Leonid Kinskey: From St. Petersburg to Sit-Coms

Classic comedy fans know Leonid KInskey (1903-1998) best as the apologetic Agitator in the Marx Brothers’ Duck Soup (1933) in that early scene with Trentino (Louis Calhern), and from such things as several of the Big Broadcast films (1932-38), Lubitsch’s Trouble in Paradise (1932), Strictly Dynamite (1934) with Jimmy Durante and Lupe Velez, the all-star Hollywood Party (1934), Goin’ to Town (1935) with Mae West, Professor Beware (1938) with Harold Lloyd, Ball of Fire (1941), The Talk of the Town (1942), Gildersleeve on Broadway (1943), and Bob Hope’s Monsieur Beaucaire (1946). His best known role among the wider public may be the part of Sacha in Casablanca (1942). While he was occasionally in dramatic films like Les Miserables (1935), Three Godfathers (1936) and The Man with the Goldern Arm (1955), one associates him with comedies, and also musical confections like The Merry Widow (1934), Rhythm on the Range (1936), On Your Toes (1939), The Story of Vernon and Irene Castle (1939), Down Argentine Way (1940), and I Married an Angel (1942). The Helen Morgan Story (1957) was his last theatrical film.

Russian native KInskey (born in St. Petersburg) performed at Imperial theatres as a mime, fleeing the country in 1921 (ironically, in light of his Duck Soup role) when life under Communism became too unbearable. Throughout the ’20s he toured Europe and South America, finally making his way to New York. One of his notable theatre roles in the States was the national tour of Wonder Bar with Al Jolson. In films, he was a bit player, cast in the same kind of roles as Mischa Auer got, though the men were very different sorts of actors. As with Auer, his characters weren’t all Russian — he played a wide variety of European types.

From 1955 to 1956 he was a regular on the TV program The People’s Choice with Jackie Cooper and this marked his transition to the small screen. Thereafter you could see him on such shows as The Jack Benny Program, The Ann Sothern Show, The Joey Bishop Show, Hogan’s Heroes, Batman, and many others. His last screen credit (of 129) was a 1971 episode of The Chicago Teddy Bears. He had come full circle to the 1920s.

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