I first became aware of Harold Waldridge (1900-1957) from the 1932 comedy The Heart of New York, in which Waldridge and Ruth Hall play George Sidney’s fun-loving, bratty teenage kids. This movie is precious to me for being a rare feature with major roles for the great vaudeville comedy team of Smith and Dale.
Waldridge was born in New Orleans. His father, Ernest Waldridge, wrote for the New Orleans Times-Picayune and also wrote some short plays. Harold was only 18 when he was cast in the Broadway show The Auctioneer (1918). with David Warfield. Next came Winchell Smith’s The Wheel (1921), and The Ruling Passion (1922) starring George Arliss, his only silent film. Then came four more Broadway shows: P.G, Wodehouse’s Polly Preferred (1923) with Edward Van Sloan, George Abbott’s Love ‘Em and Leave ‘Em (1926) with Donald Meek, Poppa (1928) with Sam Jaffe and Anna Appel, and Veneer (1929) with Henry Hull. To date, I’ve found hints, but no strong evidence yet that he worked in vaudeville and/or burlesque during his fallow periods.
Starting in 1931, Waldridge started appearing regularly in films. As on Broadway he normally played supporting parts as young men who were some combinations of nance, Jewish, wealthy or collegiate. Seeing this particular combination bundled together a couple of times now, I think we begin to zero in on what Gummo Marx’s stage character may have been like. His screen roles ranged in size from named supporting parts to walk-ons. He’s seventh-billed in the 1931 screen adaptation the George S. Kaufman–Ring Lardner Broadway play June Moon with Jack Oakie and Frances Dee. Nearly three dozen films followed, including Sob Sister (1931) with James Dunn, Five Star Final with Edward G. Robinson, the aforementioned The Heart of New York (1932), Strangers of the Evening (1932) with Zasu Pitts and Eugene Pallette, False Faces (1932) with Lowell Sherman and Peggy Shannon, The Death Kiss (1932) with Bela Lugosi, In the Money (1933) with Skeets Gallagher, and Manhattan Love Song (1934) with Robert Armstrong and Dixie Lee.
In fall 1934, Waldridge briefly returned to Broadway to appear in a play called Geraniums in My Window, produced by Phil Baker. He then resumed his Hollywood career, appearing in several more films including Hitch Hike Lady (1935) with Alison Skipworth and Mae Clarke and the 1936 production of Show Boat, in which he had a walk-on. During this period he also had some larger roles in comedy shorts, including Slightly Static (1935) with Thelma Todd and Zasu Pitts for Hal Roach, Can’t Think of It (1936) with Ken Murray for Vitaphone, and Dental Follies (1937) with Pinky Lee for Educational. The association with Pinky Lee is one of the things that make me suspect he worked burlesque, especially since vaudeville was largely gone by this point.
After a short-lived 1937 Broadway show called Without Warning, Waldridge has just two major professional credits: a small part in the 1941 film You Belong to Me with Barbara Stanwyck and Henry Fonda, and a 1943 Broadway show called The Snark Was a Boojum, which also featured a young Dick Van Patten. Waldridge died of a heart attack in New York City 16 years later.
To learn more about show business history, please see No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, and for more on classic comedy please read Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube.