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Zasu Pitts Poster

Biography

Jump to: Overview (4) | Mini Bio (2) | Spouse (2) | Trivia (27) | Personal Quotes (2)

Overview (4)

Date of Birth 3 January 1894Parsons, Kansas, USA
Date of Death 7 June 1963Hollywood, Los Angeles, California, USA  (cancer)
Birth NameEliza Susan Pitts
Height 5' 6" (1.68 m)

Mini Bio (2)

First a silent-screen heroine, then a daft-headed character actress in US films from the 20s through the 50s.

- IMDb Mini Biography By: Bill Takacs <kinephile@aol.com>

Classic comedienne Zasu Pitts, of the timid, forlorn blue eyes and trademark woebegone vocal pattern and fidgety hands, was born to Rulandus and Nellie (Shay) Pitts, the third of four children on January 3, 1894. Her aged New York-native father, who lost a leg back in the Civil War era, had settled the family in Kansas by the time ZaSu was born but relocated to Santa Cruz, California, when she was 9, seeking a warmer climate and better job opportunities. She attended Santa Cruz High and somehow rose above her excessively shy demeanor to join the school's drama department. She went on to cultivate what was once deemed her negative qualities by making a career out of her unglamorous looks and wallflower tendencies in scores and scores of screwball comedy treasures.

Pitts made her stage debut in 1915 and was discovered two years later by pioneer screenwriter Frances Marion, who got her work, though in small, obscure parts, in vehicles for such Paramount stars as Douglas Fairbanks and Mary Pickford . Mary cast her in another of her films to greater effect and the rest is history. She grew in popularity following a series of Universal one-reeler comedies and earned her first feature-length lead in King Vidor's Better Times (1919). She met and married matinée idol Tom Gallery in 1920 and paired up with him in several films, including Bright Eyes (1921), Heart of Twenty (1920), Patsy (1921) and A Daughter of Luxury (1922). Their daughter Ann was born in 1922. In 1924 the actress, now a reputable comedy farceur, was given the greatest tragic role of her career in 'Erich von Stroheim'''s epic classic Greed (1924), an over-four-hour picture cut down by the studio to less than two. The surprise casting initially shocked Hollywood but showed that she could draw tears and pathos as well as laughs with her patented doleful demeanor. The movie has grown tremendously in reputation over time, although it failed initially at the box office due to its extensive cutting.

Trading off between comedy shorts and features, she earned additional kudos in such heavy dramas as Sins of the Fathers (1928), The Wedding March (1928), also helmed by Von Stroheim, and War Nurse (1930). Still, by the advent of sound, which was an easy transition for Pitts, she was fully secured in comedy. One bitter and huge disappointment for her was when she was replaced in the war classic All Quiet on the Western Front (1930) by Beryl Mercer after her initial appearance drew unintentional laughs from preview audiences. She decided, however, to make the most of a not-so-bad situation. She had them rolling in the aisles in such wonderful and wacky entertainment as The Dummy (1929), Finn and Hattie (1931), The Guardsman (1931), Blondie of the Follies (1932), Sing and Like It (1934) and Ruggles of Red Gap (1935). She also excelled deliciously in her comedy partnerships with stunning blonde comedienne Thelma Todd (in short films) and gangly comedian 'Slim Summerville' (in features).

Breezing through the 1940s in assorted films, she found work in vaudeville and on radio as well, trading quivery banter with 'Bing Crosby', Al Jolson and Rudy Vallee, among others. She also tackled Broadway, making her debut in the mystery "Ramshackle Inn" in 1944. The play, which was written especially for her, fared quite well and, as a result, took the show on the road frequently in later years. Postwar films continued to give Pitts the chance to play comic snoops and flighty relatives in such quality fare as Life with Father (1947), but into the 1950s she started focusing on TV. This culminated in her best known series role, playing second banana to cruise line social director Gale Storm in The Gale Storm Show: Oh! Susanna (1956) [aka "Oh, Susannah"]. As Nugie, the shipboard beautician and partner-in-crime, she made the most of her timid, twitchy mannerisms.

Sadly, ill health dominated Pitts' later years when she was diagnosed with cancer in the mid-1950s. She braved on and continued to work until the very end, making brief appearances in The Thrill of It All (1963) and the all-star comedy epic It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World (1963). Having married a second time after her divorce from Gallery, the beloved sad sack comedienne passed away at age 69 on June 6, 1963, leaving behind a gallery of scene-stealing worrywarts for all to enjoy.

- IMDb Mini Biography By: Gary Brumburgh / gr-home@pacbell.net

Spouse (2)

John E. Woodall (8 October 1933 - 7 June 1963) (her death)
Tom Gallery (23 July 1920 - 2 May 1933) (divorced) (1 child)

Trivia (27)

Named "ZaSu" because her mother's two sisters, Eliza and Susan, both wanted her named after them. Her mother didn't want to disappoint either of them, so she formed the name from the last two letters of Eliza and the first two letters of Susan.
Director Alfred E. Green once said her face "has been on more cutting-room floors than any other actress". She was a famous scene-stealer who often overshadowed the star. Her scenes were usually cut to keep peace on the set.
Her marriage to John Woodall was not revealed to the public until 12 February 1934 when they went on their honeymoon.
The favorite actress of Erich von Stroheim, who called her "the greatest tragedienne of the screen."
When the "Thimble Theatre" comic strip became the "Popeye" animated cartoon series, the producers used ZaSu's hand-wringing and nervous speech pattern to characterize the on-screen persona of "Olive Oyl."
Legally separated from first husband Tom Gallery on 24 November 1926, she didn't file for divorce from him until 14 January 1932. The final decree came 10 weeks later.
Pitts was originally cast to play Lew Ayres' mother in All Quiet on the Western Front (1930). However, preview audiences laughed when they saw her, and her scenes were reshot by actress Beryl Mercer.
Her trademark gesture was seen in all of her fingers aflutter at once.
Her best friend during the Twenties was ill-fated actress Barbara La Marr; the two worked in three films together during 1923. Pitts and her husband Tom Gallery adopted La Marr's son Marvin when she died in 1926. The little boy was renamed Don Gallery.
Interred at Holy Cross Cemetery, Culver City, California, USA, in the 'Grotto' section, Lot 195, Grave 1.
Pictured on one of ten 29¢ US commemorative postage stamps celebrating stars of the silent screen, issued 27 April 1994. Designed by caricaturist Al Hirschfeld, this set of stamps also honored Rudolph Valentino, Clara Bow, Charles Chaplin, Lon Chaney, John Gilbert, Harold Lloyd, Theda Bara, Buster Keaton, and the Keystone Kops.
Her first name is pronounced "Zay-soo"
Was an excellent cook and a collector of candy recipes, which culminated into a cook book entitled "Candy Hits by ZaSu Pitts", which was published posthumously in 1963.
According to "Classic Images" biographer Charles Stumpf, she claimed that Rudolph Valentino taught her to dance while appearing together in the film A Society Sensation (1918).
A close friend from her high school days was actress Lois Neilson (aka Lois Nelson). They shared a Hollywood apartment while both were fledgling actors.
Charles Chaplin took an interest in her around 1917 or 1918 during her first brush with popularity. He actually signed her to a six-month contract but never used her.
The 1930 Census shows her still living with husband, though reportedly legally separated. It also shows them as the adoptive parents of a boy named Don Mike, who is listed as "child actor."
Profiled in book "Funny Ladies" by Stephen Silverman.
Under contract to Hal Roach Studios she made a series of 16 comedy shorts with Thelma Todd in the early 1930's. Unhappy with her contract,like other Roach actors, and with a breakdown in renewal negotiations she was replaced with Patsy Kelly.
She was a registered Republican, and reportedly when Nancy Davis took him to a speech by Pitts, he switched his allegiance from Democrat Helen Gahagan Douglas to Richard Nixon during the 1950 Senatorial race.
In 1958 William Howe and Casey Adams (Max Showalter) wrote "My Square Laddie," a version of "My Fair Lady" with a gender reversed. Miss Pitts, in addition to Reginald Gardner and Nancy Walker, are heard on the musical LP, and could possibly be the only LP album made by the actress.
After initially being rejected by the Sennett, Chaplin, and Christie studios, the determined Pitts was finally was given a successful screen test and work as a stock player at Universal by the LaSalle and Joker unit.
When she met D. W. Griffith, the director rejected her because he said she looked too much like Lillian Gish. Instead of being hurt Pitts said it was the nicest thing anyone had ever said to her.
Zasu's career really got going when she found her way onto the set of "Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm" and was noticed by star Mary Pickford, who put her into the picture as well as her next, "The Little Princess' and in husband Douglas Fairbanks' "A Modern Musketeer.".
Was known for giving speeches as an extreme right-wing Republican and reportedly hearing her speak caused Ronald Reagan to become a Republican.
Worked in radio with Lum and Abner.
Pitts inadvertently began her career as a comedienne when she was selected by her high school graduation class to recite "The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere" as a joke. Her attempts to give it a melodramatic reading were met with laughter from students and staff, who thought she was genuinely funny. Although initially embarrassed, she was coaxed to finish it and found that making others laugh was the key to social acceptance for her. The young girl who was previously made fun of by her peers, found acceptance in making them laugh.

Personal Quotes (2)

[on being fired by D.W. Griffith from The Greatest Thing in Life (1918) and having all her scenes cut out because she looked too much like star Lillian Gish] Of course, I was flattered. But I was out of a job again.
I was what they called a feature player, never a star. They say I was in 500 films, everything but the newsreels.

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