Sunday, December 31, 2017

Born Today December 31: Jason Robards Sr.


Jason Nelson Robards, who would later be known as Jason Robards Sr. due his son's fame from is own acting career eclipsing him, was born on New Year's Eve in Hillsdale, Michigan.  His parents were prominent in their mid-western community (his father a post-master and mother a schoolteacher).  Like so many other actors of the time, he started his career on the stage and gained some considerable fame, having trained at the American Academy of Dramatic Art in New York, before being lured into acting in films.  He was a well known Broadway player prior to this, and had a regular appearance in one long running hit in the 1910's and early 1920's.  His film debut came in 1921 with The Gilded Lilly a Famous Players melodrama about a Broadway cabaret actress played by Mae Murray (a print of the film apparently turned up sometime in 2009 or 2010 in Argentina).  Robards appeared in one more film in 1921, The Land Of Hope, before absconding back to the stage.  He wouldn't appear in another film until 1925 when he showed up in the Universal picture Stella Maris (UCLA apparently has a print in their vaults).  It would be his only film appearance in that year. In 1926, his film appearances became much more frequent and would only increase in subsequent years. Beginning with the comedy The Cohens and Kellys, he appeared in more than 20 films, most of them feature length affairs, before the end of the decade.  If my research is correct, the first talking film that he appeared in was the early 1928 Vitaphone short The Death Ship.  The fact that he was well known for his role John Marvin in the Broadway musical staple Turn To The Right, must have made him a likely candidate as an actor for producer and directors looking to make films with sounded speaking roles in the late 1920's.  After The Death Ship, he was in a number of partial silents and full early talkies in 1928 and 1929.  He has, for example, third billing in Michael Curtiz's 1929 The Gamblers (one of the several Curtiz 1920's films from the US that is presumed lost), which was one of Warner Bros. late 20's sound/partial sound vitaphone productions. [Robards had already worked on a Curtiz picture in 1926 in The Third Degree, along side Dolores Costello and Rockcliffe Fellowes {what a name!}.]  Being a man of the musical stage, it was only a matter of time before he was set up in a musical film. This happened in late 1929 with his role as Andrew Sabbot in First National's filmed version of the popular Broadway contemporary musical Paris.  Needless to say, Robards had no trouble with the coming of full talkies in the 1930's; he acted in no less than 8 films in 1930 alone (one of which was the white hot mess that is D.W. Griffith's first sound film Abraham Lincoln).  A stand-out appearance comes in, along with the first William Holden, the 1931 Warner Oland Charlie Chan film Charlie Chan Carries On.  His film work in the roughly twenty year time span between 1930 and 1950 is copious, though by the late 1940's a number of his roles were small and uncredited.  He has small parts in two Val Lewtan productions with Boris Karloff: Isle Of The Dead and Bedlam.  He shows up in a couple of Dick Tracy films (including my favorite Dick Tracy vs. Cueball), makes an appearance in the Cary Grant film Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House; and in 1945, he shows up in the Wally Brown comedy horror Zombies on Broadway as the headwaiter (of course, the film also HAS to have Bela Lugosi as the "zombie maker.").  He then went into semi-retirement in 1950 after appearing in The Second Woman, due to an eye complaint.  After surgery to remove cataracts that nearly blinded him, he made his television debut as a judge in a episode of Broken Arrow in 1958.  He would go on to appear in such shows as Wagon Train, Leave It To Beaver, and Cimarron City.  His last acting appearance came on The Adventures Of Ozzie and Harriet in the episode "Secret Agent" in 1963, the year of his death.  Robards died of a heart attack in his home in Sherman Oaks on the 4th of April.  He is buried at Forest Lawn Memorial Park in Glendale

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