An unmistakable voice…..Yes, and acting chops as well.
In the pantheon of classic movie supporting players, Sterling Holloway ranks near the top — at least in terms of sheer longevity.
Once told that he was too ugly to be a movie actor, he nonetheless endured through some six decades, rolling up nearly 180 movie and tv credits dating from the silent movie era. (He died in 1992 at age 87.)
He is remembered for his bushy reddish hair, big schnozz and, especially, for his expressive, high pitched voice. That latter earned him a fortune in voiceovers for Walt Disney animation titles. Yes, Holloway was indeed the voice of Winnie the Pooh.
He is unusual in his career preference to be strictly a character actor, and for flatly asserting that, no, he never wanted to be a principal player. He claimed he turned down MGM studio boss Louis B.Mayer’s offer of a studio contract because he didn’t want to be a star. (If you fully believe that, we may have a bridge in stock to sell you.)
Holloway was made for comedy roles and supporting parts in westerns. No surprise that in the late Forties he turned up as sidekick to singing cowboy Gene Autry in several titles. Perhaps the best known of his feature films is director Stanley Kramer’s all-star comedy vehicle, 1963’s It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World.
But hold on. Check out Holloway’s performance as part of a superb acting ensemble in one of our all-time favorite World War II movies, A Walk in the Sun.
First, a few words from Michael Caine (a dogface who fought in the Korean War): British war films were always about officers; American films were about enlisted men.
Caine is right, and no movie better illustrates his observation better than A Walk In The Sun, made by 20th Century Fox, directed by Lewis Milestone (ne Lev Milstein) and released in January 1945.
In addition to Holloway, the movie includes a superb cast of character actors (George Tynes, Herbert Rudley, Huntz Hall, Norman Lloyd, Steve Brodie and a very young-looking Lloyd Bridges) aided by stars, Dana Andrews, John Ireland and Richard Conte — all portraying dog faces.
After a hapless lieutenant’s face is blown away in the movie’s opening scenes, not a single officer appears in the rest of the movie.
A Walk In The Sun tracks an infantry platoon in the 1943 Italian campaign from a Salerno beach landing through an assault on a bridge and a rural farmhouse infested with German machine gunners. The mission succeeds at a considerable loss of life despite the fact that there is no certainty at all that the capture of the farmhouse and the destruction of the bridge was of any significance whatever.
There are bursts of action but equally emphasized are the personality quirks of each GI, even their interior monologues. Ireland’s Pfc Windy Crave, for example, mentally composes letters from the battlefield to a female cousin. (We know this because we hear his voiceover narration of what he is composing.)
See this fine movie, and keep an eye on a dogface named McWilliams, played by Sterling Holloway.