Reginald Gardiner: He Trained and Then He “Trained”


Many happy returns of the day to Reginald Gardiner (1903-1980).

We thought to fit to treat of him today, for his clipped British diction, and poised demeanor grace many a classic comedy. He can be seen with Laurel and Hardy in Flying Deuces (1939), in Dulcy (1940) with Ann Sothern, The Great Dictator (1940) with Charlie Chaplin, The Man Who Came to Dinner (1942), Jack Benny’s last starring vehicle The Horn Blows at Midnight (1945), Christmas in Connecticut (1945), Lubitsch’s Cluny Brown (1946) and That Lady in Ermine (1948), The Story of Mankind (1957, not a comedy but it’s the last movie with all three Marx Brothers) , Rock-a-Bye Baby (1958) with Jerry Lewis, Mr. Hobbs Takes a Vacation (1962) with Jimmy Stewart, and Sergeant Deadhead (1965) with Frankie Avalon, which I probably wouldn’t have mentioned but for the fact that it also features Buster Keaton, Fred Clark, Gale Gordon and Harvey Lembeck. 

The native Brit studied at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art. He was the rare “serious” actor who came equipped with a read-to-go comedy/variety act, and much of his early work was on radio and in revues, first in the West End, later on Broadway. He was known for doing imitations of things like wallpaper, trains, and automobiles. He was an extra in Alfred Hitchcock’s The Lodger (1926), but his film career didn’t start cooking until 1931.

Gardiner moved to the U.S. in 1935 to appear in the Broadway revue At Home Abroad with Bea Lillie, Eleanor Powell, Ethel Waters et al. His first Hollywood film was the musical Born to Dance (1936) with Eleanor Powell and Jimmy Stewart (his role was ignominiously small). Then he returned to Broadway to appear with Bea Lillie and Bert Lahr in The Show is On (1936-37).

Then came a wide variety of Hollywood films. In addition to the comedies we mentioned , there were historical pieces like Marie Antoinette (1938), musicals like Sweet Rosie O’Grady (1943) and The Dolly Sisters (1945), and suspense thrillers like Black Widow (1954).  (He’s very good in the latter film, one of the few occasions when I’ve seen where he had to tackle some drama in addition to his more usual light comedy. In the 50s he returned to Broadway twice more, for An Evening with Beatrice Lillie (1952-53), and the short-lived Little Glass Clock (1956), which ran for a week (get it? it’s a clock and it ran for a week? Nevertheless , it is true).

By the late ’60s he was strictly doing television: mostly silly things like Batman, Bewitched, Petticoat Junction, and The Phyllis Diller Show. His last professional credit was a 1968 episode of The Monkees

In the 1930s he recorded his famous train bit; it became a best selling comedy album. Listen to it here.