He made dozens of films, and seemed able to bounce from comedy to drama with ease.

He was one of the most recognizable character actors of the last century. You might not place the name but the face is undoubtedly familiar.

As you know, we a very fond of classic Hollywood’s great character and supporting players, and certainly, Gene Lockhart qualifies in both departments. Like his talented peers, he worked like a dog — 146 movie and tv titles to his credit (at least 125 of them features) over a 35-year period.

Unlike many performers (Dan Duryea comes to mind; vicious villain onscreen, pussycat off), Lockhart really was as amiable and gentle as many of the characters he played (he was born in Canada). But he could as well convincingly portray simpering nasties such as the self-pitying Nazi collaborator in Fritz Lang’s 1938 thriller, Hangmen Also Die.

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More typically Lockhart effectively flashed his jowly countenance with mirthful blue eyes in a range of films from 1938’s Blondie, the first in a series of Dagwood and Blondie pictures, to such Fifties romantic comedies as MGM’s Confidentially Connie costarring Van Johnson and Janet Leigh.

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From the mid Fifties on , Lockhart focused on television, and continued working until a few years before his death.  (He died in 1957 at age 65.)

He was a heralded stage actor before his sound film debut in 1934’s By Your Leave (he portrays a playboy by the name of ‘Skeets’).

But the year before, this fine character actor appeared in a Theatre Guild stage production of Ah, Wilderness!, a rare comedy by America’s finest playwright, Eugene O’Neill.

His performance in the play as ‘Sid Davis’ led RKO to sign him to a contract, and Lockhart’s lengthy screen career began.

O’Neill himself raved about Lockhart — every time your Sid has come in for dinner I’ve wanted to burst into song, the playwright wrote the actor. (By the way, this same stage production also featured George M.Cohan and another figure destined to become one of Hollywood’s most memorable character actors: Elisha Cook Jr.)

Because he was working for a rival studio (RKO) Lockhart had little chance to be cast in MGM’s 1935 edition of Ah, Wilderness!, which featured Wallace Beery, Lionel Barrymore, Spring Byington and a young Mickey Rooney.  In any case, Lockhart returned to the Broadway stage in 1949 in Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman, taking over the ‘Willy Loman’ role from Lee J. Cobb.

But by then, Hollywood is where Lockhart made his living.

Lockhart married actress Kathleen Lockhart in 1924, a union that lasted 33 years until his death.  They were the parents of actress June Lockhart. Gene and wife Kathleen appeared together in some 20 films, and all three appeared together in several including 1938’s A Christmas Carol.  A family act indeed.

He was a truly versatile talent. He wrote prose and poetry, wrote lyrics to popular standards and wrote the books to some big musicals.  All before he got his first big break as a Hollywood actor. Both Duke Ellington and Benny Goodman recorded their versions of The World Is Waiting For The Sunrise, a popular song for which Lockhart wrote the lyrics.

He was nominated for an Oscar in the best supporting actor category for his role as a treacherous informant in 1938’s Algiers costarring Charles Boyer and Hedy Lamarr.

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The movie is a Hollwood remake of the 1937 French classic, Pepe le Moko, starring the incomparable Jean Gabin. Lockhart’s Oscar competitition: John Garfield, Robert Morley, Basil Rathbone and Walter Brennan, who won for Kentucky, a love story with Loretta Young set in horse racing country.

Hard to forget this guy, Gene Lockhart.

 

 

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