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1.
Walter Brennan
In many ways the most successful and familiar character actor of American sound films and the only actor to date to win three Oscars for Best Supporting Actor, Walter Brennan attended college in Cambridge, Massachusetts, studying engineering. While in school he became interested in acting and performed in school plays...
 
2.
Lee J. Cobb
Lee J. Cobb, one of the premier character actors in American film for three decades in the post-World War II period, was born Leo Jacoby in New York City's Lower East Side on December 8, 1911. The son of a Jewish newspaper editor, young Leo was a child prodigy in music, mastering the violin and the harmonica...
 
3.
Thomas Mitchell
Certainly there have been many phrases coined about Thomas Mitchell as one of the most recognizable and exemplary character actors of Hollywood's golden years, but behind that elfish demeanor was a talent to fit many hats. He was a first-generation American of Irish immigrants who settled in New Jersey...
 
4.
Edmond O'Brien
Oscar-winner Edmond O'Brien was one of the most-respected character actors in American cinema, from his heyday of the mid-1940s through the late 1960s. Born on September 10, 1915, in the New York City borough of The Bronx, O'Brien learned the craft of performance as a magician, reportedly tutored by neighbor Harry Houdini...
 
5.
Thelma Ritter
Actress, Rear Window
Thelma Ritter appeared in high school plays and was trained at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts. In the 1940s she worked in radio. Her movie career was started with a bit part in the 1946 Miracle on 34th Street. In the movie she played a weary Xmas shopper. Her performance in the short scene was noticed by Darryl F. Zanuck who insisted her role be expanded...
 
6.
Charles Bickford
American character actor of gruff voice and appearance who was a fixture in Hollywood pictures from the earliest days of the talkies. The fifth of seven children, he was born in the first minute of 1891. He was a boisterous child, and at nine was tried and acquitted for attempted murder in the shooting of a motorman who had run over his dog...
 
7.
Christopher Lee
Sir Christopher Frank Carandini Lee was perhaps the only actor of his generation to have starred in so many films and cult saga. Although most notable for personifying bloodsucking vampire, Dracula, on screen, he portrayed other varied characters on screen, most of which were villains, whether it be Francisco Scaramanga in the James Bond film...
 
8.
Ben Johnson
Born in Oklahoma, Ben Johnson was a ranch hand and rodeo performer when, in 1940, Howard Hughes hired him to take a load of horses to California. He decided to stick around (the pay was good), and for some years was a stunt man, horse wrangler, and double for such stars as John Wayne, Gary Cooper and James Stewart...
 
9.
Judith Anderson
Actress, Rebecca
Dame Judith Anderson was born Frances Margaret Anderson on February 10, 1897 in Adelaide, South Australia. She began her acting career in Australia before moving to New York in 1918. There she established herself as one of the greatest theatrical actresses and was a major star on Broadway throughout the 1930s...
 
10.
Ernest Borgnine
Ernest Borgnine was born Ermes Effron Borgnino on January 24, 1917 in Hamden, Connecticut. His parents were Anna (Boselli), who had emigrated from Carpi (MO), Italy, and Camillo Borgnino, who had emigrated from Ottiglio (AL), Italy. As an only child, Ernest enjoyed most sports, especially boxing, but took no real interest in acting...
 
11.
Basil Rathbone
Basil Rathbone was born in Johannesburg, South Africa, in 1892, but three years later his family was forced to flee the country because his father was accused by the Boers of being a British spy at a time when Dutch-British conflicts were leading to the Boer War. The Rathbones escaped to England, where Basil and his two younger siblings...
 
12.
Arthur Kennedy
Arthur Kennedy, one of the premier character actors in American film from the late 1940s through the early 1960s, achieved fame in the role of Biff in Elia Kazan's historic production of Arthur Miller's Pultizer-Prize winning play "Death of a Salesman." Although he was not selected to recreate the role on screen...
 
13.
Geoffrey Rush
Geoffrey Roy Rush was born on July 6, 1951, in Toowoomba, Queensland, Australia, to Merle (Bischof), a department store sales assistant, and Roy Baden Rush, an accountant for the Royal Australian Air Force. His mother was of German descent and his father had English, Irish, and Scottish ancestry. He was raised in Brisbane, Queensland, after his parents split up...
 
14.
Akim Tamiroff
Though born in Russia and having a Russian-sounding name, Akim Tamiroff is actually of Armenian descent. At 19 he decided to pursue acting as a career and was chosen from among 500 applicants to the Moscow Art Theater School. There he studied under the great Konstantin Stanislavski, and launched a stage career...
 
15.
Oskar Homolka
Actor, Sabotage
Because of his heavy generically "European" accent and Slavic-sounding surname (not an uncommon one among Czechs or Slovaks), many people assumed Oscar Homolka was Eastern European or Russian. In fact, he was born in Vienna (then Austria-Hungary), the multicultural capital of a large multi-ethnic empire at the time...
 
16.
Karl Malden
Born to a Czech mother and a Serbian father in Chicago, on March 22, 1912, Karl Malden didn't learn how to communicate a single word of English until he was in kindergarten. Raised in Gary, IN, a medium-sized steel town, Malden--like many other young men in Gary--got a job in a steel factory when he finished school...
 
17.
Peter Lorre
Actor, Casablanca
Peter was born in Rózsahegy, Hungary, to Alois and Elvira Löwenstein. He was educated in elementary and secondary schools in Vienna, Austria. He ran away from home when he was 17 and joined an improvised theater. In 1922, he worked as a bank clerk. Did bits with a company in Breslau, then secured a part in Galsworthy's "Society" in Zurich...
 
18.
Ethel Barrymore
Ethel Barrymore was the second of three children seemingly destined for the actor's life of their parents Maurice and Georgiana. Maurice Barrymore had emigrated from England in 1875, and after graduating from Cambridge in law had shocked his family by becoming an actor. Georgiana Drew of Philadelphia acted in her parents' stage company...
 
19.
Lionel Barrymore
The legendary Lionel Barrymore, one of the great cinema character actors, was the oldest of the three Barrymmore siblings. Along with Ethel Barrymore and John Barrymore, he shares a prominent place in American acting in the first half of the 20th Century. In addition to winning a Best Actor Academy Award (for A Free Soul)...
 
20.
Alec Guinness
Alec Guinness was an English actor. After an early career on the stage, he was featured in several of the Ealing Comedies, including The Ladykillers and Kind Hearts and Coronets in which he played eight different characters. He is also known for his six collaborations with David Lean: Herbert Pocket in Great Expectations (1946)...
 
21.
Peter Cushing
Peter Wilton Cushing was born on May 26, 1913 in Kenley, Surrey, England, to Nellie Maria (King) and George Edward Cushing, a quantity surveyor. He and his older brother David were raised first in Dulwich Village, a south London suburb, and then later back in Surrey. At an early age, Cushing was attracted to acting...
 
22.
Ian Holm
Sir Ian Holm is an Academy Award-nominated British film and stage actor who was a star of the Royal Shakespeare Company, and played more than 100 roles in films and on television. He was born Ian Holm Cuthbert on September 12, 1931, in Goodmayes, Essex, UK, to Scottish parents who worked at the Essex mental asylum...
 
23.
Angela Lansbury
British character actress, long in the United States. The daughter of an actress and the granddaughter of a high-ranking politician, Lansbury studied acting from her youth, departing for the United States as the Second World War began. She was contracted by MGM while still a teenager and nominated for an Academy Award for her first film...
 
24.
Barry Fitzgerald
One of Hollywood's finest character actors and most accomplished scene stealers, Barry Fitzgerald was born William Joseph Shields in 1888 in Dublin, Ireland. Educated to enter the banking business, the diminutive Irishman with the irresistible brogue was bitten by the acting bug in the 1920s and joined Dublin's world-famous Abbey Players...
 
25.
Edmund Gwenn
There are very few character actors from the 1930s, '40s or '50s who rose to the rank of stardom. Only a rare man or woman reached the level of renown and admiration, and had enough audience appeal, to be the first name in a cast's billing, a name that got marquee posting. Charles Coburn comes to mind, but there aren't many others. However, one who made it was Edmund Gwenn...