Allen Jenkins — Dead-Pan Wow (1934) 🇺🇸
Allen Jenkins is the rising master of comedy who doesn’t hesitate to steal a scene from the best of them. And he doesn’t hand out dignified interviews.
by Whitney Williams
Mr. Jenkins quirked his left eyebrow in the direction of a chair and croaked. “Sit down. Have a —” he started.
“Allen,” roared William Seiter, the director. “Get on the set. Wha’d’yuh think y’are, a comic?”
Mr. Jenkins hastened set-ward, muttering.
A few minutes later he returned and demanded. “Don’t these directors give you a —”
“Allen!” again bellowed Mr. Seiter, brandishing his arms. “Get on the set. We gotta take that scene over.”
“Aw-w-w,” grumped Allen. “Make up your mind, make up your mind, why don’cha? He thinks I’m an actor” — plaintively turning to me.
“A what?” screamed the now hysterical director. “I don’t a-tall. You’re a brim. I don’t know what pitchers is coming to. Oooo!” — as Allen unconcernedly tripped over his foot.
“I’ll tell yuh something about directors.” Allen confided, after the retake had been made. “They’re a bunch of —”
“All right, boy, it’s time for me to talk,” interrupted Seiter, sitting down in Jenkins’s lap. “We call him ‘Leaping Lena,’” he divulged sotto voce.
“Aw-w-w,” mumbled Allen.
“Sure. You see, whenever he blows up in his lines he jumps up and down, like a tuna. Blow up in your lines for the gentleman, Allen,” he ordered.
“Don’t let him fool you with his pictures,” continued the affable Mr. Seiter. “He can play the toughest muggs you’ve ever seen, and he can make gangsters funny even after they’ve been passé on the screen for a year. And that’s something.
“But he’s about as tough, really, as a dish of soft custard, and as hard-boiled as a newly laid egg. Look.” and he pinched his human chair on the knee. “See. I’m still alive.”
Mr. Jenkins suddenly stirred.
“Who’s interview is this anyway?” he inquired, with heat. “Go cut some film. If you directors only had the sense and tact of us artists, we’d have good pitchers all the time. Go—”
“He’s out of his head again,” beamed Mr. Seiter. “He gets that way most every afternoon. He’s jealous because I’m a swell director.”
“Pish, tush, and a tush,” said Mr. Jenkins. “Listen to him rave, listen to him rant! Why, d’yuh know, I could have him fired off the pitcher if I wanted. On account of I’m such a peachy feller, I’m going to let him stay, though, so what do you think about that?” — playfully dumping the dignified Seiter on the floor.
William picked himself up off the floor and stalked away. “I’ll be back,” he threatened darkly.
Jenkins regarded his departure with a grin. Then. “There’s a great fellow and a grand director,” he described Seiter. “I’ve made about fifteen pictures since I arrived in Hollywood, and I’ve yet to find a man with a finer sense of comedy values.”
Jenkins should know. He’s the comedy rave of Hollywood now, and his characterizations are something to write home about. They’re the talk of the town, and when a comedian evokes that type of reception, he must be good. Hollywood becomes excited only when something different is offered. And Jenkins possesses this quality in goodly measure.
Director Roy del Ruth is responsible for Jenkins’s desertion of the New York stage for films. He saw him in the foot-light version of Blessed Event and persuaded him to go West to enact the role of the gangster in the picturization of that play. And who can forget his portrait of Frankie, the “hard guy with a reputation to uphold,” whom Lee Tracy reduces to pitiable terror through bis graphic description of the “hot seat.”
In his early thirties, Jenkins has carved an enviable niche for himself during the year he has been in Hollywood. Getting off to a great start in “Blessed Event,” one of the high-light productions of 1932, his popularity has been based on amusing characters not overburdened with gray matter.
He is at his best in “dead pan” parts and in portrayals involving smart cracking. Comedy is his forte, although on the stage he won fame also for his dramatic interpretations. Would you believe that he stepped into Spencer Tracy’s role of Killer Mears on the stage in “The Last Mile,” when Tracy turned his back on Broadway for Hollywood?
Originally, he didn’t want to be an actor. Marine engineering was his goal. But it’s in the blood, acting.
Both his parents enjoyed long years of stage work, and Allen literally was born in the proverbial theatrical trunk.
For the first few years of his childhood, he saw nothing but backstage life. Although it intrigued him in a general way, his interest, as time went on, centered more on boats and nautical engineering. At the age of seventeen he turned his back on a stage career to enter the shipyards for two years.
Once the theater has cast its spell over you, however, there’s little you can do but answer its call.
So he returned to the stage — and how? Not via drama, not via comedy, not via any form of the legitimate stage. The truth, bitter though it may be, must be told. Allen went into the chorus!
And were his parents “boined”?
His mother threatened to disown him. A son of hers, of a fine old theatrical family, turning chorus boy!
For a year or so Allen pranced. One of his fellow prancers, next him in line, was Jimmy Cagney, the push-‘er-in-the-face, knock-’em-down-drag-‘em-out boy. The two struck up a warm friendship that has existed ever since. Fancy these two hard-boiled eggs as chorus boys!
Realizing that the chorus held no future for him, the lad destined later to be one of our best scene-stealers enrolled in an academy of dramatic arts to learn the delicate intricacies of the drama. He emerged with high honors to become a member of the cast of “Secrets.”
He was definitely on his way to fame, which came on the stage through such plays as “’What Price Glory?” “Rain,” “The Last Mile,” “’The Front Page,” “Five Star Final,” and “Blessed Event.”
Incidentally, he was the only actor in “Five Star Final” to be signed to play in the English company of that production. As a result, he spent one season in London, much to the delight of audiences in that world capital.
Recently he occasioned much mirth through his characterization of the .second assistant stage manager in “Forty-Second Street.” His radio announcer in “Hard to Handle,” with James Cagney, proved a masterpiece of satire.
He walked away with top honors in “The Keyhole,” and panicked audiences as Warren William’s dumb assistant in “The Mind Reader.” He and Frank McHugh played a Mulligan and Garrity pair of detectives in “To-morrow at Seven,” and appear together in “Professional Sweetheart” as a couple of artful press agents.
Small wonder that Hollywood recognizes him for the exceptional comedian be really is. His presence brightens any picture, and invariably he steals every scene in which he appears by simply wrapping it up and putting it neatly in his pocket.
Mr. Seiter reappeared.
“Did he tell you that he memorized, letter-perfect, ten pages of dialogue for ‘To-morrow at Seven,’ in one hour?” he asked.
“Yeah,” came back Jenkins, “that’s true. But during the making of that picture I’ve never muffed so many lines in all my thirteen years of stage and screen experience. Shouting ‘black bugs blood’ five times in rapid succession is nothing compared to some of the lines I had to speak in underworld jargon. How’d you like to talk nonchalantly about ‘the carwigger killed a boogie for stoolin’? That was one of the easy ones.”
Frank McHugh drew up a chair.
“Say, y’know what I caught this lug doing one day between scenes? He was sitting out in the sun, giving his left leg a sun bath. When I asked him what he was doing, he said that he had sunburnt the right leg at Palm Spring- over the week-end — and he was trying to match ‘em up!”
A droll fellow, Allen Jenkins. If you like your comedy hilarious and certain, watch for him. And give thanks that he left marine engineering to others.
If you like your comedy hilarious and certain, and your boats regular, give thanks that Allen gave up marine engineering.
Ann Dvorak — Initiated (1934)
Ann Dvorak can now boast of being thoroughly acquainted with the wild and woolly West. She has been bitten by a rattlesnake. It was a grazing sort of nip which the reptile inflicted while Ann was on location, but dangerous nonetheless. Fortunately, first-aid treatment could be administered immediately.
Sally Eilers — An Executive’s Mate (1934)
Sally Eilers got married to Harry Joe Brown and went off pay at Fox Studio almost in the same breath. She hasn’t been able to agree with the studio about certain roles, like the one in “Jimmy and Sally,” and Claire Trevor was put in the Eilers’ part.
Well, Sally should worry about her future, as she has proved herself one of those smart girls who marries an associate producer and executive. It’s always the clever thing!
Source: Picture Play, February 1934