Franklin Pangborn, Character Actor Extraordinaire.. Image: Pinterest

Dear Franklin Pangborn:

We miss you.

You were a popular character actor Back In The Day, specializing in fussy middle-management types and assorted authority figures.

You had a singular dedication to your portrayals, and that always gave audiences their Money’s Worth. You stole nearly every scene you were in – and A-List actors let you do it.

You could be silly, but rarely campy. Your characters had dignity and sometimes outright snobbery, which made it satisfying when your character received his inevitable Come-Uppance.

You were a dramatic actor, too, notably on the stage, but fans loved your film comedy.

You could portray many emotions – sometimes all at once – but we (yours truly) love your comic disdain. In fact, we borrow your withering Side-Eye more than you know.

The Side-Eye

But we digress.

When we see your name in the credits, dear Franklin, we cannot wait until you appear on screen. We know that whatever the situation, your reaction will be Worth It. You’re so expressive, we don’t need dialogue to feel your pain.

From the Our Gang short, Wild Poses (1933)

You were born in New Jersey in 1889. Before you served overseas in WWI, and while you were still a teenager, you worked at an insurance company. Here you met the first of three actresses who were influential in your acting career.

The first was stage veteran Mildred Holland who offered you a job as an extra during your two-week vacation. It paid $12 a week; you stayed four years.

Then you joined Jessie Bonstelle‘s stock company on Broadway and formed a friendship with Russian-American stage actress Alla Nazimova. Bonstelle is regarded as a pioneering female stage director, and Nazimova went to Hollywood to write and produce films.

The movies: Your film career began in the mid 1920s, but it accelerated in the early 1930s when you caught the attention of comedy producers/directors Mack Sennett and Hal Roach.

You worked with some of Hollywood’s best, including Bette Davis, Gary Cooper, and Shirley Temple. You became a favourite of filmmakers W.C. Fields and Preston Sturges.

You had your share of uncredited roles, but So What; audiences always recognized you. In fact, you became famous with an uncredited role in My Man Godfrey (1936), where you simultaneously flirted with and verified William Powell’s homeless status, while dismissing him as a person:

Some say you always played the same character. Even if it were true, we marvel at your ability to make that character seem fresh in each film.

We also marvel at the affection movie folk have for you. For example, IMDb calls you a “great comedic actor” and says “that droopy pudding-face of his was bound for comedy.”¹

Rotten Tomatoes describes you this way: “With his prissy voice and floor-walker demeanor, Pangborn was the perfect desk clerk, hotel manager, dressmaker, society secretary, or all-around busybody in well over 100 films.”²

You died in 1958, after surgery to remove a malignant tumour, and Hollywood would never see your equal. There were – and are – many superb character actors, but no one like you. You left a Franklin Pangborn-shaped hole in the industry.

“To pass away after surgery seems such a disordered way to go for one such as Franklin Pangborn whose on-screen characters struggled for order above all else,” says IMDb. “There is no order in the frailty of life by definition, but Pangborn’s legacy, rich in comedic gems, has and surely will continue to endure.”³

We hope that is true, dear Franklin. We don’t want Hollywood to forget the Master of Comic Disdain.

Showing disdain to W.C. Fields in The Bank Dick (1940). Image: Travalanche

This post is part of the WHAT A CHARACTER! Blogathon, hosted by Paula’s Cinema Club, Once Upon A Screen, and Outspoken & Freckled.


¹IMDb. (Retrieved November 9, 2019.) Franklin Pangborn Biography.
²Rotten Tomatoes. (Retrieved November 9, 2019.) Franklin Pangborn.
³IMDb: Franklin Pangborn Biography.

Happily blogging about old movies and using the royal "We".

35 Comment on “The Master of Comic Disdain

  1. Pingback: #WhatACharacter Blogathon 2019 – Day 2 – Once upon a screen…

  2. Pingback: The Master of Comic Disdain — Silver Screenings – Submit your story logline and showcase it on this network. Or, submit to get your story made into a Video Pitch

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