Friday, September 12, 2008

Richard Gaines

The Immortal Richard Gaines
Welcome to the first posting of "In Character," my blog about Hollywood character actors. I've worked in film for a long time, but only recently have I really come to terms with my love of supporting players, particularly in classic Hollywood films. And now I'd like to start by writing about one of my favorites, Richard Gaines. Who, you might say? Allow me to explain.

I was watching "Double Indemnity" in a theater when it suddenly struck me; the guy who plays the head of the insurance office is, in fact, the same guy who plays the outrageous newspaper editor in "Ace in the Hole!" His performance in Ace in the Hole had struck me because it seemed so over-the-top, even for a Billy Wilder movie, yet still perfectly matched to the sensibilities of the film. I started looking up Richard Gaines to see what I could find out about him online.

Answer: nothing. Zip. Nada. Other than extensive IMDB credits, a listing on the Internet Broadway DataBase (playing Abe Lincoln!) and a few odd mentions here and there. He was a New York actor, and that's about all of substance.

Yet he caught my attention single-handedly in just two films. The more I watched, the more I started to love him. He's excellent as the stuffy suitor in "The More the Merrier," next to an unusually drab Joel McCrea and Jean Arthur. He has a brief but memorable role in "Brute Force" as a stern prison taskmaster. He even refuses to condescend to bad material, like his strangely moving turn in Flight to Mars.

He also has a penchant for historical figures; Abraham Lincoln on Broadway or George Washington in DeMille's tepid "Unconquered." His first screen role is as Patrick Henry in "The Howards of Virginia." This would lead me to believe that he may have been spotted by a casting agent on Broadway in "Abe Lincoln In Illinois" and was brought out to Hollywood to class up the joint, as it were. But this is just speculation.

Either way, I want people to be aware of Richard Gaines. He has a pretty decent range for a classic Hollywood supporting player (unlike, say, William Demarest who only played one part, but played it brilliantly). His high-powered, big-lunged newspaper editor in "Ace in the Hole" is miles away from the subtle dignity of Col. George Washington in "Unconquered," or the blustery, toupee-wearing fop Charles J. Pendergast in "The More the Merrier."

To celebrate Richard Gaines and inaugurate this blog, I've edited a special video that includes highlights from Mr. Gaines' wonderful career. Enjoy! And please post if you have any info on Richard Gaines!

Essential Films:
-The More the Merrier (1943)
-Double Indemnity (1944)
-Brute Force (1947)
-Ace in the Hole (1951)


Anonymous said...

Great info on one of my favorites, too!

Do you have anything on Louis Calhern?

Anonymous said...

Just caught the end of The More the Merrier and thought I recognized the boyfriend as someone from later films. You're right - IMDB didn't have much to offer, and he wasn't who I thought he was, but I was intrigued with him in that part. I enjoyed the montage, though, especially seeing him as Patrick Henry. Great range! However, I disagree with your assessment of McCrea and Arthur -- I loved them in this movie, thought they had great chemistry. The scene outside their apartment in which he hits on her is one of the sexiest scenes in film. Thanks for this site, though. Keep posting.

Anonymous said...

I think Richard Gaines was one of our top ten finest actors - I'm glad you're helping to bring him
into the public's awareness - he was a true actor not an industry persona - why don't we have any photos of him. What's the story about his daughter being adopted - might cast some insight into why he was such a versatile and great actor.

Anonymous said...

Richad Gaines had one of the finest voices in American film - you can tell that he knew how to project a naturally beautiful voice but could modify it for films - unlike some actors such as Richard Burton - I'd like some glossy 8 by 10's of Gaines but can't find anything - please help -why is this guy so obscure - doesn't say much for public's appeciation of talent - is his daughter still living - may be she could help along the cause - keep up the great work - let's have more video on Gaines - also what about Henry Daniel - another really great actor who is too neglected - plus Boris Karloff

Anonymous said...

Just saw his name in the credits for Enchanted Cottage. I suddenly remembered where I had heard his name before. His older sister and her husband were good friends of my grandparents in McAlester, Oklahoma. His sister and her husband were Margaret and Stanton Stallings. Now I want to see all of his films.

Anonymous said...

His voice is sooooo memorable. Thanks for the info.

Anonymous said...

Richard Gaines is also memorable as a frequent judge on the early Perry Mason series.

Anonymous said...

He was married to Brenda Marshall from 1936 - 1940. They had a child together Virginia. Brenda then married William Holden who adopted Virginia.

Anonymous said...

Glad to see actor Richard Gaines as the subject of your initial blog. I have seen "The More the Merrier" (1943) about 30 times in the last three weeks after it appeared on cable, and the 30th is playing right this second on a difference source. The movie is not perfect nor are the actors except Charles Coburn and Richard Gaines. But TMTM has a very strong attraction for me: the writing was excellent and all the actors, considering the era, were wonderful together. Jean Arthur is not really perfect but she was very good, and there was not another actress who would have been better. She had a good mix of sexy, silly and serious that no other actress could have bettered. I think Gaines, who was amazingly good, should have been nominated for best supporting actor. His unique acting in TMTM involved his voice, his eyes, his funny demeanor, and comedic double takes and confusion. Outstanding! Yet, a friend did not like TMTM at all because it was an old movie -- which appeals to me. The friend found Arthur's crying at the end to be annoying. I agreed, but it's a comedy and the crying made sense to me. You will never see a finer romantic scene that the one near the end of the movie on the walk to and outside the apartment. Film editing was perfect. Look for the boom mic shadow on the outside apartment door (the only moving shadow) near the end after he and she exit the taxi and talk.

Dee in Oxford MA said...

Richard Gaines is wonderful in Nobody Lives Forever. But I especially enjoy him as the judge in 14 episodes of the Perry Mason Series from the fifties. He has such a dignified air and credibility. One of my favorite episodes the The Case of the Rolling Bones.

Anonymous said...

Am watching right now "Perry Mason: The Case of the Footloose Doll". Mr. Gaines' role is as the judge. That distinctive voice is what caught my ear and I realize I heard it before. Took about ten minutes to remember it was in the "Murder, She Wrote" episode "The Days Dwindle Down" which is itself a sequel of sorts to the 1949 film "Strange Bargain". Did some more digging and came up with your article. I can't swear to it, but I'm almost sure he narrated some educational filmstrips (Thoughts on this?) I heard in elementary school. He has a very distinctive pronunciation of the word "suicide" which you can hear in the clip above (thanks!). Will definitely be seeing what I can watch from his IMDB list.