Alan Hale Sr. — He Takes Pictures Right Away From Stars (1935) 🇺🇸
Alan Hale is a sensation — the champion scene-stealer of them all. And back of him is one of Hollywood’s most dramatic success stories... the story of an actor who was “all through” five years ago, a man who had lost his voice!
When the latest New York or European “sensation” arrives in Hollywood with a blare of publicity trumpets, steps into a carefully selected, actor-proof role and makes a hit... it is no longer news. Hollywood has always welcomed the stranger within its gates.
But when a Hollywood citizen of fifteen years’ standing suddenly steps off his own vine-covered porch, and, without benefit of special stories, special direction, or special dispensation, makes them sit up and take notice as Alan Hale did in “Little Man, What Now?”... that is, indeed, NEWS!
For the past nine or ten months, something strange has been going on in Hollywood, and in movie audiences throughout the country. People have been going to see pictures starring such artists as Margaret Sullavan, Douglass Dumbrille, Leslie Howard, Bette Davis, Clark Gable and Claudette Colbert, and have come out of theatres saying: “That fellow, Alan Hale, was swell in a small part, wasn’t he?” In “The Lost Patrol” — which started this “unforgettable” business — he had a minor role. In It Happened One Night, he had one sequence on the screen. In “Of Human Bondage,” he had an equally small part. Even in his biggest hit, “Little Man, What Now?”, he was fifth on the cast-sheet in the role of the gay rogue. Yet people have talked about him and remembered the character he portrayed.
The answer isn’t physical appeal, either! It’s just good, old-fashioned acting ability from an experienced actor, who knows his job, inside and out. In knowing his job and in possessing personality, he makes his art look easy.
He has taken difficult and unsympathetic roles and imbued them with intelligence so that even the “horrible heavy” has become a human being in his capable hands. He has stolen more scenes from our foremost scene-stealers than any unstarred player ever has before. Strictly speaking, Hollywood actors should be jealous of Alan Hale. But they aren’t. They may kid him with mock cries of “Help! Burglar!” — but they say it with a chuckle, for they realize that a very fine actor and a very regular guy is just now getting the break he has long deserved. Because, back of Alan’s new recognition, there is a dramatic story of heart-break and near tragedy...
Old friends, seeing him now and complimenting” him on his work, ask him: “Where have you been keeping yourself? How did it happen that all this recognition didn’t come sooner — with the very beginning of talking pictures?” Usually, Alan laughs it off with a joking remark, such as: “Oh. I’ve been taking it easy, so that Charlie Laughton and a couple of the boys could get a break!” In the first place, he’s a laughing man. He hasn’t any use for winners or calamity-howlers. He hates a sob story where a wisecrack will serve. But it just happens that I know what Alan went through for three years.
The other day, we were talking over old times in Hollywood, when I told him that I knew of the accident that had robbed him of his voice just a little while after talking pictures came in. I don’t think he would have brought it up, himself. He isn’t built that way. He has more physical bulk than any man on the screen, with the exception of Wallace Beery — and that type doesn’t alibi.
He proved it that nearly tragic day when he was doing a terrific “fight scene” for a certain picture.
The director of the film wanted this fight to look like — and sound like — “the real thing.” So like the good troupers they were, they “went to it.” As the scene neared its wild completion, he fell on his back and the other actor leaped at his throat, choking him.
The director yelled: “Swell! That was great! The best fight scene since ‘The Spoilers!’ “ No one seemed to notice that it took Alan a long time to get up. When he did, he was clutching at his throat, choking. Everyone stared at him in amazement. He tried to speak... couldn’t.
For nineteen months, Alan Hale could not speak above a dull whisper!
“I had thought, at first,” he explained, “that an operation might bring back my voice. There was a growth on my vocal chords that made it impossible for me to get variations of tone. After about six months, I could talk fairly well... but there was no color, no tone expression. The best I could achieve was a whispered monotone.
“In desperation, I consulted almost every well-known specialist on the West Coast. They were none too encouraging. They were afraid to operate, lest I be deprived of the power of speech altogether. It was an awful blow to me, of course. But what was there to do? All I could do was to hope that time would eventually prove to he the real healer. In the meantime, I turned my attention to writing scripts and directing pictures.
“In the Fall of 1932, Edmund Goulding, the director, sent for me to come to New York for a film. Eddie knew about my voice, but he wired that the part was more pantomime than vocal.
“While I was in the East, I met John McCormack. He became intensely interested in this growth on my throat and insisted that I see his own throat specialist. I knew the minute I saw him that if this man could do nothing for me, no one could. And this great doctor said: ‘I may be able to do something or you. But if the operation is not successful, you may never speak again.... I want you to think about this — talk it over with your family and those close to you and then come back to me....”
“I don’t know what possessed me — inspiration, I suppose. Just a crazy hunch. I said, ‘Doctor. I want you to do that operation now! You don’t have to guarantee me anything. I’m going to stand, or fall, by what happens in this office today!’
“He looked at me, steadily. For a moment I thought he was going to refuse. Then he called his nurse.
“Due to the delicacy of the operation, and the effect that a drug would have on my throat, it was impossible to me an anesthetic. I sat in a straight-backed chair, watching every move he made, as he performed the operation that meant everything in the world to me. One slip of his sensitive fingers, one fraction of a split hair, one way or the other... and I would never have talked again. When it was over, I felt like bawling like a baby. Could I speak? He told me to speak my name. I opened my mouth... my throat was sore and scraped... but the tones came truly, with all the force and strength they ever had!
“Of course, after that, he would not let me talk for three weeks. He gave me a little pad and pencil with which I was to write everything I had to convey. The first thing I wrote was: ‘I have no words to tell you what this means to me, and the gratitude in my heart to you.’”
Though Alan has just passed his fortieth birthday, he is correct in designating himself as an “old-timer” in the movies. His career began twenty years ago — 1913, to be exact.
But in spite of his veteran record, Alan is just starting on his real success in the movies — taking his place with Charles Laughton, Wallace Beery and other great names of movie fame!
Source: Motion Picture Magazine, February 1935