Clarence Thompson — An Actor by Request (1927) 🇺🇸

Clarence Thompson — An Actor by Request (1927) |

January 03, 2024

Clarence Thompson, known as “Tommy,” was sent to Hollywood to act because he wanted to write.

by Myrtle Gebhart

In a year’s time, I have grown to know Tommy rather well. He is the genuine kind for whom you don’t have to powder your nose.

Perhaps his simplicity is the cumulation of generations of fine New England breeding. I imagine there is considerable disparity between the values which rule in New England and those which govern our young Hollywood crowd.

Tommy comes from one of those families so old and so wealthy that all pretense is scorned — the sort to which money is so much a matter of course that it isn’t talked about even by inference.

His career at the outset followed a routine path. First, there was Harvard, where he dabbled in amateur theatricals and also wrote. Then followed a period of travel, after which it was decreed that he should settle down in the banking business, which had been the family inheritance for generations.

Tommy, however, had other notions. He had had two short stories accepted by magazines. His parents were both dead, and a kind grandfather, probably after a little fussing, let himself be coaxed into giving his grandson his own way. Who could resist the appeal of those big brown eyes?

Carl Laemmle couldn’t, but he had his own ideas about where they belonged. Tommy, carrying a sheaf of manuscripts and a letter of introduction from Arthur Brisbane, had sought Laemmle in New York. Certainly, Uncle Carl agreed, Tommy should some day write scenarios. Had he left his eyes at home, he probably would have emerged from Laemmle’s office with a writer’s contract in his pocket; instead, to his bewilderment, he found himself in possession of one specifying that he was to act for Universal. Uncle Carl knew it would be a crime to conceal those eyes from the public.

“Later, my boy, you can write,” Uncle Carl said. “But you are a sympathetic juvenile type, a young Percy Marmont. The experience before the camera will give you a knowledge of picture technique, a foundation to aid you in constructing scenarios after a while.”

Or words to that effect. So Tommy came West to act, without knowing what it was all about.

Slipping quietly into his place, he began by playing small roles; nobody on the lot paid any attention to him. In the evenings he read, or wrote scenarios and stories. Hollywood, with its glitter and charm, might have been an uncharted wilderness, so little did he mingle with it, or seek to become a part of it.

When I sought him out for an interview, not long after his arrival, I found him fraternizing with the prop boys and the fellows in the cutting room, earnestly endeavoring to learn details about every branch of film production.

Upon being corralled, he admitted having been christened Clarence.

“There always has been a Clarence Thompson in the family, and I suppose,” he sighed, “there always will be. But call me Tommy, won’t you?”

The ingenuousness of him intrigued me.

He startled me by asking, ‘What is publicity? How does one get it? Do you think it would be advisable for me to have it?”

An actor wondering if publicity were a wise thing!

“You’re the first person out here,” he went on, “to take an interest in me, and I’d appreciate it so much if you would steer me right. I want to succeed, because Mr. Laemmle has such faith in me, but there are factors in this business that I do not understand.”

Now, however, he has become more picture-wise, as directors have promoted him to better roles, and his horizon has widened. But he is unchanged in character and personality.

He works conscientiously, motivated by a dogged effort to learn everything about all the work that goes into the making of movies. Though he has a fortune behind him, he is altogether “on his own,” having wisely invested the stake given him by his grandfather in a small ranch. Without a hint of apology, he says candidly, “I wish I could do so and so, but my salary isn’t large.” That innate honesty is refreshing and novel in a surrounding of so much ostentation and make-believe.

He does everything in a methodical way, even to driving his inexpensive car at a cautious pace and with the same care with which a New England banker would consider an investment. Always, he is considerate and humble — an attitude that leaves me breathless with wonder.

I don’t know whether to call him handsome or not. To me, those articulate brown eyes sum Tommy up — eyes that are usually serious but that can light up with a slow, creeping humor. He is big and tall, and is tanned from week-ends on his ranch. He has wavy brown hair and a hesitant, soft voice.

His work? I have a bone to pick with Universal on that score. Having been signed up as a sympathetic juvenile, he has been cast usually as a restless young roué. The Love ThiefButterflies in the Rain, and The Sensation Seekers — in all of these he played a fast-living young scamp. In only one film, a Western, was he permitted to play a congenial role — that of a self-sacrificing younger brother. That film was The Ridin Rascal, with Art Acord.

Nor is Tommy himself at all happy over the roles assigned him. I doubt whether he will ever be, for he is too earnest about his work, and takes things too much to heart.

Some day, when he shall have served his apprenticeship in acting, I picture him at a desk in a quiet, restful den, writing out those dramas over which he dreams. Then Tommy will be content, and will come into his own.

Clarence Thompson — An Actor by Request (1927) |

He played his only congenial role in The Ridin Rascal, with Art Acord.

Scion of an old New England family, young Thompson was all set to go into the banking business when the movies intervened.

Photo by: Roman Freulich (1898–1974)

Clarence Thompson — An Actor by Request (1927) |

Collection: Picture Play Magazine, August 1927