John George: A Distinctive Little Devil

A tribute today to little person/actor John George (Tutie Fatella, 1898-1968).

While George had over 225 screen credits, it is fitting that one of his biggest and best known parts was in a film called The Unknown, for little is known about his private life, other than that he came from Aleppo, Syria (then part of the Ottoman Empire) and emigrated to the U.S. when he was about 13.

By the age of 18 George had made his way from Nashville to Hollywood, where he began appearing in supporting roles in films. An interesting early one was Frauds and Frenzies (1918) with Larry Semon and Stan Laurel. His big supporters during the silent years were Rex Ingram (the director, not the African American actor), and Lon Chaney and Tod Browning (both together and separately). For Ingram, he appeared in dozens of films through 1926, beginning with Black Orchid (1917), and including classics like The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse (1921), The Prisoner of Zenda (1922) Scaramouche (1923), and The Magician (1926). In collaboration the Chaney and/or Browning, he can be seen in The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1923), The Road to Mandalay (1926), The Unknown (1927), The Big City (1928), The Man Who Laughs (1928), Outside the Law (1930) and Dracula (1931). ironically, he is not in Freaks (1932)! Other films in which George had notable parts included Don Juan (1926) with John Barrymore and Babes in Toyland (1934, in which he played Barnaby’s assistant).

George commonly played henchmen or assistants to mad scientists, or other criminal masterminds, or was used to help exoticize a setting. Interestingly, his character, and the setting, were often Arab. Since he actually came from the Arab speaking world, one wonders if he, or casting people, actively sought to fit him to such parts, given the fact that this is an industry that could be quite indifferent to accuracy on that score. In the sound era he was usually an extra with no lines (as compared with a contemporary such as Little Angie), which leads me to suspect his accent was rather thick. He appeared in dozens of films over 45 years in bit roles. So many are classics I am tempted to mention them,  but nah, if you’re interested just scroll his IMDB list.

In his last years George worked mostly in television. One of his bigger late parts was on the show The Adventures of Dr. Fu Manchu (1956). He also worked regularly as a crowd extra on Bonanza, Gunsmoke, Death Valley Days, and Have Gun Will Travel. John George retired in 1962.

For more on performing little people please check out Rose’s Royal Midgets and Other Little People in Vaudeville, and for more more on silent film please read Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube.