Percy Kilbride

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Percy Kilbride

Postby helloagain » Fri Jun 12, 2009 6:41 pm

I've been listning to some Benny programs from 1942 and was delighted to hear Percy Kilbride doing a few cameos. They were small parts, like a security guard or a messenger, but oh so funny. He played the caretaker in 'George Washington Slept Here', and of course Pa Kettle, but I don't know why they didn't use him more on the radio show. Maybe because in a later program Dennis did an imitation of him that was even funnier!
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"Yes, Phil. He's the only comedian who tells 'em and smells 'em at the same time!"
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Postby shimp scrampi » Sun Jun 14, 2009 10:57 am

Jack's got a great story in SUNDAY NIGHTS AT SEVEN about Percy Kilbride, about how he advocated on his behalf to Jack Warner to get him into GEORGE WASHINGTON SLEPT HERE. Apparently Kilbride would just totally break Jack down into hysterics every time he had to do a screen test or scene with him. Jack claims he had to not sleep the night before doing scenes with him so he'd be too exhausted to laugh.

He says he considered making Kilbride a permanent part of the radio cast, but that radio made Kilbride "nervous".
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Postby helloagain » Sun Jun 14, 2009 1:31 pm

Thanks for the input. I've got to get a copy of that book. That's a shame about Kilbride. He sure was hilarious. I can imagine Jack falling on the floor laughing. I love that scene in the movie where he unexpectedly breaks into a chorus of 'I'll never smile again'. Too much.
"Hey, Jackson, does Fred Allen always talk through his nose?"

"Yes, Phil. He's the only comedian who tells 'em and smells 'em at the same time!"
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Postby helloagain » Mon Jul 20, 2009 11:03 am

I have been trying to learn more about Percy Kilbride, without much success. His online biographies don't give much personal info. I'd like to know if he was married, did he have children, etc. Does anyone know more about this very funny man?
"Hey, Jackson, does Fred Allen always talk through his nose?"

"Yes, Phil. He's the only comedian who tells 'em and smells 'em at the same time!"
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Postby Yhtapmys » Tue Jul 21, 2009 1:28 am

helloagain wrote: His online biographies don't give much personal info.


Funny, neither does mine. :)

Here's a column from Monday, Dec. 14, 1964

Fame of Being Film Star Bothered Percy Kilbride
By BOB THOMAS
AP Movie-TV Writer

HOLLYWOOD (AP) — He wanted nothing more than to be left alone.
Percy Kilbride was a puzzle to the Hollywood crowd. He had been an actor most of his life, starting in his native San Francisco before the earthquake. He had played hundreds of roles in stock companies all over the West, getting stranded in some of the lesser towns.
He finally made it to Broadway, and became a standard character man. His wry, nasal voice, his wide-eyed comic manner and his spare frame became familiar in a succession of comedies. He was content in the semi-anonymity of his acting career.
Then came the movies.
He was generally cast as a taxi driver—he didn't drive—or a farmer—he had always been a city fellow. His most noted casting, and the one that ended his career, was a Pa Kettle. A life long batchelor, he had to play the rural patriarch of a dozen kids.
The Kettle series made him famous, and he hated it. he had always lived near Hollywood Blvd., and he enjoyed taking long walks. Now he couldn't proceed a block without being stopped by an autograpj-seeking tourist.
The series finally became intolerable for him. He was required to perform violent stunts which his frail frame could not endure. And after playing a variety of characters during his career, he found no pleasure in portraying Pa Kettle in film after film.
Despite the blandishments of more money and better working conditions at Universal, Kilbride quit. For eight years he lived quietly in Hollywood, meeting cronies occasionally, but mostly occupying himself with his solitary walks.
He submitted reluctantly to an occasional interview. The last one was a few months ago, when he met me for lunch. He talked vaguely of doing another play or movie, but there wasn't much conviction in his voice.
Only once during the lunch did Percy abandon his casual attitude. That was when he discussed the traffic that an inveterate walker like himself has to face. He spoke with real fear when he mentioned being struck down by a car a few years earlier.
He left me to continue his jaunty stroll down the boulevard. On Sept. 21 he and another actor were hit by a car as they crossed a Hollywood intersection. The other man died. Percy survived until last Friday. He was 76.


Illness Is Fatal To "Pa Kettle"
HOLLYWOOD, Dec. 11 (UPI)—Percy Kilbride, who rose to film fame in the "Ma and Pa Kettle" series with Marjorie Main died early today at the age of 76.
A doctor said Kilbride died from arteriosclerosis and terminal pneumonia in Chase Sanitarium, where he has taken following brain surgery Nov. 11 in Good Samaritan Hospital for a head injury suffered last Sept. 21.
The actor and a friend, Ralf Belmont, 52, were struck by a car while crossing a Hollywood street. Belmont, a retired actor, was killed at the time.
The Kettle series of more than a half-dozen pictures earned Universal-International studios $10 million and was believed to have pulled it out of the red when it was at a low point in the late 1940s and early 1950s.
In 1953, the studio practically had to beg Kilbride to finish the seventh and last of the series, "Ma and Pa Kettle Hit the Road" because he had tired of playing Pa Kettle with the moth-eaten sweater and pants held up by a rope belt.
Kilbride was born in San Francisco July 16, 1888, to machinery installer Owen Kilbride and the former Mary Kelly.
A bachelor, Kilbride could boast that he played more than 800 different roles during his lengthy career.


Percy Kilbride, Pa Kettle Of Movies, Dies
LOS ANGELES, Dec. 11 (AP) — Actor Percy Kilbride, 76, the Pa Kettle of the movies, died early today at Chase Sanitarium.
He was injured in an auto accident Sept. 21 and underwent brain surgery at Good Samaritan Hospital in Hollywood Nov. 11.
Dr. Barkley Noble said Kilbride died at 12:45 a.m. of hardening of the arteries in the brain and terminal pneumonia. The doctor said he notified Kilbride's sister, Mrs. John L. Crowley of Los Angeles Thursday that her brother was failing fast.
Fame came in his later years to the hawk-nosed comedian with the sing-song voice.
He appeared in 800 stage roles, then made his movie debut in 1942. His roles were minor until he and Marjorie Main played a farm couple in "The Egg and I" in 1947.
The characters were lifted from the film and became the basis of the "Ma and Pa Kettle" series. They were immensely popular at the box office, and Kilbride and Miss Main were boosted from character roles to starring parts.
Kilbride was 61 when the series began. The Kettle films made a fortune for the studio, but Kilbride never struck it rich. Work was brief, taxes took too much and he was type-cast as the back-country farmer.
He retired at 65, lived largely on Social Security, and spent much time walking Hollywood Boulevard. A batchelor, he lived alone in a modest apartment.
On Sept. 17, he and an actor friend, Frank Belmont, 73, were hit by a car as they were crossing a Hollywood intersection. Belmont was killed. At first it was thought Kilbride escaped with minor head injuries.
But Nov. 11 he was taken to Good Samaritan Hospital in Los Angeles for brain surgery. Later he was transferred to the sanitarium for recuperation.
Kilbride was born in San Francisco and his first job, at 12, was a call boy for the Central Theater.
He played in West Coast stock companies until he moved to New York, appearing in stock companies in Boston, Philadelphia, Trenton, Syracuse, and Albany. He started as a comedian, and shifted later to charater roles.
He made his biggest Broadway hit as a garrulous caretaker in "George Washington Slept Here" in 1940.
When Warner Bros, bought the play they brought Kilbride west to play the role. Between his 1942 debut and his retirement he was in 36 films.
Usually he played a farmer or a taxi driver — despite the fact he had never lived on a farm and didn't know how to drive. Other roles vanished after "The Egg and I" turned him into the man people used to greet on Hollywood Boulevard with, "Hi, Mr. Kettle."
He once explained his finances:
"I get only 3-10ths of my salary after I pay taxes, and another 10th goes to my agent. That leaves me 2-10ths to live on."
The Kettle series were low-budget jobs made in three weeks, after which he went off salary.
Kilbride quit after seven of the films, and two more were made with other actors subbing for him. They weren't successful. Kilbride had offers to do the role on television, but he refused to play Pa Kettle again.
"There's no kick to doing him over and over again," he said.


transcribed by Yhtapmys
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Postby helloagain » Tue Jul 21, 2009 4:42 am

Thank you so much for this information! It was greatly appreciated! :D
"Hey, Jackson, does Fred Allen always talk through his nose?"

"Yes, Phil. He's the only comedian who tells 'em and smells 'em at the same time!"
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Postby helloagain » Tue Jul 21, 2009 6:08 am

It's a shame that Mr. Kilbride was so dissatisfied with his career. Such a waste. I think he made a big mistake by declining a regular role on the Benny Show. That, I'm sure, would have given him some financial security. I wonder why radio made him nervous? Sounds to me like easy work for an actor; with no lines to memorize. And since he had worked on the stage, a live audience shouldn't have bothered him. The role he created as Pa Kettle was almost as unique as Jack Benny's character. Imagine raising 15 kids without ever working. He even sent one to college! Funny man. I think I'll go watch 'George Washington Slept Here' again.
"Hey, Jackson, does Fred Allen always talk through his nose?"

"Yes, Phil. He's the only comedian who tells 'em and smells 'em at the same time!"
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Postby Yhtapmys » Wed Jul 22, 2009 2:23 am

helloagain wrote:It's a shame that Mr. Kilbride was so dissatisfied with his career. Such a waste.


On one hand, H., I can understand an actor becoming increasingly unhappy with being equated with his character. Kilbride isn't the only actor who has suffered that fate. But I'll never understand why someone would choose an acting career when the only thing he seemed to crave was complete and utter solitude. He never seemed to be happy.

The NY Times did a lengthy Sunday feature piece on him in 1940 regarding his stage role in 'George Washington Slept Here.' Sidney Shalett started it with:

IN the general excitement of unveiling the new George S. Kaufman-Moss Hart play, "George Washington Slept Here," not nearly enough theatrical hullabaloo was made over a rather important fact connected therewith. Percy Kilbride, the "actor's actor," was ending his virtual sit-down strike against the theatre, and was returning to the Broadway boards.

I don't have a subscription to the Times archives and the hard copies at the local library only go back so far. But here's part of a piece dated Jan. 13, 1935, probably long before any national fame. The end part is garbled and I've had to guess elsewhere at some of the bits of garble and dropped words. So this transcription isn't exact. And I have no idea what the relevance of the headline is to Kilbride because I can't read the last bit. But what I can post may add a bit of biographical data.

LOCHINVAR KILBRIDE
“REHEARSAL called off on account of earthquake and fire!” Percy Kilbride then and there decided that fate didn't want him to be an actor. Call boy and “bit” player at the Central Theatre at the age of 15, he resented these untimely fulminations of nature and resented the company manager calling off a rehearsal for “Just another earthquake.”
But this was in the year 1906 and Kilbride couldn’t shrug off the company manager’s excuse for calling off the rehearsal. The Central Theatre had all but burned down and it would be in the worst possible taste to go on with a rehearsal for “Ticket of Leave Man” when San Francisco was in flames.
So Kilbride moved to Oakland, not so far away, which hadn’t been honored by the visit of either earthquake or fire, and joined a touring repertory company. That was not quite thirty years ago, but it took every one of those years before the local theatre decided to “discover” his talents as an actor.
For he had been around. He had been around for many years in stock, with road companies, with repertory companies, in the movies and on Broadway. Playing in the West, he gained his first real experience in stock in such plays as “At Risk of His Life,” “Study in Scarlet” and “The Light That Failed,” the latter usually being reserved for the finer sensibilities of a sophisticated Friday night audience.
Seattle, Portland, Salt Lake City . . . he became a familiar and favorite [missing word] in these cities. True, there was hardly a town with a theatre, a house or a large barn or tent that didn’t. In fact, he figures he has played more than 800 different characters in more than 700 different plays. When he would find himself with a few weeks and a few dollars to himself he would dash off to New York to the offices of the casting managers. His mild manner was not enough for these ogres and invariably he would return to stock. After a time it got so that Kilbride would come to New York and just walk around Broadway without visiting any of the managers. Then he would return again to his road or repertory company.
A brief interruption in his theatrical roamings came in 1917 when Kilbride found himself playing another kind of role—that of a Private in the Eightieth Division. But if a major earthquake couldn’t finish him off, what chance had a great war?
Kilbride returned too.
In 1928 he got his first break on Broadway in a play called “The Buzzard” which Kilbride remembers because Bill Tilden played in it. A flock of “duds” followed and when Kilbride was cast in a fairly important part in “Those We Love.” For a while he thought he was “in.” The play had a bit of a run but another series of “quickies” lost him his toe hold on Broadway. “Lily Turner,” “The Great Magoo”—indiscretion followed indiscretion.
Kilbride, a finished comedian by this time, somehow managed to avoid the good ones until “Post Road” came along. Even now he is still skeptical of Broadway. He wonders maybe whether an earthquake, a particularly selective earthquake, might not come along and open up a [rest of the article missing]


Just another Jack connection: Kilbride appeared with Sheldon Leonard in the Los Angeles cast of 'Three Men on a Horse' in 1935 (Kilbride left the cast of 'Post Road' while it was still on Broadway. I don't know why; he seems to have walked away from productions several times in the '30s).

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Postby helloagain » Wed Jul 22, 2009 10:56 am

Thanks again, Yhtapmys, for this additional information on this obscure little man. I guess Kilbride was his own worst enemy. He probably would have been content as a night watchman. This illustrates that it takes more than talent to have a career. I grew up with a guy who was one of the most naturally funny people I ever saw, and everyone encouraged him to be a performer. Not only was he not interested in show business, but he chose a military career. Go figure.
"Hey, Jackson, does Fred Allen always talk through his nose?"

"Yes, Phil. He's the only comedian who tells 'em and smells 'em at the same time!"
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Postby epeterd » Wed Jul 22, 2009 11:42 am

weird that upi says ralf belmont was in his 50s and ap says that frank belmont was 73. don't they know who the guy was who got hit by the car?
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Postby scottp » Tue Jul 28, 2009 1:59 am

My mother saw Percy Kilbride in 1945, on a bus or a streetcar. Somewhere around Hollywood and Franklin. She says his look was unmistakeable, even without hearing his voice.
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Postby helloagain » Tue Jul 28, 2009 6:54 am

He was an original, alright. With his gaunt appearance, he could have had a role in 'The Grapes of Wrath'.
"Hey, Jackson, does Fred Allen always talk through his nose?"

"Yes, Phil. He's the only comedian who tells 'em and smells 'em at the same time!"
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