Frank Orth and Ann Codee: Together and Separately

Frank Orth and Ann Codee were an unusual male-female comedy team in that Codee (Anna Marie Vannuefflin, 1890-1961) was from Belgium, and spoke with what Americans took for a French accent. Her husband and partner Frank Orth (1880-1962) was originally from Philadelphia. Orth had been in vaudeville since around age 17 as a musician and comic in an act with Keller Mack. They performed a sketch called “The Wrong Hero”. Orth also wrote or co-wrote songs including “Meet Me on the Boardwalk, Dearie” (a hit of 1910) and “The Phone Bell Rang”

Orth teamed up with Codee around 1911. Initially she was the “straight man” in the act, but they eventually flipped it. Throughout the teens and twenties, they were a staple of vaudeville — a sort of Burns and Allen, if Gracie were Fifi D’Orsay. Though most online descriptions say they were called Codee and Orth, I usually see them billed as “Frank Orth and Ann Codee” in publications of their day. Starting in 1928 the made a unique series of comedy shorts for Vitaphone, some of them in French or German. Contrary to a common misconception, most of them were in English. They starred in 16 of these through 1933 (all but one of them were made by 1931).

After this, though they remained married, they each pursued separate careers as supporting players.

Orth’s credits include Polo Joe (1936) with Joe E. Brown, several of the Dr. Kildare films, Idiot’s Delight (1939), Young Mr. Lincoln (1939), At the Circus (1939), His Girl Friday (1940), Sergeant York (1941), They Died with Their Boots On (1941), Roxie Hart (1942), My Gal Sal (1942), The Meanest Man in the World (1943) with Jack Benny, The Ox-Bow Incident (1943), The Lost Weekend (1945), The Dolly Sisters (1945), The Strange Love of Martha Ivers (1946), several of the Blondie films; Cheaper by the Dozen (1950), Double Dynamite (1951), and Houdini (1953). He may be best known for playing Inspector Faraday in the Boston Blackie tv series (1951-53). Orth’s last credit was an episode of the tv version of Fibber McGee and Molly in 1959. Throat cancer forced his retirement later that year.

On account of her accent, Codee was trickier to cast, although that also meant there was a niche for her, and she became a “go to” person for such things as maids, music teachers, dressmakers and the like, so she too was in several films a year. Some better known examples include Under the Pampas Moon (1935), Jezebel (1938),Woman of the Year (1942), Shine On, Harvest Moon (1944), Mr. Skeffington (1944), The Mummy’s Curse (1944), Kitty (1945), Detective Story (1951), Kiss Me Kate (1953) War of the Worlds (1953), The Sun Also Rises (1957), The Young Lions (1958), and Can Can (1960). Her last credit was an episode of the tv series Markham (1960).

Codee in one of her bigger and more rewarding parts, a scientist in “War of the Worlds”

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