Most of us remember Sidney Blackmer (1895-1973) as Roman Castavet, the nice elderly friend who helps Mia Farrow in her lonely, terrifying predicament in Rosemary’s Baby (1968). Unlike many of the other older actors in that film however (e.g. Ruth Gordon, Maurice Evans, Ralph Bellamy, Patsy Kelly, Elisha Cook), if you’re like me, you could never place him. Certainly, he had a voice like an actor, and looked like he’d once been handsome. But I’d not seen him anywhere else. If that’s not the case for you? Why, hat’s off to ya.
Blackmer was most successful on the Broadway stage. He won a Tony in 1950 for creating the role of Doc in the original production of William Inge’s Come Back, Little Sheba (the part played by Burt Lancaster in the film). He was also Boss Finley in the original production of Tennessee Williams’ Sweet Bird of Youth (1959-60). Ed Begley got the part in the film of that one. In the film business, Blackmer may have been best known for his Teddy Roosevelt impression; he’d played him onscreen over half a dozen times. But he also played scores of other roles. Not long before Rosemary he’d been in Richard Quine‘s comedy How to Murder Your Wife (1965) with Jack Lemmon, Terry-Thomas, Claire Trevor, Max Showalter, Jack Albertson, and Mary Wickes. He’d also had a recurring role on the television medical drama Ben Casey (1966). Some folks may have recognized him from there, or from the film High Society (1956), in which he played Grace Kelly’s father.
Originally from North Carolina, Blackmer appeared in the silent Thanhouser film Beating Back (1914) and the Broadway show The Morris Dance (1917) before serving in the First World War. After the war, he returned to Broadway, where he worked constantly throughout the ’20s. In 1928 he married stage and screen star Lenore Ulric, a liaison that was to last over a decade. Starting in 1929, he began switching up stage and screen work. On Broadway, he remained important, starring in things like the original production of The Social Register (1931-32) by Anita Loos and John Emerson, and A Case of LIbel (1963-64) with Van Heflin, directed by Sam Wanamker.
In movies, Blackmer was mostly a supporting player, although many of the pictures he appeared in were classics. They include Kismet (1930), Little Caesar (1931), The Count of Monte Cristo (1934), The President Vanishes (1934), The Little Colonel (1935), Heidi (1937), In Old Chicago (1937), Suez (1938), Buffalo Bill (1944) and Duel in the Sun (1946), and well as B movie fodder like Charlie Chan at Monte Carlo (1937), Thank You Mr. Moto (1937), Angels with Broken Wings (1937, with the Dead End Kids), Down Mexico Way (1941 with Gene Autry) and several of the Ellery Queen mysteries. His second wife (m. 1943) was actress Suzanne Kaaren.
Blackmer did lots of guest shots on television throughout the 1950s and ’60s. His last credit was in a 1971 film called Revenge is My Destiny, starring Chris Robinson, who would star in the cult horror film Stanley the follow year. In the end, Blackmer had over 200 major stage and screen credits. There must have been some satisfaction in the fact that his most visible one arrived just in time.