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Oakie-dokie, Jack

Today's entry concerns an actor who made a few films with Carole Lombard, was largely identified for his comedic work -- but the films he made with Lombard weren't comedies. His first name had four letters, his last name five.

Cary Grant, you say? Well, all the above criteria apply to Cary, but that's not whom we're talking about. The actor in question is someone you'd never put in the same category as Grant.

We're talking about...Jack Oakie.



If people remember Jack Oakie at all today, it's probably for this -- his comedic turn as Napaloni, an obvious lampoon of Benito Mussolini, in Charlie Chaplin's 1940 classic "The Great Dictator." (I think we all know who Chaplin was satirizing.) In later years, Oakie said, "I've appeared in hundred of movies (actually, he was in about 90 feature films, plus some TV work), but the only one people remember me for is Napaloni in 'The Great Dictator.'"

That's unfortunate, because Oakie was a pretty reliable actor. A convivial type, He made many other good films too, such as the hilarious Olympic spoof "Million Dollars Legs" (the 1932 film with W.C. Fields, not the unrelated 1939 film with Betty Grable) and "If I Had A Million." Oakie appeared in many college comedies in the 1930s, soon being tagged as "the world's oldest freshman" (he had been born in 1903).

In 1939 and 1940, he played a harried Hollywood press agent in two comedies with Lucille Ball, "The Affairs Of Annabel" and "Anable Takes A Tour." (The first of these films had exteriors in what would become the Encino house Lombard would share with Clark Gable; at the time the film was made, it was still the property of director Raoul Walsh.)

Oakie's films with Lombard, both made in 1933, were a bit atypical for him. He was in "The Eagle And The Hawk" (as was Grant), but neither appeared on screen with Carole -- that was left to Fredric March. Earlier that year, Oakie did get screen time with Lombard in a barely remembered drama, "From Hell To Heaven."



"From Hell To Heaven," released in late February 1933, was Paramount's take on the "Grand Hotel" formula that had worked so well for MGM, only this was set at a racetrack resort town, not a hotel, and the cast certainly didn't rival the collective starpower of the MGM classic.

I've never seen it, but this apparently is a film that doesn't get around much these days -- no one has commented on the film at the Internet Movie Database -- and its main claim to fame may be for a Lombard anecdote. Some exterior shots were being filmed around New Year's Day or thereabouts, when Carole was shivering in summer attire. She turned to her warmly dressed crew and shouted, "All right, you warm, bloody bastards, what's good for one is good for all! I'm not shooting till I see every one of you down to your jockey shorts!" To her delight, the crew complied.

From what I gather Oakie as not Lombard's love interest in the film, but Paramount decided to pair them for a photo anyway:



This photo is currently being auctioned at eBay, and while you don't have much time left -- bidding closes just before 11 p.m. (Eastern) tonight -- no one has bid on it as of this writing, and bids start at $9.99. (The actual photo is sepia-toned.) If you're interested, go to http://cgi.ebay.com/FROM-HELL-TO-HEAVEN-CAROLE-LOMBARD-RARE-MOVIE-STILL_W0QQitemZ250465730692QQcmdZViewItemQQptZLH_DefaultDomain_0?hash=item3a50ebc084&_trksid=p3286.c0.m14&_trkparms=65%3A1%7C66%3A2%7As for Oakie, he C39%3A1%7C293%3A1%7C294%3A50.

As for Oakie, he continued acting into the 1960s, occasionally appearing on TV series including "The Real McCoys" and "Bonanza." (He has a cameo in "Around The World In Eighty Days," and also had supporting role in "The Rat Race" and "Lover Come Back." He died in January 1978 at age 74.
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