A New Sybil's "WHO'Z DAT?"... PORTER HALL (September 19, 1888 – October 6, 1953)

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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 reflecting, I’m inviting into our hallowed hall one of my very favorite people in show biz!!! OH! And speaking of which, he IS a Hall, PORTER HALL (September 19, 1888 – October 6, 1953), one of the most recognizable actors ever to grace the silver screen!

Born in Cincinnati as Clifford Porter Hall, his father, W. A. Hall, headed a cooperage business that ended because of prohibition in the United States. After graduating from the University of Cincinnati, Hall worked for the Fleischmann Company while also directing and acting in little theatre productions in Cleveland. Hall began his career touring as a stage actor with roles in productions of THE GREAT GATSBY and NAKED in 1926. His Broadway credits included THE RED CAT (1934), THE DARK TOWER (1933), THE WARRIOR'S HUSBAND (1932), COLLISION (1932), IT'S A WISE CHILD (1929), NIGHT HOSTESS (1928), LOUD SPEAKER (1927), NAKED (1926), and THE GREAT GATSBY (1926).

Hall made his film debut in the 1931 drama SECRETS OF A SECRETARY at the age of 43, and he made his last onscreen appearance in the 1954 filmRETURN TO TREASURE ISLAND, which was released after his death. But between those films, he appeared in over seventy-six other movies.  

He was probably best remembered for five roles: a senator in MR. SMITH GOES TO WASHINGTON (1939) with Jimmy Stewart, Claude Rains and several other major stars directed by Frank Capra, an atheist in GOING MY WAY (1944) starring Bing Crosby, the nervous, ill-tempered Granville Sawyer, who administers a psychological test to Kris Kringle in MIRACLE ON 34TH STREET (1947), a train passenger who encounters a man (Fred MacMurray) who has just committed a murder in DOUBLE INDEMNITY (1944), and the title character's lawyer in THE THIN MAN (1934) with William Powell and Myrna Loy. Along the way, he was so respected and valued that he worked repeatedly with some of the greatest directors in the industry (Capra, Howard Hawks, George Seaton, Billy Wilder, W. S. Van Dyke). Hall worked along side Oscar nominated and winning stars; Bette Davis, Humphrey Bogart and Leslie Howard in THE PETRIFIED FOREST (1936), Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell in HIS GIRL FRIDAY (1940) and has the distinction of having been in six films that were nominated for Best Picture; THE THIN MAN, THE STORY OF LOUIS PASTEUR (1936), MR. SMITH GOES TO WASHINGTON, GOING MY WAY, DOUBLE INDEMNITY, and MIRACLE ON 34TH STREET, with GOING MY WAY winning Best Picture. When reviewing his career and the casts and crews Hall worked with, it’s astounding how many times he worked with the same people again and again; a tribute to his talent and the joy he brought to the industry and his co-workers.

For over two decades, Porter Hall made a career out of playing a wide range of sinister villains, pompous snobs, sharp smart-alecks, and comically incompetent fools. His movie career was not a mirror of his real life, however. He was well known as a generous and outgoing person who was well-liked by almost everybody he knew. It is ironic that the role he is most often seen in today is that of an atheist in GOING MY WAY - ironic because Hall was a deacon at the First Presbyterian Church of Hollywood. He married actress Geraldine Hall in 1927 and had two children, David and Sarah Jane. He died of a heart attack in Los Angeles at 65 years of age. He was interred in Forest Lawn in the Hollywood Hills.

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