Saturday, January 12, 2019

Ten Classic Actors from Missouri

Jacqueline of Another Old Movie Blog has come up with a great game for the start of this year. Quite simply, one names any 10 classic actors from his or her state, Canadian province, or country. I am fortunate in being from Missouri in that we have produced a number of great actors over the years, not to mention other creative personnel in film. I have restricted my list to actors actually born in Missouri, although, as I will mention after my list, there are others who lived here for an extended period of time.

Vincent Price: Given how refined and sophisticated he was, one might think the Master of Menace was born in the United Kingdom or Europe, but he was actually born in St. Louis, Missouri. What is more, Vincent Price maintained close ties to Missouri his entire life. Starting around 1960 he would make annual appearances at Northeast Missouri State University, something he did for 30 years. He also taught workshops on both acting and art history at the university. In 1984 Mr. Price founded the Vincent Price Theatrical Performance scholarship at the university, awarded to those who have demonstrated talent in acting. It is little wonder the state of Missouri loves him so, to the point that upon the centenary of his birth (the "Vincentennial", as it was called), the city of St. Louis set aside a day for celebration.

Betty Grable: Dancer, singer, pinup girl, and the highest salaried woman in the United States for the years 1946 and 1947, Betty Grable was born in St. Louis  on December 18 1916.

Ginger Rogers: Ginger Rogers was born in Independence, Missouri and spent much of her childhood in nearby Kansas City, Missouri. Her birthplace, 100 W Moore St., Independence, Missouri, is now The Ginger House, a museum dedicated to the legendary star.

Robert Cummings: Better known these days as Bob Cummings, the movie star and sitcom star was born in Joplin, Missouri. Mr. Cummings has the distinction of being the only star of Kings Row (1942) to have actually been born in Missouri (the fictional town of Kings Row in both the novel and the movie was very thinly based on author Henry Bellamann's hometown of Fulton, Missouri). Like Vincent Price, Bob Cummings also acknowledged his ties to Missouri. On his classic sitcom The Bob Cummings Show (also known as Love That Bob), his character Bob Collins's hometown was Joplin. In 1988 he was an honoured guest at Fulton, Missouri's Kingdom Days festival and even hosted a special screening of King's Row.

Jean Harlow: The original Blonde Bombshell was born in Kansas City, Missouri. She attended Miss Barstow's Finishing School for Girls there, which Bess Truman had also attended.

Virginia Mayo: Not only was Virginia Mayo born in St. Louis, but her family had very deep roots there. In fact, her great-great-great grandfather was Captain James Piggott, who founded East St. Louis, Illinois, in 1797. One of Virginia's aunts operated an acting school in St. Louis, and Virginia Mayo started attending there when she was six. She even began her acting career in St. Louis. One of her first professional acting jobs was at the St. Louis Municipal Opera Theatre (better known now as The Muny). Virginia Mayo is one of my all time favourite actresses, and I am very proud that we share our home state.

Cliff Edwards: Ukulele player, singer, actor, and the voice of Jiminy Cricket, Cliff Edwards was born in Hannibal, Missouri (which is about an hour away from my hometown). Not only was Cliff Edwards the voice of Jiminy Cricket, but he also became a close friend of Walt Disney. While Mr. Disney was not born in Missouri, he grew up in Marceline and started his career in Kansas City. Uncle Walt even paid for Cliff Edwards's grave marker upon his death.

Frank Faylen: A character actor with numerous credits, today Frank Faylen is probably best known as taxi cab driver Ernie Bishop in It's a Wonderful Life (1946) and Dobie's father Herbert T. Gillis on the classic sitcom The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis. Frank Faylen began his career here in Missouri and, what is more, he started rather young. His family lived on a showboat and he appeared with his parents on stage when he was still a baby!

Dabbs Greer: A character actor with a long list of credits, Dabbs Greer was born in Fairview, Missouri and attended Drury University in Springfield, Missouri. Fittingly, he made his film debut as an extra in a movie about another famous Missourian, Jesse James (1938). Although he spent much of his life in California, when he died he was buried in Peace Valley Cemetery in Anderson, Missouri, where he had spent much of his childhood.

Ruth Warrick: Ruth Warrick was born in one of my favourite cities, St. Joseph, Missouri. She had an auspicious film debut, appearing as Charles Foster Kane's first wife in Citizen Kane (1941). Over the years she appeared in other classic films, including The Corsican Brothers (1941) and Journey into Fear (1943). She would be part of the original cast of the soap opera All My Children, on which she starred for 25 years.

As I mentioned earlier, Missouri has produced several individuals on the other side of the camera in addition to actors. Elgin Lessley, the pioneering cameraman who worked with Roscoe Arbuckle and Buster Keaton, was born right here in Randolph County (in Higbee, which is only about twenty minutes away from me). Legendary animators Ub Iwerks and Friz Freleng were born in Kansas City. There have also been more recent actors born here. Jon Hamm, best known as Don Draper on Made Men, is living proof that the handsomest, coolest men were all born in Missouri on March 10. Like Elgin Lessley, character actor Brent Brisoce was also born in Randolph County (Moberly, to be exact). He was one of my acquaintances in my youth, and there was never a nicer guy. One of my favourite actors, Robert Guillaume was born in St. Louis. Of course, there are also several famous people who weren't born in Missouri, but spent their childhoods here, including Agnes Moorehead (who grew up in Carondolet, St. Louis), Walt Disney (who claimed Marceline, Missouri as his hometown and began his animation career in Kansas City), and Steve McQueen (who claimed Slater, Missouri as his hometown). BTW, both Marceline and Slater are about an hour away from my hometown.

Anyway, I hope my fellow bloggers participate in this game, as I am interested to see what actors are from your home state or province!


Jacqueline T. Lynch said...

Great list of favorites, and you can't beat Ginger Rogers and Vincent Price! Thanks for playing the game, Terence.

Caftan Woman said...

Wow! What an eclectic group to point to with pride. Lovely and informative bios as well. Nice.