William B. Davidson: Lawyer Who Played Lawyers

Just a brief acknowledgment of the existence of character actor William B. Davidson (1888-1947) today.

The fact that Davidson was both a Columbia football star and a trained lawyer speaks to his interesting appeal, for he was at once imposingly tough looking and distinguished in appearance, giving him lots of range. Davidson wound up in lots of period pieces throughout his career; he was tailor made for melodrama and the straight parts in comedies (gangsters, lawyers, politicians). Originally from Dobbs Ferry, he began his career at Brooklyn-based Vitagraph Studios in 1914. (Although inexplicably he is in one silent Hal Roach comedy in 1922, The Dumb-Bell with Snub Pollard and Marie Mosquini). His best known silents may be The Gaucho (1927) with Douglas Fairbanks and Lupe Velez, and The Noose (1928).

When sound came Davidson he actually starred in several Vitaphone shorts: Sharp Tools (1928), Ain’t it the Truth (1929), Always Faithful (1929), Letters (1930), and Fat Wives for Thin (1930). The classic comedies, musicals and show biz stories he appeared in include Queens of the Night Clubs (1929) with Texas Guinan; Sunny (1930) with Marilyn MIller; Hook LIne and Sinker (1930) with Wheeler and Woolsey; I’m No Angel (1933) wth Mae West, Meet the Baron (1933) with Baron Munchausen; Roberta (1935); Bright Lights (1935) and Earthworm Tractors (1937) with Joe E. Brown; The Singing Kid (1936) with Al Jolson; Gold Diggers of 1937; the Preston Sturges-penned Easy Living (1937); a couple of the Blondie films; My Little Chickadee (1940) with Mae West and W.C. Fields; Lillian Russell (1940); Tin Pan Alley (1940); A Night at Earl Carroll’s (1940); the Abbott and Costello comedies In the Navy (1941), Hold That Ghost (1941), Keep ‘Em Flying (1941) and In Society (1944); Yankee Doodle Dandy (1942); Gentleman Jim (1942); Shine on Harvest Moon (1944); Incendiary Blonde (1945); Ziegfeld Follies (1945); and My Wild Irish Rose (1947).

He also did some classic horror. His best remembered role of all may be as the ship’s captain in The Most Dangerous Game (1932); he’s also in Mystery of the Wax Museum (1933). And this leaves out hundreds of other gangster pictures, melodramas, westerns, etc. In all, he appeared in over 320 movies, the last of which was The Judge Steps Out (1948) with Alexander Knox and Ann Sothern.

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