Hello, everybody. Joe Morella and Frank Segers, your classic movie guys, here today to come clean. We admit. We may, after all, have been too tough.
Our blog of Dec. 7 — Pearl Harbor Day, by the way — asked you to identify the two actors pictured above.
We also asked you to name the rare quality the two stars shared. We weren’t referring to wives, eye color, or birthplaces. Nothing so trivial. The shared quality is truly unusual.
Our faithful reader, Patricia Nolan-Hall (aka Caftan Woman), who is hard to stump, emailed:
Okay. Part 1 of the question: (the actors are) Keenan Wynn (pictured above on the right) and Broderick Crawford.
Part 2: Um, they were both on episodes of “Burke’s Law”. I’ve been in a “Burke’s Law” mood lately. No? I didn’t think that would be it.
Crawford used to catch car thieves on “Highway Patrol” and Wynn tried to steal a flying car in “The Absent-Minded Professor.” Yeah. I thought that was reaching. Hey! Did Wynn ever play Harry Brock on stage?
Oh, heck, I give up.
Good try, Pat. You came up with some possible connections between the actors than we had thought up. What we DID think up is this:
The first names of both actors are their mothers’ maiden names.
Crawford was born in Philadelphia in 1910, the son of vaudevillians Lester Crawford and Helen Broderick. Wynn was born in New York City in 1916, the son of burlesque-tv comic Ed Wynn and actress Hilda Keenan.
Hilda Keenan retired after wedding Ed Wynn, but Helen Broderick went on to a fine career as a second lead-comic relief “dame” in many of RKO’s top hits of the 1930s.
While you indulge in an entirely justified, “of course moment,” let us tell you something about each actor.
Crawford was burly, fast talking and belligerent, ideal for roles as bad guys and cops. He won an Oscar for his memorable performance as a Southern political demogogue — evoking Louisiana’s Huey Long — in director Robert Rossen’s 1949 drama All The King’s Men.
Crawford was perhaps even better in George Cukor’s 1950 comedy Born Yesterday, costarring Judy Holliday. Crawford supposedly based his loud-mouth lunk character in the movie on the mannerisms of Harry Cohn, the notoriously blustery mogul in charge of Columbia Pictures.
On TV, Crawford is best remembered for his “10-4”-spouting turns as Police Chief Dan Matthews in the late Fifties series, Highway Patrol. Our favorite Crawford story stems from his portrayal of bad-guy politician versus Clark Gable’s good-guy cattleman in MGM’s 1952 extravaganza, Lone Star.
The director (Vincent Sherman) and the cast (which included Ava Gardner) harbored no illusions about the quality of this overblown western. “It was a terrible picture,” Sherman later recalled. According Gardner biographer Lee Server, “Crawford was often in an alcoholic stupor while filming.”
In one scene, Gable on horseback confronted Crawford, demanding to know “what are we going to do about the people.”
Writes Server in Love Is Nothing, his 2006 Gardner biography: Crawford was out of it, just couldn’t remember his line…Without breaking character, he screams, ‘Fuck the people!’ And he rides away on his horse…Ava just fell on her ass, screaming with laughter.
Keenan was in our opinion a solid, underrated actor.
He worked steadily in fims and TV, contributing excellent performances in two films that have definitely withstood the test of time, and are, therefore, classics: Stanley Kubrick’s Doctor Strangelove, Or How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Love The Bomb (1964) — Wynn played the Army colonel harassing Peter Sellers at a soda pop machine — and as the judicious, sympathetic land auctioneer in Sergio Leone’s Once Upon A Time In The West (1968).
Offscreen Wynn is best remembered as the husband of Evie Wynn who divorced him to marry Van Johnson. (For more on that, see our April 12 blog, Was Van Johnson Gay?) It was the first of Wynn’s three marriages.
Ned Wynn’s, the actor’s son with Evie, wrote an extraordinarily whinny, self-pitying book (1990’s We Will Always Live In Beverly Hills: Growing Up Crazy In Hollywood) cataloging in unpleasant detail his alienation from his famous father. Keenan Wynn deserved better.