A New Sybil's "WHO'Z DAT?"... ARTHUR O'CONNELL (March 29, 1908 - May 18, 1981)


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??? And while you’re considering it, here’s a face and voice that  embody all the warmth and heart that any character actor could hope for. He definitely was one of those people that passers-by might snap their fingers at and have trouble recalling the name, but they’d never forget how he made them feel in his film roles. It’s Arthur O’Connell (March 29, 1908 - May 18, 1981).

Arthur Joseph O'Connell (March 29, 1908 – May 18, 1981) was an American stage and film actor. He was born on March 29, 1908 in Manhattan, New York, and made his legitimate stage debut in the middle 1930s, at which time he fell within the orbit of Orson Welles' Mercury Theatre. Welles cast O'Connell in the tiny role of a reporter in the closing scenes of CITIZEN KANE (1941), a film often referred to as O'Connell's film debut, though in fact he had already appeared in FRESHMAN YEAR (1938) and had costarred in two Leon Errol short subjects as Leon's conniving brother-in-law.

After numerous small movie parts, O'Connell returned to Broadway, where he appeared as the erstwhile middle-aged swain of a spinsterish schoolteacher in the Pulitzer Prize winning PICNIC by William Inge, a role he would recreate in the 1956 film version opposite Rosalind Russell, directed by Joshua Logan, and co-starring William Holden and Kim Novak. He earned a nomination for the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor in the process. O’Connell’s reliability as a steady character actor resulted in his constant work with great directors and stars including BUS STOP (1956) also written by William Inge and directed by Joshua Logan and starring Marilyn Monroe. Later the jaded looking O'Connell was frequently cast as fortyish losers and alcoholics; in the latter capacity he appeared as James Stewart's boozy attorney-mentor in ANATOMY OF A MURDER (1959) co-starring George C. Scott and Ben Gazzara and directed by Otto Preminger, and the result was another Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor.

In 1959, O'Connell also played the part of Chief Petty Officer Sam Tostin, engine room chief of the fictional World War II submarine USS Sea Tiger, opposite Cary Grant and Tony Curtis in OPERATION PETTICOAT. In 1961, O'Connell played the role of Grandpa Clarence Beebe in the children's film classic MISTY, the screen adaptation of Marguerite Henry's story of “Misty of Chincoteague”. He appeared with Glenn Ford, Bette Davis, Thomas Mitchell, Ann-Margret, and the all-star cast of POCKETFUL OF MIRACLES (1961) directed by Frank Capra. In 1962, he portrayed the father of Elvis Presley's character in the motion picture FOLLOW THAT DREAM, and in 1964 in the Presley-picture KISSIN' COUSINS. In that same year O'Connell was in YOUR CHEATIN’ HEART (1964), the Hank Williams story starring George Hamilton and directed by Gene Nelson; and in THE 7 FACES OF DR. LAO, he portrayed the idealist-turned-antagonist Clint Stark, which has become a cult classic, and in which O'Connell's is the only character other than star Tony Randall to appear as one of the "7 faces."

O'Connell continued appearing in choice character parts on both television and films during the 1960s, but avoided a regular television series, holding out until he could be assured top billing. He appeared as Matt Dexter, an aging Irish drifter in the episode "Songs My Mother Told Me" (February 21, 1961) on ABC's STAGECOACH WEST series, and on Christmas Day, 1962, O'Connell was cast as Clayton Dodd in the episode "Green, Green Hills" of NBC's modern western series, EMPIRE, starring Richard Egan as the rancher Jim Redigo. This episode also features Dayton Lummis as Jason Simms and Joanna Moore as Althea Dodd.

In 1964, O'Connell played Joseph Baylor in the episode "A Little Anger Is a Good Thing" on the ABC medical drama about psychiatry, BREAKING POINT, starring Paul Richards. In 1966, he guest-starred as a scientist who regretfully realized that he has created an all-powerful android in the VOYAGE TO THE BOTTOM OF THE SEA episode titled "The Mechanical Man." In the February 1967 episode "Never Look Back" of the TV series LASSIE, he played Luther Jennings, an elderly ranger manning the survey tower at Strawberry Peak, who takes it hard when he finds he'll lose his job when the tower is slated for destruction.

O'Connell accepted the part of a man who discovers that his 99-year-old father has been frozen in an iceberg on the 1967 sitcom THE SECOND HUNDRED YEARS, having assumed that he would be billed first per the producers' agreement. Instead, top billing went to newcomer Monte Markham in the dual role of O'Connell's father and his son. O'Connell accepted the demotion to second billing as well as could be expected, but he never again trusted the word of any Hollywood executive. During the span of his career, O’Connell had appeared in more than seventy-five films and television projects. By the 1970s, his work schedule had dropped to occasional but memorable roles; in THE POSEIDON ADVENTURE (1972) he played the self-sacrificing ship’s minister opposite five Academy Award winners Gene Hackman, Ernest Borgnine, Jack Albertson, Shelley Winters, and Red Buttons. He made his final film appearance in THE HIDING PLACE (1975), portraying a watch-maker who hides Jews during World War II.

Although ill health forced O'Connell to reduce his acting appearances in the middle 1970s, the actor stayed busy in commercials as a friendly pharmacist for Crest toothpaste. At the time of his death from Alzheimer's disease in California in May, 1981, O'Connell was appearing by his own choice solely in these commercials. O'Connell had been married once, in 1962, to Ann Hall Dunlop (1917–2000) of Washington, D.C. Arthur O'Connell and Ann Hall Dunlop divorced in December 1972 in Los Angeles. O'Connell is interred at Calvary Cemetery in Queens, New York.

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