Don Barclay: Cary Grant’s Vaudeville Partner

A nod today to a forgotten minor figure who counted Hollywood’s top stars among his closest friends, stage and screen comedian and caricaturist Don Barclay (1892-1975).

Originally from Oregon, Barclay’s earliest known credits were in St. Louis in 1913, where he drew cartoons for a local newspaper and was in a show at the Princess Theatre. Two years later, he shows up on the Mack Sennett lot, playing bit parts in silent comedies like Ambrose’s Little Hatchet and Ambrose’s Lofty Perch, both starring Mack Swain; Those Bitter Sweets with Harry McCoy; a Hash House Fraud, starring Hugh Fay and directed by Charley Chase (then Parrott); and a Home Breaking Hound, also directed by Chase and starring himself (so that one’s not a bit part). All these films are 1915. Another source says he was also in the Fatty ArbuckleMabel Normand comedy That Little Band of Gold that year, but IMDB doesn’t back that up at present.

At any rate Barclay seems to have made good in his short introductory stint in films, for he goes straight from here to Broadway. He was featured in the Ziegfeld Follies in both the 1916 and 1917 editions. Then it was back to movies, where he starred in a series of shorts for Essanay in 1918 and early 1919 (now lost): Check Your Hat Sir?, All Stuck Up, Daring and Dynamite, and Boobs and Bumps.

In the ’20s Don Barclay was the room-mate and vaudeville partner of none other than Cary Grant, then known by his birth name of Archie Leach. This is one of the things he is best known for today, as a footnote in Grant’s early career. Also, in 1922, Barclay appeared in two Lige Conley shorts: Look Out Below and Blazes. Then he had a good run on Broadway for nearly a decade, in the shows Go-Go (1923), The Greenwich Village Follies of 1924, Oh! Oh! Nurse (1925), Merry-Go-Round (1927), Nina Rosa (1931) and Americana (1932).

He returned to Hollywood in 1933 to appear in comedy shorts for Hal Roach some of which he starred in. He made nearly a dozen comedies for Roach through 1934, the best known of which are Mixed Nuts and Honky Donkey. After this, he was a bit player and voice-over actor in Hollywood features for nearly four decades. he is especially associated with Walt Disney films, and you can see him (or hear him) in Cinderella (1950), Alice in Wonderland (1951), Peter Pan (1953), 101 Dalmatians (1961), Mary Poppins (1964), and Bedknobs and Broomsticks (1971). Among scores of other pictures you can also catch him in The Oklahoma Kid (1939), Honky Tonk (1941), Blondie’s Blessed Event (1942), Mexican Spitfire Sees a Ghost (1942), Mexican Spitfire’s Elephant (1942), Frankenstein Meets the Wolfman (1943), Shine On, Harvest Moon (1944), and My Darling Clementine (1946).

But as we say, Barclay was also an artist, and was known for drawing caricatures of his celebrity friends, including Bob Hope, Jimmy Durante, Lou Costello, Frank Sinatra and Joan Crawford. During World War he traveled with the USO, drawing caricatures of the troops. After his last film, Bedknobs and Broomsticks, he retired to Scottsdale, Arizona where he spent his final years drawing caricatures of patrons at a local bar.

For more on vaudeville and vaudeville veterans like Don Barclay consult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famousand to learn more about silent comedy please check out Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube.