Cornelius Keefe — A Modest Chap (1929) 🇺🇸

Cornelius Keefe — A Modest Chap (1929) |

December 25, 2023

If this were an interview with Cornelius Keefe, I might know how to start it. As it isn’t, I don’t. There won’t be any repartee, any searching analyses, nor will any deep dreams be revealed. I shall not present to you a noble hero. In the first place, he isn’t; and secondly, if I made too much of him, Con would thereafter be courteous toward me, with that careful politeness that is a greater rebuke than a thousand outbursts. I should not want him to be polite that way.

by Myrtle Gebhart

This boy of twenty-five or so, who within a year has become known to the fans, and very popular in Hollywood, has distinctive qualities. He has certain ideas that are inflexible. He has not yet learned to separate personal convictions from certain necessities of a career. The stubbornness of youth will not make concessions, nor admit itself in error.

After scoring a hit on the New York stage and on the road, in The Poor Nut, he was brought West to play in the picture and has worked almost continuously since. During his first nine months in Hollywood, he established a record by playing leads in ten films. He is young and of engaging personality. But he presents a problem rare in Hollywood — he honestly does not believe in much publicity.

Yes, yes, you’ve heard that before. I have — and then listened for hours while they talked. Peculiarly, Con means it. He has refused to give four requested interviews.

A bit of news in the papers about the picture is fine, so the producers will know there’s another ham actor in town.” This is his stand. “But suppose lovely young ladies, or clever young men. come to interview an actor. Most of the things they say sound sappy. Such expressions as ‘a clean-cut young man— devoted to his mother — an athletic hero’ — blah! And if not blah, they aren’t things to be publicized. When I reach the point where there is something to say about my work, that will be different.”

Once, some years ago, before interviews became more candid, he read an article about an actor whom he greatly admired. It said something sweet about the lad among his roses in his garden. Con quit reading fan magazines then, and it is only recently that he has been persuaded to look at one, and made to realize that “gooey” praise is passé.

To a friend, who was lecturing him on his attitude, he said one day, “There’s nothing to say about my youth. What does it matter where I went to school, what sports I played, how many lickings I got, whether I lived at home, or what I did in an ordinary, normal boyhood? If I had run away and sailed before the mast, or clone anything adventurous, that would be different. When there’s no story, why try to make one out of commonplaceness? And now, I want to stand on the merit of my work, which speaks for itself, good or bad.”

During his first nine months in Hollywood, Mr. Keefe established a record by playing leads in ten films.

That, ladies and gentlemen, is Cornelius Keefe, a lad who consistently disdains certain gestures which are part and parcel of an actor’s career, and yet you must respect him for his views.

Anything else pertaining to his work is carefully considered. He is conscientiously studious of the screen, and spends several evenings a week at the movies. He will see a John Gilbert, an Emil Jannings, a Charlie Murray [Charles Murray], or a Jack Mulhall film over and over, poring over certain scenes and bits of technique. These represent to him varied forms of acting. His own pictures he reviews constantly, conjecturing, “If I had done that so-and-so, would it have been better? Boy! what a boob I made of myself there I Pack up and get out, you razzberry!”

He will wax eloquent along this line: “It’s all a matter of dollars and cents! Play your role as earnestly and as well as you can. Make that bozo, whoever he is, seem real, but manage your career as if you were in the commercial world. I’m giving myself three years. If by then I don’t click, and make such-and-such an amount. I’m going to quit and go back to selling bonds again.”

He shakes a pencil at you when he says this, his very deep-set, brown eyes looking earnest. I believe he has talked himself into thinking he means it. But he will follow over town some picture that he has missed, and he’s boy enough to be thrilled by Westerns and Northwest Mounted Police yarns.

Having been bitten by the acting bug, he will never leave the game. His real ambition is to direct. “I’d hate to think I had to spend my life with this mug stuck in front of a camera,” he will exclaim. But he admits to a thrill the minute he steps on the set — the thing, whatever it is, that makes actors want to act, and act.

He has a cyclonic way of arriving. For every girl he has a pretty compliment that smacks of a certain Celtic stone, and has too much kidding in it to be convincing. One evening, tall, gayly smiling, he swooped into a girl friend’s home. “Two of my masterpieces — we worked all of six days on one — at one theater, and both for fifteen cents! Main Street! Come on and see how rotten I am. You’ll never again see so much bad acting for fifteen cents. Nope, you can’t go, child,” to another. “You have to wait until I get into a twenty-cent theater.”

His popularity in Hollywood is not to be wondered at. He isn’t hard on feminine eyes and he has a vital, fun-loving personality. You see him, correct, polished, at premieres and social functions. Everything just right. That easy, untrained Tightness which is a heritage. Or, in old clothes, he will amble along the crooked streets of Chinatown for an inquisitive and diverting evening, or walk along drab Main Street.

The things that are most genuine and important to him are matters to be discussed only with his friends.

His work comes in that category, and of it he will talk indefinitely.

He has his stake among the independents’ diggings, and is panning gold from Poverty Row quickies, at a salary that few of the better-known leading men are receiving. None of those “discovered” within the past year come within a good many yardsticks of his weekly checks.

He is choosing these finger-snap movies deliberately, in preference to hanging around the big lots between pictures, waiting for some executive to notice him. His idea, rather new and startling, but after all reasonable, is to make the public acquainted with him. If other actors didn’t believe it a loss of caste to play in the quickies, there would be fewer idle actors in Hollywood. Con, however, isn’t annoyed by, or pleased by, or otherwise acquainted with, the fact that his name means anything, so he peddles it and his face where the work and the cash are found.

He has faults — plenty. The sort your brother has, and that you’d like to shake him for. If it weren’t for them, he might be the model boy he is afraid some one will call him.

He doesn’t know I have written this. How he will take the surprise may change for me the tenor of the day on which he comes across it. He was finally persuaded that a photograph in Picture Play would be a fine thing for him; that’s how I got that. If I haven’t said anything nice about him, he will like this article. And I haven’t, have I?

Cornelius Keefe — A Modest Chap (1929) |

Cornelius Keefe — A Modest Chap (1929) |

Collection: Picture Play Magazine, January 1929