Darlings! Mummy has made a decision! After reading dozens of posts and having hundreds of conversations with well-meaning folks who just don't know about the great CHARACTER actors who gave films the depth and genius that surrounded and supported the so-called "stars", I am going to post a weekly, special entry called SYBIL'S "WHO'Z DAT??"....there'll be photos and a mini-bio, and the next time you see one of those familiar, fabulous faces that you just "can't quite place".......well, maybe these posts will help. Some of these actors worked more, had longer and broader careers, and ended up happier, more loved, and even wealthier than the "stars" that the public "worships"......I think there may be a metaphor in that! What do you think??? Here's our next guest!! Even though he usually played mid-mannered and even mousy characters, many of you recognize him on sight: JOHN QUALEN (December 8, 1899 – September 12, 1987)
Born Johan Mandt Kvalen, of Norwegian immigrant parents in Vancouver, British Columbia, Qualen was a Canadian-American character actor who specialized in Scandinavian roles. His father was a Lutheran minister who changed the family's original surname, "Kvalen", to "Qualen" and moved the family to Elgin, Illinois when John was very young. Not much is known of his upbringing, but his acting career began when he won an oratory contest and was given a scholarship to Northwestern University. His interest in acting was piqued there, and he began appearing in tent shows on the Lyceum-Chautauqua circuit, and in stock as a talented musician playing piano, flute and saxophone. Eventually making it to Broadway, he got his big break as the Swedish janitor in Elmer Rice’s Pulitzer Prize winning STREET SCENE (1929).
His movie career began when he recreated the role in the film version produced by Samuel Goldwyn and directed by King Vidor in 1931. This was followed by his appearance in John Ford’s ARROWSMITH (1931) which began a thirty-five year membership in that director's so-called "stock company", with important supporting roles to stars like Jimmy Stewart and John Wayne (with whom he made nine films). Some of those film collaborations include THE SEARCHERS (1956), TWO RODE TOGETHER (1961), THE MAN WHO SHOT LIBERTY VALANCE (1962) and CHEYENNE AUTUMN (1964). One of his most memorable performances (with a mid-Western accent!) was as the down-and-out farmer Muley who recounts the destruction of his farm by a foreclosing bank in Ford's THE GRAPES OF WRATH (1940) starring Henry Fonda. Appearing in well over one hundred films, he showed his versatility by always having a comic side to his dramatic roles, and a pathos to his comic turns. As the befuddled and accidental killer Earl Williams in Howard Hawks’s classic comedy HIS GIRL FRIDAY (1940), he lent a poignant edge to the screwball insanity of the farce starring Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell. Qualen was cast with a pantheon of some of the best character actors of film including Porter Hall, Roscoe Karns, Regis Toomey, Abner Biberman, Cliff Edwards, Ernest Truex, Gene Lockhart, Edwin Maxwell, and Billy Gilbert.
Another of his most memorable and beloved performances was in the iconic CASABLANCA (1942). Directed by Michael Curtiz and starring Humphrey Bogart, Ingrid Bergman, Conrad Veidt, Claude Rains, and another ensemble of amazing supporting players, Qualen does his brilliant turn as the meek but brave little black-market jeweler Berger in Rick’s Café Américain. Qualen continued to act extensively on television from the 50s and 60s through the 70s. Although plagued in his later years by failing eyesight, he worked steadily into his final years. He was treasurer of The Authors Club and historian of The Masquers, Hollywood's famed social group for actors. He died of heart failure in 1987 in Torrance, California and was interred in the Forest Lawn Memorial Park in Glendale. He was survived by his wife Pearle Larson and three daughters.
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