James Finlayson (actor)

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James Finlayson
JamesFinlaysonPublicityHeadshot.jpg
Born James Henderson Finlayson
(1887-08-27)27 August 1887
Larbert, Stirlingshire, Scotland, United Kingdom
Died 9 October 1953(1953-10-09) (aged 66)
Los Angeles, United States
Occupation Actor
Years active 1910–1951
Spouse(s) Emily Cora Gilbert (1919–?)

James Henderson "Jimmy" Finlayson (27 August 1887 – 9 October 1953) was a Scottish actor who worked in both silent and sound comedies. Bald, with a fake moustache, Finlayson had many trademark comic mannerisms and is famous for his squinting, outraged, "double take and fade away" head reaction, and characteristic expression "d'ooooooh", and as the most famous comic foil of Laurel and Hardy.

Career[edit]

Born in Larbert, Stirlingshire, Scotland to parents Alexander and Isabella (Henderson) Finlayson,[1] he attended George Watson's College before dropping out of the University of Edinburgh to pursue an acting career.[citation needed] After the death of both his parents, he emigrated to the U.S. in 1911 at the age of 24 with his brother Robert.[2][3] He married Emily Cora Gilbert in 1919[4] and became a U.S. citizen in 1920.[3]

Theatre[edit]

As part of John Clyde's company, he played the part of Jamie Ratcliffe in Jeanie Deans at the Theatre Royal in Edinburgh in 1910.[5]

He played the role of a detective disguised as a teuchter (person originating from the Scottish West Highlands or Western Isles) in the play The Great Game at Daly's Theater, New York in May 1912:[6][7] "James Finlayson had an excellent opportunity, which he did not miss, for developing two characters in his one role – the simple, naive Scotsman and the artful, determined detective. The remarkable thing is that he managed to do them both at the same time."[8][9]

He later won the role of Rab Biggar in the popular Broadway production of Bunty Pulls the Strings by Graham Moffat,[8] and dropped out of a country-wide theatrical tour in 1916 to pursue a career in Hollywood.

Film[edit]

Arriving in Los Angeles in 1916, he found work at L-KO and Thomas Ince's studio.[8] He starred in numerous Mack Sennett-produced comedies, most notably as one of the original Keystone Kops.[citation needed] As a freelance actor late in his career, he made some of his final films in the UK. He played bit parts in films like Foreign Correspondent, To Be or Not to Be, and Royal Wedding. He retired owing to illness many years before his death in 1953.

Hal Roach Studios[edit]

However, Finlayson is most remembered for his work at the Hal Roach Studios. In the mid-1920s, Roach attempted to make a top-billed star out of Finlayson,[10] but the effort was unfocused and he never caught on. The next step came in 1927 when the All-Star Comedy series gave Finlayson equal billing with up-and-coming co-stars Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy, comedienne Edna Marion, and others;[11] some studio publicity even referred to Finlayson, Hardy and Laurel as a "famous comedy trio."[12] But Roach staff producer and future multi-Oscared director Leo McCarey recognized the great potential of a Laurel-and-Hardy pairing and began developing their characters and expanding their roles toward that end;[13] by the autumn of 1928, Laurel and Hardy was a formal studio series with its own production prefixes while the All-Star Comedy series – and Finlayson's equal co-billing – were things of the past.[14] Yet so memorable an antagonist was he to "The Boys" that even with his diminished billing, he was still "considered by many to be an indispensable part of the Laurel & Hardy team."[15]

Altogether, Finlayson played roles in 33 Laurel and Hardy films, usually as a villain or an antagonist, notably in the celebrated films Big Business (1929) and Way Out West (1937). He also starred alongside Stan Laurel in 19 films and opposite Oliver Hardy in five films before Laurel and Hardy were teamed together. He appeared in dozens of Roach Studio films, with Charley Chase, Glenn Tryon, Snub Pollard, and Ben Turpin. He was also in several Our Gang shorts, notably Mush and Milk, in which he and Spanky McFarland match wits in a comically adversarial phone conversation.

Death[edit]

English actress Stephanie Insall and Finlayson regularly took breakfast together and had for the past 20 years. However, on the morning of 9 October 1953, Finlayson did not turn up at the usual time. Knowing that he had been ill from flu recently, Miss Insall went to his home on North Beachwood Drive, Los Angeles, California, where she discovered his body. Finlayson had died of a heart attack. He was 66 years old.[16]

His funeral rites were held at the same Masonic Chapel as Oliver Hardy's.[17] Mack Sennett, Billy Bevan, Hank Mann, and Snub Pollard attended the service.[17]

Legacy[edit]

One of Finlayson's trademarks was a drawn out "dohhhhhhh!". Finlayson had used the term as a minced oath to stand in for the word "Damn!" This would later inspire Dan Castellaneta, the voice actor of Homer Simpson. During the voice recording session for a Tracey Ullman Show short, Castellaneta was required to utter what was written in the script as an "annoyed grunt". He rendered it as a drawn out "dohhhhhhh". This was inspired by Finlayson. Matt Groening felt that it would better suit the timing of animation if it were spoken faster. Castellaneta then shortened it to a quickly uttered "D'oh!"[18] He also partly inspired the character Groundskeeper_Willie who is also voiced by Castellaneta.

Notes[edit]

  • His trademark moustache was a prop used mainly in Roach films.[14] In many of his non-Roach movies, it was absent – for example, in the 1937 Roach feature, Pick a Star, Finlayson appears, unbilled and without his moustache, in a sequence as a film director working with Laurel & Hardy.
  • Finlayson was known by a variety of nicknames. According to Laurel and Hardy scholar Randy Skretvedt, he "called himself Jimmy, was known around the lot as Jim and is usually referred to today as 'Fin'"[19] – perhaps because he played a character called Fin in Our Relations and one named Mickey Finn in Way Out West, or most likely, just as a truncated version of his surname.
  • He once knocked himself out by putting too much effort into a double-take routine.[citation needed]
  • A Chump at Oxford (1940), which was released in two separate versions, features an extended opening sequence featuring Finlayson in the European version of the film.
  • In the book Our Gang by Leonard Maltin, about the Our Gang series, Maltin shows a picture with series director Robert McGowan and Jimmy Finlayson. Child actor Mary Kornman clings to McGowan; Jackie Condon, Joe Cobb, Allen "Farina" Hoskins, and Johnny Downs stand around Finlayson and fashion "Finsquints."

Selected filmography[edit]

Year Title Role Notes
1920 Down on the Farm The Sportive Banker with Mortgage produced by Mack Sennett
1921 A Small Town Idol J. Wellington Jones Mack Sennett Comedies; with Ben Turpin
1923 Hollywood Paramount Pictures
1923 The Noon Whistle O'Hallahan, the foreman Hal Roach Studios; with Stan Laurel
1923 White Wings Dental patient Hal Roach Studios; with Stan Laurel
1923 Pick and Shovel The foreman Hal Roach Studios; with Stan Laurel
1923 Oranges and Lemons Worker Hal Roach Studios; with Stan Laurel
1923 A Man About Town Humko, store detective Hal Roach Studios; with Stan Laurel
1923 Roughest Africa Lt. Hans Downe (Little Boss) Hal Roach Studios; with Stan Laurel
1923 Scorching Sands James Hal Roach Studios; with Stan Laurel
1923 The Whole Truth Defense lawyer Hal Roach Studios; with Stan Laurel
1923 Frozen Hearts Lieutenant Tumankikine Hal Roach Studios; with Stan Laurel
1923 The Soilers Smacknamara Hal Roach Studios; with Stan Laurel
1923 Mother's Joy Baron Buttontop Hal Roach Studios; with Stan Laurel
1924 Smithy Sergeant Hal Roach Studios; with Stan Laurel
1924 Zeb vs. Paprika Trainer Hal Roach Studios; with Stan Laurel
1924 Postage Due Postal inspector Hal Roach Studios; with Stan Laurel
1924 Brothers Under the Chin Hal Roach Studios; with Stan Laurel
1924 Wide Open Spaces Jack McQueen Hal Roach Studios; with Stan Laurel
1924 Rupert of Hee Haw Rupert of Hee Haw Hal Roach Studios; with Stan Laurel
1924 Short Kilts McGregor's son Hal Roach Studios; with Stan Laurel
1924 Near Dublin Brick merchant Hal Roach Studios; with Stan Laurel
1924 Our Congressman Dinner Party Guest (uncredited) Hal Roach Studios
1925 The Haunted Honeymoon Hal Roach Studios
1925 Innocent Husbands The Desk Clerk Hal Roach Studios; with Charley Chase
1925 Yes, Yes, Nanette Hillory, the new husband Hal Roach Studios; with Oliver Hardy
1926 Madame Mystery Struggling author Hal Roach Studios; with Oliver Hardy
1926 Thundering Fleas Justice of the Peace Hal Roach Studios; with Oliver Hardy
1927 Do Detectives Think? Judge Foozle Hal Roach Studios; with Laurel and Hardy
1927 The Honorable Mr. Buggs Hal Roach Studios; with Laurel and Hardy
1927 No Man's Law Jack Belcher Hal Roach Studios; with Oliver Hardy
1927 The Second Hundred Years Gov. Browne Van Dyke Hal Roach Studios; with Laurel and Hardy
1928 Show Girl Mr. Dugan First National Pictures
1929 Big Business Homeowner Hal Roach Studios; with Laurel and Hardy
1929 Liberty Store Keeper Hal Roach Studios; with Laurel and Hardy
1929 Hard to Get Pa Martin First National Pictures
1930 Young Eagles Meadows, the butler Hal Roach Studios; with Laurel and Hardy
1930 Night Owls Meadows, the butler Hal Roach Studios; with Laurel and Hardy
1930 Another Fine Mess Colonel Buckshot Hal Roach Studios; with Laurel and Hardy
1931 Chickens Come Home Butler Hal Roach Studios; with Laurel and Hardy
1931 Pardon Us Teacher Hal Roach Studios; with Laurel and Hardy
1932 Pack Up Your Troubles The General Hal Roach Studios; with Laurel and Hardy
1933 Me and My Pal Peter Cucumber Hal Roach Studios; with Laurel and Hardy
1933 Fra Diavolo Lord Rocberg Hal Roach Studios; with Laurel and Hardy
1935 Thicker Than Water Auction Operator Hal Roach Studios; with Laurel and Hardy
1935 Bonnie Scotland Sergeant Major Hal Roach Studios; with Laurel and Hardy
1936 Our Relations Finn,Chief Engineer Hal Roach Studios; with Laurel and Hardy
1937 Way Out West Mickey Finn Hal Roach Studios; with Laurel and Hardy
1938 Carefree Man on golf course (uncredited) RKO Pictures; with Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers
1938 Block-Heads The man on the stairs Hal Roach Studios; with Laurel and Hardy
1939 Hollywood Cavalcade Himself 20th Century Fox
1939 The Flying Deuces Jailer RKO Pictures; with Laurel and Hardy
1940 A Chump at Oxford Baldy Vandevere Hal Roach Studios; with Laurel and Hardy
1940 Saps at Sea Dr J.H. Finlayson Hal Roach Studios; with Laurel and Hardy
1940 Foreign Correspondent Dutch Peasant (uncredited) United Artists
1942 To Be or Not to Be Scottish Farmer (uncredited) United Artists
1947 The Perils of Pauline Comic Chef Paramount Pictures
1948 Julia Misbehaves Bill Collector (uncredited) Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer
1949 Challenge to Lassie Newspaper Reporter (uncredited) Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer
1951 Here Comes the Groom Drunken Sailor / Wedding Guest (uncredited) Paramount Pictures
1951 Royal Wedding Cabby (uncredited) Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer

References[edit]

  1. ^ Scotland Statutory Registers: Births in the Parish of Larbert in the County of Stirling, 1887 – page 51, Item #151
  2. ^ Ship manifest for the California, sailing from Glasgow, arrived New York on 5 June 1911; page: 766; line: 3
  3. ^ a b National Archives and Records Administration; Washington, D.C.; Naturalization Records of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of California, Central Division (Los Angeles), 1887–1940; Microfilm Serial: M1524; Microfilm Roll: 8
  4. ^ California, County Marriages, 1850–1952; page: 209; film number: 1033287; digital folder number: 004540626; image number: 00664
  5. ^ The Scotsman; 3 May 1910; ProQuest Historical Newspapers: The Scotsman (1817–1950); pg. 5
  6. ^ Review in New York Tribune, 12 May 1912
  7. ^ Review in New York Herald, 17 May 1912
  8. ^ a b c Louvish, Simon (2001); Stan and Ollie: The Roots of Comedy; London: Faber and Faber; ISBN 0-571-20352-3; p. 157
  9. ^ Review in New York Dramatic Mirror, 22 May 1912. Retrieved 2012-01-25.
  10. ^ Mitchell, Glenn, (1995). The Laurel and Hardy Encyclopedia. London: Batsford Press. ISBN 0-7134-7711-3. p. 101
  11. ^ Skretvedt, Randy, (1996). Laurel and Hardy: The Magic Behind the Movies. Beverly Hills: Past Times Publishing. ISBN 0-940410-29-X. p 93
  12. ^ Skretvedt, p. 98
  13. ^ Skretvedt, pp. 95–97
  14. ^ a b Mitchell, p. 102
  15. ^ Mitchell, p. 101
  16. ^ Obituary in Los Angeles Times, 10 October 1953. Retrieved 2012-01-23.
  17. ^ a b Louvish, p. 456
  18. ^ "What’s the story with ... Homer’s D’oh!". The Herald. 21 July 2007. Retrieved 21 September 2008. 
  19. ^ Skretvedt, p. 77

External links[edit]