Featured Character Actors-1930 through 1969

With rare exceptions, these actors rarely found themselves near the top of the cast list, but did play very pivotal(to the plot) roles.


Choose the one you have most enjoyed watching them ply their trade.
Log in to copy items to your own lists.
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.
“ Seldom played a villain. But put his stamp on any role he took and stole most of the scenes he was in with seemingly no effort. ” - horn-5
Sydney Greenstreet
Actor, Casablanca
Sydney Greenstreet's father was a leather merchant with eight children. Sydney left home at age 18 to make his fortune as a Ceylon tea planter, but drought forced him out of business and back to England. He managed a brewery and, to escape boredom, took acting lessons. His stage debut was as a murderer in a 1902 production of "Sherlock Holmes"...
“ Totally in control...even when his best-laid plans failed. And they often did.And managed to make his roles look like they were written for him..even when they weren't. ” - horn-5
James Whitmore
Born on October 1, 1921, in White Plains, New York, gruff veteran character actor James Whitmore earned early and widespread respect with his award-winning dramatic capabilities on Broadway and in films. He would later conquer TV with the same trophy-winning results. The son of James Allen Whitmore and Florence Crane...
“ He was good when he started (even when chewing tobacco)...and got better as he went. ” - horn-5
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...
“ Someway or another, his characters (ranging from good-guy detective to lowest-of-the-low types), always seemed to have an aura of perfume coming from the screen. ” - horn-5
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...
“ Lean and mean and always seemed to be mad because Shakespeare didn't have a writing credit on the film. But he played it like Shakespeare might have written it. ” - horn-5
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...
“ When he showed up the other actors added him to the avoid scenes with dogs and kids... and Barry Fitzgerald. ” - horn-5
Leo G. Carroll
One of the most indispensable of character actors, Leo G. Carroll was already involved in the business of acting as a schoolboy in Gilbert & Sullivan productions. Aged 16, he portrayed an old man in 'Liberty Hall'. In spite of the fact, that he came from a military family, and , perhaps, because of his experience during World War I...
“ So good at what he did, the audience was never sure he was on the side of the angels...or an outright villain, but came away with a fondness for his character no matter what. ” - horn-5
Elisha Cook Jr.
One of the most familiar character actors of the mid-twentieth century, small-statured Elisha Cook Jr. would be a Hollywood immortal if only for his roles in The Maltese Falcon and Shane. He attended St. Albans College and the Chicago Academy of Dramatic Art, and made his stage debut at age fourteen...
“ Feisty and already mad as hell about something when he showed up, rather it be as an inept gunsel in "The Maltese Falcon",and departed the same way, even when playing a good-guy homesteader in "Shane." Jack Palance may have taken him out (in a scene that should have been in the unforgetable scenes) but Cook left no doubt about how how he felt about it. ” - horn-5
“ Sadistic prison warden, a nasty nazi, a Jewish escapee from a concentration cap, a gay convict, a cunning district attorney and everything in-between, and the actor never showed in any of them but the character was always spot on. ” - horn-5
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...
“ Made a living playing stern-but-loving fathers with nary a mean streak in his body...unless he was in a western that called for junk-yard-dog meaness. ” - horn-5
Gene Lockhart
Gene Lockhart was born on July 18, 1891, in London, Ontario, Canada, the son of John Coates Lockhart and Ellen Mary (Delany) Lockhart. His father had studied singing and young Gene displayed an early interest in drama and music. Shortly after the 7-year-old danced a Highland fling in a concert given by the 48th Highlanders' Regimental Band...
“ Always seemed to play a character with some authority and not bashful about using it, but could play it for comedy or drama, however it was written. Oh, that's called acting. Whatever it is called, he was very good at it. ” - horn-5
Burgess Meredith
Actor, Rocky
One of the truly great and gifted performers of the century who often suffered lesser roles, Burgess Meredith was born in Cleveland, Ohio in 1907 and educated in Amherst College in Massachusetts before joining Eva Le Gallienne's stage company in New York City in 1933. He became a favorite of dramatist Maxwell Anderson...
“ He never had to back up to get his check. He gave what he was paid to give...and then some. And gave acting lessons while he was at it. ” - horn-5
William Demarest
Born in St. Paul, Minnesota, William Demarest was a prolific actor in movies and TV, making more than 140 films. Demarest started his acting career in vaudeville and made his way to Broadway. His most famous role was in My Three Sons, replacing a very sick William Frawley. Demarest was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actor in a Supporting role in the real-life biography...
“ Give him a throw-away line... and stand back. Nobody better at facing adversity, taking it as a resigned so-what-else-is-new fact of life...figuring things couldn't get worse and moving onward. But you knew he knew it would. ” - horn-5
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".
“ His name gave away the character type he was playing...but he never played it that way. There was always more than appearance would indicate. ” - horn-5
Walter Huston
For many years Walter Huston had two passions: his career as an engineer and his vocation for the stage. In 1909 he dedicated himself to the theatre, and made his debut on Broadway in 1924. In 1929 he journeyed to Hollywood, where his talent and ability made him one of the most respected actors in the industry. He won a Best Supporting Actor Academy Award for The Treasure of the Sierra Madre.
“ When he came into the scene, the other actors just called for their stand-in and went to lunch; Huston stayed there and ate all the scenery in sight. ” - horn-5
Sam Jaffe
Actor, Ben Casey
Born Shalom Jaffe in New York City, he became known to the world as Sam Jaffe. From a Jewish family as a child he appeared in Yiddish theater productions with his mother, a well-known regional stage actress. He graduated from the City College of New York and then studied engineering at Columbia University graduate school...
“ No one better at quiet heist-planning and quiet debt-collecting. And, also, quietly making extras out of other actors in the scene. ” - horn-5
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...
“ Easily and often (always nearly) underestimated and under-appreciated (which was also nearly always.) Taken for granted because he made it look easy. Check out his bit-part as the Barstow policeman in "Grapes of Wrath." ” - horn-5
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...
“ Won three Oscars, but only one was as good as his Old Man Earp in "My Darling Clementine." Brennan was never accused of under-playing. Some performances might have been better if he pulled it down a tad bit. ” - horn-5
C. Aubrey Smith
Actor, Rebecca
Movie roles are sometimes based upon what the audience expects to see. If the role called for the tall stereotypical Englishmen with the stiff upper lip and stern determination, that man would be C. Aubrey Smith, graduate of Cambridge University, a leading Freemason and a test cricketer for England...
“ From the jungles of Edgar Rice Burroughs through the Kyber Pass and on to the white cliffs of Dover one could feel secure that the sun would never set on the British Empire if Sir C. Aubrey had anything to say about it. Plus, as the unofficial mayor of Hollywood's British colony, one could be sure all the cricket games and polo matches were played by gentleman in a sporting manner. ” - horn-5
William Frawley
William Frawley was born in Burlington, Iowa. As a boy he sang at St. Paul's Catholic Church and played at the Burlington Opera House. His first job was as a stenographer for the Union Pacific Railroad. He did vaudeville with his brother Paul, then joined pianist Franz Rath in an act they took to San Francisco in 1910...
“ If one was looking for a press agent, bookie, hoofer,policeman, fight manager or coach with only a slight touch of larceny and a Brooklyn attitude, hire this vaudeville veteran from Iowa. ” - horn-5
Adolphe Menjou
The words "suave" and "debonair" became synonymous with the name Adolphe Menjou in Hollywood, both on- and off-camera. The epitome of knavish, continental charm and sartorial opulence, Menjou, complete with trademark waxy black mustache, evolved into one of Hollywood's most distinguished of artists and fashion plates...
“ Have wardrobe and cigarette case and fluent in six languages and will travel. Always Pullman and never passenger class, of course. ” - horn-5
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...
“ Made befuddlement mixed with larceny a genre of his own and was always front and center in every annual "More Stars Than There Are in Heaven" picture of MGM's contract players. ” - horn-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...
“ If only a slght touch of prissy was needed for leading man's buddy or the butler that looked down on everybody or a gangster needed an escort for his moll with a guarantee there would be no handky-panky, Horton got the role. ” - horn-5
Alan Hale
Alan Hale decided on a film career after his attempt at becoming an opera singer didn't pan out. He quickly became much in demand as a supporting actor, starred in several films for Cecil B. DeMille and directed others for him. With the advent of sound Hale played leads in a few films, but soon settled down into a career as one of the busiest character actors in the business...
“ The leader of Warner Bros. Irish Mafia and designated First Sidekick. ” - horn-5
Hugh Griffith
Actor, Ben-Hur
Enjoyably larger-than-life character actor Hugh Emrys Griffith was born in Marianglas, Anglesey, North Wales, to Mary (Williams) and William Griffith. Griffith left the world of banking (having been employed as a teller) after winning a scholarship to study acting at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art...
“ The Welshman famous for his bushy beard and eyebrows, who entertained generations with the colourful and eccentric characters he created on screen, from the Arab sheik who supplied Ben-Hur with his racing horses, to the lecherous English squire in Tom Jones, to the art forging French aristocrat in How to Steal a Million. ” - horn-5
Alastair Sim
He came to acting late being 30 when he started acting on the London stage and 35 when he made his film debut. In the late 30's he was inclined towards the sinister with such films as 'The Terror'(38) although he also appeared in the Crazy Gang's 'Alf's Button Afloat' (38) and with Jesse Matthews in 'Climbing High'(39)...
“ The sad-faced Scot who created memorable characters as diverse as Ebenezer Scrooge and Miss Fritton, the headmistress of St. Trinian's, with all kinds of colourful characters inbetween. ” - horn-5
Harry Carey
Harry Carey, the silent film star and later B-movie cowboy and A-list character actor, was--like Clint Eastwood's "Bronco Billy"--a self-made Westerner. Born on January 16, 1878, in Bronx, NY, Henry DeWitt Carey II was the son of a prominent lawyer who was the president of a sewing machine company...
“ From fildom's first gangser--Pig Alley---to filmdon's brightest star in the western sky to filmdom's voice of reason. ” - horn-5
Keye Luke
Actor, Gremlins
Keye Luke was born in Canton, China. He grew up in Seattle, Washington, and entered the film business as a commercial artist and a designer of movie posters. He was hired as a technical advisor on several Asian-themed films, and made his film debut in The Painted Veil. It seemed that he appeared in almost every film that called for Chinese characters...
“ The journey from the detective's son who didn't know a clue from a horseshoe to Hollywood's Face of Aisa was a long and delightful trip for film adiences. ” - horn-5
Eddie 'Rochester' Anderson
The son of a minstrel and circus tightrope walker, Eddie Anderson developed a gravel voice early in life which would become his trademark to fame. He joined his older brother Cornelius as members of "The Three Black Aces" during his vaudeville years, singing for pennies in the hotel lobby. He eventually moved his way up to the Roxy and Apollo theaters in New York...
“ Okay, white man, I'll play your game but I won't shuffle and I'll get the best lines and look smarter than you as I do it. ” - horn-5
S.Z. Sakall
Actor, Casablanca
Hungarian-born S.Z. Sakall was a veteran of German, Hungarian and British films when he left Europe because of the rise of Adolf Hitler and the Nazi movement. In Hollywood from shortly after the outbreak of World War II, Sakall began appearing in comedies and musicals, often playing a lovable if somewhat excitable and/or befuddled uncle...
“ Any list of character actors that doesn't include at least two Hungarians is a wasted list. ” - horn-5
Billy Gilbert
The son of singers in the Metropolitan Opera, Billy Gilbert began performing in vaudeville at age 12. He developed a drawn-out, explosive sneezing routine that became his trademark (he was the model for, and voice of, Sneezy in Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs). Gilbert's exquisite comic timing made him the perfect foil for such comedians as Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy...
“ Always perlexed and puzzled he never failed to answer a question...even if the answer was for a question asked in his previous film. ” - horn-5
Jean Hersholt
Actor, Heidi
If ever there was a Great Dane in Hollywood it was Jean Hersholt - and one of its great hearts as well. He was from a well-known Danish stage and entertainment family that had toured throughout Europe performing with young Jean as an essential cast member. He graduated from the Copenhagen Art School...
“ Hollywood's great Dane that has Oscar's Humanitarian award named for him. ” - horn-5
David Kelly
Born Dublin, Ireland on July 11 1929. Educated at Synge Street Catholic boys school. Started acting aged 8 in the Gaiety theatre Dublin. Playing everything from Beckett to Shakespeare, he has appeared in Theatre, TV and film constantly since 1959. Awards include, Helen Hayes for "Moon for the Misbegotten...
“ ESB lifetime achievement award for work in the Irish theatre. He lived in Dublin, Ireland, where he died on 12 February 2012 at the age of 82. ” - horn-5
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...
“ For well over a decade Thomas Mitchell was one of the few character actors whose name had added-value on the theatre's marquee. ” - horn-5
Edward Arnold
Edward Arnold was born as Gunther Edward Arnold Schneider in 1890, on the Lower East Side of New York City, the son of German immigrants, Elizabeth (Ohse) and Carl Schneider. Arnold began his acting career on the New York stage and became a film actor in 1916. A burly man with a commanding style and superb baritone voice...
“ His high-recognition, box-office value ranked only slightly below that of Walter Brennan and Thomas Mitchell. ” - horn-5