We occasionally highlight the great character actors and actresses of the Golden Era of Hollywood.
Gladys George was a sometime leading actress who turned to character parts in her later career. Don’t remember her? Perhaps the following will refresh things:
— She memorably cradled in her arms a fatally wounded Jimmy Cagney as he expires on the snowy church steps at the end of Warner Brothers’ 1939’s gangster classic, The Roaring Twenties. She tells police: He used to be a big shot.
— She played John Garfield’s mother in the actor’s final film, 1951’s He Ran All The Way. Film noir critic Eddie Muller describes the movie as a waking nightmare for (Garfield’s character). His mother is about to refreshen him up with a slap in the face.
— She plays the seen-it-all proprietor of a “road house” who hires a hard up Joan Crawford as a “hostess” in 1949’s Flamingo Road. Don’t read newspapers, the senior gal warns. Then you won’t have to worry about anything.
— This should do it case the above three don’t. George brought audiences to attention when as presumably mourning widow, Mrs. Miles Archer, she lifts her black veil and passionately embraces Humphrey Bogart early in 1941’s The Maltese Falcon. This was, of course, shortly after Archer — Bogie’s partner in the private dick agency, Spade and Archer — was gunned down in a San Francisco back alley. Translation: Mrs. Archer got around.
George came from a family of English actors, who happened to be touring Shakespeare in Maine when the actress was born in 1900. She was destined for the stage with her career hyped by the backing of a wealthy second husband, whom she cheated on in the first year of their two-year marriage. Like Mrs. Miles Archer, George got around.
George’s screen debut was in MGM’s 1934 drama about a Jewish gangster (Franchot Tone) trying without notable success to go straight. She made an impression as a mouthy, assertive woman of dubious private values.
In 1936, she got a break and starred in Paramount’s Valiant Is The Word For Carrie, as stalwart woman with a shady past who adopts and raises two orphans. The leading role won George a best actress nomination.
In all, George’s career lasted about 35 years through the early Fifties. She racked up 46 movie and tv credits. She also died young (at age 54) of multiple illnesses, after having burned through four marriages. Yes, Ms. George got around.