Wednesday, August 21, 2019

Top Ten Anniversary: Scene Stealers

Moving on to the fourth in a series of Top Ten lists in order to celebrate ten years of Poseidon's Underworld, we come to some of my favorite attention-getters from movies and TV. This is yet another list that could have extended to include another ten people had I chosen to, but this is how it shook out. Many of these folks have been paid tribute here in longer more involved posts (is there any other kind?!) So click on his or her name to learn more if you wish! Alphabetically by their first names, we raise the curtain on these lovable mugs.
ALICE PEARCE - We just adore the uniquely zany Ms. Pearce who went from providing goofy support in movies like On the Town (1949), The Belle of New York (1952) and The Opposite Sex (1956) to making an indelible impression as the original Gladys Kravitz on Bewitched. I mean, it wasn't just her amazing rubber face. She had such a funny, distinctive voice to accompany her hilarious reactions. It was very sad to see this trooper dissipate before our eyes from illness as she was on the cusp of finally becoming truly known to audiences.
AGNES MOOREHEAD - It's quite possible that Ms. Moorehead could play practically any role handed to her, she was that gifted. Never conventionally beautiful, she could nonetheless - as shown here - get damned close when it was her desire to do so. The commanding voice, which was capable of so many inflections and dialects, served her well on radio and in her countless movie and TV roles from the haggard scrub woman Velma in Hush...Hush, Sweet Charlotte (1964) to the outre and elegantly menacing Endora on Bewitched.  She did it all from nuns to murderesses and never phoned a part in no matter how minuscule it might be.
BURGESS MEREDITH - With an immediately recognizable voice, Meredith could nonetheless play a vast assortment of types, rarely in an understated way. Every once in a while a little of him could go a long way, but more often he was so absorbed in what he was doing you had to pay heed. His signature scene-stealing part was the zesty Penguin on Batman, but we we also startled by his part in Hurry Sundown (1967), his memorable turn on The Twilight Zone (where, admittedly, he didn't have to steal scenes as he was the only actor!) and his affecting role as the grizzled coach Mickey in the Rocky films, among many others.
FRANK MORGAN -- Mr. Morgan brought unabashed vivacity to so many colorful character parts (not the least of which was his turn as the title character - and others - in 1939's The Wizard of Oz) that it was downright shocking to see him underplay, as he did so wonderfully in The Shop Around the Corner. Like many a strong character actor, he could - regardless of his incredible distinctiveness - effectively play all sorts of roles from the serious to the inane. What I find, over and over, in posts like this one is how important a role the voice plays in crafting memorable roles like each of these people did time and again. It's practically a lost art today among the whisperers and mumblers.
GEORGE SANDERS - Debonair, slick and fascinating are only three words to describe the dazzling Mr. Sanders who could turn a witty phrase better than most anyone else in his (or any) day. I wouldn't say he was necessarily at home in elaborate period movies (at least not ones like Samson and Delilah, 1949), but in any role he made you pay attention to his wry expression and dulcet tones. His Oscar-winning turn in All About Eve (1950) is one of the best examples of his extraordinary way with a line, though he's also good in Rebecca (1939) and so many other movies.
GLADYS COOPER -- Once, believe it or not, England's most prized beauty (and one of the most photographed ones imaginable), Ms. Cooper aged into a startlingly captivating older woman who could send even those such as Bette Davis (in Now, Voyager, 1942) running for cover with one of her snarling glares. In The Song of Bernadette (1943) she was more dynamic. Expert at portraying craggy monsters, she was also adept at playing kindly, wry matrons such as in My Fair Lady (1964.) Off-screen, she was a delightful conversationalist with plenty of good humor.
LAURA HOPE CREWS -- The hysterical Aunt Pittypat of Gone with the Wind (1939) wasn't limited to such endearingly goofy characterizations. She lent able support to Garbo in Camille (1936), worked opposite Shirley Temple in the ill-fated musical The Blue Bird (1940) and was spellbinding as a selfish, needy, possessive mother in The Silver Cord (1933), a rare leading role for her.
PAUL LYNDE -- Probably one of my greatest personal inspirations ever (though I am attempting to avoid hitting the bottle like he did, which did him no favors!) Paul Lynde could take any little part and make it into a laugh riot. People tried to imitate his voice (still do!), but no one could ever "out-Lynde" Paul Lynde.) Apart from his many zany film roles and TV appearances (memorably as Uncle Arthur on Bewitched), he reigned supreme as the center square of Hollywood Squares, doling out double entendres and wacky wisecrackery on a daily basis.
VINCENT PRICE -- I must say again, the voice... He certainly had more than that with his regally sneering features and elegant bearing, but no one had a voice like that resonant sinusy articulate king of Poe horror films. And even though that was one of his chief claims to fame, he was so much more, playing Richelieu in The Three Musketeers (1948) or a merciless master builder in The Ten Commandments (1956.) He could be dangerous, but also could add liberal doses of tongue in cheek humor to his parts if called for. Like several people in this post, he played a Batman villain; in this case Egghead.
WARREN HYMER -- Who?? If you're not a fan of 1930s Hollywood movies, he may not resonate with you, but diehard buffs will recall him as the sidekick to many a star or as a goofy cop or gangster in many, many movies (such as One Way Passage, 1932, with William Powell and Kay Francis.) I certainly could never forget his dim-witted turn in Kid Millions (1934) with Eddie Cantor in which he placed a comedic kiss on the star's lips. Hard-drinking Hymer's career was severely derailed when he outrageously went into Columbia Picture's president Harry Cohn's office and urinated all over his desk!

I was almost done with this post when I realized that I had omitted one of the greatest scene-stealers of all time, who could shift focus from the stars by merely appearing on screen and popping her eyes (this before she started in with that raspy, no-nonsense voice of hers!) HATTIE McDANIEL -- Though highly limited to what roles were available to her thanks to the racial strictures of the time, McDaniel took the bowlful of lemons offered her and turned them into lemonade that extended all the way to a history-making Oscar statuette for her iconic role in Gone with the Wind (1939.) She famously quipped, when asked about the "demeaning" roles she played time and again, "I'd rather play a maid than be one." (Her weekly salary was 100 times that of a real domestic!) Facing oppression not only from audiences and the studios who hired her, but also from fellow people of color who felt she sold out, she nonetheless brought joy to film after film, worked alongside virtually every top star and was set to star in her own TV series when breast cancer claimed her at only age fifty-nine.


Scooter said...

Terrific list. Particularly love Agnes Moorehead, Glays Cooper and Burgess Meredith. I remember seeing Meredith in Burnt Offerings as kid and being completely freaked out!

Poseidon3 said...

Thanks, Scooter! It was Bette Davis in that attack scene that really freaked me out! She was so haggy looking and screaming for her life! Thank God for Ollie in the pool... ;-)

F. Nomen said...

Because I’m that guy: Hattie McDaniel did not win an “Oscar statuette”. Supporting winners at the time were presented a plaque rather than a statuette. Makes for a fun/irritating bar bet to ask who was the first African American woman to win an “Oscar” (Whoopi Goldberg).

Despite her groundbreaking win McDaniel was largely derided by the black community for playing “Mammy” type domestic servants throughout her career. Although she famously said she’d rather be paid for playing a maid than being one I can’t imagine that the limitations on the roles open to her was a source of dismay. She left her award to Howard University, which deemed it of no historical or financial value. It has been missing for close to 50 years.

A said...

I love all these guys. Loved Agnes Moorehead in Magnificent Obsession and Since You Went Away. George Saunders says my all-time favorite movie line in All About Eve: "You're too short for that gesture." Vincent Price in Laura was terrific as the slimy fiance. The only one that really didn't ring a bell was Warren Hymer and I'll watch for him. I'm pretty sure I've seen One Way Passage, it will be a good excuse to watch it again.

Another great post! Thanks again!

DJWildBill said...

No list of scene stealers is complete without the immortal Howard Morris who portrayed both Uncle Goopy on "Your Show Of Shows" and Ernest T. Bass on "The Andy Griffith Show." Ernest T. Bass was such a popular break out character that Griffith had to throttle his appearances lest the show lose its down-home charm. Ernest T. Bass made very few appearances on the show but Howard Morris popped up all over 1960s television even directing episodes of popular shows like Bewitched and The Andy Griffith Show.

Another scene stealer who regularly chewed scenery as he delivered lines he always rewrote was Jonathan Harris. He undermined the Robinson's goals each episode of Lost In Space with a myriad of screams, pleas, chortles, witty retorts, denials, and underhanded schemes and dreams of avarice for the sake of returning to Earth and often while buttering up an equally crafty alien. Harris would easily sell his soul to the devil (and did in one episode) just to remain diabolically clever and keep his status as "special guest star". He not only starred in Lost In Space, he stole the show from the lead actor, Guy Williams, who had once been a children's favorite as television's Zorro.

I mentioned Howard Morris' role as Uncle Goopy and I'll include a link to the episode. It is a must see for the modern viewer. Carl Reiner was the second banana to Sid Caesar and Howard Morris was merely a bit player on the show. Sid allowed this kind of freedom to his supporting cast and encouraged their input. The laughs were real and like Tim Conway's antics on the Carol Burnett Show, often were unrehearsed as presented. Morris liked to ad-lib and brother, did he steal the scene when he had the camera on him!


SkippyDevereaux said...

What about Edna May Oliver?? She stole every film she was in. Also, how about
Thelma Ritter, Cora Witherspoon or Mary Wickes?

Al in PDX said...

Warren Hymer's deposit on Harry Cohn's desk was probably something a number of Hollywood folks applauded, since Cohn seems to have been particularly despised. It brings to mind the great Red Skelton quote about Cohn's well-attended funeral: "It proves what Harry always said: give the public what they want and they'll come out for it."

BrianB said...

This list could be endless, how did you narrow it down to 10 + 1?

Yes, a little Burgess Meredith goes a long way, but he had what it took and for a long time.

Loved Agnes Moorehead in Dark Passage with Bogart & Bacall and Since You Went Away.

Fun to see Frank Morgan on your list, loved him in The Human Comedy, playing a more nuanced low key role.

Gladys Cooper brings any movie "up" with an appearance. I remember her roles in The Bishops Wife and Separate Tables as well.

I've seen Warren Hymer many times on TCM, but his best role was probably One Way Passage. He was in lots of gangster and western films.

Not to say anything against your list but my list would include character actress Florence Bates from Saratoga with Gary Cooper and Ingrid Bergman, Love Crazy with Myrna Loy and William Powell and I Remember Mama. I love watching her and listening to her voice.

Favorite memorable male would be Raymond Walburn with his pop eyes and gravelly distinguished voice. His bumbling pomposity was hilarious in Hail the Conquering Hero but he played low key and proper in Mr Deeds Goes to Town as the butler. Also as the Captain of the ship in Follow the Fleet with Astaire and Rogers.

Great posts for your anniversary, looking forward to what's coming!


hsc said...

Fantastic list, and almost all on it are among my faves! But in a list of "scene-stealers", how could you leave out Eve Arden?

Gingerguy said...

No disrespect to the other Mrs Kravitz but she couldn't hold a candle to Alice.
I saw Agnes play a French Courtesan in a Greer Garson movie and she was just as believable as that slattern Velma (I think my fave next to Dark Passage).
You know I have a soft spot for Frank Morgan, in Shop Around The Corner, but he's great in everything.
So glad you included Hattie, she is the heart and soul of GWTW. I was also just watching a clip of her and Irene Dunne doing a cakewalk in the 1936 Showboat. We all have our favorites and you got some of mine, what a great topic!

Dan said...

One of the joys of watching old movies, especially from the 30's and 40's, is getting to see all those wonderful character actors - I would add Eric Blore, Franklin Pangborn, and Marjorie Main to any list of the great ones.
David O Selznick wisely noted that it was foolish to economize on bit players. Even if that person is only on screen for a few moments, for those few moments that actor is the star.
There is no better example of that philosophy than Alice Pearce in "On the Town". She steals every scene she is in. I recall reading that she was the only member of the Broadway cast asked to make the movie, and that at the insistence of Gene Kelly. There are moments in the movie you can just sense his joy with her.
We must make mention of her participation in that magnum opus of 20th century literature - 'Little Me" by Patrick Dennis. If you are not familiar with it, for shame.

Poseidon3 said...

F Nomen, I was probably thrown off the fact of Hattie's "Oscar" by virtue of the publicity photo showing Fay Bainter handing her one....! Just a prop?!

Thank you, A! Glad you liked this. "One Way Passage" is a delightful BRIEF movie, when it wasn't expected that everything be about two hours long even if it isn't warranted. LOL

DJWildBill, thanks for the info and reflections on your own scene stealer faves. These lists aren't meant to be a decision regarding the actual best or whatever, they're merely my own personal top ten favorites.

Skippy, likewise, these are only my own selections, which naturally will differ from other film fans.

Al, I LOVE that quote and think it's so clever. I read a great bio of Cohn and he was ROUGH, but he did have a few people who liked him and appreciated his moxie and dedication to his studio. :-)

BrianB, thanks for your reflections and you own favorites. I LOVE Florence Bates, practically unforgettable in "Rebecca," too!

hsc, Somehow I did. But I do like Eve Arden a lot. Her lipstick alone was always worthy of mention, not to ignore the words that came out from within it!

Dan, I do have a copy of Little Me! Great photos in it throughout. I think in her tribute (Alice Pearce's) I talked about it. DOS made some great movies and was fanatical about every detail, so it stands to reason. Thanks!

Chellis610 said...

Where's Eve Arden? Do a profile on her!

Scotto said...

Great list! I loved everyone you picked. Love, love, LOVE Vincent Price in anything we did. Such style, such class...

rigs-in-gear said...

Another great scene stealer was Rags Ragland. TCM just recently showed three films featuring Rags as part of their Red Skelton day and he more than held his own with the venerable Skelton. He even played twins in one film, one a scheming thug, the other a lunkhead. I also love the publicity shot of Morehead sporting the fashion necessity of every sixties girl... the barrel-curled wiglet. When not in use, it could be seen pinned to a styrofoam head on her dresser, ready to plop on when in need of a sudden transformation.

Fredrick Tucker said...

Dan, I appreciate your genuine comments about Alice Pearce, and I agree that Mr. Kelly was indeed thrilled with her contribution to the film version of OTT. You can also see delight on the faces of Mr. Sinatra and Ms. Garrett when Alice is doing her thing. You may be interested to know that I am writing a biography of Miss Pearce, after many years of research and interviews. Her great friend Cris Alexander provided all of those wonderful photographs in "Little Me" and "First Lady." He was also my friend and left me with over 100 rare images of Miss Pearce, many of which will appear in my biography. I'm very happy you're her fan.
Fredrick Tucker