Arthur Lake (Arthur Silverlake, Jr., 1905-1987) was born April 17.
Lake’s father and uncle had a circus trapeze act called The Flying Silverlakes. Then his father and his mother (Edith Goodwin) formed a vaudeville act called “Family Affair” which Arthur and his sister Florence later joined.
The family went to Hollywood to break into pictures. Arthur’s debut was in a silent version of Jack in the Beanstalk in 1917. His film career began in earnest seven years later when he was signed to a contract at Universal. For over a decade he was a steadily working character in Hollywood, usually playing mincing adolescent types. Lake’s sister Florence also had a movie career, most memorably playing Edgar Kennedy’s wife in his RKO comedy shorts. Here is Lake with Olive Borden in Dance Hall (1929):
Lake’s big break, the part he was to be indelibly associated with, was Dagwood Bumstead in the film (28 features, 1938-1950), radio (1939-1950) and television (1957) adaptations of the popular comic strip Blondie alongside co-star Penny Singleton.
I REALLY love Arthur Lake’s performances as this character, although it must said that his performances are more Lake than Bumstead. (I’ve never thought of the character in the comic strip as particularly bumbling, ineffectual or stupid. Lazy, yes. In love with large sandwiches, yes. Too timid with his boss, yes. But Lake took the character, shall we say, to a very special place all his own).
In 1937, Lake married Patricia Van Cleeve, whom time has revealed to have been the unacknowledged daughter of Marion Davies and William Randolph Hearst!! There must have been raised eyebrows at THAT dinner table. That’s exceptionally strange to me, but then Hearst and Davies were always entertaining show biz folks of all sorts. In this 1953 photo you see Van Cleeve and Davies seated next next to each other, left, with Lake standing on the right (Hearst had passed away in 1951):
After the Blondie tv series went off the air in 1957, Lake lived the rest of his life (30 years) in retirement. Van Cleeve died in 1993.
To find out about the history of vaudeville, consult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold. For more on silent and slapstick comedy please check out 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