Who IS That Man? (1935) 🇺🇸
Doesn't it make you simply furious? Most of us are annoyed at a mere misspelling of our name — an "e" where there should be an "a," for instance. Taking all that into consideration, how do you suppose a screen player reacts when he's been in two hundred or more pictures — as many of them have — to overhear a person watching his performance in a movie say, "Who is that man?" Well, we've asked some of them and here's what we found out.
I was sitting in the roped-off preview section of a little Hollywood theatre with a friend, enjoying a grand picture. Henry Stephenson was giving a swell performance in his big scene. The debonair Stephenson, incidentally, was just two seats removed from us. It was right then that one of those whispering voices that sound like a wind in an empty barn whispered to my companion: "Who IS that man?"
"Sir Guy Standing," she answered. Stephenson, I think, turned purple; I couldn't tell for certain, in the semi-darkness. I do know that he choked a bit, and had to adjust his collar. I did not blame him. But later I had to laugh when I recalled an experience of only a few days back. I was lunching with Harold Lloyd. As we started for the door a feminine autograph seeker had grabbed my arm, and asked:
"Isn't your friend a picture star?"
"Sure," I replied. "That's Buster Keaton."
"I knew it," she exulted, and leaving me she grabbed Lloyd and said, "Oh, Mr. Keaton, won't you sign my book?"
The grinning Lloyd signed "Buster Keaton," and because he is as mischievous as a ten-year-old boy, drew a likeness of his own famous spectacles under the signature! I can imagine what her later confusion must have been!
Lloyd got a terrific kick out of it, admitting that his bronzed and freckled mug is seldom recognized on the streets, although people do turn frequently, look again, and ask, "Who is that man? He's in pictures, but I can't place him."
However, that isn't half as embarrassing as having strangers inquire as to your identity while you're doing a swell scene on a screen in front of them. I recalled the fact that, although I've known Eugene Pallette for years and years, I can never recall his name, offhand.
I knew the difficulty I always experience in trying to tell whether it's Frank or Ralph Morgan I'm looking at. And I realized that Hollywood is full of featured players — actors who rank very close to stardom — whose names the fans can never remember. We know their faces, can recite long lists of pictures in which we have seen them, but simply can't name them, at the moment.
And so I decided to call on a round dozen of Hollywood's Best Known Unknowns, and obtain, at first hand, their experiences, and their reactions to this sort of thing. I was determined to ask, "How does it feel to watch yourself on the screen and hear your neighbor ask, 'Who is that man?'"
Because he's a good friend, plump and jovial, I selected Edward Arnold for my first victim. Maybe you saw Arnold in Sadie McKee and realized that a man can be fat and forty-five and still have an abundance of that certain something the censors are now frowning upon. He was swell, too, in "Hide Out," "Biography," and a lot of other productions. I put the question to him.
"It has happened so often that I get a laugh out of it," he chuckled. "But it wasn't funny at first. I'd be sitting up straight watching myself, thinking how good I am, and what a big shot I am, when somebody, sitting right next to me, would say, 'Who is that guy? I saw him in a picture once.' And I'd hear her friend answer, 'I saw him once, too, but he isn't important or I'd know his name.'
"Early reactions were painful. I wanted to stand up on my seat, beat my chest, and answer. 'It's me — Edward Arnold.' Instead, I slid a bit lower in my chair, hoping I wouldn't be recognized. The more I heard the question, 'Who is that man?' the more I wondered if I would ever really make good. I felt I had been in enough good parts in good pictures to warrant recognition — by name. Then, one night, I heard three people, watching a grand performance by Walter Connolly, debate as to his identity. Again, I was enjoying Roland Young's startling characterization of Uriah Heep in David Copperfield when a woman, sitting next to me, turned to her escort and asked, 'Isn't that Lon Chaney?'"
Here's another personal experience which will serve to drive home the theme of this piece. As a newspaperman I had lots of contacts with gangsters and my favorite screen gangster was — and is — a gent whose name I did not know, but who always does those "dumb cluck" roles — roles, like the pal of Clark Gable in Manhattan Melodrama, the mug in "Penthouse," the detective in The Thin Man, and a dozen others. Now, out at M-G-M, during the course of this investigation, publicity hounds were insisting I talk to Nat Pendleton. The name meant nothing to me, but I agreed to see him. Imagine my surprise when in walked my favorite gangster! — Powell's pal in Reckless, Gable's right-hand man in Manhattan Melodrama.
Pendleton is one of Hollywood's most unusual characters. He's been about everything from a wrestler to an auditor on the west coast of Africa, prior to his advent in Hollywood. In the past two years he has appeared in 55 pictures. He was a gang leader in "Sing and Like It," the baseball player in "Death on the Diamond," the husband of Carole Lombard in "The Gay Bride," the college wrestler in "Deception" (which he wrote) and the dumb cluck gangster in more films than he can remember.
"I can top any story told by any 'unknown," grinned Pendleton. "I was sitting in the preview room of a certain studio, watching a picture in which I had a big part, when some executive turned to the director and said: 'Who's that mug?' That mug was me. The director took another look and said, 'That's — , that's — what the hell is that guy's name?' For the one and only time in my life I stood up and said, 'Me — Pendleton!' I've wanted to do it a dozen times since, but I lacked the nerve. Instead, I just slide down in my seat and hope my mug won't be recognized by the folks who ask, 'Who is that guy?'"
Herman Bing, that nervous little German, is even more honest than his fellows. Bing, you know (or don't), plays those nervous waiters, impresarios and what-nots, and has a part of some kind in about every third Hollywood production, asserts that his complaint is not that he is not recognized by name, but that the audience never likes him. "I go to the previews to study myself, to see my faults, to determine what is good, and what is bad. I scrutinize my every move, so that I may better myself next time. But I am constantly diverted, constantly disturbed, by what I hear. What do I hear? I will tell you.
"I hear them say, 'I hate that guy, who is he?'
"And do you know what I say to them, when they sit very close to me, and I hear them? I turn and say, 'I am very disgusted with that guy myself.' I am too! I am a dialect comedian. I always try to talk like a zither — but sometimes it comes out like a trombone, and then, when it does, I am especially disgusted. I have heard many questions asked about myself which had to do with 'Who is that bird?' Only once I was complimented. I heard a woman answer, 'Don't you know him — that's George Sidney.'"
One of the most outstanding illustrations of my theme is Henry Armetta, the Italian, who once barbered the "Who's Who" of the Lambs Club, New York. I doubt that any reader will recognize the name, yet Armetta is one of your very favorite character actors. Think of the Greek waiter with the lower lip that rolls up over the upper one and you'll have him spotted. A check-up of actors' activities by the Producers' Association for 1934 reveals that Armetta was fourth among 19,000 thespians in the number of pictures and number of days before the camera.
Armetta has been in so many pictures, hundreds of 'em, that I hesitate to name even one. He's under contract to Universal for some 1600 smackers a week, with a contract that has six years to run. Universal actually makes money "renting him." It was Julius Klein of Universal who introduced us. I shook his hand. "My favorite Greek waiter," I beamed. "Make your face," grinned Julius, and Armetta pouted!
"The number of the pictures in which I have had a role has long since passed 250," said Armetta. "And yet I doubt that ten fans, seeing me, can call my name.
"To most of the fans, I'm a Greek waiter."
"Well," I consoled, "I'll admit you are my very favorite Greek waiter, too."
"Thanks," said Armetta, in a mournful tone. "But dammit, I'm an Italian."
Which brings me to Roscoe Karns, Paramount player. He's been in hundreds of pictures, and yet he, too, experiences the sinking feeling of hearing people ask, "Who is that man?" He's heard the fans say, "There's Roscoe Ates" and "Isn't that Lee Tracy?" Old ladies and kids, Karns feels, are his best audiences. "When I come on the screen some kid is sure to say, 'There's that guy.' The kids recognize me, but don't know my name. Nor do the shoe salesmen. Only yesterday I was leaving a store, after having purchased a couple pairs of shoes, and gave the clerk, who had been most courteous, a check for my purchase. As I went to the door the clerk bowed, and said, 'Thank you, Mr. Tracy.' And this despite my check. What's a guy gonna do?"
So we come to Russell Hardie, the star of Sequoia. I'll agree with Hardie that it is about time fans recognize him when he appears on the screen. He had swell roles in "Back Field," West Point of the Air, "Pursued," "The Band Plays On," and sufficient other M-G-M productions to warrant recognition. But, let's allow Hardie to tell his own story:
"I can't tell you how many times I've heard fans ask, 'Who Is That Guy?' since I broke into pictures. But believe me when I tell you, that at my very lowest ebb, in Buffalo, New York, everybody seemed to know me. I had clicked in stock, in Buffalo, and then, after the company flopped, I had to go to work. I was a horse shoer, by trade, but there were few horses in Buffalo and I got a job in a department store, demonstrating vacuum cleaners.
"I used to put silver dollars and talcum powder on the floor, after which I would demonstrate how OUR cleaner would pick 'em up. Now, I'd been somewhat of a success in stock in Buffalo and it seemed to me that every woman who passed the home economics department in the store took a look at me and said: 'Look, there's that Hardie boy from the stock company trying to sell cleaners.' I couldn't take it. I quit and started doing my demonstrating from door to door.
"It was all very personal back there in Buffalo when I was out of a job, but it's certainly impersonal out here in Hollywood, now that I'm working. Now the ladies say, 'Look, who is that chap?' Why, I ask you, couldn't this situation be reversed? In Buffalo, everyone, it seems, recognized me as a vacuum cleaner salesman who used to be a stock actor. But in Hollywood I'm not even recognized as the ex-home economics expert. As a matter of fact, I'm not even recognized!"
And now speaking quite confidentially, here's a thrilling twist to this story. Not so long ago an unknown sang a song in the M-G-M production, "Student Tour."
The very next day after the picture was released, a thousand or more telephone calls were received at M-G-M, asking the name of the man who sang the song. And throughout the nation, interested persons called newspapers, and film exchanges, asking, "Who is the man who sang the song."
Who IS that man?
He's your favorite "Greek" waiter — Henry Armetta.
Nat Pendleton always plays "dumb cluck" roles.
Meet the Armettas! You know Henry, but not the Missus, or John and the twins, Louis and Rosalie. Swell family!
Collection: Hollywood Magazine, April 1935