The Irish-English-American Characters of J. Pat O’Malley

His birthday was a couple of days ago, but I couldn’t squeeze it into a very busy blogging day, and besides what better day than St. Patrick’s to appreciate a man named J. Pat O’Malley (1904-1985). The “J” was to differentiate him from the earlier silent movie actor Pat O’Malley. 

O’Malley was a Hollywood casting director’s dream — Irish by extraction, English by birth, he could handle a wide variety of accents from his home countries plus those of his adopted one. He was dumpy looking and bald, with a sort of hang-dog face not unlike William Frawley’s. O’Malley characters were usually lovably gruff, either working class or nouveau riche, or, just as often as not, homeless. Plus, he could sing. For the first decade of his career (1925-1935) he sang in English music hall and recorded some 400 tracks, both as a solo artist and with the Jack Hylton Orchestra.

O’Malley moved to the U.S. in the late ’30s, and took a few years to gain traction. His first Hollywood role was a walk-on as a fish peddler in the pirate movie Captain Caution (1940). O’Malley also brought his talents to Broadway a half dozen times between 1944 and 1954, most memorably in Ten Little Indians (1944-45) and Dial M for Murder (1952-54).

His most fruitful (and undoubtedly best known) association was with the films of Walt Disney, both animated and live-action. He’s in The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad (1949), Alice in Wonderland (1951), Spin and Marty: The Movie (1955), One Hundred and One Dalmatians (1961), Son of Flubber (1963), Mary Poppins (1964), The Jungle Book (1967), and Robin Hood (1973). Other notable pictures: Lassie Come Home (1943), Witness for the Prosecution (1957), The Long Hot Summer (1958), Star! (1968), Hello, Dolly! (1969), The Cheyenne Social Club (1970), Willard (1971) and The Gumball Rally (1976).

By the ’60s and ’70s O’Malley was such a recognizable character actor that he began to get lots of work on TV, his guest shots essentially star turns. He did episodes of The Twilight Zone, The Andy Griffith Show, Batman, Hogan’s Heroes, Green Acres,Bonanza,The Flying Nun, It Takes a Thief, Adam 12, The Brady Bunch,  Emergency,The Night Stalker,Maude, Three’s Company and Barney Miller, among many others. He also had regular roles on the shows Black Saddle (1959-60), My Favorite Martian (1963-64), Wendy and Me (1964-65), and A Touch of Grace (1973). His last credit was a 1981 episode of Taxi.