Walter Connolly — Home’s Where His Art Is! (1934) 🇺🇸
Probably the oldest law in the theatre is “The play must go on.” The Harrigans have added another line — the Harrigans must be represented on Broadway. Only this can explain Nedda Harrigan’s presence in the East while Walter Connolly remains in the West making pictures.
by Jed Barker
Certainly it was not an economical move to keep the Harrigan fire burning brightly on Broadway for the nightly long-distance calls have made their telephone bills formidable first-of-the-month visitors. But the Harrigan ghost must not walk. So Nedda remains acting in the East while Walter is adding to his laurels in Hollywood.
Walter, you may remember, was one of the die-hards of the legitimate stage who refused to travel westward for many, many years. His determination to avoid motion picture alliances was due to an experience he had had in the movies in the early silent days.
In those times, picture-making was admittedly mechanical. Walter hates, as only an artist can, anything mechanical connected with acting. Producer after producer attempted to lure him to Hollywood, waving fat contracts before him, but he closed his eyes resolutely and fled.
Columbia’s good luck came when Walter was ill in the hospital and unable to escape. Nedda Harrigan, his wife, has never appeared in the movies, but there is still hope. Some day she may be sick and have to go to a hospital. Jolly thought!
Her return to the East on the stage afforded, however, an opportunity which is rarely given of seeing an actor through his wife’s eyes, while she is so far away from him that his presence cannot color her opinions.
We were naturally interested to discover how and why Walter Connolly’s aversion to the movies had evaporated so soon. It must have evaporated or he would not have signed a new contract giving Columbia first call on his services for the next five years.
Walter Connolly, it appears, likes Hollywood because it means work, constant creation, work in the morning, work in the afternoon, and often work in the evening. During the filming of “A Man’s Castle,” the Frank Borzage production, Walter Connolly worked for the most part at night and in the early morning. During the afternoon he was busy making “East of Fifth Avenue” some days, and “Master of Men” others.
It seems that Walter had his entire opinion of Hollywood changed shortly after his arrival there. He had always felt the movies had no heart, no soul, but a little incident during the filming of “Washington Merry-Go-Round” changed his entire outlook. One of the scenes in that picture was in the “Hoover City” where Lee Tracy, as the young Congressman, addresses the ex-service men who have come to Washington seeking government aid. Most of the extras were old legitimate actors whom Walter in his early days had looked up to and revered and envied. Now through circumstances they have been reduced to $5.00 and $7.00 a day extras. They were hired by the day. During the shooting of the scene, the director, Frank Capra, decided to go through a rehearsal first and shoot the scene on the following day. But Lee Tracy put so much into his role that the company, all experienced actors, realized that he could never duplicate the performance and all, of their own accord, without any order from the director, entered into the scene spontaneously with all the art of their long stage experience. They made the scene then and there although it meant losing an extra day’s pay, which for most of them meant meals for the week. And then and there Walter Connolly realized that there could be sacrifice in art in the movies as well as on the stage.
Simply and unaffectedly, indication that this was a daily custom, the youngster replied: “I shall.” And grace was said.
But let us go back to hear what Nedda Harrigan has to say. Mrs. Connolly confessed that Walter is much nicer since he entered the movies. He is less temperamental.
“When he is working on a stage play he concentrates all his energy on the play. He works at top speed, and during the months prior t» the opening he is not the easiest man to get along with. The artist will break out! Meals must be on time. The house must be quiet. And he notices nothing. He reacts to movies much easier. That is due a great deal to the fact that he does not study roles, but only characterizations. Before he can arouse himself up to his highest pitch he is through with the picture and beginning a new one. He is charmed and delighted by the intricacies of motion picture production. He comes home and relates all the details of the new technique. He is
as enthusiastic as he was in his early stage days. Every new picture brings him into a new world. He loves going on location. He enjoyed making ‘Master of Men’ because so many of the scenes were shot in a steel mill. He feels that motion pictures, for the performers, are a broadening experience. It took him some time, however, to readjust himself to Hollywood existence after the routine of acting on the stage.
“During his theatre days he dined sparingly. He was accustomed to a huge meal after the play. It took him some time to acquire an appetite for a seven o’clock dinner, and that is an ordeal when one is trying to run a well managed house.
“Actors in the movies,” Nedda Harrigan continued, “should live longer than stage performers, for there is less wear and tear on their nervous systems. This, not because roles are easier to prepare, but on the stage every performer feels that the success of the play depends individually on him. In the motion picture, however, the players never see the finished work until it is too late to do anything about it, and the success or the failure of the picture occurs many months later while they are working on another feature and so they are freed from that responsibility.”
Nedda Harrigan and Walter Connolly have been married thirteen years. They met when they were on the stage. They refer to their early courting as a “milk-bottle romance.” Their first interest in, each other came into being when Walter used to bring her a bottle of milk every day to her dressing-room as it had been prescribed by the doctor and she never remembered to drink it of her own accord. He has not changed in all these days. He still loves old clothes and cannot endure being perfectly dressed. When they go out in the evening he always does something to disarray his attire — a tie out of place or a handkerchief awry. He abhors feeling that he has just stepped out of a band-box.
Walter’s willingness to stay in Hollywood is the first long separation they have had since they were married. Before this they were almost constantly on Broadway together. His popularity and ability have kept him constantly engaged. The short time he has been there he has appeared as the Senator in “Washington-Merry-Go-Round”; national adviser to the Chinese general in the Bitter Tea of General Yen; the father (the role he likes next best to his part in “A Man’s Castle”) in “No More Orchids”; the congenial and likable Italian speak-easy proprietor in “Man Against Woman”; the Spanish Count in Lady for a Day; the elderly Englishman in “East of Fifth Avenue”; the financier in “Master of Men.” In “A Man’s Castle” he plays the preacher who has been reduced in circumstances to gain his livelihood by being a night watchman. Although Walter Connolly’s contract calls for five years in Hollywood, Nedda is sure that he will ask Columbia to allow him to come back to New York for at least one or two plays. The Harrigan tradition, although it was acquired by marriage, runs strong in his veins.
“It is either that,” Mrs. Connolly admitted, “or I will spend my time between plays travelling Westward. I want to stay in the East until Anna, our nine-year old girl, finishes her schooling. I don’t think it is fair for her to change schools.
“That is about all,” Mrs. Connolly said when we tried to coax her to tell us more about Walter. “I probably have said too much already, but then Walter always said, ‘Nedda, you talk too much!’”
Above, Walter Connolly with his wife, who is Nedda Harrigan of the stage, and their daughter.
Right, Mr. Connolly studies his script. Grand actor!
Collection: Screenland Magazine, February 1934