Wednesday, May 22, 2013

"We all love Regis Toomey."

Regis Toomey (1898 - 1991)
"The High and the Mighty"

"And there is the one and only - Regis Toomey.  We all love Regis Toomey.  Wonderful actor.  A favourite of many directors, not just your father.  Your father liked him just fine, but he worked a lot for Capra - he worked for everybody."

- Leonard Maltin to William Wellman, Jr. on the commentary track to the DVD release of 1954s The High and the Mighty.  Toomey plays the operations manager of the airline and enters the picture close to the climax.

Regis Toomey's presence in close to 300 movie and television appearances generally bespoke a comforting image.  If he was in charge you could be sure he knew what he was doing.  If he was your pal, you knew you could trust him.  It wasn't always the way, but he grew into himself.  Toomey was born in Pittsburgh and studied Law before succumbing to the acting bug and toured in musical theatre.  His wife of 56 years, Kathryn Scott was the choreographer of a 1924 production of Rose Marie in which Toomey appeared.  The couple would have two children together.  While touring in England Toomey suffered a severe case of laryngitis which caused him to rethink singing as a career and focus on acting.  His film debut was in Roland West's Oscar nominated 1929 gangster film Alibi starring Chester Morris.  Toomey is undercover cop Danny McGann and I am not one of the admirers of his performance.  Goodness knows it's not as if I wanted Chester Morris to get away with anything, but my how I found Regis grating.  Perhaps it was the roles that Toomey was getting at this period that actually annoyed me.  The wimpy jealous husband of Mary Astor in 1931s Other Men's Women, the wimpy rich husband of socially unacceptable Barbara Stanwyck in 1932s Shopworn and Loretta Young's unbearably chauvinistic boyfriend in 1933s She Had to Say Yes.  I was just waiting for the "real" Regis Toomey to start showing up in the movies.

Frank Jenks, Roscoe Karns, Rosalind Russell, Porter Hall
Gene Lockhart, Regis Toomey, Cliff Edwards
"His Girl Friday"

By "real" Regis Toomey, I might mean movie cop and Detective "Smiley" North in 1934s Hildegarde Withers flick Murder on the Blackboard is a great start.  In 1935s "G" Men he is FBI agent Eddie Buchanan whose death at the hands of mobsters incites pal "Brick" Davis played by James Cagney to join the Agency to extract revenge.  There follows a string of reporters, cops and working stiffs and a nice role as railroader Paddy O'Rourke in C.B. DeMille's 1939 epic Union Pacific.  In 1940s His Girl Friday Toomey is tops as one of the fast-talking, wise-cracking reporters.

Walter Brennan, Gary Cooper, Regis Toomey
J. Farrell MacDonald, Ann Doran
"Meet John Doe"

Frank Capra's 1941 feature Meet John Doe gives us grade A, number 1 Regis Toomey as Bert Hanson, one of the fellows who starts up the John Doe Clubs, along with his wife played by Ann Doran.  They are also there on the rooftop at the Christmas Eve finale of the picture, giving comfort.

Humphrey Bogart, Regis Toomey
"The Big Sleep"

As Chief Inspector Barney Ohls in 1946s The Big Sleep from Raymond Chandler's Philip Marlowe novel, Toomey may be the only sane person in the entire movie!  Maybe you have a favourite Regis Toomey role in The Devil and Miss Jones, The Bishop's Wife, Mighty Joe Young, Raw Deal, Drums Across the River or dozens other titles.

Regis Toomey, Dick Powell, Richard Erdman
"Cry Danger"

In 1951s The Tall Target directed by Anthony Mann and starring Regis Toomey's close real-life friend Dick Powell, Toomey is once again a cop and once again his murder sets off the action in possibly the best thriller ever set on a train.  The same year he co-stars with Powell in Cry Danger as a police officer whom Powell's character describes as having the "face of a saint and the heart of a thug".  Perfect.

Jean Simmons, Marlon Brando
Regis Toomey, Kathryn Givney
"Guys and Dolls"

In 1955s Guys and Dolls Regis Toomey uses that "face of a saint" as Sarah Brown's (Jean Simmons) Uncle Arvide Abernathy.  One of the great shames of this movie version of the classic musical (besides having Brando and Sinatra in the wrong roles) is that they omitted Arvide's lovely little song "More I Cannot Wish You".  It would have been a lovely moment for Regis Toomey and the audience.  
Detectives Les Hart, Tim Tilson and Captain Amos Burke
Regis Toomey, Gary Conway, Gene Barry
"Burke's Law"

TV kept Regis Toomey busy from 1950 on with guest appearances and recurring roles on shows from The Mickey Rooney Show in 1954 to Petticoat Junction in 1968.  Many of the programs were produced by Dick Powell's Four Star Productions including Richard Diamond, Private Detective, Zane Grey Theater and Four Star Playhouse.  I enjoy Burke's Law with its cheeky mystery plots and line-up of Golden Age of Hollywood guest stars.  The 1963 - 1964 series often poked fun at Det. Les Hart's (Regis Toomey) age and memory reaching back to silent screen days.  Regis Toomey passed away from natural causes at the age of 93.  The man with the enviable career once said "I'd rather be a supporting actor than a star.  Supporting actors last longer."


  1. This is wonderful!! My teenage son became hooked on BURKE'S LAW and became a big Toomey fan. He and I are huge fans of CRY DANGER where Toomey and his best buddy Powell have such wonderful chemistry. Loved your tribute!!!

    Best wishes,

  2. Thanks, Laura. I think it is so cool that "Cry Danger" is you and your son's movie. One of many I am sure. I'm so happy it was recently restored. For years it lived as a vague memory of "that movie with the trailers".

  3. I'm a bigger Toomey fan than I thought! I liked his performance in the classic films: "Bishop's Wife" and The Big Sleep. Awesome review!

  4. Indeed, I do love Regis Toomey. I also agree that it was a shame to leave out "More I Cannot Wish You" from "Guys and Dolls." Especially since he began in musical theater, for crying out loud. Which I did not know. Thanks for this lovely post.

  5. Dawn, you made me giggle. Everybody has a favourite Regis Toomey movie even if they don't know it. I love his bit in "The Bishop's Wife". Between his kind demeanor and the kids singing - well, I'm just a wreck.

  6. JTL, when I get that time machine I'm going to fix "Guys and Dolls" straight away.

    Over the years I've found that Leonard Maltin knows what he's talking about. He's welcome at our place for spaghetti and movie night any time. We'll watch Regis Toomey!

  7. Supporting actors do, indeed, last longer. Sounds like Regis Toomey was a wise man. These guys who kept working for years and years proved the point.

    I think there was just something about their faces that brought some sort of comfort. Maybe the comfort of 'connection'. I don't know. While the hero might have kept us in awe, the more enduring of the sympathetic (though not always)characters reached out to us in some odd way. Know what I mean?

    Regis Toomey was like that.

    But I don't remember him being in MIGHTY JOE YOUNG, Pat. Can you elaborate? That's one of my favorite movies. I'm searching my brain but coming up short. Ha.

  8. Yvette, Toomey is at the beginning of "Mighty Joe Young" as Jill's dad. He's sporting dark hair and a moustache, not his usual look at that time.

    There's a certain familiarity to our favourite character folks - Frank McHugh, Wallace Ford, Esther Dale, etc. They pop up on screen and a little bell goes off in our heads. Like catching up with an old pal.

  9. So THAT'S Regis Toomey! I always know who he is but I never knew his name. Whenever I see him on screen (which is frequently), I always think, "Oh, it's that guy."

    Well, it's time I learned his name and a bit more about his career. Thanks for this post! :)

  10. Yes, we Regis Toomey. Among my favorites in his impressive filmography are the excellent Dick Powell pictures you mentioned. As always, CW, well done!

  11. I'm so tickled that I could help Silver Screenings have that "Aha!" moment. Next up, a Regis Toomey film festival.

  12. Thanks. I like to imagine Toomey and Powell crooning a few old tunes between takes.

  13. "I like to imagine Toomey and Powell crooning a few old tunes between takes."

    Lovely thought!

    Best wishes,

  14. Laura, I wonder if they'd take requests.

  15. This is a wonderful post! Supporting and/or character actors add so much to our beloved films, yet so much of the time, we don't even know their names. (I called the delightful Ian Wolfe "Oh, that guy" for years before learning his name.)

    Mr. Toomey certainly had a nice, long life and a prolific career. I'm not familiar with "Burke's Law," but it sounds like an interesting show. I think I'll look for it.

    Thanks for shining the spotlight on the wonderful Mr. Toomey.

  16. Patti, I think you'd get a kick out of "Burke's Law". The guest casts are a who's who of familiar faces, and it's a lot of 60s fun.

    Love Ian Wolfe in everything from "The Raven" with Karloff and Lugosi to "WKRP in Cincinnati". On the first season DVD of that show Loni Anderson called him "a dear". I think he always looked about 90 years old.

  17. Great post. I don't think I realized just how extensive his career was. Every year we watch "The Bishop's Wife," so I at least get to see him once a year. And I love the final quote you used about him being a supporting actor. Good for him and thank you for remembering him.

  18. I'm pleased you enjoyed the post. "The Bishop's Wife" is a movie that has really grown on me as I - shall we say, matured. December just doesn't feel right unless it is watched.

  19. I think the first time he really made an impression with me was that scene in "Meet John Doe" where he tells Gary Cooper what John Doe means to him and his wife.

    A great actor, someone I'm always happy to see.

  20. "Meet John Doe" was it for me as well, Kevin. I think it must have been for Leonard Maltin as well. In that quote I used Maltin's memory tells him that Toomey worked with Capra a lot, but it was only once as Bert in "Meet John Doe". The impression is indeed a strong one.



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