Allen Jenkins: Fifty Years a Mug

Actor Allen Jenkins

Staten Island born Alfred McGonegal (1900-1974), the Runyonesque character actor who played crooks and coppers and mugs and cabbies, might have done well to have kept his given name, rather than change it to the WASPy sounding Allen Jenkins. It probably seemed right for the pseudo-English aesthetics of early 20th century theatre Though James Cagney, with whom Jenkins danced in the chorus of Pitter Patter (1920), never changed his, and it proved to be the right decision for the future, for a Hollywood which valued authenticity and proved to be interested in the immigrant experience. He certainly went on to play his share of Irishman,

No matter, Jenkins did well enough for himself. His seven Broadway shows included Potash and Perlmutter, Detectives (1926, a sequel in the popular series), and the original production of The Front Page (1926).

He played an ex-con in his first film, a 1931 short called Straight and Narrow. Over 150 film and tv roles followed. He was particularly in demand (and got his biggest roles in the biggest films) in the ’30s. You can see him in classic pictures like Grand Hotel (1932), Three on a Match (1933), I Am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang (1932), 42nd Street (1933), Jimmy the Gent (1934), The Singing Kid (1936), Three Men on a Horse (1936), Dead End (1937), Gold Diggers in Paris (1938), Five Came Back (1939), Destry Rides Again (1939), Ball of Fire (1941), Tortilla Flat (1942) and Maisie Gets Her Man (1942). I am delighted to be able to point out that he is in the Hilton Sisters picture Chained for Life (1952)!

TV work included regular roles as on the short-lived sitcoms The Duke (1954) and Hey Jeannie (1956-57), a recurring part on The Red Skelton Show (1954-62), and a stint doing the voice of Office Dibble on the cartoon Top Cat (1961-62). Naturally he made five appearances on Damon Runyon Theatre (1955-56). He has a cameo as a cop in It’s a Mad Mad Mad Mad World (1963), and is well cast in Robin and the Seven Hoods (1964). Significantly, his last role was in Billy Wilder’s 1974 remake of The Front Page, a poetic send-off in that he had been in the original Broadway production a half century earlier.