Some brief remembrance today for Wilbur Mack (George Frear Runyon, 1873-1964) and his two wives/ vaudeville partners Nella Walker (1886-1971) and Gertrude Purdy.
Mack was from Binghamton and started on the stage when he was 16, playing with stock companies and in vaudeville. In 1910 he married Nella Walker, who became is vaudeville partner. Mack wrote his own original routines and songs for the act. At some point, the pair spit and had their own separate movie careers. Mack then paired with Gertrude Purdy. Their act was preserved in a 1929 Vitaphone short called An Everyday Occupation.
Mack was most successful in pictures from 1925 through 1931. He was a supporting player, usually third billed or lower, mostly acting in westerns and mysteries, the best known of which might be William Wyler’s Straight Shootin’ (1927). When talkies came in, he first supported George Chandler in western shorts. But by 1931 he was mostly an uncredited bit player and even a crowd extra, a status he maintained til he reached 400 screen credits. He still gets decent enough turns early on in movies like Blondie of the Follies (1932), What No Beer? (1933), Bombshell (1933), Stand Up and Cheer (1934), Baby Face Harrington (1935), Redheads on Parade (1935) and San Francisco (1936). But for decades afterward he was literally just a face in the crowd. His last work was for Bonanza in 1963.
Nella Walker fared better in the movies over the long haul, always a supporting player, and usually playing a named character, although she wasn’t always credited. She was a mature woman by the time her picture career got going; her characters were usually “Mrs. Somebody”. Her first picture was Tanned Legs (1929) with Arthur Lake, June Clyde, and Ann Pennington. Others include Vagabond Lover (1929) with Rudy Vallee, George M. Cohan’s Seven Keys to Baldpate (1929), Alias French Gertie (1930) with Bebe Daniels, Rain or Shine (1939) with Joe Cook, Trouble in Paradise (1932), Klondike Annie (1936) with Mae West, Stella Dallas (1937), Professor Beware (1938), Swannee River (1939), Kitty Foyle (1940), Hellzapoppin (1940) Air Raid Wardens (1943) with Laurel and Hardy, Buck Privates (1941) and In Society (1944) with Abbott and Costello, Blondie for Victory (1942), Undercover Maisie (1947), Variety Girl (1947) and Billy Wilder’s Sabrina (1954), her last.
To learn more about vaudeville history, please see No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, and for more on classic film, please read Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube