A New Sybil's "WHO'Z DAT?"... FRANK ORTH (February 21, 1880 – March 17, 1962)

FRANK ORTH Collage.jpg

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???...well, here’s a classic case of the familiar face that was so “everyman” he could fit into dozens of different roles effortlessly and still convince you he wasn’t actually acting! He’s Frank Orth (February 21, 1880 – March 17, 1962).

Born in Philadelphia, by the age of 17 in 1897 he was performing in regional Vaudeville with his soon-to-be wife, Ann Codee, in an act called "Codee and Orth". In 1909, he expanded into song writing, with songs such as "The Phone Bell Rang" and "Meet Me on the Boardwalk, Dearie". The couple appeared separately (or more often together!) touring onstage until his first contact with motion pictures in 1928, when he was part of the first foreign-language shorts in sound produced by Warner Bros. He and his wife also appeared together in a series of two-reel comedies in the early 1930s.

Orth's first major screen credit was in PRAIRIE THUNDER, a Dick Foran western, in 1937. From then on, he was often cast as bartenders, pharmacists, and grocery clerks, and always distinctly Irish. He had a recurring role in three of the Nancy Drew series as the befuddled Officer Tweedy and in six of the Dr. Kildare series of films. Among his better roles were the newspaper man Duffy that Cary Grant telephones early in HIS GIRL FRIDAY (1940), and one of the quartet singing "Gary Owen" in THEY DIED WITH THEIR BOOTS ON (1941), thereby giving Errol Flynn as Gen. Custer the idea of associating the tune with the 7th Cavalry.

For Twentieth Century Fox studios, Orth appeared in several musicals; in CONEY ISLAND (1943) starring Betty Grable he sings in an Irish quartet number, in GREENWICH VILLAGE (1944) starring Don Ameche, Vivian Blaine, and Carmen Miranda, Orth does a wonderful little turn in drag trying to sneak into a bohemian party and getting tossed out! As well as other 1940s musicals, HELLO, FRISCO, HELLO! with John Payne and Alice Faye, MY GAL SAL with Rita Hayworth and Victor Mature, SWEET ROSIE O’GRADIE with Grable and Robert Young, and FOOTLIGHT SERENADE with Mature, Grable, and John Payne(!), Orth appeared in several film-noir dramas; I WAKE UP SCREAMING (again with Mature and Grable in a distinctly UN-musical thriller), in the critically acclaimed and Oscar winning THE LOST WEEKEND (1945) starring Ray Milland, and in the ultra-noir and ultra-peculiar THE STRANGE LOVE OF MARTHA IVERS (1946) with Barbara Stanwyck and Kirk Douglas in his film debut. But as chameleon as Orth could be in the darkest dramas, he was always pulled back into his naturally comedic roots, memorably as the little man carrying the sign reading "The End Is Near" throughout COLONEL EFFINGHAM'S RAID (1946). Interestingly, he appeared in the sometimes comic film-noir thriller THE BIG CLOCK (1946) again with Ray Milland. Orth plays a bartender named Burt, whose tavern with its clutter figures largely in the tangled plot and its final solution.

Moving into the age of television, he made several appearances in cameos on various shows but is probably best remembered for his portrayal of Inspector Faraday in the 1951-1953 television series BOSTON BLACKIE. A short, plump, round-faced man, often smoking a cigar, Orth as Faraday wore his own thick dark-rimmed spectacles.

In 1959, Orth retired from show business after throat surgery. His wife died in 1961 after more than sixty years of marriage, and Orth died on March 17, 1962, having just turned 82. He is buried in Forest Lawn Cemetery in the Hollywood Hills next to his wife.

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