Tom Fadden: Cracker Character in Classics

Some brief words of appreciation for countrified character actor Tom Fadden (1895-1980).

Born in Iowa, Fadden was the son of a mining engineer. Travel was part of the job, so parts of his childhood were spent in Idaho, Colorado, Oregon, South Dakota and Wyoming. Fadden got his theatrical start with an Omaha stock company, and made a hit on the Keith vaudeville circuit before ascending to Broadway in The Wonderful Visit in 1924. Nearly 20 plays followed, including the original productions of George S. Kaufman’s The Butter and Egg Man (1925-26), Sinclair Lewis’s Elmer Gantry (1928), Robert Sherwood’s The Petrified Forest (1935), and Thornton Wilder’s Our Town (1938).

Despite these excellent credits, when Fadden went out to Hollywood he was essentially a bit player, often uncredited. He was in tons of classic movies, and he often had a memorable moment in them, but the moments were brief. He’s usually something like a store-keep, soda jerk, milkman or the like. Among the many comedies and musicals in which he appeared: , Congo Maisie (1940), Blondie Goes to College (1942), My Favorite Blonde (with Bob Hope in 1942), three Abbott and Costello movies: Pardon My Sarong (1942), In Society (1944) and The Naughty Nineties (1945), the Texas Guinan bio-pic Incendiary Blonde (1945), and the 1945 screen version of State Fair. Frank Capra must have loved him, for he put him in It’s a Wonderful Life (1946), State of the Union (1948), Riding High (1950), and Pocketful of Miracles (1961).

He’s also in many noir films and Gothic melodramas like The Glass Key (1942), Eugene O’Neill’s The Hairy Ape (1944), The Thin Man Goes Home (1944), Dragonwyck (1946), The Strange Love of Marth Ivers (1946), The Big Sleep (1946), Dark Passage (1947), and Baby Face Nelson (1957) .

But westerns and rural settings seemed to be his main bailiwick and as time went on that was increasingly how he was cast in his later career. He’s in such stuff as When the Daltons Rode (1941) The Shepherd of the Hills (1941), Frontier Badmen (1943), Whispering Smith (1948), Vengeance Valley (1951), The Tall Men (1957) for just a few. Fadden was also a regular on the TV shows Broken Arrow (1956-58), and Cimarron City (1958-59), and appeared on the shows Lawman, Maverick, Cheyenne, The Texan, Rawhide, Laramie, Death Valley Days, The Big Valley, Bonanza, Daniel Boone, and of course Gunsmoke. His penchant for comedy plus that rustic persona blended in films like Destry Rides Again (1939), The Dude Goes West (1948), The Slowest Gun in the West (1960), and Dirty Dingus Mcgee (1970), and two TV sitcoms on which he had recurring parts, the Paul Henning shows Green Acres and Petticoat Junction. 

Some other worthy oddments. He played Pa Kent in the first episode of The Adventures of Superman (1952). He’s in the Disney movie Toby Tyler or Ten Weeks with a Circus (1960), and in the cuckoo all-star B movie Paradise Alley (1962). And he’s in a couple of notable science fiction films: the original The Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956), and Bert I. Gordon’s Empire of the Ants (1977), his final film.  If you’re gonna go, go big!

To find out more about vaudeville and performers like Tom Faddenconsult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous