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Thursday, May 10, 2018

Three Gleasons - James, Lucille, and Russell


James Gleason is a favorite character actor among classic film fans, and we could rattle off a giant list of movies he appeared in.  Less well known are his wife and his son, who pose with him in this trio shot from Stars of the Photoplay (1930).

Lucille Webster performed in a stock company owned by James Gleason's theatrical parents.  They were married in 1905.  His first Broadway appearance was in 1914, and after several years of acting, writing, and directing for the theatre, both husband and wife scored in the Broadway hit The Shannons of Broadway in 1927, which Gleason wrote.

His first film was in 1922.  He also wrote and directed for the movies.  He appeared in several with Lucille.  Their son Russell continued the family trade and appeared in All Quiet on the Western Front (1930).

This photo was taken around that time, when he was about 22 years old, when the family had so much to look forward to and, at least for James, was on the brink of a solid and respected film career.

Unfortunately, tragedy struck fifteen years later, when Russell, who had enlisted in the Army in 1943, was awaiting deployment to Europe with his troop in New York City when he died on Christmas Day 1945, having fallen out a fourth-story hotel window.  

Mrs. Gleason, who also served as vice president of the Screen Actors Guild, served on the advisory board for the Federal Theater Project, and ran for office in local politics, died about a year and a half later in 1947.

James went on to more roles in both films and TV, and died in 1959 at the age of 76.

I think my favorite line of his is from Meet John Doe (1941): "There y'are Norton, the people.  Try and lick that!"

4 comments:

Caftan Woman said...

Whenever I catch Lucile in a movie that doesn't feature James, it always seems to take me a couple of scenes before it dawns on me that it is her! I've been conditioned by the movies.

Russell's early death is tragic, but I love that the family shared their work and private lives. Also, three cheers for Lucile's activism. Thanks for letting us know about that side of her life.

Moira Finnie said...

Thanks for posting this piece on the Gleason family, Jacqueline. It has prompted several cinematic memories for me. Whether he was playing an irascible or endearing rascal, the presence of Jimmy Gleason in the cast of any movie immediately raises the likelihood that I will pause to watch it.

Personal faves:
1.) The Meanest Gal in Town (1934) with a very droll and cynical Jim as a fellow who likes “the sadder but wiser girl”, in this case the deliciious young & naughty Pert Kelton.
2.) Gleason opposite Edna May Oliver in the Hildegarde Withers mysteries, The Penguin Pool Murders (1934), Murder on the Blackboard (1934), and Murder on a Honeymoon (1935. There were others, but without the chemistry between the characters embodied by Jim & Edna.
3.) The Clock (1945) in which he played a milkman helped by Robert Walker & Judy Garland. The scene when he took them home for breakfast with his wife (nimbly played by Lucille Gleason) was particularly sweet without being sacchrine.
4.) A Tree Grows in Brooklyn (1945) when J.G. played a bartender whose slightly apologetic sympathy toward the family of a deceased regular in his bar struck just the right note.
5.) Come Fill the Cup (1951), a flawed but interesting film heightened by the nobility brought to the story by James Cagney, as an alcoholic, and James Gleason as Charley Dolan, an empathetic, honest man who pulls a drunk out of the gutter. Gleason ought to have had an Oscar nomination for this one, imho.

I could go on, but hope others will add their own here too. I don’t think it is online anymore, but there was an unforgettable video seen once by me featuring Mr. G. as the subject of that often maudlin but fascinating program, “This Is Your Life”. Filmed in 1958, a year before he died at age 76, Jim looked surprisingly sheepish, shy and ultimately very touched by the presence of several figures, notably actors Robert Armstrong and Tom Brown. They, along with his other friends and his faith were credited by the actor with helping him to live through the “dark days” in the ‘40s when he was dealt the double blow of losing his son and wife in a short time.

D.M.T. said...

I have enjoyed the Gleason's turn in THE CLOCK. I had no idea about a son, nor his tragic end. I must look into them more.

Jacqueline T. Lynch said...

CW, I've done the same thing with Lucille, and I agree that her activism is an interesting and seldom-discussed aspect of her life.

Moira, thanks for sharing your favorites, and my word, I would love to see that THIS IS YOUR LIFE episode. That was a truly strange and often uncomfortable series, but it brought us lots of interesting stories on the lives of Hollywood stars and the relationships they had with each other. I remember the one they did on Bette Davis, and I was astonished to see Olivia de Havilland run from the wings at the announcement of her name as the next mystery guest and grab Bette in a giant hug, practically jumping with excitement as if they were long-lost sisters.

Deborah, have a look at some of Moira's favorites listed above. Gleason is like a reliable old friend when we see him. Just love when he comes on screen, it's always something special.

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