Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Life Begins at 80

In last night's Petrified Forest, Bette Davis' grandfather was played by Charley Grapewin. I use the phrase "veteran character actor" quite a bit, and Grapewin is another of the people who fits the bill. Grapewin was one of the many people for whom a new career opened up with the advent of talking pictures. Grapewin was 60 at the time his movie career really began, and he was active into his 80s.

The transition to talkies gave life to other mature actors' careers, too. Some had done work in silents, such as Marie Dressler, but it was really talkies that made her a much bigger name, and she was past 60 when she won her Oscar for Min and Bill. An even older actress, though, was May Robson, who was in her seventies when talkies came around.

Some mature actors didn't come to Hollywood until years later, having spent quite a bit of time on the stage. Charles Coburn and his first wife had a theater troupe, which lasted until her death; it was only after that that Coburn left for Hollywood for a full-time career, starting at the age of 60. Another similar career path was followed by Sydney Greenstreet, who played on stage for over 30 years before, at the age of 62, making a big splash in his first movie, The Maltese Falcon.

Finally, there's Clifton Webb, who had done a few silents back in the 1920s, but spent much of his career on stage until, at the age of 55, made a comeback as spectacular as Greenstreet's debut, earning an Oscar nomination for the movie Laura.

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