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James Finlayson (actor)

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

James Finlayson
Finlayson in 1937
James Finlayson

(1887-08-27)27 August 1887
Died9 October 1953(1953-10-09) (aged 66)
Years active1910–1951
Emily Cora Gilbert
(m. 1919)

James Finlayson (27 August 1887 – 9 October 1953) was a Scottish-American actor who worked in both silent and sound comedies. Bald, with a fake moustache,[1] Finlayson had many trademark comic mannerisms and is known for his squinting, outraged, "double take and fade away" head reaction, and characteristic expression "d'ooooooh", and as the best remembered comic foil of Laurel and Hardy.

Finlayson was known by a variety of nicknames. According to Laurel and Hardy scholar Randy Skretvedt, he "called himself Jimmy, was known around the lot as Jim and is usually referred to today as 'Fin'"[2] – perhaps because he played a character called Fin in Our Relations and one named Mickey Finn in Way Out West, or most likely, just as a truncated version of his surname.

Early life and stage career

Born in Larbert, Stirlingshire, Scotland to Alexander and Isabella (née Henderson) Finlayson,[3] James worked as a tinsmith before pursuing an acting career.[4] As part of John Clyde's company, he played the part of Jamie Ratcliffe in Jeanie Deans at the Theatre Royal in Edinburgh in 1910.[5] The next year, following the death of his parents, he emigrated to the United States at the age of 24 with his brother Robert.[6][7] Then, in May 1912 in New York City, he played the role of a detective disguised as a teuchter (person originating from the Scottish West Highlands or Western Isles) in the stage production The Great Game at Daly's Theatre:[8][9] "James Finlayson had an excellent opportunity, which he did not miss, for developing two characters in his one role – the simple, naive Scotsman and the artful, determined detective. The remarkable thing is that he managed to do them both at the same time."[10][11]

He later won the role of Rab Biggar in the Broadway production of Bunty Pulls the Strings by Graham Moffat,[10] and dropped out of a national tour in 1916 to pursue a career in Hollywood.

Still from Down on the Farm (1920)
Film still from Down on the Farm (1920)


Arriving in Los Angeles in 1916, he initially found film work at L-KO and Thomas H. Ince's studio.[10] In October 1919, he signed a contract with the Mack Sennett Comedies Corporation.[12] He appeared in numerous Sennett-produced comedies, including with the Keystone Kops.[13][14]

The promotional newspaper article for the 1920 premiere of Sennett's Down on the Farm refers to Finlayson as "legitimate and screen player of international celebrity" and of his performance says: "The villian [sic] in the case – a sort of cross between a Turkish Don Juan and a 'loan shark' – is played with rare power and comic results of seriousness by James Finlayson".[15]

He played uncredited bit parts in films such as Foreign Correspondent (1940), To Be or Not to Be (1942), and Royal Wedding (1951).

Hal Roach Studios

In the mid-1920s, when he worked for the Hal Roach Studios, Roach attempted to make a top-billed star out of Finlayson,[16] but the effort was unfocused and he never caught on. The next step came in 1927 when the All-Star Comedy series gave Finlayson equal billing with up-and-coming co-stars Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy, comedian Edna Marion, and others;[17] Some studio publicity even referred to Finlayson, Hardy and Laurel as a "famous comedy trio".[18] But Roach staff producer and future multi-Oscared director Leo McCarey recognized the great potential of a Laurel-and-Hardy pairing and began developing their characters and expanding their roles toward that end;[19] by the autumn of 1928, Laurel and Hardy was a formal studio series with its own production prefixes while the All-Star Comedy series – and Finlayson's equal co-billing – were things of the past.[1] Nonetheless, he was still "considered by many to be an indispensable part of the Laurel & Hardy team."[20]

Altogether, Finlayson played roles in 33 Laurel and Hardy films, usually as a villain or an antagonist, in such films Big Business (1929) and Way Out West (1937). Beside that, he starred alongside Stan Laurel in 19 films and opposite Oliver Hardy in five films before Laurel and Hardy were teamed together; he appeared in dozens of Roach Studio films, with Charley Chase, Glenn Tryon, Snub Pollard, and Ben Turpin, and in several Our Gang shorts, including Mush and Milk, in which he and Spanky McFarland match wits in a comically adversarial phone conversation.

Personal life and death

He married Emily Cora Gilbert, an American citizen from Iowa, in 1919[21] and became a US citizen in 1942.[22]

English actress Stephanie Insall and Finlayson regularly took breakfast together. However, on the morning of 9 October 1953, Finlayson did not turn up at the usual time. Knowing that he had been ill from flu recently, Insall went to his home where she discovered his body. Finlayson had died of a heart attack. He was 66 years old.[23]


One of Finlayson's trademarks was a drawn out "dohhhhhhh!" Finlayson had used the term as a minced oath to stand in for the word "Damn!" A half-century later, it inspired Dan Castellaneta, the voice actor of Homer Simpson. During the voice recording session for a Tracey Ullman Show short, Castellaneta was required to utter what was written in the script as an "annoyed grunt". He rendered it as a drawn out "dohhhhhhh". Matt Groening felt that it would better suit the timing of animation if it were spoken faster. Castellaneta then shortened it to a quickly uttered "D'oh!"[24]


James (as "Jimmy Finlayson") is incorporated into the Catchphases 1 section of the Comedy Carpet mosaic beside Blackpool Tower along with a "D'OH!" embossed star.[25]

A plaque by the Scottish Film Council honouring James was displayed in Bo'ness Library as part of the HippFest 2019 silent film festival.[26]


James Finlayson is one of the many entertainers portrayed by the English actor Timothy Spall in the 2018 film Stanley: a Man of Variety.[27][28]

In the 2018 Laurel and Hardy biopic Stan & Ollie, Finlayson is portrayed on the set of Way Out West by Scottish actor Keith MacPherson.

Sons of the Desert Tent

An international "oasis" of the Sons of the Desert fraternity called OUR RELATIONS (Tent of James Finlayson) was formed in Glasgow in 2019 by and for relatives of James.[29][30]


Year Title Role Notes
1920 Down on the Farm The Sportive Banker with Mortgage produced by Mack Sennett
Married Life Man Who Made Good
Love, Honor and Behave Artist
1921 A Small Town Idol J. Wellington Jones Mack Sennett Comedies; with Ben Turpin
Home Talent Stranded Actor
1922 The Crossroads of New York Lawyer
1923 The Noon Whistle O'Hallahan, the foreman Short, Hal Roach Studios; with Stan Laurel
White Wings Dental patient Short, Hal Roach Studios; with Stan Laurel
Pick and Shovel The foreman Short, Hal Roach Studios; with Stan Laurel
Oranges and Lemons Worker Short, Uncredited, Hal Roach Studios; with Stan Laurel
Hollywood Himself Paramount Pictures
A Man About Town Humko, store detective Short, Hal Roach Studios; with Stan Laurel
Roughest Africa Lt. Hans Downe (Little Boss) Short, Hal Roach Studios; with Stan Laurel
Frozen Hearts General Sappovitch Short, Hal Roach Studios; with Stan Laurel
The Whole Truth Defense lawyer Short, Hal Roach Studios; with Stan Laurel
The Soilers Smacknamara Short, Hal Roach Studios; with Stan Laurel
Scorching Sands James Short, Hal Roach Studios; with Stan Laurel
Mother's Joy Baron Buttontop Short, Hal Roach Studios; with Stan Laurel
1924 Smithy Sergeant Short, Hal Roach Studios; with Stan Laurel
Postage Due Postal inspector Short, Hal Roach Studios; with Stan Laurel
Zeb vs. Paprika Trainer Short, Hal Roach Studios; with Stan Laurel
Brothers Under the Chin Short, Hal Roach Studios; with Stan Laurel
Wide Open Spaces Jack McQueen Short, Hal Roach Studios; with Stan Laurel
Rupert of Hee Haw Rupert of Hee Haw Short, Hal Roach Studios; with Stan Laurel
Our Congressman Dinner Party Guest Short, Uncredited, Hal Roach Studios
Short Kilts McGregor's son Short, Hal Roach Studios; with Stan Laurel
Near Dublin Brick merchant Short, Hal Roach Studios; with Stan Laurel
1925 The Haunted Honeymoon Short, Hal Roach Studios
Innocent Husbands The Desk Clerk Short, Hal Roach Studios; with Charley Chase
Welcome Home Minor Role
Yes, Yes, Nanette Hillory, the new husband Short, Hal Roach Studios; with Oliver Hardy
1926 Madame Mystery Struggling author Short, Hal Roach Studios; with Theda Bara
Dizzy Daddies Jonathan Haig Short, Hal Roach Studios
Wife Tamers Waiter Short, Hal Roach Studios. with Lionel Barrymore and Gertrude Astor
Ukulele Sheiks Short, Hal Roach Studios; with Glenn Tryon and Vivien Oakland
Thundering Fleas Justice of the Peace Short, Hal Roach Studios; with Oliver Hardy and Charley Chase
Raggedy Rose Simpson Sniffle Hal Roach Studios; with Mabel Normand
1927 Seeing the World James Finlayson, teacher Short, Hal Roach Studios; Our Gang series
One Hour Married Short, Hal Roach Studios; with Mabel Normand
The Honorable Mr. Buggs Short, Hal Roach Studios; with Oliver Hardy
The Second Hundred Years Gov. Browne Van Dyke Short, Hal Roach Studios; with Laurel and Hardy
No Man's Law Jack Belcher Hal Roach Studios; with Oliver Hardy
Love 'em and Weep Titus Tilbury Short, Hal Roach Studios; with Laurel and Hardy
With Love and Hisses Captain Bustle Short, Hal Roach Studios; with Laurel and Hardy
Do Detectives Think? Judge Foozle Short, Hal Roach Studios; with Laurel and Hardy
1928 Bachelor's Paradise Pat Malone Tiffany Pictures
Ladies' Night in a Turkish Bath Pa Slocum First National Pictures
Lady Be Good Trelawney West First National Pictures
Show Girl Mr. Dugan First National Pictures
1929 Liberty Store Keeper Short, Hal Roach Studios; with Laurel and Hardy
Big Business Homeowner Short, Hal Roach Studios; with Laurel and Hardy
Two Weeks Off Pa Weaver
Hard to Get Pa Martin First National Pictures
Wall Street Andy
1930 Night Owls Meadows, the butler Short, Hal Roach Studios; with Laurel and Hardy
Young Eagles Scotty
The Dawn Patrol Field Sergeant
For the Defense Parrott
El príncipe del dólar
Chercheuses d'or
Feet First Painter Uncredited
Another Fine Mess Colonel Buckshot Short, Uncredited, Hal Roach Studios; with Laurel and Hardy
1931 Chickens Come Home Butler Short, Uncredited, Hal Roach Studios; with Laurel and Hardy
Politiquerías Criado
Our Wife Father of Dulce Short, Uncredited, Hal Roach Studios; with Laurel and Hardy
Pardon Us Teacher Hal Roach Studios; with Laurel and Hardy
One Good Turn A Community Player Short, Hal Roach Studios; with Laurel and Hardy
Hasty Marriage Kitty's Father Short, Hal Roach Studios; with Charley Chase
1932 Thunder Below Scotty
Pack Up Your Troubles The General Hal Roach Studios; with Laurel and Hardy
Zwei Ritter ohne Furcht und Tadel 1 Short
1933 Me and My Pal Peter Cucumber Short, Hal Roach Studios; with Laurel and Hardy
His Silent Racket Himself Short, Hal Roach Studios; with Charley Chase
Fra Diavolo Lord Rocberg Hal Roach Studios; with Laurel and Hardy
1934 Trouble in Store The Watchman (leading role) (U.K Comedy Short), Warner Brothers
The Girl in Possession Minor Role Uncredited
Oh No Doctor! Axminster
Dick Turpin Jeremy
Nine Forty-Five Police Constable Doyle
What Happened to Harkness? Police Constable Gallun
Father and Son Bildad
Big Business Police Constable
1935 Thicker Than Water Mr. Finlayson Short, Hal Roach Studios; with Laurel and Hardy
Handle with Care Jimmy
Who's Your Father Uncredited
Bonnie Scotland Sergeant Major Finlayson Hal Roach Studios; with Laurel and Hardy
Manhattan Monkey Business Joyce's Father Short, Hal Roach Studios; with Charley Chase
Life Hesitates at 40 Dr. Finlayson Short, Hal Roach Studios; with Charley Chase
1936 The Bohemian Girl Finn, Captain of the Guard Hal Roach Studios; with Laurel and Hardy
Our Relations Finn, Chief Engineer Hal Roach Studios; with Laurel and Hardy
1937 Way Out West Mickey Finn Hal Roach Studios; with Laurel and Hardy
Pick a Star Director Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer
The Toast of New York Trick-Hat Inventor Uncredited
All Over Town MacDougal
This Way Please Policeman Uncredited
Angel Barker's Second Butler Uncredited
Wise Girl Jailer Uncredited, RKO Radio
1938 Block-Heads Finn - Man on Stairs Hal Roach Studios; with Laurel and Hardy
Carefree Man on golf course Uncredited, RKO Pictures; with Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers
1939 Hollywood Cavalcade Himself 20th Century Fox
The Flying Deuces Jailer RKO Pictures; with Laurel and Hardy
Raffles Hansom Cab Driver Uncredited, United Artists
The Great Victor Herbert Lamplighter
A Chump at Oxford Baldy Vandevere Hal Roach Studios; with Laurel and Hardy
1940 Saps at Sea Dr J.H. Finlayson Hal Roach Studios; with Laurel and Hardy
Foreign Correspondent Dutch Peasant Uncredited, United Artists
1941 Nice Girl? Loafer at Train Station Uncredited
One Night in Lisbon Air Raid Warden Uncredited
New Wine Minor Role Uncredited
1942 To Be or Not to Be Scottish Farmer Uncredited, United Artists
Yanks Ahoy Cook Flynn Uncredited
1946 Two Sisters from Boston Street Cleaner Uncredited
She-Wolf of London Constable With Hobbs and Latham Uncredited
Till the Clouds Roll By Candy Vendor Uncredited
1947 Thunder in the Valley Court Judge Uncredited
The Perils of Pauline Comic Chef Paramount Pictures
1948 Julia Misbehaves Bill Collector Uncredited, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer
Grand Canyon Trail Sheriff
Hills of Home Minor Role Uncredited
1949 Challenge to Lassie Newspaper Reporter Uncredited, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer
1951 Here Comes the Groom Drunken Sailor / Wedding Guest Uncredited, Paramount Pictures
Royal Wedding Cabby Uncredited, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer


  1. ^ a b Mitchell, p. 102
  2. ^ Skretvedt, p. 77
  3. ^ Scotland Statutory Registers: Births in the Parish of Larbert in the County of Stirling, 1887 – page 51, Item #151
  4. ^ 1901 Census of the Household of Alexander FINLAYSON in the Hamlet of North Broomage, Parish of Larbert, Stirlingshire, Scotland; ScotlandsPeople (Census 1901 485/0A 001/00 043)
  5. ^ The Scotsman; 3 May 1910; ProQuest Historical Newspapers: The Scotsman (1817–1950); pg. 5
  6. ^ Ship manifest for the California, sailing from Glasgow, arrived New York on 5 June 1911; page 766; line: 3
  7. ^ National Archives and Records Administration; Washington, D.C.; Naturalization Records of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of California, Central Division (Los Angeles), 1887–1940; Microfilm Serial: M1524; Microfilm Roll: 8
  8. ^ Review in New York Tribune, 12 May 1912
  9. ^ Review in New York Herald, 17 May 1912.
  10. ^ a b c Louvish, Simon (2001); Stan and Ollie: The Roots of Comedy; London: Faber and Faber; ISBN 0-571-20352-3; p. 157
  11. ^ Review in New York Dramatic Mirror, 22 May 1912; retrieved 25 January 2012.
  12. ^ "Mack Sennett papers 1912-1933 Margaret Herrick Library". Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Retrieved 17 December 2016.
  13. ^ Jimmy Finlayson of Old Keystone Kops Fame Dies, Obituary in Los Angeles Times, 10 October 1953; retrieved 17 March 2016.
  14. ^ James H. Finlayson of 'Keystone Kops', Obituary in New York Times, 10 October 1953; retrieved 17 March 2016.
  15. ^ "Fort Wayne Journal-Gazette". 4 April 1920. p. 3 (Section 4).
  16. ^ Mitchell, Glenn, (1995). The Laurel and Hardy Encyclopedia. London: Batsford Press. ISBN 0-7134-7711-3. p. 101
  17. ^ Skretvedt, Randy, (1996). Laurel and Hardy: The Magic Behind the Movies. Beverly Hills: Past Times Publishing. ISBN 0-940410-29-X. p 93
  18. ^ Skretvedt, p. 98
  19. ^ Skretvedt, pp. 95–97
  20. ^ Mitchell, p. 101
  21. ^ California, County Marriages, 1850–1952; page 209; film number: 1033287; digital folder number: 004540626; image number: 00664
  22. ^ [1]
  23. ^ "California, Death Index, 1940-1997". Retrieved 12 May 2017.
  24. ^ Devine, Cate (21 July 2007). "What's the story with ... Homer's D'oh!". The Herald. Retrieved 17 December 2016.
  25. ^ "CATCHPHRASES 1". The Comedy Carpet, Blackpool. Retrieved 23 June 2019.
  26. ^ Wilson, Charlene (14 March 2019). "Laurel and Hardy mosaics unveiled in Bo'ness ahead of Scotland's only silent film festival". The Falkirk Herald. Retrieved 23 June 2019.
  27. ^ Unsworth, Martin (28 March 2019). "STANLEY: A MAN OF VARIETY". STARBURST Magazine. Retrieved 24 June 2019.
  28. ^ "Stanley A Man Of Variety". Caution: Spoilers. 13 March 2019. Retrieved 24 June 2019.
  29. ^ Young, Alistair. "Fin Tent". Bowler Dessert Online. Retrieved 23 June 2019.
  30. ^ "Our Relations Tent of James Finlayson". Larbert Loon. Retrieved 23 June 2019.

External links

This page was last edited on 6 May 2021, at 20:37
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