Tuesday, July 05, 2011
"pompous, fastidious fuss-budget, and otherwise officious, arrogant, scheming, petulant, neurotic, exasperated, stuffy, superior, smug, and prissy"
You may not know his name, but "fussy" Franklin Pangborn is easily one of the most recognizable and hilarious comic actors in Hollywood history.
Enlivening scores of classic-era comedies, Pangborn’s remarkable run as one of the movies’ greatest “type” actors actually began in the silent era. But the Newark, New Jersey native hit his stride in the late 1930s, eventually playing essentially the same supporting "lavender" character in more than 200 roles into the fifties.
Not that there's anything wrong with that.
Franklin Pangborn: Born to Be Prissy:
Blessed with a deep, sonorous voice, Pangborn actually was the movies' archetypal effeminate “sissy,” a wink at his stock character’s evident gayness. That persona was adaptable to myriad movie situations; his snarky, control-freak character invariably is a pompous, fastidious fuss-budget, and otherwise officious, arrogant, scheming, petulant, neurotic, exasperated, stuffy, superior, smug, prissy and fittably flustered.
What better list of descriptions could there be for an actor most often cast as bankers, clerks, retail floorwalkers, bureaucrats, sycophants and other comic foils?
Little is known of Pangborn’s early years. He made his stage debut in 1911, in a Newark production of the romance The Power Behind the Throne, by Theodore Kremer. But soon, the prospect of touring meant trouble. According to author Ron Smith, Pangborn "ran into paternal disapproval: ‘My father was a member of a life insurance company and both he and mother frowned on my stage aspirations. To mention the stage to my mother was to bring a tragic look on her face and a sob in her voice.’ They wouldn’t give him a suitcase for his trip. ‘One of the neighbors gave me one. I will never forget saying goodbye to mother.
“‘It was a tragedy. My heart was broken, as our boat steamed up the Hudson and on leaving the boat I found my trunk also broken. I carried shoes, socks, ties, shirts and suits up the street in my arms, crying softly to myself for mother.’” (Ron Smith, Comic Support: Second Bananas in the Movies, Citadel Press, Carol Publishing Group, New York, 1993, p. 188)