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John Qualen Poster

Biography

Jump to: Overview (4) | Mini Bio (1) | Spouse (1) | Trade Mark (3) | Trivia (7)

Overview (4)

Born in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada
Died in Torrance, California, USA  (heart failure)
Birth NameJohan Mandt Kvalen
Height 5' 7" (1.7 m)

Mini Bio (1)

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, Illinois. He won an oratory contest and was given a scholarship to Northwestern University. His interest in acting was piqued there, and he began appearing in tent shows on the Lyceum-Chautauqua circuit, and in stock. He went to New York in 1929 and got his big break as the Swedish janitor in Elmer Rice's Street Scene. He repeated the role two years later in the film version. That same year he first worked for director John Ford in Arrowsmith (1931). He became a member of Ford's famed "stock company, and had prominent roles for Ford for the next thirty-five years. He became a most familiar character player, specializing in Scandinavians of various nationalities, but frequently playing a wide variety of other ethnicities. Perhaps his greatest work among many memorable roles was as the pitiful Muley, who recounts the destruction of his farm by the bank in Ford's masterpiece, The Grapes of Wrath (1940). Although plagued in his later years by failing eyesight, he continued to work steadily into his final years. He was treasurer of The Authors Club and historian of The Masquers, Hollywood's famed social group for actors. He had three children, Elizabeth, Kathleen, and Meredith. Qualen died in 1987.

- IMDb Mini Biography By: Jim Beaver <jumblejim@prodigy.net>

Spouse (1)

Pearle Larson (1924 - 12 September 1987) (his death) (3 children)

Trade Mark (3)

Exaggerated Scandinavian accent (although he himself was born and raised in Canada)
Small, slight frame
Bumbling comic relief characters

Trivia (7)

Though some reference works list his birth name as Oleson or Olson, in actuality Qualen's grandfather changed the family name from Olson to Kvalen long before Qualen's birth. Qualen's father subsequently changed the name from Kvalen to Qualen, after Qualen's birth. Originally pronounced identically to the previous spelling ("Kvah-len"), John Qualen himself changed the pronunciation to "Kway-len."
Of Norwegian parentage.
In 1930, although working in New York, his home base was at 328 Sidney Street West, St. Paul, Minnesota.
He is often erroneously credited with the bit role of the bull owner in the Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy film The Devil's Brother (1933). However, it is clearly not him nor is it his voice.
Was a talented musician playing piano, flute and saxophone in travelling concert parties. He became involved in acting while touring in Canada.
Teamed with Paul Fix 5 times. They started in "Road to Glory (1936)" and finished in 1973 in "The Streets of San Francisco: Winterkill." In between, they made featured appearances in 3 John Wayne movies: "The High and the Mighty" (1954), "The Sea Chase" (1955) and "The Sons of Katie Elder" (1965).

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