A New Sybil's "WHO'Z DAT?"... Edward Arnold (February 18, 1890 – April 26, 1956)


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 regular, 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???.... while you’re considering, I’d like to introduce one of my very favorites of all time; Edward Arnold (February 18, 1890 – April 26, 1956). I think I loved him from the very first time I saw him in film…and I loved him even when he played villains, which he did fairly often. But he did something that so few even great actors can do; he played both lovable characters AND villains, both of them convincingly! And he even played villains who became lovable during the course of the story! In dramas, melodramas, and comedies!!

     He was born Gunther Edward Arnold Schneider on the Lower East Side of New York City, the son of German immigrants Elizabeth (Ohse) and Carl Schneider. His schooling came at the East Side Settlement House. Orphaned at 11, Arnold supported himself with a series of manual labor jobs. He made his first stage appearance at 12, playing Lorenzo in an amateur production of The Merchant of Venice at the East Side Settlement House. Encouraged to continue acting by playwright/ journalist John D. Barry, Arnold became a professional at 15, joining the prestigious Ben Greet Players shortly afterward. After touring with such notables as Ethel Barrymore and Maxine Elliot, he did bit and extra work in the early days of silent film at Chicago's Essanay Film Studios and New Jersey's World Studios during the early 'teens. His first significant role was in 1916's THE MISLEADING LADY. In 1919, he left film for a return to the stage, and did not appear again in movies until he made his talkie debut in OKAY AMERICA! (1932). He recreated one of his stage roles in one of his early films, WHISTLING IN THE DARK (1933). A burly man with a commanding style and superb baritone voice, his role in the 1935 film DIAMOND JIM boosted him to stardom. He reprised the role of “Diamond” Jim Brady in the 1940 film LILLIAN RUSSELL. He also played a similar role in THE TOAST OF NEW YORK (1937), another fictionalized version of real-life business chicanery, for which he was billed above Cary Grant in the posters with his name in much larger letters.

     During this time, Arnold appeared in over 150 movies. Although he was labeled "box office poison" in 1938 by an exhibitor publication (he shared this dubious distinction with Joan Crawford, Greta Garbo, Marlene Dietrich, Mae West, Fred Astaire, and Katharine Hepburn!!!!), he never lacked for work. Rather than continue in leading man roles, he gave up losing weight and went after character parts instead. Arnold was quoted as saying, "The bigger I got, the better character roles I received." He was such a sought-after actor, he often worked on two pictures at the same time.

        Arnold was an expert at playing a wide range of lovable rogues, powerful villains quietly pulling strings, and heroic authority figures, always with wit, intelligence, and energy. As a matter of fact, Arnold was so vivid onscreen that it was nearly impossible for even leading actors to get the attention of audiences whenever he would appear in a scene. He was the first actor to portray Rex Stout's famous detective Nero Wolfe, starring in MEET NERO WOLFE (1936), the film based on the first novel in the series. He went on to appear in major Hollywood productions and was best known for his roles in COME AND GET IT (1936) with Frances Farmer, Westerns like SUTTER’S GOLD (1936), the aforementioned THE TOAST OF NEW YORK (1937) again with Frances Farmer, Frank Capra’s YOU CAN'T TAKE IT WITH YOU (1938) with a star-studded cast including Lionel Barrymore and Jimmy Stewart and Jean Arthur, MR. SMITH GOES TO WASHINGTON (1939) again with Capra, Stewart and Arthur and co-starring Claude Rains, MEET JOHN DOE (1941) (Capra again!) with Barbara Stanwyck and Gary Cooper, and THE DEVIL AND DANIEL WEBSTER (1941). Arnold actually played both the Devil AND Daniel Webster in succeeding years, playing Webster in THE DEVIL AND DANIEL WEBSTER and the Devil in the WWII propaganda short INFLATION (1942) the following year. He played blind detective Duncan Maclain in two movies based on the novels by Baynard Kendrick, EYES IN THE NIGHT(1942) and THE HIDDEN EYE (1945). In 1940, his autobiography, “Lorenzo Goes to Hollywood”, was published, and he was president of the Screen Actors Guild from 1940–42. As film work for him stalled in the 1940s, Arnold became involved in Republican politics and was mentioned as a possible G.O.P. candidate for the United States Senate. He lost a closely contested election for Los Angeles County Supervisor and said at the time that perhaps actors were not suited to run for political office.

       From 1947 to 1953, Arnold starred in the ABC’s radio program MR. PRESIDENT portraying a different U.S. president each week. He also played a lawyer, "Mr. Reynolds," in THE CHARLOTTE GREENWOOD SHOW, and in 1953, he was the host of SPOTLIGHT STORY on the Mutual Broadcasting Network.

       He gradually withdrew from show business, retiring with his family and died at his home in Encino, California from a cerebral hemorrhage associated with atrial fibrillation, aged 66. Arnold was married three times: Harriet Marshall (1917–1927), with whom he had three children: Elizabeth, Jane and William (who had a short movie career as Edward Arnold, Jr.); Olive Emerson (1929–1948) and Cleo McLain (1951 until his death). A lifelong conservative Republican and staunch anti-Communist, he was nonetheless an early and ardent opponent of the studio blacklisting of suspected Communists, which brought him into direct conflict with many of the giants of the industry who cooperated in the “witch hunts” that destroyed so many careers and reputations. (Coincidentally, Arnold shared exactly the same February 18th birthday with Adolphe Menjou, one of the most notoriously right-wing witnesses in the HUAC-House Committee on Un-American Activities in its hunt for Communists in Hollywood.) He was interred in the San Fernando Mission Cemetery. During his career, he had managed that rare accomplishment of being a “Starring” character actor and at three major studios, MGM, Paramount, and Universal. The inscription on his modest gravestone is “He is not dead – He is just away”.

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