Thursday, March 5, 2009

What's say let's be buddies?

George Chandler
1898 - 1985

William Wellman
1896 - 1975

In the annals of great Hollywood director/actor teams, a few names spring immediately to mind - John Ford/John Wayne, John Huston/Humphrey Bogart, Billy Wilder/Jack Lemmon. Perhaps George Cukor/Katharine Hepburn. Some of us may even bring up Henry King/Tyrone Power. Not that it gets us anywhere, but we bring them up anyway. Rarely is the felicitous teaming of William Wellman and character actor George Chandler mentioned. Well, we're going to change that right now.

Wellman, the WWI pilot and Hollywood bad boy started out as an actor and became a director who wanted to make every sort of picture there was and created such bona fide classics as Beau Geste, The Ox-Bow Incident, A Star is Born, Wild Boys of the Road, The Story of GI Joe and Wings.

Chandler was born in Waukegan, Illinois and put himself through the University of Illinois by playing violin in orchestras. As a teenager he played the Vaudeville circuit billed as "The Musical Nut". He started working in movies in the silent era and is one of those fellows who worked constantly.

George is billed as a reporter/newspaperman/photographer in over 25 pictures from 1931's Sob Sisters to his 1961 television series Ichabod and Me. Watch for George as a journalist the next time you watch The Beast of the City, The Kennel Murder Case or Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. If you need a taxi driver, doorman, stagehand or telegrapher - why, George is your man. His is a familiar face to Boomers as Uncle Petrie from Lassie and guest appearances on everything from Wagon Train to Dragnet. He played Jonathan Kent in the 1975 TV Musical It's a Bird, It's a Plane, It's Superman.

George Chandler as the radio operator in
Charlie Chan at the Olympics (1937)

Between 1936 to 1951 George worked with his pal Wellman on 22 pictures. He had some great roles too. Amos Hart in 1942's Roxie Hart (I see you nodding your head sagely. You must have seen Chicago.) He was a stagehand in the terrific backstage murder mystery Lady of Burlesque in 1943. Hubby commented before watching this movie that it didn't seem like a Wild Bill sort of movie until he saw all the gals strutting their stuff!

My favourite Chandler role is probably "Mackeral Face" in Westward the Women in 1951, as an anxious potential bridegroom. In the recently blogged about Battleground, the Academy Award winner from 1949, George plays a walking wounded mess sergeant.

Wellman spoke about George in his 1974 autobiography, A Short Time for Insanity:

"I had different techniques to gain time to gather my so-called directional forces together. George Chandler was technique number one. George was not only my pal but a great actor as well. He had played everything for me, from the dumb messenger boy in A Star is Born to the screwball husband of Ginger Rogers in Roxie Hart. George had been in close to forty of my pictures, and he developed a second sight of my moments of uncertainty. If he happened to be in the scene that was bothering me, he would find some way of buggering it up, forgetting his lines, sneezing, not once or twice, a seizure, or whispering while I was talking - then the roof blew off, and believe me I could blow it a mile. When I had put George and all his relatives and ancestors where they belonged, I called off work for ten minutes, stormed into my dressing room office, slammed the door shut and sat down quietly, and always worked out my problem. It was like magic."

George Chandler was married for 50 years to Catherine Ward and they had three sons. He was a Screen Actors Guild board member from 1946 - 1948, SAG's treasurer from 1948 - 1960 and in 1960 took over its presidency following Ronald Reagan. George Chandler is one of the reasons so many of us are fans of the movies of the classic Hollywood era.


  1. Have you seen "Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid"? If not, you must. I can burn you a copy on DVD, if you like.

  2. I was the annoying person at the theatre who loudly whispered every time she recognized one of original movie scenes from "Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid". What did I think I was doing? Playing "Trival Pursuit"? Watching "Jeopardy"?

  3. Thank you, Caftan Woman!

    For some time now, George Chandler has been known to me as "THAT guy!!!" He's in so many movies, westerns, screwball comedies, everything...going back to the dawn of sound films, and probably further. I really appreciate finding out who he was, and his relationship with Wellman, who is one of my favorite directors. Thanks for putting a name with the face, and for giving George a moment in the spotlight.

    1. So many "that guys" in classic Hollywood. I think that's why we are drawn to the films.



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