Friday, November 15, 2019

WHAT A CHARACTER! Blogathon: George Zucco


The annual What a Character! blogathon hosted by Paula's Cinema Club, Once Upon A Screen, and Outspoken And Freckled runs from November 15th to 17th. Thanks, Paula, Aurora, and Kellee for this 8th annual edition of the blogathon!  Day 1  Day 2  Day 3

George Zucco
January 11, 1886 - May 28, 1960

Hi-diddle-dee-dee, an actor's life for me *

George Desylli Zucco was born in Manchester, England the son of a Greek immigrant and a former lady-in-waiting to Queen Victoria. George was raised in London where his mother took her young family after the death of her husband. During his student years, George was an excellent mathematician and played on cricket and soccer teams. In his late teens, George emigrated to the Canadian prairies, eventually working as a clerk in Winnipeg where he pursued an interest in acting. He joined a touring repertory company and made his professional debut in Regina in 1908. By 1913 he had made his way to New York and was appearing in a Vaudeville sketched entitled The Suffragette.

History intervened in the young actor's career and in 1914 George Zucco returned to England and joined the West Yorkshire Regiment, 7th Batallion. Private George Zucco was sent to the frontlines in France where his right arm was wounded, losing the use of two fingers. At war's end, Lieutenant Zucco returned to London and enrolled in the Royal Academy as a means of reviving his theatrical career.


The London stage kept the actor busy for the next decade, including a well-received turn in R.C. Sherriff's World War One drama Journey's End directed by James Whale. During the play's run, George met and eventually married actress Stella Francis (1900-1999). George was 43 at the time and the 29-year-old actress required some convincing. Their marriage would endure for the next 30 years until George's passing in 1960. The couple would have one daughter, Frances (1931-1962).

George began appearing in films in 1931 and his final British film The Man Who Could Work Miracles was released in 1936. By that time George was making an impression on Broadway as Benjamin Disraeli opposite Helen Hayes in Victoria Regina. During the run of the play, George accepted an offer from MGM studios in Hollywood. He and Stella sold their home in England, moved to California, and he became a naturalized United States citizen.

George Zucco's Hollywood career would encompass 90 feature films. The talented actor's filmography is one that never bores the fan. From prestigious productions to poverty row quickies, the actor delights in a variety of roles and genres. Let's look at some of my favourites. First up is a slate of mysteries.

William Powell, George Zucco, Myrna Loy

The first sequel to The Thin Man, aptly named After the Thin Man, 1936 finds society detectives Nick and Nora Charles dealing with family dynamics and history following a New Year's Eve murder on their home turf of San Francisco. George Zucco plays alienist and expert witness Dr. Kammer. "Good heavens, I was right. The man is crazy."



From the MGM B side of mysteries, we find the fast-paced and entertaining London by Night, 1937. George Murphy is a newsman and Rita Johnson is a socialite who thinks it will be fun to track down a murderer in foggy London town. George Zucco is Inspector Jefferson, a professional investigator. George next shows up on the wrong side of the law and Captain Hugh Drummond in 1938 entry in the Paramount series, Arrest Bulldog Drummond.

Phyllis Brooks, Sidney Toler, George Zucco

Charlie Chan in Honolulu, 1938 introduced fans of the 20th Century Fox series to the new father/son team of Sidney Toler as Inspector Chan and Victor Sen Yung as Jimmy Chan. Passengers on a freighter are all murder suspects and Jimmy wants to prove to "Pop" that he can solve the case. You can ask for no more suspicious suspect than George Zucco as Dr. Cardigan. He skulks around the ship pretending to be hard of hearing, looking quite jaunty in a peak cap, and being far more mysterious than he ought.

Basil Rathbone, George Zucco

The following year George has one of his best roles, one for an actor to lick his chops over; Professor Moriarty in The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, 1939 for 20th Century Fox. Adapted from William Gillette's play, the movie is a mash of plot lines and plot holes. Nonetheless, the atmosphere, the cast, and the production values are top-notch.

George Zucco, Henry Stephenson, Nigel Bruce

George Zucco as the nefarious professor is perfect in every way. His masterful arrogance and delight in using Holmes' own obsessive personality against him is a joy to behold. The fun the professor takes in his Sgt. Bullfinch disguise equals Holmes' glee in similar forays. The disdain with which Moriarty treats his underlings is befitting to their station be it teasing his butler Dawes played by Frank Dawson or threatening his criminal cohort Bassick played by Arthur Hohl. Moriarty's contempt is controlled but never less than dangerous.

Let's move into the realm of horror where George careened between budgets and scripts, always bringing a touch of class to the proceedings.

Tom Tyler, George Zucco

George plays Andoheb in The Mummy's Hand, 1940 who becomes obsessed with the back-from-the-dead properties of tana leaves and the continued existence of the rampaging mummy, Kharis. Andoheb causes a lot of trouble and although he is shot at the end of this movie, shows up again in two of the three sequels for Universal, The Mummy's Tomb, 1942 and The Mummy's Ghost, 1944. That's what happens when you replace Eduardo Ciannelli as the High Priest of Karnak. Hey, it's a living!

George Zucco, George Zucco

Sam Newfield directed Dead Men Walk, 1943 for PRC and his brother the producer Sigmund Neufeld. This movie gave George Zucco a dual role, which surely is on many actor's bucket list. Kindly Dr. Lloyd Clayton is beloved by all, except for the brother he murdered! Dr. Elwyn Clayton was a practitioner of the satanic arts who is now a vampire out to destroy his good-hearted twin. Dwight Frye as Zolarr helps his evil master in a plan to turn townsfolk against kindly Lloyd. At stake is the soul of the town and the life, not to mention romance of lovely Gayle Clayton played by Mary Carlisle and pragmatic (no imagination) Dr. David Bentley played by Nedrick Young. How will it all end? Will the powers of evil be defeated? What sacrifice must be made by our hero? I would have enjoyed a more prestigious production for George's kick at the twin can, but you can't have everything in this life -- or the next.

George Zucco, David Bruce

The Mad Ghoul, 1943 for Universal finds George as a scientist experimenting with a nerve gas used by ancient Mayans. George is assisted by David Bruce in these experiments, but things get complicated when they both fall for Evelyn Ankers. Bruce becomes expendable and, believe it or not, a ghoul under the influence of the gas. They both become killers and grave robbers and, as in the best of film noir, neither gets the girl!

It's back to PRC for Fog Island, 1945 where Zucco brings to an isolated island a group of folks who've done him wrong. Will anyone escape the booby traps of revenge? Lionel Atwill, Jerome Cowan, Veda Ann Borg, and Ian Keith are among the victims. Serves them right!


George Zucco, Lucille Ball

The 1947 crime picture Lured, directed by Douglas Sirk is a special favourite of mine. Lucille Ball stars as Sandra Carpenter, a stranded American dancer in London who agrees to work undercover with Scotland Yard to ferret out the murderer of a friend.

The "Poet Killer" leaves clues to taunt the police and the trail our leading lady must follow is filled with adventure and romance, along with Joseph Calleia, Boris Karloff, Cedric Hardwicke, and Alan Mowbray. George Sanders is a prime suspect and prime romantic material. The Chief Inspector played by Charles Coburn gives one of the Yard's men, Officer Barrett played by George Zucco, the duty of keeping our undercover rookie safe.

Zucco is delightful as Officer Barrett and his chemistry with Lucy makes them a crimefighting team made in movie heaven. I enjoy Lured most often on rainy weekends and I help but wish for more. How I would have loved a sequel or two with Lucy and George Zucco running around London solving crimes. Put the kettle on - it's time for the Sandra Carpenter Mysteries and the spin-off, Officer Barrett: On the Job.

George Zucco

George Zucco's last completed film role was for Henry King at Twentieth Century Fox in David and Bathsheba, 1951. While at work on The Desert Fox for Henry Hathaway, strange behavior on the part of the actor led to the diagnosis that he had suffered a severe stroke. After some time caring for George at home, Stella had to place him in the Monterey Sanitarium. He continued to recognize his family and dream of someday performing again. Pneumonia took George Zucco's life in 1960.

My imagination and the film work left by George Zucco makes me believe that it would have been a wonderful theatrical experience to have seen him do Shakespeare or see him in Journey's End or Victoria Regina. We must content ourselves with The Secret Garden, The Black Swan, and The First Legion, and whatever other surprising treats our journey in classic movies will send our way.


Check it out:

Linda Christian, Johnny Weissmuller, George Zucco

George rocks the caftan in Tarzan and the Mermaids, 1948.






* Leigh Harline, Ned Washington

Biographical source:
Sherlock Holmes and the Fabulous Faces, The Universal Pictures Repertory Company
by Michael A. Hoey - Bear Manor Media, 2011












30 comments:

  1. Nice post. George Z. is a favorite of mine. I love LURED as well. Superb cast. George is swell.

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    1. Thank you so much. Pleased to know another George Z fan. This might be a good weekend to rewatch Lured.

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  2. A delightful post on a fellow I recognize but never put a name to the face or knew of his extensive background. Thanks for your, as usual, well-researched and well-written piece. This is a really fun blogathon (I'm sorry I missed it this year), and your entries are always tops.

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    1. Thank you. George had been on my mind for a while as a subject, but being a lazy sort of gal it took this annual blogathon to kick me into high gear.

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  3. A clerk in Winnipeg? Professional debut in Regina? No way! I have even more admiration for George Zucco, a man I recognize but can never think of his name.

    And you said it, girlfriend. He definitely rocks the caftan.

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    1. Indeed! So few can rock the caftan so completely.

      Boris Karloff also made his way to Canada and a repertory company! It seems like the long way around to a theatrical career for Brits, but these guys were full of surprises.

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  4. Great tribute to the perfect bad guy! He and Henry Daniell can’t be bettered.

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  5. According to imdb GEORGE ZUCCO was in PARNELL and also SARATOGA. They both came out in 1937 and starred CLARK GABLE. Gable died on Nov. 16, 1960 at the age of 59. That was 59 years ago today. Director Frank Capra said that Gable was very down-to-earth and that he was like the character that he played in IT HAPPENED ONE NIGHT. I read that when Gable took off his shirt in that movie and he didn't have an undershirt on then the sales of undershirts went way down! Gable, THE KING OF HOLLYWOOD, was one of a kind!! As they said men liked him and women liked him!

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    1. I once had the flu and dozed on the couch only listening to It Happened One Night and my admiration for Gable in that role tripled.

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  6. WILLIAM HOLDEN died in Nov. 1981. The sources used to say Nov. 16. Now they say Nov. 12. (His body was found on Nov. 16 after he fell and hit his head while drinking at his home.) So that was 21 years after the passing of CLARK GABLE. My favorite Holden movies are SUNSET BLVD. and PICNIC. To tie the subject to this page HOLDEN worked with LUCILLE BALL on one of the California eps of I LOVE LUCY. (They had done a movie together earlier, MISS GRANT TAKED RICHMOND.)

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    1. Miss Grant Takes Richmond was like an early try at Lucy Ricardo with its humour and slapstick. I like Holden very much, especially in Stalag 17, Rachel and the Stranger, and Executive Suite.

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  7. BORIS KARLOFF! A lot of people will be hearing his voice soon because of his narration on the GRINCH animated special(from 1966). P.S. I meant Miss Grant TAKES Richmond.

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    1. I am proud to say my son can do a perfect impersonation of Karloff's narration of the Grinch. I think we may have watched it too often.

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  8. Fantastic, unique choice. He never occurs to me, but Zucco is great as is your tribute. Love this. Thank you for the contribution.

    Aurora

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    1. Thank you. George rather grew on me over the years. One day I suddenly realized how much I looked forward to his appearances.

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  9. Your wonderful post makes me want to search out Zucco's work. I can't place him, but I'm sure I have seen him. I love how you included some of your favorites. Lured looks like a lot of fun! Thanks for the recommendation and for the great information about Zucco.

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    1. Thank you. I'm sure you'll enjoy George in his many movies.

      If you have TCM, they are screening The Secret Garden on November 28th and After the Thin Man on New Year's Eve. Lured doesn't seem to be on the advance schedule, but they have been known to show it.

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  10. You did it again! Another great choice and a great article about a guy whose face I know but whose name escaped me. Well, escape me no more!!

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    1. Thanks so much for the pat on the back. George can try, but he'll never escape you again! He's our guy - caftan and all.

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  11. Oh wow, I LOVE George Zucco, one of my favorite character actors! He's about the best Moriarty there is (and that's saying something, when you consider both Lionel Atwill and Henry Daniell had a crack at the role), and his range is remarkable but consistent. One of my favorite bits of his is as the jolly doctor in The Secret Garden; he's onscreen in only a few scenes but he's marvelous as a humorous and gentle character (and SO unsinister!). No matter what he did, he's always enjoyable to watch. Thanks for a great portrait!

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    1. Thanks so much.

      I adore Zucco's downright and upright normalcy in The Secret Garden. That performance is a treasure.

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  12. I want to mention two actresses that are having birthdays today-both are turning 77. LINDA EVANS, that we both know from THE BIG VALLEY as AUDRA BARKLEY. Two of the TV-Movies that I know her from are the second GAMBLER movie with KENNY ROGERS, it aired in 1983 and THE LAST FRONTIER which is mostly set in AUSTRALIA and aired in 1986. They were both on CBS and were both 2-part movies. I think Linda was very good in both movies. SUSAN SULLIVAN, that I know best from FALCON CREST. Her character MAGGIE was married to CHASE(ROBERT FOXWORTH) and later to RICHARD CHANNING(DAVID SELBY). What do you know Susan from the most?

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    1. Linda Evans is indeed forever Audra to me. Susan Sullivan I first associate with Another World and next, although I didn't watch it regularly, with Dharma and Greg.

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  13. Speaking of SUSAN SULLIVAN, WILLIAM R. MOSES played her son on FALCON CREST. He turned 60 yesterday(Nov. 17). It was thirty years ago that he started playing KEN MALANSKY on the PERRY MASON TV-Movies. He was in the last 17 movies and then the 4 without Perry. He was in 21 out of 30 of them! He is good at playing good guys and bad guys. His mother MARIAN MCCARGO BELL was in some eps of FALCON CREST as the mother of JORDAN ROBERTS, a lawyer played by MORGAN FAIRCHILD. William was once married to TRACY NELSON from the famous Nelson family-OZZIE, HARRIET, DAVID and RICKY(her dad). Her mother was KRIS HARMON NELSON, the sister of MARK HARMON. Mark was on FLAMINGO ROAD where his character was married to CONSTANCE played by....MORGAN FAIRCHILD.

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    1. Tracy had an adorable guest role with then husband William Moses in the Perry Mason movie The Case of the Reckless Romeo. I really enjoyed her grandmother Harriet's guest appearance on Father Dowling Mysteries.

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  14. A great tribute to George Zucco, who was an awesome choice! The first film I remember seeing him in was THE MAD GHOUL, but my favorite Zucco performance was probably as Professor Moriarty in THE ADVENTURES OF SHERLOCK HOLMES.

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    1. Thank you so much. It is amazing how many of us have seen The Mad Ghoul!

      George is most definitely my favourite Moriarty. I think I may have gushed a bit in that section.

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  15. This was a great read. I love George Zucco as Moriarty, he was such a delightful villian. It seems strange to think that he was married and had a daughter, and how sad that she died so young. I'll have to check out Lured, don't know how I missed that one!

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    1. You'll be crazy about Lured! Trust me.

      Indeed there are many delights in The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, and George Zucco is right at the top of the list.

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