Arthur Housman: Pro Inebriate

Comic character actor Arthur Housman (1889-1942) was born on October 10.

These days Housman is best remembered for the last decade of his career, during which he was a bit player who specialized in comic drunks, but he’d been acting in films since 1912, and and onstage for several years before that. According to the promotional periodical The Edison Kinetogram, the NYC-born Housman started out in show business as a teenager, touring with a musical called Queen of the Moulin Rouge before serving a four year apprenticeship in vaudeville, supporting big time comic pantomimist Signor G. Malasso. As early as 1912 he began starring in comedies for Edison. His time at the studio climaxed with one year stint (1914-15) in a comedy team with William Wadsworth. In the late teens he worked for Selig, Lubin and other studios, then briefly formed his own studio in 1922, which rapidly went under after only a couple of pictures. He was teamed with Katherine Perry in 1927 for a short-lived Fox series called “Harry and Warren”, while taking smaller roles in major studio features like The Bat (1926), Sunrise (1927), Fools for Luck (1929) with W.C. Fields and Chester Conklin; The Singing Fool (1928) with Al Jolson; Queen of the Night Clubs (1929) with Texas Guinan; Broadway (1929) with Merna Kennedy and Glenn Tryon; and a 1930 screen adaptation of David Belasco’s Girl of the Golden West. 

Housman was known for his reserve and his deadpan, a quality that served him well (along with his bleary, puffy eyed countenance) when called upon to play comic drunk characters, as he increasingly was during the talkie era. Classic comedy buffs prize him for his appearances in films like Harold Lloyd’s Feet First (1930) and Movie Crazy (1932); Caught Plastered (1931) and Hold ‘Em, Yale (1935) with Wheeler and Woolsey; Laurel and Hardy’s Scram (1932), The Live Ghost (1934), The Fixer Uppers (1935), Our Relations (1936), and The Flying Deuces (1939); She Done Him Wrong (1933), with Mae West; Punch Drunks (1934) with The Three StoogesMrs. Wiggs of the Cabbage Patch (1935) with W.C. Fields and others; a couple of the Blondie movies; the Marx Brothers’ Go West (1940); and the melodrama parody The Villain Still Pursued Her (1940). You can also catch him as comic relief in straighter films such as Call of the Wild (1935), Diamond Jim (1935), Show Boat (1936); After the Thin Man (1936); and Billy the Kid (1941).

The scuttlebutt was that Housman was a tippler himself; it is unknown and unknowable how much of his alcoholic routine was due to actual alcohol. Arthur Housman succumbed to pneumonia at the relatively young age of 52.

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