Murray Alper: “Where To, Mac?”

Broadway and Hollywood supporting player Murray Alper (1904-1984) had over 250 screen credits (basically he was the Brooklyn cabby from central casting), but we thought it would be expedient to lead with his high representation in classic comedies:

These include Harold Lloyd’s The Milky Way (1936), Joe E. Brown’s When’s Your Birthday? (1937) and Riding on Air (1937), two Blondie comedies, eight Bowery Boys comedies, Jack Benny’s The Horn Blows at Midnight (1945), Up Goes Maisie (1946), Abbott and Costello Meet the Killer Boris Karloff (1949), The Three Stooges Go Around the World in a Daze (1963) and The Outlaws is Coming (1965, also with the Stooges), Papa’s Delicate Condition (1963) with Jackie Gleason, and seven with Jerry Lewis: The Geisha Boy (1958), It’s Only Money (1963), The Nutty Professor (1963), The Patsy (1964), The Disorderly Orderly (1964), The Big Mouth (1967) and Hook Line and Sinker (1969). He also some appeared in shorts: Wife to Spare (1947) with Andy Clyde, Tricky Dicks (1953) with the Three Stooges, and Spies and Guys (1953) with Joe Besser.

Alper was originally from New York. I have not yet discovered whether he started in vaudeville, though at the age of 23 he made his Broadway debut in a show with a lot of vaudeville in it. The Spider, A Play of the Varieties (1927) was set in a variety theatre, and the cast and characters included John Halliday as Chatrand the Great (a magician), Mack & La Rue, billed as “The Skating Marvels of The Century”, Lytell & Fant as “The Chocolate Cake -Eaters”, and Roy Hargrave as “Alexander, the Boy with the Radio Eyes”. It was made into a film in 1931 with an entirely different cast. The Spider was one of those mysteries so popular at the time which seem to start off as supernatural horror but later prove to be the deceptions of criminals. Its basically the Scooby Doo plot but its as old as The Hound of the Baskervilles. His second Broadway play, The Wild Man of Borneo (1927) was also made into a film, as was his third, The Royal Family (1927-28). It was his casting in the 1930 screen version The Royal Family of Broadway that brought him to Hollywood.

The 1935 adaptation of George M. Cohan’s Seven Keys to Baldpate was another stagey Broadway mystery adapted into a movie which Alper appeared in. Other show bizzy pictures in his dossier: The Big Broadcast of 1937, Cocoanut Grove (1938), Gold Diggers in Paris (1938), Yankee Doodle Dandy (1942), and the 1952 version of The Jazz Singer.

Alper became a sort of Poor Man’s Frank McHugh (not that he was McHugh’s inferior as an actor; he just got smaller parts, though often memorable ones). Alfred Hitchcock was clearly a fan, for her cast him in Mr. and Mrs. Smith (1941), Saboteur (1942), and Strangers on a Train (1951), and .two episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents. You can also see him in Winterset (1936), The Maltese Falcon (1941), The Leech Woman (1960), Ocean’s 11 (1960), Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962), and Walk on the Wild Side (1962) and dozens of other films in all genres, westerns, war pictures, noir and crime, musicals, mysteries etc, as well as guest shots on tv shows like The Munsters and Get Smart.

He was 65 at the time of his retirement.

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