Today is the birthday of George Chandler (1898-1985). Chandler began his show business career in vaudeville in 1915, billing himself as “The Musical Nut”. He arrived in silent films just as their heyday was waning, starring in a series of comedy shorts for Universal wherein he played a timid back-east “dude” usually named “Cuthbert” or “Bertie”, who was forced to have heroic wild, west adventures whether he wanted to or not. I was delighted to learn in Steve Massa’s fine book Lame Brains and Lunatics that Chandler was considered one of a handful of Keaton copycats in those years, and that that original characterization spilled over into the early years of talkies. (he even wore a porkpie hat).
One of his best known roles from his early talkie phase was his 1933 turn as the son Chester in the W.C. Fields short The Fatal Glass of Beer. He was a favorite of director William Wellman, who put him in nearly two dozen films between 1937 and 1952, including one of his best roles, that of Ginger Rogers’ sad sack husband in Roxie Hart (1942). That’s not such a big role, by the way. Most of Chandler’s roles in the talking era were bit parts, walk-ons, and under-fives, although he is always both memorable and recognizable — he had a very distinctive face. Baby boomers will remember him as “Uncle Petrie” on the television show Lassie (1956-1959). He’s also notable for having been an officer of SAG-AFTRA: treasurer from 1948 through 1959 and president from 1960 through 1963. His last role was on an episode of Lou Grant in 1979.
To learn more about silent and slapstick comedy and performers like George Chandler, please 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. To learn more about 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.