The actor pictured above was the second man to portray the famed detective on screen. Did you know him? Or the title of that film?
Ok, today is “answer day” relating to our weekly Quizzes, so we’ll refrain from asking more questions and begin providing some answers.
The chap you are seeing at the beginning of our blog is Warren William, an immensely popular Thirties actor who played bad guys and gumshoes alike, and has since been crowned “King of the Pre-Code.”
Among his distinctions is the fact that he was the first actor to play Perry Mason. He also played Sam Spade (of Spade and Archer fame) in 1936’s Satan Met A Lady, the second screen version of The Maltese Falcon.
More relevant to our purposes is that William also played Philo Vance in not one but two Vance features — 1934’s The Dragon Murder Case and in 1939’s The Gracie Allen Murder Case (yes, you read that correctly).
William was one of at least a dozen actors to play Philo Vance in various forms. The list includes such notables as Basil Rathbone, Paul Lukas, Wilfred Hyde-White and Jose Ferrer (playing Vance on radio only). The actor most associated with the role is, of course, William Powell who portrayed the svelte amateur detective in four Vance outings from 1929 (when the first Vance feature came out) to 1933.
Ok, let’s get to the answers to our Philo Vance Quiz.
Question: Which one of the following actors did NOT play Philo Vance on the big screen? a) Warren William; b) Grant Richards; c) Wilfred Hyde-White; or d) Buster Crabbe.
Answer: d). He may have been great as Flash Gordon, but not as Philo.
2) Question: Her maiden appearance in the initial Philo Vance feature did NOT enhance the career of actress Louise Brooks. Why not? a) Temper tantrums on the set made her all but unemployable; b) She resisted mightily in appearing in further taking pictures; c) Her contract money demands went through the roof; or d) None of the above.
Answer: b). Brooks, who flourished in the silent period, felt uncomfortable in the early sound era. She didn’t like this new, intrusive addition. She fled to Europe for a spell putting off Hollywood solons. The move didn’t help her career.
3) Question: At one point, the Philo Vance series pandered to box office by casting radio comedienne Gracie Allen minus George Burns) as the super-sophisticated detective’s key assistant. a) True; or b) False.
Answer: As indicated above, (a) true. Gracie by the late Thirties was a household name thanks to her radio comedienne fame. So, some genius came forward with the idea of building a Philo Vance movie around her.
4) Question: How many times did William Powell actually play Philo Vance in the movies? a) three; b) two; c) 14; or d) four.
Amswer: d). The titles: 1929’s The Canary Murder Case, 1929’s The Greene Murder Case, 1930’s The Benson Murder Case and 1933’s The Kennel Murder Case.
5) Question: Was Jose Ferrer among the more distinguished actors to play Philo Vance onscreen? a) Yes; or b) No.
Answer: a). Yes, on radio only.