Alan Hale — Hale Fellow Well Met (1930) 🇺🇸
When Alan Hale appeared as the rough, uncouth sailor who almost succeeded in kidnaping Leatrice Joy, in "Vanity," he wrote finis to his days as a screen villain. In a way this sailor was a bad un, but he was a bold, brash fellow with a sense of humor. Audiences liked him. because he was human and the usual screen villain is not. It was demonstrated clearly that here was a new comedy star in the ascendancy.
All Alan's lucky stars must have been twinkling brightly during the making of that picture. It was what is known on Hollywood Boulevard as a great break. Back of this break, however, was a tremendous personal driving force — the will to win. The stalwart, blond Alan had been known to the screen since the old Lubin days in 1912. He had been well known and well liked in the film industry, but never a conspicuous figure.
Fame actually came up like thunder with "Vanity." He followed this success with other comedy roles. Along came the turmoil of the talkies, and he survived that test. Now he is starred by Pathé, his first stellar picture being "Sailor's Holiday."
Alan had not been enthusiastic about returning to acting. He had a short time previously graduated to directing, you see. He realized that the career of a screen villain was not a promising one, and he had grown tired of chasing screaming ingénues through melodramatic plots. He was well on his way to success as a director, and the megaphone seemed infinitely more desirable than a box of grease paints. But Cecil DeMille had urged Alan to take the sailor role. Heavies of that particular muscular type were hard to find. Even then most of the erstwhile bad boys of the screen had turned comedians.
His success in that role is just another of those curious happenings in that realm of magic, Hollywood. No one knows when Aladdin will rub his wonderful lamp. Before Alan gave up acting he had made a definitely favorable impression as the German father in The Four Horsemen, in which he was actually younger than his two sons, Jean Hersholt and Stuart Holmes. He played the mighty Little John, in Robin Hood, and was prominent in the cast of The Covered Wagon. Then came "Vanity."
After that he was featured in a rowdy series of William Boyd's comedies. The last picture in which he appeared with Boyd was the recent "Leatherneck." He enacted romantic characters in Sal of Singapore, with Phyllis Haver, and in the story of carnival grifters, "The Spieler."
Incidentally, The Spieler came near being a fatal picture for him. The climax came in a fight between Alan and Fred Kohler. The burly Fred, in the picture, had the jolly little habit of enticing his enemies into battle, and then breaking their necks. The fight was nothing, if not realistic. Alan had had laryngitis for weeks, and was unable to speak above a whisper.
"And I couldn't find any studio that was contemplating a talking version of ‘Whispering Smith,’" he mourned.
The nature of his fan mail has changed as his screen character has changed. When he was a villain, kindly old ladies wrote letters assuring him that they knew he was not as bad as pictured. He had such nice, light eyes. Men and boys liked his rough-and-ready clowning in the Boyd pictures. The colored notepaper is making an appearance now. since he played the lover in "The Spieler."
If Alan had not selected the movies as a profession he could have sold electric fans to the Laplanders, or a last year's telephone directory to a Fiji Islander who couldn't speak a word of English. He is that kind of salesman. As a result, there has never been any terrific struggle since his early days nor on the screen. He had a product to sell, Alan Hale, and he went about it in a business-like way.
He has unbounded faith in his own capabilities, without being unpleasantly egotistical. Then there is that marvelous gift of the gods, occasionally found in actors, an irrepressible sense of humor. Alan can even laugh at himself, and that is a test. I can recognize his booming, hearty laugh in a crowded room at Montmartre, the Biltmore ballroom, or at the theater.
I did not know Alan during his day of villainous screen roles, but I have not forgotten how he portrayed them. He was much heavier, wore his hair long, and boasted a really impressive mustache. It doesn't seem possible that this man could ever have been the Alan Hale I know so well to-day. Now he wears his crinkling, blond hair close-cropped, and the mustache is gone. Physically he is as hard as nails. He is an ardent golfer, making consistently around eighty, and is more than just fair on the tennis courts. He explained to me not long ago why he had altered his appearance.
"When I began to play heavies on the screen, I deliberately tried to change my appearance. I did not want to have my real personality confused with the villains. I intend to keep my own personality now. I want to play characters with comedy or tragedy.
"Why did I decide to become an actor? I thought of becoming a lawyer, a doctor, or a civil engineer. My friends always said. 'Oh, that's fine. You'll make a good one.' Too much encouragement, you see. They didn't say that about acting. That's one reason why I decided on the stage. Then, too, to become a lawyer you go to college six years. To act a lawyer you go to the theater two to four weeks.
"I did come pretty near being an osteopath. My schooling did not go very far. Later when family finances were at a higher point, my father set aside a certain sum of money for my training in that profession. They told me that I would have to take an entrance examination. I persuaded them that I would make such an excellent osteopath, and would learn so rapidly, that the examination was not necessary. Of course, I could never have passed that preliminary test with my grade-school education."
Even then Alan was selling himself to people. Spinal columns, however, proved considerably less interesting than proscenium arches. Anyway, his very bulk and strength would have driven patients from his office, screaming with terror. He returned to his original plan, a stage career.
One of his early engagements was with the late Margaret Lawrence, in a play called "Her Son." It had a protracted run of three nights in Philadelphia, and then went ignominiously to the haven of all bad plays, the storehouse. Alan's salary was twenty-five dollars, and his hotel bill was fifty-four dollars.
"I was a big actor, you know, and had to keep up appearances. I made up the difference between my salary and the hotel bill by making 'touches' on about thirty relatives."
One of his earliest jobs during the pioneer days of pictures was with the old Champion Film Company in New Jersey. While he was living in Philadelphia, he succeeded in selling a scenario to this organization for the good.- round sum of five dollars, whereupon he started blithely for New York and a career. The fare to the city and return was four dollars and seventy-four cents. He had his railway ticket and exactly twenty-six cents to jingle in his pocket. He announced with grand emphasis that he was a good actor, and succeeded in selling himself to the president of the company. In a short time he became one of their "highest-paid" actors. The studio even made the gesture of paying his ferry fare from New York.
Alan was with the Biograph company while D. W. Griffith was directing there. He was originally slated for the role played by the late George Seigmann, in "The Birth of a Nation." He lost out, because his faculty for "joshing" did not meet with the approval of Griffith.
He entered the Hollywood film colony in 1921. following long seasons on the stage with Viola Dana, in "The Poor Little Rich Girl," and later with Louis Mann, in "Friendly Enemies."
One night at a dinner party in the Coconut Grove a well-known actor undertook to tell a humorous story. An executive of a film company broke in with the request to let Alan tell it, for no one could do it better.
"That set me to thinking," Alan told me. "If I could be funny off the screen, why should I continue as a humorless villain? The executive consented to give me my chance as a comedian. The role, by one of those last-minute changes, became dramatic instead of humorous. I think it was the finest characterization I ever gave, and I was called into the office and congratulated. Two or three weeks later I found that the studio was remaking the picture with another man in my role. It had been decided to change this really noble character to a villain."
Perhaps that explains why Alan confined himself to directing for the next eighteen months. When he was signed by Cecil DeMille as actor-director, the producer agreed that Alan would probably be worth $3,500 a week at the end of four years.
"Well," Alan remarked, "if you believe that, give me the $3,500 a week now. Next year I'll work for $3,000. The last year you can have me for $500." No, kiddies, Mr. DeMille said no!
I know few people who have a greater faculty for enjoying life than Alan Hale. He plays practical jokes on his friends, with all the joie de vivre of a sixteen-year-old boy. He dances every dance at the Mayfair parties, after a long day at the studio. His appetite is what one would expect from one of the biggest men in pictures, and with the requisite weight to carry the height. I have never seen him tired or dispirited.
Mrs. Alan Hale is the charming Gretchen Hartman, who recently reappeared in "The Time, the Place and the Girl." Their home is a cheerful colonial house on a wide, shady street in North Hollywood. The Hales have two lively youngsters— a son who attends junior military school, and a daughter several years younger.
Alan was born Rufus Edward MacKahan, thoroughly Scotch-Irish in spite of a marked Nordic appearance. His native city was Washington, D. C, and he was reared in Philadelphia. His screen name, according to his sister, was selected because Alan Moore was his boyhood chum, and a stage character which impressed him to a marked degree was John Hale, in "The Trail of the Lonesome Pine."
Alan Hale could sell electric fans to Laplanders, or telephone directories to Fiji Islanders, for he is that kind of a salesman.
Here Alan Hale is seen with his little daughter, Karen.
Mrs. Hale was Gretchen Hartman of the stage and screen and recently returned to the latter in "The Time, the Place and the Girl."
Collection: Picture Play Magazine, February 1930