Thursday, June 23, 2011

Grady Sutton

A long time ago the fellow with this pleasant face began in the movies in a walk-on part with no lines (it was a silent movie, after all), and carved out a decades-long career as the anonymous everyman who was somehow familiar.

Know this guy in the sweater?  That's Student Who Goes to Get the Dean.  This is from Harold Lloyd’s 1925 silent comedy “The Freshman”. This young man was on screen for only a few moments. Prophetically, he would build his entire career around appearing on screen for only a few, very memorable, moments.

He’s Grady Sutton, uncredited in most of his roles. Even though he co-starred in a series of Hal Roach two-reelers early on in his career, he never quite made to top banana fame.

Along the way he played the foil for W.C. Fields, and appeared in “Alice Adams” (1935) with Katharine Hepburn, and was hastily engaged to Carole Lombard in “My Man Godfrey” (1936).

Oddly enough, he managed to be one of the most recognizable bit actors in Hollywood, appearing in something like 200 movies and television shows. Once he made the transition from silents to talkies, we all got to hear that gentle Southern drawl that suited so well his shy, deadpan naivete.

Here he’s the housemaid Hattie’s beau, Butch the Butcher in “Stage Door” (1937), being teased by Lucille Ball.

Here, he’s Gary Cooper’s best man in “Casanova Brown” (1943).

Here, he’s the diner counterman who for several hysterical moments (could be one of his longer roles) agonizes over Jean Arthur’s post-wedding crying jag as he serves her boiled rice.

Here he’s one of the servicemen and the local camp that Jennifer Jones, Joseph Cotten, and Claudette Colbert visit in “Since You Went Away” (1944), as he wanders the party looking for “Suzy Flemming”.

After a few unsuccessful attempts to dance with Rosemary Clooney at the cast party in “White Christmas” (1954), Grady is introduced to Barrie Chase, who delivers her famous line, “Mutual, I’m sure.”

Mr. Sutton went on to several more decades of work in film and television, never saying much, but always a welcome addition to the party.


Lobosco said...

I have seen Grady Sutton in so many movies - I forgot all about him. Thanks for this excellent profile!

Caftan Woman said...

Sutton of the South Seas: "Paradise, Hawaiian Style" with Elvis and "Waikiki Wedding" with Bing.

Sound was certainly a blessing for Sutton and the befuddled types he played. His sweet, soft voice matched his face perfectly.

Jacqueline T Lynch said...

Isn't it amazing how long his career extended, popping in like an unexpected, but welcome guest? I understand he also wandered around the ball scene in "My Fair Lady", without lines this time. I'm going to have to track that down one of these days and check it out.

LucieWickfield said...

How fun! Wasn't he also in My Man Godfrey, playing Irene's emergency fiancée, Charlie Van Rumple?

Anonymous said...

I love that you wrote this! Everytime he comes into a scene my mom and I say, "Well there he is again!" haha I always wondered if anyone else noticed him like we did.

And funny thing is, I saw your blog post and I thought of him in "Since You Went Away" saying "Has anyone seen Susie Flemming?" It's funny moment, but also kinda sad :(

Jacqueline T Lynch said...

Yep, Lucie, he was on the job in "My Man Godfrey".

Thanks for stopping by, jnpickens, and I think probably a lot of us have noticed Grady over the years without thinking too much about him. I hope he eventually found Susie Flemming.

Bit Part Blogger said...

Its nice to see you write about Grady. He is my favorite in W.C. Fields' The Bank Dick, playing Og Oggilby the boyfriend of Fields' daughter.

His career spanned 1925 to 1979! He is one of the best Bit Actors ever.

I had the pleasure of speaking with Grady on the phone, just a short while before he passed away. He was truly a southern gentleman.

Jacqueline T Lynch said...

Welcome Bit Part Blogger, I enjoy your blog. Did you interview Grady? I think I'm really more interested in how the character actors and bit part players functioned within the old studio system than the stars. We don't hear enough about how they managed their careers. Thanks so much for stopping by.

Grand Old Movies said...

Grady Sutton was one of those great old reliables of classic film. He did have pretty big roles in his films w/WC Fields ("The Bank Dick," "The Man on the Flying Trapeze"), and was extremely funny. He even had a small role in "Myra Breckenridge"! They don't make 'em like Grady Sutton anymore. Thanks for your post!

Jacqueline T Lynch said...

Thanks for recalling his work with W.C. Fields. The longevity of his career was amazing.

Yvette said...

Thanks for posting this, Jacqueline. I love this guy. Never knew his name but he was just always there. Something so pleasant (you're right) about his face. Unlike some of the other 'bit' actors who had long careers, many of whom were 'scowlers'.

You've given me an idea for a post. I'll have to think on it for bit. :)

Jacqueline T Lynch said...

I love him, too, Yvette. Looking forward to your post idea; go for it.

Chris Bungo said...

@Jacqueline T Lynch Yes, in My Fair Lady you can catch him doing a little bit of comedy business in the Ascot (horse race) scene. He's at 3:07 here:

Jacqueline T Lynch said...

Chris, thanks so much for adding this video to our Grady Sutton discussion. I'll be sure to check out the scene.

Moira Finnie said...

Believe it or not, I just discovered this delightful piece on this essential character actor.

I loved Grady Sutton long before I learned his name. His role as the dance partner of a reluctant Katharine Hepburn in ALICE ADAMS (1935) remains my fondest role for him, though his lab assistant professor in the Jimmy Stewart-Ginger Rogers movie VIVACIOUS LADY (1939) was also a gem of frustrated desire and sheer nosiness. Both films were directed by George Stevens, whose light touch before the war changed him (and darkened the world), allowed for actors such as Sutton to brighten many films.

One of the things I love about Grady Sutton was his ability to blend shyness, an endearing prissiness, understandable irritability and longing into one very recognizable human being--no matter how underwritten the role.

BTW, Grady Sutton, according to Patrick McGilligan's excellent biography, "George Cukor: A Double Life" was part of a close circle of friends and associates who could always count on the director for a job (and many years of loyalty). Sutton appeared in four Cukor films and can be readily spotted as one of the elegant crowd at Ascot in MY FAIR LADY (1964).

Jacqueline T. Lynch said...

So glad you rank among the Grady Sutton fans, Moira. I was delighted to discover him again when I wrote about MADISON AVENUE (1962), he showed up as Dana Andrews' business client from out of town. They went bowling together, and Grady actually got screen credit this time. Just seeing this guy seems like a warm hug.

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