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Calhern, Louis

CALHERN, Louis



Nationality: American. Born: Carl Henry Vogt in New York City, 19 (or 16) February 1895. Family: Married 1) the actress and writer Ilka Chase, 1926 (divorced 1926); 2) Julia Hoyt, 1927 (divorced 1932); 3) Natalie Schafer, 1933 (divorced); 4) Marianne Stewart, 1946 (divorced). Career: Late 1910s-early 1920s—worked on Broadway stage; 1921—film debut in The Blot; followed by romantic leading man roles in silent films; 1931—talking film debut in Stolen Heaven; 1938—on stage in Golden Boy in London; later stage roles include Life with Father, 1942, The Magnificent Yankee (and film version), and King Lear, 1950; after 1949—worked exclusively for MGM, mainly in supporting roles. Died: In Tokyo, Japan, 12 May 1956.


Films as Actor:

1921

The Blot (Weber) (as Phil West); Too Wise Wives (Weber); What's Worth While? (Weber)

1922

Woman, Wake Up! (Harrison)

1923

The Last Moment (Read)

1931

Blonde Crazy (Larceny Lane) (Del Ruth) (as Dapper Dan Barker); Stolen Heaven (Abbott) (as Steve Perry); The Road to Singapore (Alfred E. Green) (as Dr. George March)

1932

Okay America (Penalty of Fame) (Garnett) (as Mileaway Rosso); They Call It Sin (Freeland) (as Ford Humphries); Night after Night (Mayo) (as Dick Bolton); Afraid to Talk (Cahn) (as Wade)

1933

20,000 Years in Sing Sing (Curtiz) (as Joe Finn); The Woman Accused (Sloane) (as Leo Young); Duck Soup (McCarey) (as Ambassador Trentino); Frisco Jenny (Wellman) (as Steve Dutton); Strictly Personal (Murphy) (as Magruder); The World Gone Mad (The Public Be Hanged) (Cabanne) (as Christopher Bruno); Diplomaniacs (Seiter) (as Winklereid)

1934

The Count of Monte Cristo (Rowland V. Lee) (as Raymond de Villefort Jr.); The Affairs of Cellini (La Cava) (as Ottaviano); The Man with Two Faces (Mayo) (as Stanley Vance)

1935

The Arizonian (Charles Vidor) (as Jake Mannen); The Last Days of Pompeii (Cooper) (as prefect); Sweet Adeline (LeRoy) (as Maj. Jim Day); Woman Wanted (Seitz) (as Smiley)

1936

The Gorgeous Hussy (Brown) (as Sunderland)

1937

The Life of Emile Zola (Dieterle) (as Maj. Dort); Her Husband Lies (Ludwig) (as Sordoni)

1938

Fast Company (The Rare Book Murder) (Buzzell) (as Elias Z. Bannerman)

1939

Juarez (Dieterle) (as LeMarc); Fifth Avenue Girl (La Cava) (as Dr. Kessler); Charlie McCarthy, Detective (Tuttle) (as Arthur Aldrich); The Story of Dr. Ehrlich's Magic Bullet (Dr. Ehrlich's Magic Bullet) (Dieterle) (as Dr. Brockdorf); I Take This Woman (Van Dyke) (as Dr. Duveen)

1943

Heaven Can Wait (Lubitsch) (as Randolph Van Cleve); Nobody's Darling (Anthony Mann)

1944

The Bridge of San Luis Rey (Rowland V. Lee) (as viceroy); Up in Arms (Nugent) (as Col. Ashley)

1946

Notorious (Hitchcock) (as Paul Prescott)

1948

Arch of Triumph (Milestone) (as Morosow)

1949

The Red Danube (Sidney) (as Col. Piniev); The Red Pony (Milestone) (as Grandpa)

1950

Nancy Goes to Rio (Leonard) (as Gregory Elliott); Two Weeks with Love (Rowland) (as Horatio Robinson); The Magnificent Yankee (The Man with Thirty Sons) (John Sturges) (as Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr.); The Devil's Doorway (Anthony Mann) (as Verne Coolan); A Life of Her Own (Cukor) (as Jim Leversoe); The Asphalt Jungle (Huston) (as Alonzo D. Emmerich); Annie Get Your Gun (Sidney) (as Buffalo Bill)

1951

The Man with a Cloak (Markle) (as Thevenet); It's a Big Country (Thorpe and others) (as narrator)

1952

Invitation (Reinhardt) (as Simon Bowker); The Bad and the Beautiful (Minnelli) (as voice on the recording); We're Not Married (Goulding) (as Freddie Melrose); The Prisoner of Zenda (Thorpe) (as Col. Zapt); Washington Story (Target for Scandal) (Pirosh) (as Charles W. Birch)

1953

Confidentially Connie (Buzzell) (as Opie Bedloe); Julius Caesar (Joseph L. Mankiewicz) (title role); Remains to Be Seen (Weis) (as Benjamin Goodwin); Main Street to Broadway (Garnett) (as himself); Latin Lovers (LeRoy) (as Grandfather Santos)

1954

Rhapsody (Charles Vidor) (as Nicholas Durant); Executive Suite (Wise) (as George Nyle Caswell); The Student Prince (Thorpe) (as King of Karlsburg); Men of the Fighting Lady (Marton) (as James A. Michener); Betrayed (Reinhardt) (as Gen. Ten Eyck); Athena (Thorpe) (as Grandpa Ulysses Mulvain)

1955

The Blackboard Jungle (Richard Brooks) (as Jim Murdock); The Prodigal (Thorpe) (as Nahreeb)

1956

Forever, Darling (Hall) (as Charles Y. Bewell); High Society (Walters) (as Uncle Willie)



Publications


On CALHERN: articles—

Current Biography 1951, New York, 1951.

Houseman, John, "Filming Julius Caesar," in Films in Review (New York), April 1953 and Sight and Sound (London), July/September 1953.

Obituary in New York Times, 13 May 1956.


* * *

In the first half of the 1950s it seemed as if Louis Calhern was in every other MGM picture released. He had signed with that studio in 1949 and immediately began creating character roles that were always interesting and occasionally more. One of his first portrayals was Buffalo Bill, long white hair flowing, in the musical Annie Get Your Gun.

In 1950 Calhern recreated for the cinema his acclaimed stage role in The Magnificent Yankee, in which he had definitively impersonated—or perhaps reincarnated—Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes. The previous year he had returned to Broadway to play the role he had prepared himself for most of his professional life: the great mad King Lear.

Despite the actor's gray-haired and dignified mien he was not always cast as a rock of probity. It was John Huston's crime drama The Asphalt Jungle that gave Calhern one of his few truly memorable film parts. With an inexperienced but plainly nubile Marilyn Monroe in a supporting role as his decades-younger mistress, he brought both understated menace and a sad world-weariness to his sleazy, crooked lawyer Emmerich. To her he euphemistically may have been "Uncle Lon" but he was far from avuncular.

This was somewhat of a return to Calhern's film roots. He began his sound film career in 1931 and throughout the decade he played villains or at least men with morality in various shades of gray. When he wasn't plotting dirty work in melodramas he was sometimes found doing it in such comedies as Paramount's Duck Soup in which the formidable Groucho Marx was his adversary.

Calhern was also subjected to indignities by the comedy team of Wheeler and Woolsey in Diplomaniacs and by Danny Kaye in Up in Arms. In viewing those films one is led to wonder whether Calhern really had much sense of humor. He seems to have a puzzled look on his face that may or may not have been called for in the script. Either he wittingly played against his persona in comedies or it was played against without his complicity.

Calhern usually essayed authoritative characters, helped by a powerful physical presence with a height in the 6'2" to 6'3" range. This imposing physique was topped by a face like that on some ancient coin. His was a Roman nose incarnate and indeed it was seen at least twice above a Roman toga in The Last Days of Pompeii and the title role in the all-star Julius Caesar.

Calhern had begun his illustrious career humbly enough trouping in a Bronx stock company about 1912. He gradually made his way upward through vaudeville and repertory, eventually joining a stock company in Los Angeles. He was discovered for the cinema in the very lair of the movie industry and taken under the wing of director Lois Weber.

It was in 1921 that Louis Calhern made the first three of his five silent movies. He partnered the beauteous Weber star Claire Windsor who got far more mileage out of their pictures together than he did. With such unprepossessing titles as What's Worth While?, Woman, Wake Up!, and Too Wise Wives to his dubious credit, he soon headed east again. This time it was to a career as a Broadway matinee idol.

With the success of The Song and Dance Man in 1923 and the romantic lead in the next year's even more popular The Cobra, the decade of the Roaring Twenties was Calhern's. His reappearance in movies during the 1930s did not necessarily bring him greater fame but aging theater idols do not have great job security. He certainly did not give up the theater; a road company of Life with Father later provided him with another born-to-play role.

Louis Calhern's film career had its ups and downs but he proved himself to be a distinguished character actor. If he had to endure Charlie McCarthy, Detective and The Gorgeous Hussy there were also the rewards of The Life of Emile Zola and Heaven Can Wait. Indeed, as fine wines do, Calhern got better as he aged. His once arrogant screen persona softened and grew more likable. Good roles still came, such as that of the once great actor George Lorison in The Bad and the Beautiful, Executive Suite and High Society, his last completed film, also provided him with worthy assignments. He was, as he wanted to be, still in harness and still in demand when he died in Japan during the making of what would have been his 73rd film, The Teahouse of the August Moon.


—Roy Liebman

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