James Whale’s horror classic, Frankenstein. Clarke plays Elizabeth, the young lady whose marriage to Colin Clive’s character, Dr. Henry Frankenstein, is interrupted by a visit from the Frankenstein Monster.

Earlier that same year Clarke had perhaps her greatest acting triumph in another Whale film, the first film version of the tragic World War II romance Waterloo Bridge. Playing Myra Deauville, the character later known as “Myra Lester” when portrayed by Vivien Leigh in MGM’s 1940 remake, Clarke brings pathos to her performance as a prostitute in love with a soldier. The film is perhaps remembered by some for featuring one of Bette Davis’s first film performances, but it’s Clarke’s show all the way.

Clarke had other notable roles in films of the early 30s like The Front Page (1931), Three Wise Girls (1932), The Impatient Maiden (1932) and Fast Workers (1933). The steady stream of work, combined with problems she was experiencing with husband Lew Brice, led to a nervous breakdown in June 1932. Another major blow to her career came with a serious car accident in March 1933, which left Clarke with facial scarring. She was thereafter often demoted to supporting roles in her “A” pictures, playing second fiddle to Myrna Loy in Penthouse (1933), Anna Sten in Nana (1934) and Mary Astor in The Man with Two Faces (1934), although she once again had the female lead when she was reteamed with Cagney for Lady Killer (1933, pictured above).

After some time spent away from Hollywood starting in 1937, Clarke tried to come back to her career in 1940, but there wasn’t much of a chance for her. The industry had moved on and she was relegated to small, sometimes uncredited, roles. Clarke made only 12 films in the 1940s, compared to the 36 films she made between 1930 and 1937. Although Clarke continued acting until 1970, most of her roles were mere bit parts. For example, among her uncredited roles, she played “Counter Lady with Change for a Quarter” in The Reformer and the Redhead (1950), “Telephone Operator #1” in Royal Wedding (1951), “Hairdresser” in Singin’ in the Rain (1952), “Golfer” in Pat and Mike (1952), “Woman in the Office” in Thoroughly Modern Millie (1967) and “Old Woman” in Watermelon Man (1970). On a few occasions, Clarke had credited work, like in Magnificent Obsession (1954), Women’s Prison (1955, pictured above, left), Not as a Stranger (1955) and A Big Hand for the Little Lady (1966).

Mae Clarke died of cancer in 1992 after living for years at the Motion Picture & Television Country House and Hospital. (Her Los Angeles Times obit headline read, “Mae Clarke, Famed for Grapefruit Scene, Dies.”) Before she passed away, she worked with James Curtis to create a memoir of her fascinating life, published as Featured Player: An Oral Autobiography of Mae Clarke in 1996. The photo above is from 1973, commemorating 40 years of Frankenstein with an interview by Forrest J. Ackerman for the magazine Famous Monsters of Filmland. Mae Clarke is not as well-remembered by the general public, certainly not on the scale of Bette Davis, Joan Crawford or Barbara Stanwyck, but she has her place in the pantheon too.

Actor Appreciation: Farley Granger

I have always been a fan of Farley Granger (1925-2011), who was an unusual sort of Hollywood star. As a popular young actor who was never quite a superstar in the leagues of contemporaries like Robert Mitchum and Montgomery Clift, Granger worked with a plethora of well-regarded directors, including Lewis Milestone (twice), Nicholas Ray, Alfred Hitchcock (twice), Anthony Mann, Mark Robson (twice), Henry King, Charles Vidor, Vincente Minnelli, Luchino Visconti and Richard Fleischer. Granger is usually remembered best for the two Hitchcock films, Rope (1948) and Strangers on a Train (1951), and the Nicholas Ray film They Live by Night (1948). Those three films are considered classics.

Watching Rope again, I am struck by how well Granger is able to hold his own alongside the venerable James Stewart, who had been a movie star for over a decade at that point and was also an Academy Award winner, and John Dall, who had earlier received an Academy Award nomination for his supporting role in the Bette Davis vehicle The Corn Is Green (1945). Granger is able to display all the frustrations and other neurotic little touches that set his performance apart from Dall’s sociopath character, making Granger likeable when compared to heartless Dall. At the same time, we can’t completely warm to Granger because of the active role he took in the murder that he committed with Dall. Granger’s role is the more complex of the two young male leads, giving him a chance to shine in such a grim story.

They Live by Night, which was Nicholas Ray’s directorial debut, proves Granger had sex appeal but also that he was capable of carrying a movie as the one male lead actor. Granger and Cathy O’Donnell play this variant of the Bonnie and Clyde story with the right combination of toughness and tenderness, making it easy for the viewer to sympathize.

Most impressively, Granger starred as the hero of one of Hitchcock’s masterpieces of suspense, Strangers on a Train (1951). The film needed a main character whose performance would not overwhelm that of the antagonist, Bruno Anthony (the brilliant Robert Walker), yet which would still be a nuanced performance with high-caliber acting. Granger’s portrayal of tennis champion Guy Haines is subtly effective, making him a successful foil for Anthony, who is, like John Dall’s Brandon in Rope, another sociopath.

If you watch those three particular films, along with other titles like Anthony Mann’s Side Street (1950) and a Maxwell Shane crime drama called The Naked Street (1955), perhaps you will value Farley Granger’s contributions to cinema as much as I have.

Actor Appreciation: Fritz Weaver

Today is the 88th birthday of one of filmdom’s best character actors, Fritz Weaver. I have enjoyed countless hours of his film and television work, including Black Sunday (1977), The Big Fix (1978), multiple episodes of “The Twilight Zone,” “Murder, She Wrote” and “Law & Order” and, most recently, Muhammad Ali’s Greatest Fight (2013). His resonant voice and imposing height have helped make him a memorable cinematic presence.

Some years ago my mother ran into Mr. Weaver on the street in Manhattan and told him what a fine actor he is, also mentioning that he had acted with my great-uncle, Jerome Raphel, in a short-lived Broadway play called Lorenzo (1963). Mr. Weaver remembered Jerry fondly and asked after him.

My mother may send Mr. Weaver a birthday letter, which I think would be quite sweet. He has been working steadily in roles large and small since the 1950s and although his name is not as well known as those of contemporaries like George C. Scott and Robert Duvall, he’s famous to my family. I hope he won’t mind a nice little note of appreciation.

Actor Appreciation: George E. Stone

You might recognize character actor George E. Stone (1903-1967), whose birthday it is today, if you have ever seen any of these classic films: 7th Heaven (1927), The Racket (1928), Little Caesar (1931), Cimarron (1931), The Front Page (1931), Five Star Final (1931), Taxi! (1932), The Vampire Bat (1933), 42nd Street (1933), Viva Villa! (1934), Bullets or Ballots (1936), Anthony Adverse (1936), North West Mounted Police (1940), Guys and Dolls (1955), The Man with the Golden Arm (1955), Some Like It Hot (1959).

One of Stone’s most memorable bits of dialogue is in 42nd Street, in which Stone recognizes Ginger Rogers’ character and says: “Not Anytime Annie? Say, who could forget her? She only said no once and then she didn’t hear the question.”

Over three decades Stone built up a solid résumé. He was particularly well-known for his recurring role in the Boston Blackie series playing “The Runt,” a fitting moniker given his short stature of approximately 5′ 3½”.

In addition to having major supporting roles, Stone had many uncredited parts over the years in films as varied as Daisy Kenyon (1947), Pickup on South Street (1953), The Robe (1953), Broken Lance (1954), The Conqueror (1956), Some Came Running (1958), Alias Jesse James (1959), Bells Are Ringing (1960), Ocean’s Eleven (1960) and Pocketful Miracles (1961).

Stone also got a lot of work on television, including on “The Public Defender,” “Private Secretary,” “Alfred Hitchcock Presents” (as pictured above), “Adventures of Superman,” “The George Burns and Gracie Allen Show,” “M Squad,” “Have Gun – Will Travel,” “The Jack Benny Program,” “The Twilight Zone” and 46 episodes of “Perry Mason” (usually playing the court clerk).

I remember Stone best as Toothpick Charlie in Some Like It Hot (“If Colombo sees me, it’s gonna be ‘Goodbye Charlie!'”), but his long career gave him many memorable roles. Maybe next time you’re watching one of the famous films I mentioned, or any of Stone’s other notable features, you’ll say: “Hey, I know that guy!”

Actor Appreciation: Dean Stockwell

Since 1945, Dean Stockwell (b. 1936) has gone from being an adorable child actor to having a distinguished career as a character actor. Here are some photographs chronicling a number of his best-known roles in the span of six decades: Anchors Aweigh (1945), Gentleman’s Agreement (1947), The Boy with Green Hair (1948), Compulsion (1959), Sons and Lovers (1960), Long Day’s Journey Into Night (1962), The Dunwich Horror (1970), Paris, Texas (1984), Blue Velvet (1986), Married to the Mob (1988), the TV series “Quantum Leap” (1989-1993) and the series “JAG” (guest appearances in 2002-2004).