Robert Greig: Gave Us All “Hives”

Australian character actor Robert Greig (1879-1958) rarely got more than a few minutes of screen time per picture but he always left a big impression.

Most of us who are his fans first knew Greig as the butler Hives in the Marx Brothers’ Animal Crackers (1930) and as a bearded professor in Horse Feathers (1932). The former role was the more typical. The expansive and smooth Greig was almost always cast as butlers in Hollywood films, making him all the more easy to spot in his short supporting turns.

Greig had been in the original Broadway production of Animal Crackers, allowing him to make the transfer to cinema with the Marxes quite early in his career, as Animal Crackers had only been his second Broadway show. Subsequently, Greig was to get to support many zany screen comedians in addition to the Marx Brothers. Similar “comedian comedies” he worked in included The Cohens and Kellys in Hollywood (1932) with Charlie Murray; The Tenderfoot (1932) with Joe E. Brown; Jitters the Butler (1932) with Clark and McCullough; Meet the Baron (1933) with Jack Pearl; Horse Play (1933) with Slim Summerville; Peg O’ My Heart (1933) with Marion DaviesCockeyed Cavaliers (1934) with Wheeler and Woolsey; Charlie McCarthy, Detective (1939) with Edgar Bergen; and Hello Sucker (1941) with Hugh Herbert.

Greig was also a muse for major comedy auteurs. Lubitsch used him in Trouble in Paradise (1932). Greig’s appearance in the 1937 screwball comedy Easy Living put him on the radar of Preston Sturges, who’d written the script for that film. When Sturges started directing, he made Greig part of his stock comedy and put him in Sullivan’s Travels (1941), The Lady Eve (1941) The Great Moment (1944), The Sin of Harold Diddlebock (1947) and Unfaithfully Yours (1948). Greig was also in Frank Capra’s You Can’t Take it With You (1938) and Rene Clair’s I Married a Witch (1942).

Greig’s smooth manner was also useful in horror movies. Tod Browning employed him in Mark of the Vampire (1935) and The Devil Doll (1936), and you can also see him in Tower of London (1939) and The Picture of Dorian Gray (1945). Of the scores of movies he appeared in, other notable ones include: Clive of India (1935), Les Miserables (1935), The Great Ziegfeld (1936), Rose Marie (1936), Drums Along the Mohawk (1939), No Time for Comedy (1940), and Tales of Manhattan (1942). His last film was  Bride of Vengeance (1949) in which Paulette Goddard as Lucretia Borgia.