On the Apoplectic Fred Clark

Comic foil Fred Clark (1914-1968) was born on this day.

He’s more versatile than that but that’s what we comedy fans tend to think of him as — a comic foil. His imposing size, bald pate, and popping eyes make him in my mind a worthy successor to Edgar Kennedy as the guy who gets exasperated, the guy who sits there simmering and boiling while someone else spills ink on his head, until finally roaring and exploding with indignation.

His most cherished role along these lines was undoubtedly his three year stint as neighbor Harry Morton on The George Burns and Gracie Allen Show (1951-1953).

But he also notably played a movie producer in Sunset Boulevard (1950), a gangster in The Lemon Drop Kid with Bob Hope (1951), “Old Skinhead” in The Caddy (1953) with Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis, a lecherous businessman in How to Marry a Millionaire (1953), a con man in Abbott and Costello Meet the Keystone Kops (1955), the company treasurer in The Solid Gold Cadillac with Judy Holiday (1956), a trustee in Auntie Mame (1958), an army major in Jerry Lewis and Norman Taurog’s (and Gore Vidal’s!Visit to a Small Planet (1960), a general in William Castle’s Zotz! (1962), the head of the CIA in William Peter Blatty’s John Goldfarb, Please Come Home (1965), and similar figures in several notorious “bad” late sixties comedies, usually with Frankie Avalon: Sergeant Dead Head (1965), Dr. Goldfoot and the Bikini Machine (1965) and Skidoo (1968).

With Frankie Avalon and Dwayne Hickman in “Dr. Goldfoot”, a film in which one is in constant fear of Clark bursting a blood vessel

On top of this, countless similar roles as guest shots on tv sit-coms. If you do the math, you’ll note that he was very young (54) when he died. This was a loss to comedy, for we could have used at least a couple of more decades of his special skills.

For more on comedy film history see 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. For more on show biz historyconsult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold.

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