Philip Wood — But Then He Wouldn’t

I scarcely know anything about actor Philip Wood (1895-1940) apart from his credits, but those are enough to intrigue, and I am quite convinced that if he hadn’t been felled by a heart attack at age 45, he would have been one of those well-known character actors of late studio era Hollywood (’40s, ’50s, ’60s).

Originally from Brookline, Mass. Wood was only 20 when cast as a supernumerary in William Gillette’s Secret Service on Broadway in 1915. Following World War One service he returned in early 1921 and was a near constant presence there for nearly two decades. His two dozen Broadway shows included the Theater Guild’s American premier of Molnar’s Liliom (1921) with Eva La Gallienne, Erskine Sanford, and Henry Travers, Sidney Howard’s translation of Casanova (1923) with Katharine Cornell and Lowell Sherman; Walter Hampden’s 1925 productions of Hamlet and The Merchant of Venice; the world premiere stage adaptation of Dreiser’s An American Tragedy (1926); the original stage adaptation of Pearl Buck’s The Good Earth (1932), Billy Rose’s Jumbo (1935-36) and both the stage and movie productions of Room Service (1937, 1938), the latter of course with the Marx Brothers. He also co-wrote a short-lived comedy called Lend Me Your Ears (1936) that starred Walter C. Kelly.

In 1940 Wood played the memorable part of drunken choirmaster Simon Stimson in the screen version of Thornton Wilder’s Our Town. It must have looked very much at the time that his screen career would equal or even exceed the success of his years on the stage. Alas, it didn’t play out like that.