20 June 2009

Three Cheers for Dad! Six Actors Who were Great On Screen Fathers, And Not Just Once


Tomorrow, the third Sunday in June is the day I and many others regard as the most important of the year -- Father's Day.

I have been truly blessed having had a great dad and being myself a not terrible father (you can ask my young uns, but only after I tell them what to say). We've all also been blessed here in film lover land with some truly memorable film fathers. I'd like to honor some actors who've given fine performances as daddies more than once. And none of this crap with guys who were fathers but you never saw the kids. We have to have seen a little parenting going on. To narrow the list down to a manageable half dozen I'm only using performances from the 1930's and '40's. Maybe next year I'll pick pops from other decades.

Walter Connolly. The quintessential flustered father of film. My two selections from his films are as Claudette Colbert's dad in It Happened One Night (1934) and Myrna Loy's in Libeled Lady (1936). In both cases he is the wealthy and protective poppa of a much desired daughter. He'll go to any lengths to keep Colbert from marrying her intended (turns out he's right about the guy). He's closer to Loy who he tries to protect from libel and fortune hunters.

Grant Mitchell. Another frequent father. I'm singling him out for roles in two of my favorite films, Wild Boys of the Road (1933) and The Man Who Came to Dinner (1942). In Wild Boys he plays one of the many nameless victims of the Great Depression who finds himself unemployed and with a family to feed. He is bloodied but unbowed. In The Man Who Came to Dinner he suffers the greatest at the hands of that man. It's his house that's invaded and he never liked the guy from the start.

Eugene Pallette. (Photo above.) The actor invariably referred to as frog voiced. He was the patriarch of the family in two of the most celebrated comedies of the era, My Man Godfrey (1936) and The Lady Eve (1941). In the former he had two daughters played by Carole Lombard and Gail Patrick (their looks clearly came from mom). The two kids were both hell raisers and the missus was no day at the beach either. Like many a good father he persevered among the madness and didn't blow his cool. In the Lady Eve his son was played by one Henry Fonda. He was a brewery magnate and a swell fellow, especially to his son's intended played by Barbara (sigh!) Stanwyck.

Henry Travers. Most well known as Clarence the angel in It's A Wonderful Life (1946) he was also a proud poppa in Shadow of a Doubt (1943) and High Sierra (1941). In the former his daughter (Teresa Wright) was gaga over Uncle until she figured out he was a murderer. In the latter his progeny (Joan Leslie) enthralled a gangster played by Humphrey Bogart. Don't blame him. He was clearly a sweet old dad, if a bit addled.

Frank Morgan. Much more than being the man behind the curtain that we were supposed to ignore in The Wizard of Oz (1939), he was also daddy-o in Bombshell (1933) and The Mortal Storm (1940). His daughter in Bombshell was a film star played by film star Jean Harlow. He wasn't a model father given his love of the bottle and spending his child's lucre. But a more lovable ole cuss you'll never meet. But in The Mortal Storm he is a beloved professor and the much respected patriarch of a large family in Austria. The family is torn apart when the Nazis come to power. He holds to his ideals as does daughter Margaret Sullavan.

Cary Grant. Cary Grant a father? Mister suave, sophisticated ladies man? Yup. See him in My Favorite Wife (1940) and Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House (1948). His favorite wife in the the first film is clearly Irene Dunne who birthed his two darling kiddies. Despite all the nonsense going on he remains a devoted father. In Blandings him and wife Myrna Loy have two daughters who they spare the wackiness of building the aforesaid house.

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