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James Gleason
James Gleason in Meet John Doe trailer.jpg
Gleason in Meet John Doe (1941)
James Austin Gleason

(1882-05-23)May 23, 1882
DiedApril 12, 1959(1959-04-12) (aged 76)
  • Actor
  • playwright
  • screenwriter
Years active1914–1959
(m. 1905; died 1947)
ChildrenRussell Gleason

James Austin Gleason (May 23, 1882 – April 12, 1959) was an American actor, playwright and screenwriter born in New York City.[1] Gleason often portrayed "tough-talking, world-weary guys with a secret heart-of-gold."[2]

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Life and career

Gleason directed the Broadway production of George S. Kaufman's The Butter and Egg Man (1925), in which his wife Lucile Webster (center) appeared with Gregory Kelly and Sylvia Field.
Gleason directed the Broadway production of George S. Kaufman's The Butter and Egg Man (1925), in which his wife Lucile Webster (center) appeared with Gregory Kelly and Sylvia Field.

Gleason was born in New York City, the son of Mina (née Crolius) and William L. Gleason.[3] Coming from theatrical stock, as a schoolboy he made stage appearances while on holiday. He began earning his living at the age of thirteen, being a messenger boy, printer's devil, assistant in an electrical store and a lift boy. He enlisted in the United States Army at age 16 and served three years in the Philippines.

On discharge, he began his stage career, later taking it up professionally. He played in London for two years and following his return to the United States, he began in films by writing dialogue for comedies. He wrote a number of plays, several of which were performed on Broadway. He also acted on Broadway, including in a couple of his own plays. When World War I broke out, Gleason reenlisted in the United States Army and served to the end of the war.

His film debut was in Polly of the Follies (1922), starring Constance Talmadge. Balding and slender with a craggy voice and a master of the double-take, Gleason portrayed tough but warm-hearted characters, usually with a New York background. He co-wrote The Broadway Melody, the second film to win the Academy Award for Best Picture, and had a small uncredited role in it. He also co-wrote and briefly appeared as a hot dog vendor in the 1934 Janet Gaynor vehicle Change of Heart. He performed in a number of films with his wife Lucile. In The Clock (1945), he played a milk cart driver who gives lessons in marriage to the characters played by Judy Garland and Robert Walker, while Lucile played his wife. The same year, he played the bartender in the film adaptation of A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. In the Frank Capra classic Meet John Doe, he played the cynical, "hard boiled" editor brought in to pump up the newspaper that runs with the "John Doe" story.

Gleason was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for his performance as boxing manager Max "Pop" Corkle in the 1941 film Here Comes Mr. Jordan. He starred in two movie series, playing police inspector Oscar Piper in six Hildegarde Withers mystery films during the 1930s, starting with The Penguin Pool Murder, and Joe Higgins in the first seven of nine films about the Higgins Family, in which his wife Lucile and son Russell played Lil and Sydney Higgins. One of Gleason's best-known roles is Uncle Birdie, the kind-hearted ship captain plagued by alcohol and the memory of his deceased wife, in Charles Laughton's film noir classic The Night of the Hunter (1955).

Gleason also performed in other media. In 1931, he co-starred with Robert Armstrong in the radio sitcom Gleason and Armstrong.[4] His television credits include several episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents, the Reed Hadley legal drama The Public Defender and ABC's The Real McCoys. In "The Child", the Christmas 1957 episode of John Payne's The Restless Gun on NBC, Gleason and Anthony Caruso played Roman Catholic priests who run an orphanage. Dan Blocker, just launching his acting career, also guest starred in the episode.[5]

Gleason died in 1959 from complications related to asthma, and was buried in Holy Cross Cemetery in Culver City, California.[citation needed]

For his contributions to the motion picture industry, Gleason has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 7038 Hollywood Boulevard.[6]


James and Lucile Gleason had a son, actor Russell Gleason. On December 26, 1945, the younger Gleason was in New York City awaiting deployment to Europe with his regiment, when he fell out of a fourth story window in the Hotel Sutton — which the army had commandeered to house the troops — resulting in his death. Reports varied, some saying the fall was accidental, while others stating it was a suicide.[7][8] Russell's most prominent role had been as Muller in the Academy Award-winning version of All Quiet on the Western Front (1930). Russell Gleason was married to Cynthia Hobart (later becoming Cynthia Lindsay), a swimmer and stunt woman who later wrote a biography of family friend Boris Karloff.[9][10]

James Gleason was interred in the Holy Cross Cemetery in Culver City, California.


Year Title Role Notes
1922 Polly of the Follies Paul Gordon
1928 The Count of Ten The manager
1929 The Broadway Melody Music Publisher Uncredited, Dialogue co-written by Gleason
High Voltage N/A Screenplay co-written by Gleason
The Flying Fool N/A Dialogue written by Gleason
Oh, Yeah! Dusty Reilly
The Shannons of Broadway Mickey Shannon
1930 Puttin' On the Ritz James "Jimmy" Tierney Also credited with writing dialogue
The Swellhead Johnny Trump
Mammy N/A Based on the play Mr. Bones, a Musical Comedy of Minstrel Days in Two Acts by Irving Berlin and Gleason
Dumbbells in Ermine Mike Screenplay by Gleason and Harvey F. Thew
The Fall Guy N/A Based on the play The Fall Guy, a Comedy in Three Acts, by George Abbott and Gleason
The Matrimonial Bed Gustave Corton
Rain or Shine N/A Based on the book of the musical Rain or Shine by Gleason and Maurice Marks
Her Man Steve
What a Widow! N/A Co-wrote
Big Money Tom
1931 Three Hollywood Girls N/A Screenplay by Gleason
Beyond Victory Private Jim Mobley
It's a Wise Child Cool Kelly
A Free Soul Eddie
Sweepstakes Sleepy Jones
The Big Gamble Squint Dugan
Suicide Fleet Skeets
1932 Fast Companions Silk Henley
Lady and Gent Pin Streaver
Blondie of the Follies Pa McClune
The Crooked Circle Arthur Crimmer
The All American Chick Knipe
The Devil Is Driving "Beef" Evans
The Penguin Pool Murder Police Inspector Oscar Piper
1933 The Billion Dollar Scandal Ratsy Harris
Clear All Wires! Lefty
Mister Mugg N/A Comedy short
The Bowery N/A Screenplay co-written by Gleason
Hoop-La Jerry
1934 The Meanest Gal in Town Duke Slater
Search for Beauty Dan Healy
Orders Is Orders Ed Waggermeyer
Change of Heart Hot Dog Vendor Uncredited, Also credited as screenwriter
Murder on the Blackboard Inspector Oscar Piper
1935 Helldorado Sam Barnes
Two-Fisted N/A Based on the play Is Zat So? by Gleason and Richard Taber
Murder in the Fleet Inspector Oscar Piper Uncredited screenplay by Gleason
Murder on a Honeymoon Inspector Oscar Piper
West Point of the Air Joe "Bags"
Hot Tip Jimmy McGill Co-directed with Ray McCarey
We're Only Human Detective Danny Walsh
1936 Murder on a Bridle Path Police Inspector Oscar Piper
The Ex-Mrs. Bradford Inspector Corrigan
Yours for the Asking Saratoga
Don't Turn 'Em Loose Detective Daniels
The Big Game George Scott
The Plot Thickens Oscar Piper
1937 Forty Naughty Girls Inspector Oscar Piper
Manhattan Merry-Go-Round Danny the Duck
1938 The Higgins Family Joe Higgins
Army Girl Sergeant "Three Star" Hennessy
1939 My Wife's Relatives Joe Higgins
Should Husbands Work? Joe Higgins
On Your Toes Phil Dolan Sr.
The Covered Trailer Joe Higgins
Money to Burn Joe Higgins
1940 Grandpa Goes to Town Joe Higgins
Earl of Puddlestone Joe Higgins
1941 Meet John Doe Henry Connell
Affectionately Yours Chester Phillips
Here Comes Mr. Jordan Max Corkle Nominated — Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor
Tanks a Million Colonel "Spitfire" Barkley
Nine Lives Are Not Enough Sergeant Daniels
Babes on Broadway Thornton Reed
1942 Hay Foot Colonel J. A. Barkley
A Date with the Falcon Inspector Mike O'Hara
My Gal Sal Pat Hawley
The Falcon Takes Over Inspector Michael O'Hara
Footlight Serenade Bruce McKay
Tales of Manhattan "Father" Joe
Manila Calling Tim O'Rourke
1943 Crash Dive Chief Mike "Mac" McDonnell
A Guy Named Joe "Nails" Kilpatrick
1944 Once Upon a Time McGillicuddy, aka the "Moke"
Arsenic and Old Lace Police Lieutenant Rooney
The Keys of the Kingdom Reverend Dr. Wilbur Fiske
1945 This Man's Navy Jimmy Shannon
A Tree Grows in Brooklyn McGarrity
The Clock Al Henry, Milk Cart Driver
Captain Eddie Tom Clark
1946 The Hoodlum Saint Snarp
The Well-Groomed Bride Captain Hornby
Home, Sweet Homicide Sgt. O'Hare
Lady Luck Sacramento Sam
1947 The Homestretch Doc Kilborne
Down to Earth Max Corkle
The Bishop's Wife Sylvester
Tycoon Pop Mathews
1948 Smart Woman Sam Corkle
The Dude Goes West Sam Briggs
The Return of October Uncle Willie Ramsey
When My Baby Smiles at Me Lefty Moore
1949 Bad Boy Chief
The Life of Riley Gillis
Take One False Step Captain Gledhill
Miss Grant Takes Richmond Timothy P. Gleason
1950 Key to the City Sergeant Hogan
The Yellow Cab Man Mickey Corkins
Riding High Racing Secretary
The Jackpot Harry Summers
Joe Palooka in the Squared Circle Knobby Walsh
1951 Two Gals and a Guy Max Howard
Joe Palooka in Triple Cross Knobby Walsh
Come Fill the Cup Charley Dolan
I'll See You in My Dreams Fred Townsend
1952 We're Not Married! Duffy
The Story of Will Rogers Bert Lynn
What Price Glory? General Cokely
1953 Forever Female Eddie Woods
1954 Hollywood Thrill-Makers Risky Russell
Suddenly Peter "Pop" Benson
1955 The Night of the Hunter Birdie Steptoe
The Girl Rush Ether Ferguson
1956 Star in the Dust Orval Jones
1957 Spring Reunion "Collie" Collyer
The Restless Gun Father Terrance Episode "The Child" (Christmas episode)
Man in the Shadow Hank James
Loving You Carl Meade
1958 The Female Animal Tom Maloney
Man or Gun Sheriff Jim Jackson
Rock-A-Bye Baby Doc Simpkins
Once Upon a Horse... Postmaster
Money, Women and Guns Henry Devers
The Last Hurrah "Cuke" Gillen (final film role)

See also


  1. ^ Obituary Variety, April 15, 1959, page 159.
  2. ^ "James Gleason | Biography, Movie Highlights and Photos".
  3. ^ Mina Crolius Gleason, Mother of actor James Gleason Retrieved July 19, 2015
  4. ^[bare URL]
  5. ^ "The Child," The Restless Gun, DVD, Timeless Media Group
  6. ^ Hollywood Wall of Fame
  7. ^ Liebman, Roy (2017). Broadway Actors in Films, 1894-2015. McFarland. p. 109. ISBN 978-0-786-47685-5.
  8. ^ Senn, Bryan (2006). Golden Horrors: An Illustrated Critical Filmography of Terror Cinema, 1931-1939. McFarland. p. 327. ISBN 978-0-786-42724-6.
  9. ^ Nollen, Scott Allen (2004). Boris Karloff: A Gentleman's Life. Baltimore, Maryland: Midnight Marquee & BearManor Media. ISBN 9780879101060.
  10. ^ Lindsey, Cynthia (2004). Dear Boris: The Life of William Henry Pratt a.k.a. Boris Karloff. Limelight. ISBN 1887664238.

External links

This page was last edited on 12 March 2023, at 14:28
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