Soft spoken, sometimes portraying a Scandinavian immigrant, John Qualen was a familiar face on movie screens from Thirties through the Fifties.

Perhaps “familiar” is not quite right.  Qualen (pronounced Kway-len) was all over the place, logging a whopping 218 movie and tv credits in a career that lasted from 1931 to 1974. (He died in 1987 of heart failure at age 87.)

Born Johan Mandt Kvalen at the turn of the last century in Vancouver, British Columbia Canada, Qualen really was of Scandinavian heritage.  His Norwegian parents settled in Illinois where the young Qualen found himself enrolled where his interest in theater took hold.

His initial big break was his role as a Swedish janitor Carl Olsen in the 1929 stage version of Elmer Rice’s Street Scene. He repeated the role in the 1931 screen version, and his Hollywood career was off and running.

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Qualen certainly qualifies as a character actor you may have seen multiple times without a clue as to his identity.  So let’s connect the face with some of Qualen’s most notable roles:

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Here he is (above) as resistance fighter Berger counseling Paul Henreid in 1942’s Casablanca.

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Here he is counseling John Wayne in John Ford’s 1956 western The Searchers.

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Here Qualen is looking scruffy — with Henry Fonda and John Carradine — as a financially desperate farmer in 1944’s Grapes of Wrath.

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Qualen as townsman Peter Ericson in John Ford’s 1962 western The Man Who Shot Liberty Valence.

James Stewart and John Qualen in Anatomy of a Murder (1959)

Qualen counseling James Stewart in Otto Preminger’s 1959 drama, Anatomy of a Murder.

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Finally, Qualen (left) as among the unfortunate plane passengers in 1954’s The High and the Mighty. It was one of nine movies the actor made starring John Wayne.


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