Eric Blore: From Broadway to the Bowery Boys

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Today is the birthday of the always hilarious Eric Blore (1887-1959).

Astounding to note that we haven’t done an appreciation of this stalwart comic actor until this late date. I think the proximity of his birthday to Christmas may have something to do with it (i.e., I’m normally consumed with last minute errands on this day of the year.) At any rate, today we are delighted to rectify the lapse.

Originally from Middlesex, Blore worked briefly as an insurance agent before he decided to go on the stage while on a trip to Australia (this detail has caused some people to believe he was actually Australian). His stage debut was in The Girl from Kay’s at the Spa Theatre, Bridlington in 1908. Five years later he made his West End debut in the revue All the Winners. He served for the duration in World War One, and then returned to the stage in 1919. He also contributed song lyrics to some of the shows in which he performed.

The character he developed for the stage became the same one we love him for in films: a sibilant, arch, uppercrust Englishman, normally cast as “gentleman’s gentlemen”, waiters, club men, and aristocrats. He was diminutive in stature, and his highly animated face allowed him to be bemused, quizzical, perturbed, flustered, or appalled in large strokes. He wasn’t employed for subtlety — you looked to him for his reactions. As he matured, he became bald, which added to the effect.

In 1923, he came to Broadway, appearing in Little Miss Bluebeard with Irene Bordoni. He was to work there constantly for a decade, through the original stage production of The Gay Divorce (1933) with Fred Astaire (foreshadowing of things to come), although he would return to Broadway one last time for the Ziegfeld Follies of 1943. 

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Blore with Edward Everett Horton in “The Gay Divorcee”. The screen is practically exploding with fey mannerisms

Although Blore appeared in one major silent film, the sadly lost original version of The Great Gatsby (1926), it was with the advent of talkies that he was launched into the phase of his career we continue to cherish him for. He joined the colony of English character actors who became indispensable in comedy ensembles (others included C. Aubrey Smith and Arthur Treacher). Blore had a bit part in Gold Diggers of 1933, appeared in five Fred Astaire-Ginger Rogers musicals (more than any other player but the two stars), and 11 “Lone Wolf” mysteries starring Warren William (1940-1947). Other movies he appeared in included Diamond Jim (1935), Seven Keys to Baldpate (1935), Laurel and Hardy’s Swiss Miss (1938), two 1941 Preston Sturges comedies (The Lady Eve and Sullivan’s Travels), Hope and Crosby’s Road to Zanzibar (1941), The Shanghai Gesture (1941), and the Marx Brothers’ Love Happy (1949). Ironically, he is unseen in one of his best known roles — he supplied the voice of Mr. Toad in Walt Disney’s Ichabod and Mr. Toad (1949). His last roles were in Fancy Pants (1950) with Bob Hope, and Bowery to Bagdad (1955) with the Bowery Boys.

Blore is also famous as the subject of a notorious, ironic news blunder. Writing in The New Yorker in 1959, critic Kenneth Tynan had erroneously referred to the actor as “the late Eric Blore”. (He might have been forgiven for doing so. Blore’s last film had been four years earlier, and since it was a Bowery Boys comedy, (i.e., a B picture) Tynan was scarcely likely to have seen it. Blore’s last mainstream credit had been nearly a decade earlier.) At any rate, by the time The New Yorker printed their apologetic correction a week later, Blore was already dead.

For more comedy film history please see my 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

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