Leon Ames — And Rarely Misses

We love that America’s loveable new father figure took his oath of office on the birthday of Leon Ames (1902-1993), who played dads in Meet Me in St. Louis (1944), Little Women (1949), On Moonlight Bay (1951),  By the Light of the Silvery Moon (1953), Peyton Place (1957) and From the Terrace (1960), and on the sitcoms Life With Father (1953-55) and Father of the Bride (1961-62).

Born Harry Wycoff, the Indiana native acted with various stock companies under the name Leon Waycoff, oddly making it to movies two years prior to arriving on Broadway. His earliest picture is Quick Millions (1931) with Spencer Tracy. Another early one was the horror classic Murders in the Rue Morgue (1932) with Bela Lugosi. It Pays to Sin (1933) was the first of his dozen or so Broadway appearances, which he undertook between films. The original production of James Thurber’s The Male Animal (1940) was by far the most successful of the plays he appeared in.

When not outright playing fathers onscreen Ames often essayed dad-adjacent characters, authority figures like D.A.s, judges, college presidents, doctors, military officers and the like, or neighbors, although he also sometimes also played crooks. He’s in a couple of Mr. Moto pictures, East Side Kids (1940), a couple of Thin Man installments, Anchors Aweigh (1945), Yolanda and the Thief (1956), They Were Expendable (1945), The Postman Always Rings Twice (1946), three Red Skelton comedies, The Great Morgan (1946), Lady in the Lake (1947), and both The Absent Minded Professor (1961) and Son of Flubber (1963), among other things. He was a regular on Mr. Ed from 1963 to 1965.

In 1964, Ames made the headlines for an entirely different reason when he, his wife and a business partner were kidnapped, bound up and detained by thugs who demanded $50,000. After a harrowing few hours, the crooks were foiled by police.

The trauma of the event did not deter Ames from future activity. In fact, he was to continue acting in films until he was 84 years old. Later films included On a Clear Day You Can See Forever (1970), Tora! Tora! Tora! (1970), Sherlock Holmes in New York (1976), Claws (1977, his obligatory late career schlock horror outing), and Peggy Sue Got Married (1986), his last.