Today is the birthday of Claude Gillingwater (1870-1939). Trained as a lawyer, Missouri native Gillingwater worked first as a wholesale vinegar salesman before David Belasco gave him the chance to pursue his dreams in the theatre. By 1899, he’d made it to Broadway. And by 1914 he was so well known that he headlined on the Keith and Orpheum circuits with a one-act play called “Wives of the Rich”.
His first film was Wild Primrose (1918) with Richard Barthelmess, but the one that put him over was Little Lord Fauntleroy with Mary Pickford 3 years later. Throughout the 20s and 30s he to be one of Hollywood’s leading little old men, portraying rich uncles and the like in a career that straddles both silents and talkies. Notable films included: the original screen version of Alice Adams (1923), the first screen version of George S. Kaufman’s Dulcy (1923), the original version of The Gorilla (1927), So Long Letty (1929) with Charlotte Greenwood, three Shirley Temple pictures, Gold Dust Gertie (1931) with Winnie Lightner and Olsen & Johnson, the 1934 version of The Show Off , Frank Capra’s first version of Broadway Bill (1934), Mississippi (1935) with W.C. Fields and Bing Crosby, Baby Face Harrington (1935) with Charles Butterworth, and A Tale of Two Cities (1935).
For more on vaudeville history, consult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold.