Richard Hale: From High Opera to Horse Opera

Born this day, terrifying character actor Richard Hale (James Richards Hale, 1892-1981). I am totally related to this guy! And I am beginning to smell a pattern: I keep turning up familial relationships to showfolk with a distinct crackerly edge: Fess Parker, Frank Cady, and the original Grizzly Adams are all examples. My great-grandmother and, on another line, a great-great-great grandmother, are both Tennessee Hales, and my Hale ancestors are from the area around Richard Hale’s birthplace, which was Rogersville, Tennessee.

I’ve long known Hale’s work (and I bet you have, too); gaunt, bug-eyed, scowling, he had a face that could stop a clock.  But I didn’t know how distinguished his past was, let alone that I’m pretty closely related to him, so now he has a major new fan and promoter in me. Hale often played scary dudes, henchmen and preachers and the like in movies, and very often he’s cast as a guy who gets to say one very important, unforgettable line.

That’s him betwixt Randolph Scott and Edgar Buchanan in “Abilene Town”

He played Boo Radley’s father in To Kill a Mockingbird (1962). He’s the Soothsayer (“Beware the Ides of March!”) in Julius Caesar (1953). His biggest film role was probably Purdy in the Civil War Quaker drama Friendly Persuasion (1956). He’s in many classic westerns (sometimes as Indians) including: Abilene Town (1946), Bad Man’s Territory (1946), Springfield Rifle (1952), San Antone (1953), Canyon Crossroads (1955), and Sergeants 3 (1962), as well as many TV westerns. He’s used to scary effect in Roger Corman’s Tower of London  (1962), Disney’s Escape to Witch Mountain (1975) and Alfred Hitchcock’s Family Plot (1976). He’s in comedies like Preston Sturges’s The Beautiful Blonde from Bashful Bend (1949), and Rafferty and the Gold Dust Twins (1975). These are the tip of the iceberg! He’s even in an episode of Star Trek!

One of his first films was the Maxwell AndersonKurt Weill music Knickerbocker Holiday (1944), and this is a key to his unlikely pathway into films. Hale attended Columbia University on a singing scholarship. Upon graduating he was a member of Minnie Maddern Fiske’s company. He was a professional opera singer and stage actor in both Europe and America throughout the 1920s and 1930s. He has 16 Broadway credits between 1914 and 1943, including perhaps most notably (and appropriately) the role of Jeeter in the original 1931 production of Green Grow the Lilacs, the play on which Oklahoma! was based. Good casting!  He is also known for narrating Peter and the Wolf, both for a production of Prokofiev’s at Tangelwood, and for a 1953 recording made by Arthur Fiedler and the Boston Pops.

Interesting eh? He started out being all about the voice…but by the end, he was all about the face.

One comment

  1. I just saw him in To Kill a Mockingbird. His face spoke volumes about a man who who would raise a mentally ill son in an era of great ignorance and fear. Such anguish, emotional pain, and yet caring wisdom. Especially in the scene where he is putting concrete in the tree hollow. I could only imagine the task of protecting a grown child from the innocent children and a town that can only mythologize them in the worst way. Marvelous actor.


Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.