Jack Norton (born this day in 1882) was one of Hollywood’s most recognizable bit players of the 1930s and 40s, usually but not always, playing a comic drunk with at most a line or two. If it sounds frustrating, it probably had its satisfactions — the list of people Norton worked with, and classic movies he appeared in, is amazing. In addition to appearing in half a dozern Preston Sturges movies, he is in The Woman Haters with The Three Stooges (1934), After the Thin Man with William Powell and Myrna Loy (1937), A Day at the Races with the Marx Brothers (1937), Jezbel with Bette Davis (1938), The Bank Dick with W.C. Fields (1940), Roxie Hart with Ginger Rogers (1942), The Horn Blows at Midnight with Jack Benny (1945), and about 180 other films before retiring in 1948.
The Brooklyn native was born Mortimer J. Naughton and started out in vaudeville (his wife was one of the Healy Sisters). In the mid twenties, he appeared in several editions of the Ziegfeld Follies and Earl Carroll’s Vanities, as well as some book musicals such as Kalmar and Ruby’s Five O’Clock Girl, the hit 1927 show that put him over. From here it was off to Hollywood and a career of a sort. He passed away in 1958.
One of his most beloved turns is as the drunken film director in W.C. Fields’ The Bank Dick:
To learn more about the history of show business, 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 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