Today is the birthday of Harry Green (Henry Blitzer, 1892-1958). Originally a lawyer, Green went into vaudeville as a comedian and magician in the years after World War One. A Jewish stereotype was his specialty. For many years he played the big time with a sketch called The Cherry Tree, in which he played a character named George Washington Cohen.
When talkies came in, he worked immediately. His first film was the 1929 musical Close Harmony, and he’s third billed already, behind the leads Buddy Rogers and Nancy Carroll, but in front of Jack Oakie and Skeets Gallagher. He’s the star of the 1930 Paramount comedy The Kibbitzer, and he’s third billed in Fanny Brice’s 1930 starring vehicle Be Yourself. He worked steadily throughout the early 30s, always — and I mean always — as a stock comedy “Jew”, often as a lawyer. The names of his characters are more memorable than the films: J. William Burnstein, “Plotz”, Isadore the Toreador, Solomon Bimberg, Gabriel Grabowski, Maxie Mindl, Sigurd Bernstein, Herman Farbstein, Max Merlin, Sam Cohen, Harry Gold, Lewis Wolf, “Adolph — Letty’s lawyer”, Jake Pushkin…shall I go on? By the late 30s, the demand for his schtick dried up. He kept working but less frequently.
In the 50s, he had a good run again on television, and even wrote a tv movie vehicle for himself to star in Isadore Goes to Town (1954). He has a role (again as a lawyer) in Chaplin’s 1957 A King in New York. (Interesting to note Chaplin’s fondness for the Jewish stereotype. He himself had played a character named Sam Cohen on the music hall stage, and often inserted the stage “Hebe” in minor parts in his early films. Ironically, he even had a bunch of these characters in The Great Dictator, which just seems wrong, doesn’t it? At any rate, Chaplin’s hiring of Green “computes”.) His last part was in the British comedy Next to No Time (1958) starring Kenneth More. He died while in London.
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.