My introduction to Gene Lockhart (Edwin Eugene Lockhart, 1891-1957) came as a kid, when I saw him and his family in the 1938 version of A Christmas Carol on TV. I knew his daughter June (b. 1925) well from Lost in Space and Lassie and other TV and film work. My dad pointed out the fact that three of the Cratchits were a real family, the Lockharts — he was a fan of Gene’s.
Canadian born Gene Lockhart himself was a second generation performer. His father was a Scottish tenor with the 48th Highlanders’ Regimental Band, known as the Kilties of Canada. Gene himself made his debut with the band at age six. He trained seriously in the theatrical arts as a child, performed in vaudeville and acted in sketches with Bea Lillie. His Broadway debut came in 1917 in the Klaw and Erlanger show The Riviera Girl. Another 15 Broadway plays followed through 1915, including the original productions of Ah, Wilderness! and Death of a Salesman (he replaced Lee J. Cobb as Willy Loman). Lockhart also toured with original plays which he wrote The Pierrot Players (1919) and Heigh-Ho (1920). In 1924 he married actress and musician Kathleen Arthur, whom he’d met during the production of a play. Together and separately the Lockharts were a famous American acting couple for decades. June, their only child, was born the year of their marriage.
Gene Lockhart had close to 150 screen credits including Blondie (1938), A Christmas Carol (1938), The Story of Alexander Graham Bell (1939), His Girl Friday (1940), Abe LIncoln in Illinois (1940), Meet John Doe (1941), The Sea Wolf (1941), Billy the Kid (1941), The Devil and Daniel Webster (1941), They Died With Their Boots On (1941), Madame Curie (1943), Miracle on 34th Street (1947), Riding High (1950), A Girl in Every Port (1952), Carousel (1956), The Man in the Grey Flannel Suit (1956), and the bio-pic Jeanne Eagels (1957), his last.
At this writing, Lockhart’s daughter June is still a working actress. Her daughter Anne Lockhart has also enjoyed a hugely productive film and tv career. She, like her mother, inherited those big Lockhart eyes.
To learn more about vaudeville, where Gene Lockhart performed in his youth, please read No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous,