Hobart Cavanaugh: From “State Fair” to “Stella”

Virginia City born Hobart Cavanaugh (1886-1950) was an early vaudeville partner of Walter Catlett. The mild-mannered, weak-chinned character actor broke into Broadway in 1916 with Mile-a-Minute Kendall, then returned to the boards for another dozen shows between 1919 and 1935, the longest-running of which was Irene (1919-21).

In 1928 Cavanaugh appeared in San Francisco Nights, his only silent film, with Mae Busch. From 1929 to 1931 he was in a half dozen Vitaphone comedy shorts, playing starring or principal roles in all of them: The Outlaw In-Law (1929), Sympathy (1929), The Poor Fish (1930), The Headache Man (1930), Close Friends (1931), and The Wall Street Mystery (1931).

Cavanaugh’s Hollywood career began in earnest in 1933 with the original production of State Fair (1933). He normally played nervous, worried little men in clerical positions, or the like. Cavanaugh played supporting roles in almost 200 films, including I Cover the Waterfront (1933), Gold Diggers of 1933, Footlight Parade (1933), Broadway Through a Keyhole (1933), Moulin Rouge (1934), Wonder Bar (1934), Harold Teen (1934), A Midsummer Night’s Dream (1935), Captain Blood (1935), Idiot’s Delight (1939), Zenobia (1939), Rose of Washington Square (1939),  My Favorite Spy (1942), Whistling in Dixie (1942), and Gildersleeve on Broadway (1943). He returned to Broadway in 1948 to appear in As the Girls Go with Bobby Clark and Irene Rich. His last two film appearances are in A Letter to Three Wives (1949) and Stella (1950).

To learn more about vaudeville, please see my book No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, and for more on early film, please read Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube.