George K. Arthur — He’s a Canny Scot (1928) 🇺🇸

George K. Arthur — He’s a Canny Scot (1928) |

March 12, 2024

It is an unwritten rule of American producers to disregard any foreign work which has not been shown in this country and won the player notice or, more important, box-office value. Without the latter — well, there isn’t need for a rule.

by William H. McKegg

Examples in Hollywood of deeply wounded dignitaries from Europe and elsewhere — who have listened speechless and mortified to casting directors, telling them that being a star in Dalmatia, or anywhere else, means nothing minus in America — are too numerous to mention. The main point at issue, however, is to describe how one player came from abroad and succeeded against all odds.

When George K. Arthur sailed blithely into New York harbor, he believed his position in American pictures would be quite secure. Was he not a favorite in England?

“It was like this,” George remarked at the M.-G.-M. studio. “A film version of H. G. Wells’ ‘Kipps’ had made me quite popular in England. Don’t think this is boasting — nothing like that — but Wells himself said to me, ‘Why, you are Kipps in real life.’

This was an unusual compliment. For an author is rarely given to praising a screen representation of one of his brain children.

With plenty of encouragement, George “Kipps” Arthur sailed with his wife and parents to America. But two years passed before the fans ever saw him on the screen.

How did he manage to stick it out and make a place for himself where others from abroad had failed?

Possibly because George was born in Scotland, at Aberdeen, where porridge is eaten every morning for breakfast which — according to the muscle-bulging, weight-lifting, supermen in the advertisements — develops the eater’s power of resistance.

“It takes fully two or three years to become known in Hollywood,” George said. “And I am speaking of people who have already created a place for themselves abroad — real professionals. The first six months I made the rounds. The casting directors saw my face. There was, of course, nothing doing. The next six months, they learned my name. Then they remembered me. The following six months, they perhaps thought I bore a resemblance to some higher-priced actor. In this way I could say I was gaining a foothold.”

If any newcomer wishes to try this out to appease his desire for work in the movies, he may do so. It takes only two or three years! What to do in the meantime? What did our strategist do while storming the studios for two years?

The canny young Scot opened a grocery store, up on the hillside. The cliff dwellers naturally, patronized him rather than ride down into Hollywood. Thus trade prospered.

Usually, actors are somewhat snobbish about their art. To suggest to any European actor that he open a store while waiting to become known, would be the insult of insults. But it was not so with George K. who, you remember, was born in Aberdeen. He is both democratic and wise.

“Being in the army knocked a lot of stupid ideas out of my head,” he confessed. “I ran away from school to join the army. I went, of course, into the Scottish. One day, a six-foot Canadian came to me for a new uniform. ‘You can’t have one unless you have a pass,’ I informed him with authority. Without arguing, he hit me on the jaw. I was out for hours.

“That, and many other similar incidents, altered my viewpoint. When I came to Hollywood and saw how hard it was for a person to break into the movies, even when he is a professional, I figured out a way to earn money on the side while I made the grade.

“Oh, I even opened a beauty shop when the grocery business flourished. Bet your life I can tell you all about marcels, shampoos, and wind-blown bobs!”

The war did not have that democratizing effect on every one. It did, however, cause many an English youth to seek the stage. Olive Brook, Ronald Colman, and Ralph Forbes all appeared behind the footlights when they returned from France.

After the war George played with Sir Frank Benson’s Shakespearean company. His first pictures gave him straight leads with Mae Marsh and Edna Flugrath, Viola Dana’s sister, who played with him in Kipps, which the late Harold Shaw directed.

His first leading role was in James Cruze’s Hollywood. Though he might as well not have been in it, for that picture, excellent though it was, did nothing to advance any of the actors it featured. Yet “The Salvation Hunters” — dreary film though it proved to be — won George instant recognition.

Perhaps he made a wrong start by playing in dramatic stuff, for he is essentially a comedian. It is supposed to be true that all comedians detest their comic existence — that off the stage and screen they go about in a woebegone mood.

In case you believe George has a “Ridi, Pagliaccio” complex, let it be known that he has not.

“No, not at all,” he grinned. “I’m quite content. The only thing I’d like — secret aspiration sort of thing — would be to become a Jean Hersholt of comedy. If there is such a thing. Does that sound crazy?

“I want to do comedy, but I hope to get a different type, a different personality, into each picture. Lloyd, Keaton, and Langdon [Harold Lloyd, Buster Keaton, Harry Langdon] are definite types. Now, I should like to have people to say, ‘Let’s go and see George K. Arthur. He’s different.’”

This would-be Lon Chaney of comedy, and competitor of the great, has gained ground already in the pursuit of his desires.

Personally, he is a pleasant, humorous chap. Ambitious to gain what he hopes to get. He is a good business man — as the grocery and beauty shops revealed — and so he ought to prosper.

Let us hope that, for their own sakes, all the other foreign players will show such canny business instinct as George K. has displayed.


Mr. Arthur did not starve while casting directors slowly discovered his acting ability — he simply opened a grocery store.


Collection: Picture Play Magazine, May 1928