Frank Moran: The Fighting Dentist

What an excellent way to begin the day — becoming acquainted with pugilist, pro athlete and character actor Frank Moran (1887-1967).

Cleveland born Moran initially studied dentistry at the University of Pittsburgh, where he also excelled at football. After school he played pro ball with the Pittsburgh Lyceums and Akron Pros (pre-NFL days). He took up boxing while in the navy (he even sparred with President Teddy Roosevelt). As a prizefighter he fought for the heavyweight championship against Jack Johnson (1914) and Jess Willard (1916), losing both rimes. He retired from the ring in 1922.

As an actor Moran appeared in over 150 films (1928-57), usually in bit roles as a bouncer, a henchman or some other sort of primitive heavy (and very often a boxer, fight manager or ref). He was often employed in such roles to comic purposes, one of the reasons we give him attention here today. He’s in She Done Him Wrong (1933) with Mae West, The Bowery (1933), The Prizefighter and the Lady (1933), Judge Priest (1934) with Will Rogers, and Bright Eyes (1934) with Shirley Temple. He appeared with the Three Stooges in Punch Drunks and Three Chumps Ahead, (both 1934). The Good Fairy (1935) began Moran long association with Preston Sturges, who gave him funny roles in almost everyone of his films from The Great McGinty (1940) to Unfaithfully Yours (1948). Moran has a hilarious turn as a psychotic cell-mate in Babyface Harrington (1935). He’s in Chaplin’s Modern Times (1936), Capra’s Meet John Doe, and Rene Claire’s The Flame of New Orleans (both 1941). He’s also in The Man Who Came to Dinner (1942), Gentleman Jim (1942), Lady of Burlesque (1943), Ghosts on the Loose (1943), The Princess and the Pirate (1944, with Bob Hope), Road to Utopia (1945, with Hope and Crosby), The Great John L (1945),  and The Kid from Brooklyn (1946) with Danny Kaye. 

He’s also in some interesting classic horror, like Dante’s Inferno (1935), The Corpse Vanishes (1942), and Return of the Ape Man (1944). Frank Moran’s last film was the 1957 western The Iron Sheriff with Sterling Hayden. 

To find out more about old time show biz, please see No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, and for more on classic comedy, read Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube,