Jody Gilbert: Bossy, Beefy, and Blacklisted

Plus-sized bit player Jody Gilbert (1916-1979) was often cast for the air of authenticity she lent to a role. Originally from Fort Worth, Texas she was often cast as intimidating working class women: waitresses, laundresses, masseuses and the like. Her character names are often “fat lady” or “matron”. In reality Gilbert was trained in voice and acting at Columbia University and had toured in stock theatre and musicals. She knew her beans.

Her films credits include Ninotchka (1939), Maisie was a Lady (1941), Never Give a Sucker an Even Break (1941 — pictured above, of course), Hellzapoppin’ (1941), Lost in a Harem (1944, with Abbott and Costello), Christmas in Connecticut (1945), Life with Blondie (1945), Blondie’s Holiday (1947), The Paleface (1948), The Yellow Cab Man (1950, with Red Skelton), and My Friend Irma Goes West (1950 with Martin and Lewis). In 1948 she got a regular role on the popular radio show Life with Luigi, probably what she was best known for her in her day.

Following Houdini (1953), Gilbert fell a victim of the Hollywood blacklist, not because she herself was a Communist, but because she took the Fifth and made a mockery of the proceedings. There is a great account of that here.

She returned to amass a bunch more film and TV credits in the mid ’60s. Films of this period include Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969), Willard (1971) and Lifeguard (1976). Her last credit was an episode of Switch in 1978.

For more on classic comedy, read Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube,