Today a nod to beloved Hollywood character actor Sydney Greenstreet (1879-1954). Millions of fans know him from his brief (8 year) career as part of the incredible Warner Brothers stock company. What they might not know is that the larger-than-life Greenstreet didn’t start his movie career until he was 62 years old. He’d spent 40 years on the stage, playing in everything from Shakespeare to musicals, before he finally caved in to the lure of Hollywood with The Maltese Falcon (1941). (Amusingly his birthday comes right after two of his co-stars in that film: Elisha Cook’s was December 26; Humphrey Bogart’s was December 25).
Prior to his starting his stage career, Greenstreet tried his luck as a tea planter in Ceylon…which sounds awfully like one of his characters! Ill health (diabetes) forced his retirement in 1949.
Here’s his hilarious cameo turn in the 1944 wartime morale booster Hollywood Canteen, along with his frequent co-star Peter Lorre (they come to the rescue of Patty Andrews of the Andrews Sisters):
To find out more about the variety arts past and present, consult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold.
And don’t miss my new book Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube, just released by Bear Manor Media, also available from amazon.com etc etc etc