Monday, January 15, 2018

THOSE HORRIBLE GIRLS!: The Belles of St. Trinian's (1954)


"Searle! We studied him in school."
- Bachelor of Animation grad Janet as the credits rolled by.

Artist/cartoonist Ronald Searle (1920-2011) first published account of St. Trinian's appeared in a magazine in 1941. Searle sadly spent the war as a guest of the Japanese. When the comic strip series reappeared on the scene in 1946 the naughty girls of the boarding school had become hysterically humourous over-the-top delinquents.

The filmmaking team of Frank Launder and Sidney Gilliat, having adapted John Dighton's boarding school comedy The Happiest Days of Your Life for the screen in 1950, turned their experienced eye on the Searle series.


The fall term is about to begin and that news, spurred on by the raucous sounds emanating from a busload of students, spreads through the village adjacent to St. Trinian's School for Young Ladies. Citizens board up the windows of their establishments and flee for their lives! A police sergeant locks himself in a jail cell. The superintendent of police takes to strong drink. 


Miss Fritton: "You see, in other schools, girls are sent out quite unprepared into a merciless world. But when our girls leave here, it is the merciless world which has to be prepared."

When Miss Fritton (Alastair Sim) and Miss Buckland (Mary Merrall) formed St. Trinian's in the 1920s it was a model school of lighthearted abandonment suitable to the era. Miss Fritton blames the subsequent war and its "black market mentality" for the lack of morals and manners that have created such high-spirited girls among the student body. Over the years Miss Fritton has adapted to the changing times. 

Perpetually lacking in funds and behind in payments, the staff grumbles about revolt. However, since most of the teachers lack qualifications and one is hiding from a prison sentence, Miss Fritton need only worry about filling new positions. Take note of how Hermione Baddeley as a solidly soused geography teacher steals focus by simply snoring in a chair.

Among the returning students is one Arabella "Bella" Fritton (Vivienne Martin), niece of the headmistress. Miss Fritton's twin Clarence (Alastair Sim) seeks the return to academia of his expelled, and overage, daughter so that she can pump new student Princess Fatima (Lorna Henderson) for information about her father's race horses. Clarence is a bookmaker and information is his stock-in-trade.


An unofficial member of the staff is "Flash" Harry (George Cole) who acts as a go-between for the girls and their various enterprises, which include concocting homemade gin in the school's lab for sale to the outside world. Very enterprising youngsters! Harry's belief in himself as an entrepreneur and his amusing deference to Miss Fritton is very funny indeed.

Miss Fritton (when asked about Harry's identity): "You know, I'm not absolutely sure. It could be Harry, a boot boy I engaged in 1940. Of course, he was only 12 and didn't have any moustache then, but, apart from that, I see no reason why it shouldn't be Harry."



Miss Crawley (Sgt. Gates): "I thought they might like to help the police. I mean, Guide's Honour. We're all Girl Guides, aren't we?"

Miss Fritton: "Are we? Some of us may have aspired beyond that happy state, Miss Crawley."

The Ministry of Education, from which two inspectors have gone to St. Trinian's and disappeared (!!) and Police Superintendent Bird (Lloyd Lamble) of the local district are determined to break the terror that is St. Trinian's School for Young Ladies. Sergeant Ruby Gates (Joyce Grenfell) is assigned to infiltrate the school as their new games mistress. Ruby accepts this assignment with the greatest reluctance. She optimistically believes success in the job will assist in moving along her romance with the superintendent.

The under cover name of Chloe Crawley does Sgt. Gates no good with the student body. She rightly predicted the nickname "Creepy Crawley". Her can-do spirit is certainly put to the test in a hockey match that never sees a referee or a second half! Bopped on the head and confined in a locked bathroom, no woman ever suffered for love as did our Ruby.


Miss Fritton (referring to Arab Boy): "It is leaving here in time for the race. I shall see to that."

Clarence Fritton (referring to that same Arab Boy): "And I'll see that it doesn't."

It is not only brother against sister as time nears for the big race upon which Clarence's business is so dependent. The sixth form girls are instrumental in a devious plan to kidnap the racehorse Arab Boy to help Bella's dad, whose horse Blue Prince must win. The just as devious, if not more so, fourth form girls have bet their pin money on new pal Fatima's stable and can purloin livestock with the best of them. Meanwhile, Miss Fritton has thrown caution to the wind and bet the remaining school funds on Arab Boy in hopes of making a killing and paying off the mortgage. 


Miss Fritton: "Girls, girls, you know perfectly well that pets are not allowed in the dormitories, and under the same rule, Mr. Harry, I doubt if you should be here either."

Law enforcement throughout the country is searching for Arab Boy on the very day of the Gold Cup race. It is Parent's Day at St. Trinian's School for Young Ladies. It is also the reunion of the "old girls" at the school. Arab Boy is trapped in the fourth form dormitory by the overwhelming forces of the sixth form. Only a battle worthy of Zulu warriors, and superior ingenuity will win the day.

This laugh-out-loud comedy led to the Launder and Gilliat follow-up movies Blue Murder at St. Trinian's in 1956, The Pure Hell of St. Trinian's in 1960, and The Great St. Trinian's Train Robbery in 1966. 1980 saw Launder directing The Wildcats of St. Trinian's. In 2007 there was St. Trinian's with Rupert Everett in the dual roles of Carnaby and Camilla Fritton, followed by St. Trinian's 2: The Legend of Fritton's Gold in 2009 with Everett taking on three roles. These sequels and revivals fall on various degrees on the laugh metre, but it appears there may be no end in sight for Searle's sadistic students.







Tuesday, January 2, 2018

THE BILL AND MYRNA NEW YEAR'S BLOGATHON: After the Thin Man (1936)


Phyllis Loves Classic Movies and The Flapper Dame are our hosts for The Bill and Myrna New Year's Blogathon running from January 1 - 3. Talk about starting the new year right! Click on our hostesses' blog names for the entries to the blogathon.

Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett adapted Dashiell Hammett's serialized 1933 novel The Thin Man for the screen for MGM in 1934. Directed by W.S. Van Dyke and starring William Powell and Myrna Loy in the first year of their legendary teaming (Manhattan Melodrama), the movie was a popular hit that garnered four Oscar nominations. One of the nominations went to our married screenwriters.

The popularity of The Thin Man made it a particularly excellent candidate for a sequel and that job naturally fell to the Goodrich and Hackett. Their job was to imagine what happened after the thin man case. Aha, After the Thin Man became the title and the template for the titles of further sequels, letting the audience know what to expect in the way of entertainment and stars. Once more, Goodrich and Hackett received an Oscar nomination for their screenplay.

The 1936 release has us catching up with Nick and Nora where we left off. They are on the train bound for California after wrapping up the Wynant case a mere week ago at Christmastime. They have reached their home turf of San Francisco in time for New Year's Eve.

We overlook the fact that Nick and Nora look two years older, and that it took at least a few days after Christmas Day to finally solve the thin man case. We overlook all of this because we are just so darn happy to see them again.


Nick: "New Year's Eve at home. Or would you know that this is New Year's?"
Nora: "I know."
Nick: "I suppose you got ideas, huh?"
Nora: "Very definite ideas."
Nick: "I was afraid so."
Nora: "I'm going to lock the door, plug the bell, cut the telephone, and crawl into bed for a month."
Nick: "Nora, you're my favorite woman."



Beyond the welcoming front door is a riotous welcome home party. Half of the guests are strangers, and all of the staff is being run ragged. The hoped for peace and quiet is nowhere to be found, and capping it off there is a phone call from Nora's Aunt Katherine (Jessie Ralph). Nick and Nora's presence is demanded at a New Year's dinner at the Nob Hill mansion.


Beyond that imposing front door Nora's elderly relatives form as unpleasant a gathering for a New Year's Eve party as you are likely to come across. Bossy Aunt Katherine, sly cousin Lucius, deaf Aunt Hattie, pompous Uncle Willie, cousin Helen, cousin Emily, and 83, and darn proud of it, and Aunt Lucy. The entire group disapproves strongly of Mr. Nicholas Charles.


Nora: "Nickie, pull yourself together."
Nick: "One squint at Aunt Katherine would sober anybody up."

The only relative Nick can stand is Nora's cousin Selma (Elissa Landi). It is for Selma's sake that Nick and Nora have been summoned. Selma's ne'er-do-well husband Robert (Alan Marshal) is off somewhere on a toot, and Aunt Katherine wants the waistral found before any untoward publicity.


Selma: "Can you indefinitely go on caring for someone who doesn't care for you?"
David: "Well, it's been done."

The evening almost looks like it can be salvaged when Selma's former beau, David (James Stewart) put in an appearance. Nick and Nora almost get the younger folks to join them on the town, but Selma backs out because she is nearing hysteria over her worry for Robert. The only clue they have is a vanity case that was mailed from a Chinese restaurant/night club.


Dancer: "Oh, Mr. Charles, how are you?"
Nick: "Hello, Dancer."
Dancer: "I want you to meet my partner. This is Lum Kee, Mr. Charles. You sent his brother up, remember?"

The quiet night at home had morphed into a night with the waxworks, and now a night of clubbing . Nick and Nora head to a place called The Lichee, and it is hopping this New Year's Eve. Nick runs into all sorts of people from his old live. Some of them may hold a grudge. One of the owners of the club (William Law) has a brother that Nick put away. And the other (Joseph Calleia) is only too happy to make Mr. and Mrs. Charles comfortable.


Dancer: "Is he a friend of yours?"
Nick: "On the contrary, a relative."
Dancer: "He's been hanging around here for three days, drunk. Got a case on our prima donna."

The woman in the case, and Robert's life, is the club's entertainer, Polly (Dorothy McNulty, later Penny Singleton). The audience is treated to a couple of numbers from the ebullient vocalist before she hustles Robert out into the night. They aren't the only ones traipsing the foggy streets at midnight. Lum needs to take a drive. Dancer is missing from the club. David walks the night alone. A late visit from a dismissive Robert has a distraught Selma roaming the neighbourhood, and armed.


A shot rings out putting an end to Robert Landis' sordid life of entanglements.

David: "Selma, what's happened?"
Selma: "He was going away and I tried to stop him."
David: "Now, Selma, listen to me. Now listen. I want you to go back to the house. You've never had a pistol, you understand? You hear me? You've never been out of the house tonight."



Aunt Katherine: " Mr. Abrahams, how dare you question my servants?"
Lt. Abrams: "Lady, a man's been killed. I got to find out who did it."
Aunt Katherine: "Surely you don't think..."
Lt. Abrams: "How do I know what to think if nobody will tell me anything?"

Now the fun starts with Lt. Abrams (Sam Levene) torn between two investigations, one back at the Lichee with Nick incharge, and one dealing with Aunt Katherine on Nob Hill. Abrams can't even interrogate his prime suspect, Selma, as she is under the care of an eminent nerve specialist, Dr. Kammer (George Zucco). Lt. Abrams is going batty!


Nick: "Well, this is a fine way to start the New Year."
Nora: "Get me out of here."

What a delicious way to start the new year, at least movie-wise. A murder on a fog-bound street at midnight. A boatload of suspects and persons of interest, each with their own conflicting intentions. And Nick Charles on the case. At one point our lovely Nora ends up in the slammer. Once back home, Nick and Nora have to wrestle with Asta over a clue. The press is all over the case and Aunt Katherine is appalled by the publicity because Selma is the prime suspect. Polly, the singer, has a close relative (Paul Fix) who knows too much and ends up another victim.


In The Thin Man (1934) we spent some time in silence as Nick sleuthed his way around Wynant's laboratory and offices. It was where he made a major discovery and formed a theory on the case. In After the Thin Man we enjoy a similar scene as Nick investigates an apartment which was a lover's hideaway for Polly and Robert. What else does he find there that leads to a shocking discovery, and an attempt on his life?


Nora: "Go on, Nicky, it's just getting good."

As is his wont, Nick gathers all of those involved in the case in one spot, the apartment. There he boldly confronts one and all with their crimes. The assembled suspects don't take it too well. Punches and threats are thrown. None of this phases our Nick. William Powell is equally engaging whether he is walking around a room looking for clues, or holding court with a captive audience. Myrna Loy as Nora always has his back. We know they are a team.


Nick: "What's that?" (Nora's knitting) "Looks like a baby's sock."
Nora: "And you call yourself a detective."

After clearing Selma and handing the real killer to the police, we are right back where we started. Nick, Nora, and Asta are back on a train heading who knows where? I suppose they are looking for that elusive peace and quiet. Do you think they'll find it? I think they'll find Another Thin Man.


"I never enjoyed my work more than when I worked with William Powell. He was a brilliant actor, a delightful companion, a great friend and, above all, a true gentleman."
- Myrna Loy
Being and Becoming








Sunday, December 31, 2017

CAFTAN WOMAN'S CHOICE: ONE FOR JANUARY ON TCM


The terse and popular series of adult westerns created by director Budd Boetticher with producer/star Randolph Scott came to an end with the 1960 release Comanche Station. Many of their films are similar in tone and characterization, yet each has something unique that may appeal to different audiences; a particular performance, dialogue, or plot twist. Burt Kennedy wrote the screenplay for five of the movies, including Comanche Station.

Kennedy was a child performer with his family, a decorated (Silver Star, Bronze Star, Purple Heart) soldier during WW2, and a radio writer who was contracted by John Wayne's Batjac production company in the 1950s. He knew the strong, silent type of man he wrote about in films such as 7 Men from Now. His first directing assignment was on a 1961 film shot in Canada and starring Robert Ryan, The Canadians. It was not successful, but future films were such as the supreme western spoof Support Your Local Sheriff!. You can learn more about his fascinating career in the memoir Hollywood Trail Boss.


Randolph Scott
Negotiations get off to a rocky start.

Jefferson Cody (Randolph Scott) trades with the Comanche for the release of white prisoners. He is practically a legend in the territory for his relentlessness and honesty.


A chance to reflect.
Randolph Scott, Nancy Gates

Mrs. Lowe: "If you had a woman taken by the Comanche and you got her back. How would you feel knowing..."
Cody: "If I loved her it wouldn't matter."
Mrs. Lowe: "Wouldn't it?"
Cody: "No, ma'am. It wouldn't matter at all."

On this trip he returns with a Nancy Lowe (Nancy Gates). Unbeknownst to Cody, Mr. Lowe has placed a $5,000 reward on the return of his wife, but others are aware. 


An uneasy alliance.
Skip Homeier, Randolph Scott, Claude Akins, Richard Rust

Ben Lane (Claude Akins) and his two followers, Frank (Skip Homeier) and Dobie (Richard Rust) have stirred up a bit of trouble with the Comanche in their search for Mrs. Lowe. There is a long history of bad blood between Lane and Cody that will add to the danger of the road back to Lordsburg. 


There is no hiding from the danger.
Randolph Scott, Nancy Gates

In the economical 74 minutes that it takes to relate this tale, we have action combined with philosophy. The eminent danger is always physical and it could come from many directions. The philosophical bent comes from the young cowboy Dobie questioning his way of life. He has a natural dislike of his leader, Ben Lane, and an equally strong admiration for Cody.


A brief smile.
Randolph Scott

Heartbreaking and eye-opening secrets are revealed throughout the script which add depth to the characters and their behavior. The small ensemble of actors is given a fine screenplay and the opportunity to shine. Akins is given a speech similar that of Lee Marvin's star making turn in 7 Men from Now, which is just as unsettling if not as mesmerizing.

Stock music from a number of Columbia musicians including George Dunning, Max Steiner and Paul Sawtell is used quite nicely to underscore scenes of exceptionally beautiful Technicolor by cinematographer Charles Lawton Jr.


A dogged pursuit.
Randolph Scott

Comanche Station would mark the end of an extremely busy time for actor/producer Randolph Scott. Two years later would see the release of his last theatrical feature, Sam Peckinpah's elegant homage to a passing time, Ride the High Country.


Ms. Gates last feature.
Nancy Gates, Randolph Scott

If you are a regular viewer of TCM and classic television you have the opportunity to see leading lady Nancy Gates at various stages of her career. Some of her films shown on the network include The Great Gildersleeve, Hitler's Children, This Land is Mine, The Spanish Main, Torch Song, Suddenly and Some Came Running. Perry Mason, Wagon Train, and Burke's Law number among her 57 television credits. Keep your eyes peeled.


TCM is screening Comanche Station on Thursday, January 25th at 6:00 a.m., starting off a day of non-traditional 1960s westerns; the independently produced, the experimental, and even the far-out wacky.










Friday, December 29, 2017

INSPIRATIONAL HEROES BLOGATHON: Glenda Farrell as Torchy Blane


The Midnite Drive-In and Hamlette's Soliloquy are hosting the Inspirational Heroes blogathon from December 29th to January 1st. From the every man to the superhero, what movie and character makes you cheer? Click HERE or HERE for what inspires fellow movie fans.


"When I grow up I want to be Torchy Blane!"
- Caftan Woman

Somewhere in my fevered imagination, despite that fact that in many shopping establishments I am offered a senior's discount, I still dream of being Torchy Blane, a girl reporter with a flair for fashion and a Nancy Drew complex. Inspiration coming to us when we need it, channeling the many admirable attributes of this fictional character, especially her perseverance and determination, have stood me in good stead every now and again.

Warner Brothers popular B movie female leading character began life on the page as a hard-drinking male reporter. Popular and prolific pulp purveyor Frederick Nebel's MacBride and Kennedy stories about a cop and a reporter were retooled to suit a cop and his girlfriend. It was a tweak that worked, and would work equally well in 1940 when Howard Hawks turned The Front Page's Hildy Johnson into a woman for His Girl Friday.

No one will ever accuse Warner Brothers of letting actors sit on their hands. An actor from childhood, Glenda Farrell joined the studio in 1931 for Little Caesar and over the next decade made 43 films, including 7 of the 9 as Torchy Blane.


"Not many actors could talk. So they shoved the ones that came from Broadway into everything. It all went so fast. I used to ask myself, "What set am I on today? What script am I supposed to be doing - this one of that one? All I shouted for was a day off. We got it Sunday, but I had to stay in bed that one day to get ready for the next six days of shooting. I wonder if Jack Warner appreciated his movie-acting family."

- Glenda Farrell quote on the IMDb

Torchy was a smart and independent career girl. Brave to the point of foolhardiness, Torchy followed her stories wherever they led, no matter how dangerous. She was persistent in her pursuit of the truth, often to the dismay of her supportive boyfriend, Lt. Steve McBride (Barton MacLane).

Glenda's titles in the Torchy series are 1937: Smart Blonde, Fly-Away Baby, The Adventurous Blonde, 1938: Blondes at Work, Torchy Gets Her Man, 1939: Torchy Gets Her Man, Torchy Blane in Chinatown, Torchy Runs for Mayor.

In 1938 Warners mixed things up with Lola Lane and Paul Kelly in Torchy Blane in Panama. Audiences were not mixed up, they wanted Glenda. In 1939, the studio tried another pairing with Jane Wyman and Allen Jenkins in Torchy Blane - Playing with Dynamite. By that time Glenda Farrell had left the studio to continue her film, stage, and television career. Torchy was left to late night TV and memory, but she made a lasting impression.


Let's look at a typically fast-paced and fun entry in the Warner Brothers series. The Adventurous Blonde was released in 1937 and was the third of three Torchy Blane films released that year.


Glenda Farrell, Barton MacLane as Torchy and Steve
This time they're really going to do it.

Torchy and Steve are getting married, and is the Lieutenant taking a ribbing from the guys. He is also getting a dressing down from his superior, and it's all about Torchy. Captain McTavish (Frank Shannon) wants Torchy's editor to move her to the Woman's Page because police reporting isn't the right spot for a girl.

Captain McTavish: "I hope you convinced her to give up her job."

Steve: "Her job! Say, she'd rather give me up."

The other reporters are beefing that Torchy's relationship with Steve gives her an unfair advantage.

Steve: "Sure they are because Torchy's too smart for 'em."


William Hopper, Charlie Foy, Bobby Watson, George E. Stone
Jealous newshounds plot against Torchy.

A few of her fellow reporters are green-eyed and have convinced themselves that Torchy's success is due to her "in" with the police force via Steve. They plan to pull a little joke on Torchy by coming up with a fake murder for her to report and then making her look the fool. For their stooge they select a fading actor who needs publicity for an upcoming show. This matinee idol is a married man, but has a reputation for womanizing. A lot of people do not like him and much to the surprise of the jocular members of the Fourth Estate, the intended phony victim ends up dead. Or as one reporter puts it "Once an extra, always a ham."



Glenda Farrell, George E. Stone
Torchy is hot on a clue.

Torchy discovered the body and is now on the case. She persistently follows the clues from telegraphers to soda jerks, from actors to wives. Torchy patiently and methodically sifts through the motives and opportunities of the various suspects. Torchy manipulates the authorities, even her beloved, to ferret out the culprit. Torchy successfully fends off many attacks on her character and career that are raised against her efforts. It takes guts to keep on going in the face of insurmountable odds.


Glenda Farrell, Raymond Hatton
Torchy's editor sends her to Cleveland on an assignment. 

What about the wedding you ask? Well, Torchy and Steve had a misunderstanding, and then Torchy was sent out of town on an assignment. The plane took off before Steve could reach the airport. Better luck next time!

--- /// ---

Torchy Blane's characteristic tenacity and against-the-odds career inspired me, and others. Jerry Siegel credited Torchy, as well as actress Lola Lane's name, as the influence behind The Daily Planet's star reporter and Superman gal pal Lois Lane.



Please enjoy these in-depth articles on the life and career of Glenda Farrell from The Thoughts and Ramblings of Hardwicke Benthow, Glenda Farrell: Her Life and Legacy and Glenda Farrell: In Her Own Words.










Friday, December 15, 2017

WHAT A CHARACTER! blogathon: John Alexander


Outspoken and Freckled, Once Upon a Screen, and Paula's Cinema Club host the What a Character! blogathon for the 6th year. The tributes run from December 15 to 17.  Day 1 entries  Day 2 entries  Day 3 entries



John Alexander
November 29, 1897 - July 13, 1982

You were distracted while watching a film and turned away to admonish or admire the cat, or check that pan loitering in the oven and you hear a voice. It is a full, rich baritone - a round voice, a pleasing voice - a voice in control of itself. You know that voice. Who is that? I know that guy! Where have I seen him before?


Kentucky born John Alexander set his path on the acting profession early, joining a Shakespeare repertory company and became a popular and regular performer on Broadway. His greatest stage success, with a huge impact on his career, came in 1941 with Joseph Kesselring's Arsenic and Old Lace, produced by Howard Lindsay and Russell Crouse, and directed by Bretaigne Windust (Life With Father, The Hasty Heart, State of the Union...).


Teddy is ready to go to Panama. It is where he is building the canal. It's in the basement. 

Arsenic and Old Lace concerns the Brewster household in Brooklyn. The Brewsters are nuts! Aunts Abby (Josephine Hull) and Martha (Jean Adair) poison lonely old gentlemen in their spare time. Mortimer (Allyn Joslyn) is a theatre critic and, therefore, relatively sane and relatively crazy. Brother Jonathan (Boris Karloff) is a stone cold psychopath, and brother Teddy (John Alexander) believes himself to be Theodore Roosevelt. Of the three boys only Teddy is harmless, just ask the producers skewered by Mortimer. 


Teddy is about to charge up San Juan Hill (the stairs).

Sadly, we did not see John Alexander in Arsenic and Old Lace on Broadway despite its run of 1,444 performances. Luckily, we did see him in Frank Capra's movie version. The film was made in 1941 with Alexander, Josephine Hull and Jean Adair reprising their stage roles. Cary Grant took over Allyn Joslyn's role, and Boris Karloff's popularity on stage precluded the producer's letting him return to Hollywood for the gig. Raymond Massey was a fine, if less ironic choice. Arsenic and Old Lace is still a favourite play among community theatres, and a movie we gravitate to during October. The film was released in 1944, giving Broadway plenty of time to fill their coffers.



Jerome Cowan, Peter Whitney, Bette Davis, John Alexander, Robert Shayne
Mr. Skeffington

So, where else have we seen John Alexander? He is one of Fanny's besotted suitors, Jim Conderley, in 1944s Mr. Skeffington starring Bette Davis and Claude Rains. Released the same year, he plays an industrialist who falls for the wife of a fellow manufacturer in another Broadway hit transferred to the screen, The Doughgirls. Trust me, it is a good thing that he has stolen Irene Manning from John Ridgely, leaving Ridgely free to marry Ann Sheridan. It's complicated.



Mike Mazurki, John Alexander, Allyn Joslyn, Alexis Smith, Jack Benny
The Horn Blows at Midnight

John Alexander and Broadway brother Allyn Joslyn are adorably funny in the 1945 comedy/fantasy gem The Horn Blows at Midnight. Jack Benny is a musician who dreams he is an angel on a Heavenly mission who is being thwarted by the first and second trumpeters, Joslyn and Alexander. A midnight deadline looms large and a romance hangs in the balance. Great fun!



Dorothy McGuire, Ted Donaldson, John Alexander, Joan Blondell
James Dunn, Peggy Ann Garner
A Tree Grows in Brooklyn

"I'm going out to get some strawberry ice cream and a rattle for my son. And what's more, my name ain't Bill. It's Steve, do you hear that? I'm a papa and my name's Steve."

John Alexander is perfect in a perfect movie, Elia Kazan's 1945 A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. The role is Steve, the milkman who marries Katie Nolan's flighty, yet loving sister Aunt Sissy played by Joan Blondell. Sissy calls her new husband "Bill" as her other husbands were Bill, but he's the best of them. He pays for their baby to be born in a hospital and becomes the man of the family.

The 1948 release Summer Holiday is a musical version of Ah, Wilderness. John Alexander plays Dave McComber, an uptight fellow who disapproves of his daughter's relationship with the lead character. The youngsters are played by Gloria DeHaven and Mickey Rooney. Night Has a Thousand Eyes is a dandy film which finds Alexander trying to maintain a sense of normalcy in a movie about the paranormal from a Cornell Woolrich novel and starring Edward G. Robinson.



John Alexander as Jack Riker
Winchester '73

Moving to 1950 we find John Alexander is on familiar ground as Teddy Roosevelt (!) in Fancy Pants, a remake of Ruggles of Red Gap starring Lucille Ball and Bob Hope. More favourites from 1950 include a fine bit for Alexander as Jack Riker who runs a way station in Anthony Mann's groundbreaking adult western Winchester '73. Riker is a seemingly easy-going proprietor, but don't push him.


Giving more than is on the page.
The Sleeping City

Richard Conte plays an undercover cop reporting to Alexander's Inspector Gordon, an intriguing character in the crime drama The Sleeping City. You can also look for John Alexander in a couple of George Cukor films, The Model and the Marriage Broker and The Marrying Kind.



Alexander returned to Broadway in the late 1940s replacing Paul Douglas as Harry Brock in Born Yesterday. Broadway productions in the 1950s include Hilda Crane, Ondine and A Visit to a Small Planet.

John Alexander dusted off Teddy's pith helmet for a televised version of Arsenic and Old Lace for the CBS series The Best of Broadway. Boris Karloff was Jonathan teamed with the movie version's Dr. Einstein, Peter Lorre. Aunts Abby and Martha were Helen Hayes and Billie Burke. Mortimer was played by Orson Bean, who would later work with Alexander on Broadway in Never Too Late. Edward Everett Horton revived a fondness for elderberry wine as Mr. Witherspoon.




A businessman encounters Toody and Muldoon
Car 54, Where Are You? - Put It in the Bank

We can find John Alexander on Classic TV including three guest appearances on two of Nat Hiken's programs, The Phil Silvers Show and Car 54, Where Are You? The New York City filming location of the television show fit into John Alexander's schedule at the time as he was appearing as the mayor in the it play Never Too Late. John Alexander retired from his long, eventful career after this role. In the film, the part was done by his A Tree Grows in Brooklyn co-star Lloyd Nolan.



Genevieve Hamper
September 8, 1888 - February 3, 1971

John Alexander joined the Robert B. Mantell and Genevieve Hamper Company in 1916. Genevieve was the fifth wife of tempestuous star Mantell (Great-uncle of Angela Lansbury), 34 years her senior and they were married from 1912 to his death in 1928. Tragically, their son, actor Robert Robert Jr. committed suicide at the age of 21.

John Alexander made his Broadway debut with the company as Solanio in The Merchant of Venice in 1917. John Alexander was married to Genevieve Hamper from either 1928 or 1931 (conflicting sources) to her death in 1971. 

John Alexander passed away at the age of 85 while attending a Board meeting of the Actor's Fund of American in 1982. Sadly, we never got the chance to see John Alexander on Broadway, but through our beloved classic films and television we can get to know the accomplished actor with the big talent, and great voice.










THOSE HORRIBLE GIRLS!: The Belles of St. Trinian's (1954)

"Searle! We studied him in school." - Bachelor of Animation grad Janet as the credits rolled by. Artist/cartoonist Ronal...