Long have I been a fan of Charles Dingle’s turn in William Wyler’s 1941 screen adaptation of Lillian Hellman’s The Little Foxes opposite Bette Davis, one of his first, biggest, and flashiest screen roles. And he’s great in some other five dozen other supporting roles, often in films that are considered classics. One can easily imagine a past in stage melodrama and the like from his screen performances, but I had a little difficulty getting the goods. Fortunately the Oak Park and River Forest Museum of Illinois had this informative article in their Fall 2020 newsletter which helped me fill in the gaps.
Dingle (1887-1956) was from Wabash, Indiana and became a stage professional at age 14 (circa 1901). He did indeed work with stock companies for years and believe it or not, was considered a handsome leading man, a “matinee idol”. By his early 20s he was the star of the Grace Hayward Stock Company, and living in Oak Park, a suburb of Chicago. Amusingly, as the article we mentioned chronicles, he actually became a source of controversy, after being accused of corrupting many a local young girl, with pro- and anti-Dingle factions fighting it out at meetings, shouting matches, and street protests! Eventually, Dingle had to skedaddle. Oak Park had grown too hot for him.
We were gratified to learn from old issues of the Dramatic Mirror and Variety that Charles Dingle & Co. toured vaudeville, at one point with an Irish family comedy sketch. The mentions I’ve seen are from 1918 and 1919. He was 41 years old before he made it to Broadway in Killers (1928). A dozen other Broadway plays followed, including The Little Foxes (1939-40), which is how he got cast in the film. Prior to that he’d done some comedy shorts in 1937, including Double Talk with Edgar Bergen, Rhythm Roundup with Estelle Taylor, and DuBarry Did All Right with Irene Bordoni. Some of his notable features besides The Little Foxes included The Talk of the Town, George Washington Slept Here, and Tennessee Johnson (all 1942), Lady of Burlesque and Song of Bernadette (both 1943), Cinderella Jones, Three Wise Fools, The Beast with Five Fingers and Duel in the Sun (all 1946), My Favorite Brunette (1947), If You Knew Susie, State of the Union, and A Southern Yankee (all 1948), Call Me Madam (1953), and The Courtship of Billy Mitchell (1955), his last. Naturally he did tons of live television drama throughout the 1950s as well.
To learn more about vaudeville history, please see No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous