What a Character

Great character actors
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1.
Thomas Mitchell
Thomas Mitchell was one of the great American character actors, whose credits read like a list of the greatest films of the 20th century: Lost Horizon; Stagecoach; The Hunchback of Notre Dame; Mr. Smith Goes to Washington; Gone with the Wind; It's a Wonderful Life and High Noon. His portrayals are so diverse and convincing that most people don't even realize that one actor could have played them all...
 
2.
Henry Travers
British-born Henry Travers was a veteran of the English stage before emigrating to the U.S. in 1917. He gained more stage experience there on Broadway working with the Theatre Guild, and began his long film career with Reunion in Vienna. Travers' kindly, grandfatherly demeanor became familiar to filmgoers over the next 25 years...
 
3.
Harry Davenport
Character fame on film came quite late for long-time stage actor Harry Davenport at age 70, but he made up for lost time in very quick fashion with well over a hundred film roles registered from the advent of sound to the time of his death in 1949. Beloved for his twinkle-eyed avuncular and/or grandfatherly types in both comedy and drama...
 
4.
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...
 
5.
Edward Everett Horton
It seemed like Edward Everett Horton appeared in just about every Hollywood comedy made in the 1930s. He was always the perfect counterpart to the great gentlemen and protagonists of the films. Horton was born in Brooklyn, New York City, to Isabella S. (Diack) and Edward Everett Horton, a compositor for the NY Times...
 
6.
Mary Wickes
Actress, Sister Act
From the grand old school of wisecracking, loud and lanky Mary Wickes had few peers while forging a career as a salty scene-stealer. Her abrupt, tell-it-like-it-is demeanor made her a consistent audience favorite on every medium for over six decades. She was particularly adroit in film parts that chided the super rich or exceptionally pious...
 
7.
Victor McLaglen
Rambunctious British leading man (contrary to popular belief, he was of Scottish ancestry, not Irish) and later character actor primarily in American films, Victor McLaglen was a vital presence in a number of great motion pictures, especially those of director John Ford. McLaglen (pronounced Muh-clog-len...
 
8.
Charles Coburn
A cigar-smoking, monocled, swag-bellied character actor known for his Old South manners and charm. In 1918 he and his first wife formed the Coburn Players and appeared on Broadway in many plays. With her death in 1937, he accepted a Hollywood contract and began making films at the age of sixty.
 
9.
Frank Morgan
Jovial, somewhat flamboyant Frank Morgan (born Francis Wuppermann) will forever be remembered as the title character in The Wizard of Oz, but he was a veteran and respected actor long before he played that part, and turned in outstanding performances both before and after that film. One of 11 children of a wealthy manufacturer...
 
10.
John Qualen
Actor, Casablanca
One of the best and most familiar character actors of the first four decades of sound films, although few who knew his face also knew his name. John Qualen was born in Canada to Norwegian parents. His father was a minister. The family moved to the United States and Qualen (whose real name was Kvalen) grew up in Elgin...
 
11.
Donald Meek
Actor, Stagecoach
On British and Australian stage before coming to the USA in 1912, he played more than 800 roles, starting with Sir Henry Irving at age 8. He first appeared in the US at Castle Square Theatre, Boston, in 1912, and made his New York debut in 1917 in "Going Up".
 
12.
Spring Byington
The possessor of one of Hollywood's gentlest faces and warmest voices, and about as sweet as Tupelo honey both on-and-off camera, character actress Spring Byington was seldom called upon to play callous or unsympathetic (she did once play a half-crazed housekeeper in Dragonwyck). Although playing the part of Mrs...
 
13.
Louise Beavers
Actress, Beulah
1930s and 1940s film actress Louise Beavers was merely one of a dominant gallery of plus-sized and plus-talented African-American character actresses forced to endure blatant, discouraging and demeaning stereotypes during Depression-era and WWII Hollywood. It wasn't until Louise's triumphant role in...
 
14.
Charles Ruggles
Charles Ruggles had one of the longest careers in Hollywood, lasting more than 50 years and encompassing more than 100 films. He made his film debut in 1914 in The Patchwork Girl of Oz and worked steadily after that. He was memorably paired with Mary Boland in a series of comedies in the early 1930s, and was one of the standouts in the all-star comedy If I Had a Million...
 
15.
John Carradine
John Carradine, the son of a reporter/artist and a surgeon, grew up in Poughkeepsie, New York. He attended Christ Church School and Graphic Art School, studying sculpture, and afterward roamed the South selling sketches. He made his acting debut in "Camille" in a New Orleans theatre in 1925. Arriving in Los Angeles in 1927...
 
16.
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...
 
17.
Ward Bond
Gruff, burly American character actor. Born in 1903 in Benkelman, Nebraska (confirmed by Social Security records; sources stating 1905 or Denver, Colorado are in error.) Bond grew up in Denver, the son of a lumberyard worker. He attended the University of Southern California, where he got work as an...
 
18.
Mildred Natwick
A disarming character lady quite capable of scene-stealing, Mildred Natwick was a well-rounded talent with distinctively dowdy features and idiosyncratic tendencies who, over a six-decade period, assembled together a number of unforgettable matrons on stage and (eventually) film and TV. Whimsical, feisty...
 
19.
Arthur Shields
Though not as well known as his nearly decade-older brother Barry Fitzgerald, Shields was a talented actor with well over twice the film roles in his career. Fitzgerald was already a well established player at the renowned Dublin Abbey Theater when Shields, also bitten by the acting bug, joined in 1914...
 
20.
Donald Crisp
Donald Crisp was born George William Crisp at the family home in Bow, London. Donald's parents were James Crisp and Elizabeth Crisp, his birth was registered by his mother on 4th September 1882. Donald's sisters were Elizabeth, Ann, Alice (known as Louisa) and Eliza and his brothers were James, John and Mark...
 
21.
Beulah Bondi
Character actress Beulah Bondi was a favorite of directors and audiences and is one of the reasons so many films from the 1930s and 1940s remain so enjoyable, as she was an integral part of many of the ensemble casts (a hallmark of the studio system) of major and/or great films, including The Trail of the Lonesome Pine...
 
22.
James Gleason
James Gleason was born in New York City to William Gleason and Mina Crolius, who were both in the theatre. He was married to Lucile Gleason (born Lucile Webster), and had a son, Russell Gleason. As a young man James fought in the Spanish-American War. After the war he joined the stock company at the Liberty Theater in Oakland...
 
23.
Monty Woolley
Large and hearty Monty Woolley was born to privilege on August 17, 1888, the son of a hotel proprietor who owned the Marie Antoinette Hotel on Broadway. A part of Manhattan's elite social circle at a young age, he studied at both Yale (Master's degree) and Harvard and returned to Yale as an English instructor and coach of graduate dramatics...
 
24.
Gladys Cooper
Actress, My Fair Lady
Gladys Cooper was the daughter of journalist William Frederick Cooper and his wife Mabel Barnett. As a child she was very striking and was used as a photographic model beginning at six years old. She wanted to become an actress and started on that road in 1905 after being discovered by Seymour Hicks to tour with his company in "Bluebell in Fairyland"...
 
25.
Margaret Rutherford
One is always at pains to locate a reference to Margaret Rutherford which does not characterize her as either jut-chinned, eccentric or both. But such, taken together, made for the charm of the woman. The combination of those most mundane of attributes has led some to suggest that she was made for the role of Agatha Christie's indomitable sleuth...