Jack Mulhall: From Biograph to B Movies

A tip of the hat today to silent screen star Jack Mulhall (1887-1979). Mulhall was from upstate Wappinger’s Falls, New York and started out as a teenager working carnivals and vaudeville, then musicals, and legit theatre. He began working for Biograph in 1910, with a supporting role in D.W. Griffith’s The Fugitive. Over 400 films followed! Mulhall period peak stardom was the 1920s. Pictures of the period include Molly O (1921) with Mabel Normand, Dulcy (1923) with Constance Talmadge, The Call of the Wild (1923), The Mad Whirl (1925), and The Butter and Egg Man (1928, which, like Dulcy, an adaptation of a popular George S. Kaufman stage comedy).

When sound came in, Mulhall was one of the many stars showcased in the variety extravaganza The Show of Shows (1928). For a brief period he managed to remain a major player in talkies. Show Girl in Hollywood (1930) is one of the better remembered pictures from this period. He rapidly sank to the status of bit player in major films, however, while continuing to get better parts in B movies and serials. The latter sort of work include the serial Burn ‘Em Barnes (1934, in which he played the lead) and could also be seen in Flash Gordon’s Trip to Mars (1938), Buck Rogers (1939), Black Friday (1940), Mysterious Doctor Satan (1940), Adventures of Captain Marvel (1941), Invisible Ghost (1941), The Spider Returns (1941), Dick Tracy vs Crime Inc (1941), Gang Busters (1942), The Ape Man (1943), the Hilton Sisters bio-pic Chained for Life (1952), Blackhawk (1952), and The She Creature (1956).

As for bigger pictures, W.C. Fields cast him in small roles in The Old Fashioned Way (1934), It’s a Gift (1934), and Mississippi (1935). He also has bit parts in George White’s Scandals of 1935; Love in Bloom (1935) with Burn and Allen; People Will Talk (1935); John Ford’s The Informer (1935); The Big Broadcast of 1936 and The Big Broadcast of 1937; Anything Goes (1936); Strike Me Pink (1936) with Eddie Cantor; Klondike Annie (1936) with Mae West; Show Boat (1936); Libeled Lady (1936); Topper (1937); Dulcy (1940–quite a come down since he’d co-starred in the previous version); the Abbott and Costello films Buck Privates and In the Navy (both 1941); the East Side Kids pictures Bowery Blitzkrieg (1941), Ghosts on the Loose (1943) and Bowery Champs (1944); Swing Shift Maisie (1943); Red Skelton’s Whistling in Brooklyn (1943); Bob’s Hope’s Monseiur Beaucaire (1946); My Friend Irma (1949, the first film to feature Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis); and the George Gobel comedy I Married a Woman (1958).

In 1949, Mulhall returned brief to the stage to appear in Ken Murray’s Blackouts.

Mulhall also guest starred in such television shows as Dragnet, Playhouse 90 and Alfred Hitchock Presents. His last film was The Atomic Submarine (1959) with Dick Foran, Bob Steele, and Joi Lansing.

To learn more about vaudeville, where Jack Mulhall got his start, please see No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, and for more on silent film please read Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube.