Featured Character Actors-1930 through 1969

by horn-5 | created - 23 Feb 2014 | updated - 17 Mar 2014 | Public

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.

1. Charles Coburn

Actor | The More the Merrier

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.

2. Sydney Greenstreet

Actor | The Maltese Falcon

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 ...

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.

3. James Whitmore

Actor | The Shawshank Redemption

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 ...

He was good when he started (even when chewing tobacco)...and got better as he went.

4. Peter Lorre

Actor | Casablanca

Peter Lorre was born Laszlo Lowenstein on Roszahegy, Hungary. He was educated in elementary and secondary schools in Vienna, Austria. As a youth, he ran away from home, worked as a bank clerk and, after stage training in Vienna, made his acting debut in Zurich. He remained unknown, traveling for ...

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.

5. John Carradine

Actor | Stagecoach

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. ...

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.

6. Barry Fitzgerald

Actor | The Quiet Man

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 ...

When he showed up the other actors added him to the avoid scenes with dogs and kids... and Barry Fitzgerald.

7. Leo G. Carroll

Actor | North by Northwest

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...

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.

8. Elisha Cook Jr.

Actor | Rosemary's Baby

Although this pint-sized actor started out in films often in innocuous college-student roles in mid-30s rah-rahs, playing alongside the likes of a pretty Gloria Stuart or a young, pre-"Oz" Judy Garland, casting directors would soon enough discover his flair for portraying intense neurotics or ...

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.

9. Hume Cronyn

Actor | Cocoon

Hume Cronyn was born on July 18, 1911 in London, Ontario, Canada as Hume Blake Cronyn Jr. He was an actor and producer, known for Cocoon (1985), *batteries not included (1987) and Shadow of a Doubt (1943). He was married to Susan Cooper, Jessica Tandy and Emily Woodruff. He died on June 15, 2003 in...

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.

10. Donald Crisp

Actor | How Green Was My Valley

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, ...

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.

11. Gene Lockhart

Actor | His Girl Friday

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 ...

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.

12. Burgess Meredith

Actor | Clash of the Titans

One of the truly great and gifted performers of the century, who often suffered lesser roles, Burgess Meredith was born in 1907 in Cleveland, Ohio. He was educated in Amherst College in Massachusetts, before joining Eva Le Gallienne's stage company, Civic Repertory Company, in New York City in 1933...

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.

13. William Demarest

Actor | It's a Mad Mad Mad Mad World

A stocky, serious-looking character, Carl William Demarest started off in vaudeville in 1905 along with two older brothers. At one time he also performed in a stage act with his wife Estelle Collette (billed as 'Demarest and Collette') and then moved on to Broadway. He entered movies in 1926 and ...

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.

14. Donald Meek

Actor | Stagecoach

One Hollywood stalwart whose screen incarnations more than lived up to his name was bald-domed character actor Donald Meek, forever typecast as mousy, timorous or browbeaten Casper Milquetoasts. He stood at 5 ft. 6 in. in his boots and weighed a mere 81 pounds. However, the little Glaswegian's ...

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.

15. Walter Huston

Actor | The Treasure of the Sierra Madre

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 ...

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.

16. Sam Jaffe

Actor | The Day the Earth Stood Still

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 ...

No one better at quiet heist-planning and quiet debt-collecting. And, also, quietly making extras out of other actors in the scene.

17. Ward Bond

Actor | The Quiet Man

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 ...

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."

18. Walter Brennan

Actor | Red River

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 ...

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.

19. 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.

20. William Frawley

Actor | I Love Lucy

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 ...

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.

21. Adolphe Menjou

Actor | Paths of Glory

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...

Have wardrobe and cigarette case and fluent in six languages and will travel. Always Pullman and never passenger class, of course.

22. Frank Morgan

Actor | The Wizard of Oz

Jovial, somewhat flamboyant Frank Morgan (born Francis Wuppermann) will forever be remembered as the title character in The Wizard of Oz (1939), 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 ...

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.

23. Edward Everett Horton

Actor | Arsenic and Old Lace

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 ...

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.

24. Alan Hale

Actor | The Adventures of Robin Hood

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 ...

The leader of Warner Bros. Irish Mafia and designated First Sidekick.

25. 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 ...

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.

26. Alastair Sim

Actor | Scrooge

The son of Alexander Sim JP and Isabella McIntyre, Alastair Sim was educated in Edinburgh. Always interested in language (especially the spoken word) he became the Fulton Lecturer in Elocution at New College, Edinburgh University from 1925 until 1930. He was invited back and became the Rector of ...

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.

27. Harry Carey

Actor | Mr. Smith Goes to Washington

Born in New York City to a Judge of Special Sessions who was also president of a sewing machine company. Grew up on City Island, New York. Attended Hamilton Military Academy and turned down an appointment to West Point to attend New York Law School, where his law school classmates included future ...

From fildom's first gangser--Pig Alley---to filmdon's brightest star in the western sky to filmdom's voice of reason.

28. Keye Luke

Actor | Charlie Chan at Monte Carlo

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 (1934). It seemed that he ...

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.

29. Eddie 'Rochester' Anderson

Actor | It's a Mad Mad Mad Mad World

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 ...

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.

30. 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 ...

Any list of character actors that doesn't include at least two Hungarians is a wasted list.

31. Billy Gilbert

Actor | His Girl Friday

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 (1937)). Gilbert's exquisite comic ...

Always perlexed and puzzled he never failed to answer a question...even if the answer was for a question asked in his previous film.

32. Jean Hersholt

Actor | Greed

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 ...

Hollywood's great Dane that has Oscar's Humanitarian award named for him.

33. David Kelly

Actor | Charlie and the Chocolate Factory

Born Dublin, Ireland on July 11 1929. Educated at Synge Street Catholic boys school. Started acting aged 8 in the Gaiety Theatre in Dublin. Playing everything from Beckett to Shakespeare, he has appeared in theatre, TV and film constantly since 1959. Awards include: Helen Hayes Award, Outstanding ...

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.

34. Thomas Mitchell

Actor | Stagecoach

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 (1937); Stagecoach (1939); The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1939); Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939); Gone with the Wind (1939); It's a Wonderful Life...

For well over a decade Thomas Mitchell was one of the few character actors whose name had added-value on the theatre's marquee.

35. Edward Arnold

Actor | Mr. Smith Goes to Washington

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 ...

His high-recognition, box-office value ranked only slightly below that of Walter Brennan and Thomas Mitchell.

Recently Viewed