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'What A Character!' blogathon: Walter Connolly

Posted by vp19 on 2013.11.10 at 09:08
Current mood: accomplishedaccomplished
carole lombard walter connolly 00b

As someone who appreciated virtually all aspects of the motion picture industry, Carole Lombard certainly would endorse the concept of this weekend's blogathon, dedicated to character actors...

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...particularly since she worked with many of those scheduled to be honored (and likely would have worked with at least several more had she not left us so early in life). At last check, 52 such actors were or will be blogathon subjects; a rough check reveals at least eight worked with Lombard on film or on radio, and several others were professional acquaintances. (See the list, with links to blogathon entries, at http://aurorasginjoint.com/2013/11/06/what-a-character-blogathon-schedule/.)

One of those she worked with is seen above, Walter Connolly (they're shown above taking a break on the set of "Twentieth Century") -- in fact, he appeared in four Lombard movies, including two that traditionally are deemed among her most important. Save for a pair of silents he made in the mid-1910s, Connolly's film career was a relatively brief one; it entirely encompassed the 1930s, and after appearing in a short in 1930, he didn't return to the screen until 1932. But in his own way, he has come to symbolize '30s movies just as much as Skippy, the terrier who played Asta in the "Thin Man" films, among other roles, or the heiresses who populated the cinematic decade.

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The rotund yet refined Cincinnati native Connolly for the most part was cast in positions of wealth and authority, usually as an official of some sort or titan of industry. In the latter, he often also would play the father of the aforementioned heiress, though his portrayals invariably added texture and depth to what might otherwise have been a stock role. (And, when you think about it, isn't that what makes the best character actors so special?)

One of those roles was in Connolly's first film with Lombard, the 1932 drama "No More Orchids":

carole lombard no more orchids 12b

This was only Connolly's third feature since arriving from New York, where he'd had a substantial stage career throughout the 1920s before deciding to give film another try. He portrays Bill Holt, a successful banker who is trying to do what's best for his daughter Anne (Lombard) despite the demands of her crusty, prestige-driven grandfather (C. Aubrey Smith), who wants Anne to marry into royalty. (She prefers to marry Lyle Talbot's character, who's shown above with father and daughter.)

"Orchids" hardly is a great movie, but it has its moments, and many of them come from Connolly, who helps Carole achieve her romantic goal...at a price. (You'll have to see the film to learn what that price is.)

Lombard and Connolly wouldn't work again until early 1934 in "Twentieth Century," by which time he had posted important supporting turns in the high-level pics "The Bitter Tea Of General Yen" and "Lady For A Day." It also was when "It Happened One Night" was opening in theaters, and his work as the father of heiress Ellie Andrews (Claudette Colbert) helped make it a surprise hit.

carole lombard twentieth century 009

Connolly's role in "Twentieth Century" is nowhere as substantial -- as was the case for most cast in the film, his main duty was to get out of the way and let John Barrymore and Lombard each do their thing and chew up the scenery -- but he nonetheless gathers audience sympathy for playing Broadway impresario Barrymore's oft-fired assistant.

Later that year, there was another Lombard-Connolly reunion at Columbia for "Lady By Choice," which really has nothing to do with "Lady For A Day." It's a comedy, and New York judge Connolly has frequent court sessions with publicity-seeking fan dancer Alabam' Lee (Lombard) and a drunken street lady (May Robson):

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Stern yet likable, Connolly complements the performances of Lombard and Robson in what otherwise was a programmer.

The final Carole-Connolly collaboration wasn't at Columbia, but at Selznick International in 1937. By then, both had established themselves in the industry, for Connolly most notably in "Libeled Lady," where his fifth billing hardly was meant to disparage him -- after all, the first four stars in that 1936 comedy were (in alphabetical order) Jean Harlow, Myrna Loy, William Powell and Spencer Tracy. This time, Myrna's his heiress daughter, and Connolly the expert angler who with Powell and Loy appears in the movie's classic fishing scene:

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A year later, Connolly was cast as an irascible newspaper editor in the Technicolor screwball "Nothing Sacred." (The character's name? Oliver Stone, and I'm certain that over the years, the controversial director by that name has oft been reminded of the coincidence.)

carole lombard nothing sacred 18c

Connolly's Stone delivers some notable Ben Hecht-penned zingers, such as when he tells reporter Fredric March, "I am sitting here, Mr. Cook, toying with the idea of cutting out your heart, and stuffing it, like an olive!" He provides much of the fun in this satire of yellow journalism.

That would be it for Connolly and Lombard on screen, although when Carole visited Clark Gable at MGM in mid-1938, she saw him work alongside Connolly (his "It Happened One Night" colleague) in the comedy "Too Hot To Handle":

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Connolly also worked with Gable on a "Lux Radio Theater" adaptation of "It Happened One Night" (and also portrayed Charlie Chan on radio for several years).

But there wouldn't be too many more roles for Connolly, though he supported Ginger Rogers in the 1939 comedy "Fifth Avenue Girl." He played the title role in "The Great Victor Herbert" late in 1939, and the following May died of a stroke at age 53 -- on the day the divorce from his wife became final. Future generations would discover his seven years of cinematic artistry on TV and in revival houses.

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