Eugene Pallette, Mischa Auer and Alice Brady in My Man Godfrey
Eugene William Pallette|
July 8, 1889
Winfield, Kansas, U.S.
September 3, 1954 (aged 65)|
Los Angeles, California, U.S.
Phyllis Gordon (1912-before 1920) (divorce) |
Marjorie Cagnacc (1932-1954) (his death)
An overweight man with large stomach and deep, gravelly voice, Pallette is probably best-remembered for comic character roles such as Alexander Bullock, Carole Lombard's father, in My Man Godfrey (1936), his role as Friar Tuck in The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938) starring Errol Flynn and his similar role as Fray Felipe in The Mark of Zorro (1940) starring Tyrone Power.
Early life and careerEdit
He was born in Winfield, Kansas, the son of William Baird Pallette (1858–?) and Elnora "Ella" Jackson (1860–1906). His sister was Beulah L. Pallette (1880–1968).
Pallette began his silent movie career as an extra in about 1911. His first credited appearance was in the one-reel short western/drama The Fugitive (1913), which was directed by Wallace Reid for Flying "A" Studios at Santa Barbara. The star was Edward Coxen.
Quickly advancing to featured status, Pallette appeared in many westerns. He worked with D.W. Griffith on such famous films as The Birth of a Nation (1915) and Intolerance (1916). At this time, he had a slim, athletic figure, a far cry from the portly build that would gain him fame later in his career.
After gaining a substantial amount of weight, Pallette gained status as a recognizable character actor. In 1927, he signed as a regular for Hal Roach Studios and was a reliable comic foil in several early Laurel and Hardy movies. In later years, Pallette's weight may have topped out at 300 pounds (136 kg).
The advent of the talkies proved to be the second major career boost for Pallette. His inimitable rasping gravel voice (described as "half an octave below anyone else in the cast") made him one of Hollywood's most sought-after character actors in the 1930s and 1940s.
The typical Pallette role was the comically exasperated head of the family (as in My Man Godfrey and The Lady Eve), the cynical backroom sharpy (as in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington), or the gruff detective. However, Pallette's best known role may be as Friar Tuck in The Adventures of Robin Hood, and his similar appearance in The Mark of Zorro.
"Pallette could anchor a scene just by walking downstairs. When he enters Preston Sturges's The Lady Eve (1941), trotting down to breakfast singing a merry ballad, he embodies all the small human hopes that screwball comedy exists to shatter.... The mature Pallette character is a creature of provocative contradictions—tough-minded but indulgent, earthy but epicurean, relaxed but excitable. His grit and gravel voice sounds simultaneously tough and comic. Even his corpulence is two-sided. In his best films Pallette made his fatness seem like a sign of moderation and common sense. As Friar Tuck in The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938) or Fray Felipe in The Mark of Zorro (1940), he shows that a fat priest is no heartless zealot but understands the sins of the flesh. Playing a tubby millionaire like the beer baron in The Lady Eve or Alexander Bullock in My Man Godfrey (1936), Pallette uses his girth to create a common touch. Stuffed into a tuxedo that seems perpetually near bursting, he seems more down-to-earth than the stylish high society types who surround him. Even Pallette's villains, like the corrupt and cynical politico Chick McCann in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, are immensely likeable. Pushed too far, Pallette confidently uses his weight for physical force. When Bullock finally evicts the free-loading Carlo (Mischa Auer) in My Man Godfrey, we are not so much surprised as reassured by Pallette's manly strength. In battle his sword-wielding Friar Tuck is a glory to behold. Pallette may have gained weight, but he never lost his underlying virility."Army Wives was another B-picture morale booster for a country at war, showing the sacrifices made by women as they send their husbands off to the frontlines. Cast in the lead was Jeanne Crain, a contract star for Fox who was being groomed for the A-list. Veteran character actor Eugene Pallette played Crain's father. Preminger clashed with Pallette and claimed he was "an admirer of Hitler and convinced that Germany would win the war". Pallete also refused to sit down at the same table with a black actor in a scene set in a kitchen. "You're out of your mind, I won't sit next to a nigger", Pallette hissed at Preminger. Otto furiously informed Zanuck, who fired the actor, whose scenes had already been shot. Army Wives was given a new title, In the Meantime, Darling, and opened in September 1944, with an estimated budget of $450,000. Aside from the incident with Pallette, no other complications arose during the filming; the hurdles would instead come soon after during the shooting of Laura.
In 1946, convinced that there was going to be a "world blow-up" by atom bombs, Pallette received considerable publicity when he set up a "mountain fortress" on a 3,500-acre (14 km2) ranch at La Grande, Oregon, as a hideaway from universal catastrophe. The "fortress" reportedly was stocked with a sizable herd of prize cattle, enormous supplies of food, and had its own canning plant and lumber mill.
When the "blow-up" he anticipated failed to materialize after two years, he began disposing of the Oregon ranch and returned to Los Angeles and his movie colony friends.
Eugene Pallette died at age 65 from cancer at his apartment, 10835 Wilshire Boulevard, in Los Angeles. His wife, Marjorie, and his sister, Beulah Phelps, were at his side. Private funeral services were conducted on Saturday, September 4, 1954, at the Armstong Family Mortuary. His cremated remains are interred in an unmarked grave behind the monument of his parents at Green Lawn Cemetery in Grenola, Kansas. He has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame for his contribution to motion pictures at 6702 Hollywood Boulevard in Hollywood.
- ↑ California Death Index, Name: Eugene William Pallette, Birth Date: 07-08-1889, Mother's Maiden Name: Jackson, Father's Last: Pallette, Sex: Male, Birth Place: Kansas, Death Place: Los Angeles (19), Death Date: 09-03-1954, Age: 65 yrs.
- ↑ "Pioneer Film Actor Eugene Pallette Dies." Los Angeles Times. Sep. 4, 1954. p. A 1.