Regis Toomey started his film career as a lead, who very quickly drifted into character roles. He previously did musical stage work as well, before laryngitis took that option away from him.
He played romantic leads against the reigning actresses of the early 1930s, but by 1941 we see him in smaller roles, like Bert Hansen the soda jerk in “Meet John Doe.” Though he plays a minor role, Toomey seems more the everyman character in that movie than that demonstrated by lead Gary Cooper’s John Willoughby character, more the small-town yokel struggling to get by. He seems more genuine if only because he is less romantic, has less of that aura of mystery. We think we already know him, and maybe we do.
Regis Toomey is also one of the remorseless ambulance-chasing reporters in “His Girl Friday,” and he played a string of detectives and reporters, and a few uncredited roles as his career progressed through the 1940s and 1950s, until television gave him, like so many character actors, new ground and new opportunities for work.
But you see him in the big ones, “The Big Sleep,” Alfred Hitchcock’s “Spellbound,” “Sister Kenny,” and “The Bishop’s Wife,” as well as less memorable B-movies. There was an average Joe quality about him, but comparing the moral ambiguity of the reporter in “His Girl Friday” with the open-hearted and guileless Bert Hansen, we can see there really was more there than just the guy we think we know.