Photoplay Magazine, December, 1915
|Born||Eugene William Pallette
July 8, 1889
Winfield, Kansas, U.S.
|Died||September 3, 1954
Los Angeles, California, U.S.
|Spouse(s)||Phyllis Gordon (1912-before 1920) (divorce)
Marjorie Cagnacc (1932–1954) (his death)
After an early career as a slender leading man, Pallette appeared for decades as very obese with a large stomach and deep, gravelly voice, probably best-remembered for comic character roles such as Alexander Bullock, Carole Lombard's father, in My Man Godfrey (1936), as Friar Tuck in The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938) starring Errol Flynn, and his similar role as Fray Felipe in The Mark of Zorro (1940) starring Tyrone Power.
Early life and career
He was born in Winfield, Kansas, the son of William Baird Pallette (1858–?) and Elnora "Ella" Jackson (1860–1906). His sister was Beulah L. Pallette (1880–1968).
Pallette began his silent movie career as an extra in about 1911. His first credited appearance was in the one-reel short western/drama The Fugitive (1913) which was directed by Wallace Reid for Flying "A" Studios at Santa Barbara. The star was Edward Coxen.
Quickly advancing to featured status, Pallette appeared in many westerns. He worked with D.W. Griffith on such films as The Birth of a Nation (1915) and Intolerance (1916). At this time, he had a slim, athletic figure, a far cry from the portly build that would gain him fame later in his career.
After gaining a substantial amount of weight, Pallette gained status as a recognizable character actor. In 1927, he signed as a regular for Hal Roach Studios and was a reliable comic foil in several early Laurel and Hardy movies. In later years, Pallette's weight may have topped out at 300 pounds (136 kg).
The advent of the talkies proved to be the second major career boost for Pallette. His inimitable rasping gravel voice (described as "half an octave below anyone else in the cast") made him one of Hollywood's most sought-after character actors in the 1930s and 1940s.
The typical Pallette role was the comically exasperated head of the family (as in My Man Godfrey and The Lady Eve), the cynical backroom sharpy (as in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington), or the gruff detective. However, Pallette's best known role may be as Friar Tuck in The Adventures of Robin Hood, and his similar appearance in The Mark of Zorro.
"Pallette could anchor a scene just by walking downstairs. When he enters Preston Sturges's The Lady Eve (1941), trotting down to breakfast singing a merry ballad, he embodies all the small human hopes that screwball comedy exists to shatter.... The mature Pallette character is a creature of provocative contradictions—tough-minded but indulgent, earthy but epicurean, relaxed but excitable. His grit and gravel voice sounds simultaneously tough and comic. Even his corpulence is two-sided. In his best films Pallette made his fatness seem like a sign of moderation and common sense. As Friar Tuck in The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938) or Fray Felipe in The Mark of Zorro (1940), he shows that a fat priest is no heartless zealot but understands the sins of the flesh. Playing a tubby millionaire like the beer baron in The Lady Eve or Alexander Bullock in My Man Godfrey (1936), Pallette uses his girth to create a common touch. Stuffed into a tuxedo that seems perpetually near bursting, he seems more down-to-earth than the stylish high society types who surround him. Even Pallette's villains, like the corrupt and cynical politico Chick McCann in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, are immensely likeable. Pushed too far, Pallette confidently uses his weight for physical force. When Bullock finally evicts the free-loading Carlo (Mischa Auer) in My Man Godfrey, we are not so much surprised as reassured by Pallette's manly strength. In battle his sword-wielding Friar Tuck is a glory to behold. Pallette may have gained weight, but he never lost his underlying virility."
Palette was cast as the father of lead actress Jeanne Crain in Army Wives (released in 1944 as In the Meantime, Darling). Director Otto Preminger clashed with Pallette and claimed he was "an admirer of Hitler and convinced that Germany would win the war". Pallete also refused to sit down at the same table with a black actor in a scene set in a kitchen. "You're out of your mind, I won't sit next to a nigger", Pallette hissed at Preminger. Preminger furiously informed Fox studio head Darryl F. Zanuck, who fired Pallette. Although Pallette remains in scenes he already had filmed, the remainder of his role not yet shot was eliminated from the script.
In 1946, convinced that there was going to be a "world blow-up" by atom bombs, Pallette received considerable publicity when he set up a "mountain fortress" on a 3,500-acre (14 km2) ranch near Imnaha, Oregon, as a hideaway from universal catastrophe. The "fortress" reportedly was stocked with a sizable herd of prize cattle, enormous supplies of food, and had its own canning plant and lumber mill.
When the "blow-up" he anticipated failed to materialize after two years, he began disposing of the Oregon ranch and returned to Los Angeles and his movie colony friends but, after working steadily from 1913 to 1946, never appeared in another movie.
Eugene Pallette died at age 65 in 1954 from cancer at his apartment, 10835 Wilshire Boulevard, in Los Angeles. His wife, Marjorie, and his sister, Beulah Phelps, were at his side. Private funeral services were conducted on Saturday, September 4, 1954, at the Armstrong Family Mortuary. His cremated remains are interred in an unmarked grave behind the monument of his parents at Green Lawn Cemetery in Grenola, Kansas. He has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame for his contribution to motion pictures at 6702 Hollywood Boulevard in Hollywood.
- Fujiwara, Chris, The World and Its Double: The Life and Work of Otto Preminger. New York: Macmillan Publishers 2009. ISBN 0-86547-995-X, p. 34
- California Death Index, Name: Eugene William Pallette, Birth Date: 07-08-1889, Mother's Maiden Name: Jackson, Father's Last: Pallette, Sex: Male, Birth Place: Kansas, Death Place: Los Angeles (19), Death Date: 09-03-1954, Age: 65 yrs.
- "Pioneer Film Actor Eugene Pallette Dies." Los Angeles Times. Sep. 4, 1954. p. A 1.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Eugene Pallette.|
- Eugene Pallette at the Internet Movie Database
- Eugene Pallette at Tedstrong
- Warner Brothers' Fat Men, by Dana Gioia
- Eugene Pallette at Find a Grave
- Literature on Eugene Pallette