Cyril Ring: From “The Cocoanuts” to Oblivion

Fans of the Marx Brothers’ The Cocoanuts (1929) may be astonished to learn that the homely, rather unimpressive actor who plays the schemer Harvey Yates was anybody, anybody at all. But he was — in fact, he was sort of theatrical royalty. Cyril Ring (1892-1967) was a fifth generation thespian. He and all of his siblings went into the family business. The most famous and successful of his generation was his sister Blanche Ring. And from 1915 through 1922 he was married to Broadway star Charlotte Greenwood, with whom he appeared in her 1919 starring Broadway vehicle Linger Longer Letty. Ring’s other Broadway shows included The Wall Street Girl (1912), directed by and starring his brother-in-law Charles Winninger; a 1921 revival of Trilby starring Wilton Lackaye; and a forgotten thing called Back Seat Driver (1928).

Nor is The Cocoanuts Ring’s only film. In fact, he appeared in an astounding 423 movies! Although we may say that The Cocoanuts contained one of his last decent parts. Ring had always been a supporting player, but in the silent era he’d at least enjoyed named parts. His first movie was The Conquest of Canaan (1921) starring Thomas Meighan. Several of Ring’s parts in the twenties are in Meighan’s films; this is because Meighan was married to Cyril’s sister Frances. Another notable film for lovers of comedy is In Hollywood with Potash and Perlmutter (1924) with Alexander Carr and George Sidney.

In the sound era, Ring’s status dropped precipitously. Fans of The Cocoanuts can surmise the cause. He didn’t come off very well in that picture. He flubs lines, is stilted, and though only in his late ’30s is looking somewhat the worse for wear. And his reviews were terrible. Still, there was a grace period. He has named characters and lines in The Social Lion (1930) with Jackie Oakie and Skeets Gallagher, Top Speed (1930) with Joe E. Brown, and Millie (1931) with Helen Twelvetrees. Immediately after this, Ring tumbled all the way off the cliff to walk-ons and jobs as a crowd extra. In like 400 movies! These include the Marx Brothers Monkey Business (1931) and A Day the Races (1937); International House (1932) and Tillie and Gus (1933) with W.C. Fields; Meet the Baron (1933); Goin’ to Town (1935) and Go West Young Man (1936) with Mae West; When’s Your Birthday? (1937) with Joe E. Brown; Block-heads (1938) with Laurel and Hardy; Keep ’em Flying (1941) with Abbott and Costello; The Wild Man of Borneo (1941) with Frank Morgan; several Preston Sturges pictures, etc etc etc. I just hand picked some classic comedies out of the list. He’s in films of all genres, including many well known classics, but again, merely as a crowd extra. His last film was the Jeff Chandler boxing picture Iron Man in 1951.

For more on classic comedy please read Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube.