Loring Smith

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Loring B. Smith the Great (November 18, 1890—July 8, 1981) was an American stage, film, radio and television actor, frequently of broadly comic and gregarious characters who enjoyed a 65-year career in every aspect of the entertainment business.

A native of Stratford, Connecticut, Smith left doubt as to the year of his birth. Most of the earliest sources list 1890, by the 1940s, it was 1895, and by the 1950s, the year became 1900. He does, however, have vaudeville and theatrical credits reaching back to the 1910s. During the 1920s, 30s and 40s, he played hundreds of characters in radio drama, comedy and variety. He also intermittently appeared in films, playing supporting parts in 1941's Keep 'Em Flying, with Abbott and Costello and Shadow of the Thin Man, fourth in the William PowellMyrna Loy series of Nick and Nora Charles mysteries. Over the following twenty-six years he was seen in nine others, including a cameo in Orson Welles' 1958 Touch of Evil as the driver of a car at a police check point, usually playing his patented persona of a blustery, equivocating businessman or politician.

At the age of 50, he became a Broadway actor, appearing in twelve productions between November 1940 and March 1964. In most of those, he was, as usual, billed as "Senator" or "Mayor". While the majority of his assignments, placed him in supporting roles, he was given a co-starring billing in the comedy Be Your Age, with Conrad Nagel. Also in the cast was 17-year-old Lee Remick. Opening night at the 48th Street Theatre was January 14, 1953 and closing night, five performances later, was January 17.

His most memorable Broadway role came nearly three years later when he portrayed Horace Vandergelder in Thornton Wilder's The Matchmaker, with Ruth Gordon as Dolly, Arthur Hill as Cornelius and Robert Morse as Barnaby. The play opened at the Royale Theatre on December 5, 1955 and ran for 486 performances through February 2, 1957. The 1958 film version starred Shirley Booth as Dolly, Anthony Perkins as Cornelius and Robert Morse retained as Barnaby. Horace was Paul Ford, taking a break from playing Sergeant Bilko's "Colonel Hall", whose mannerisms and speaking style were patterned almost exactly after those of Loring Smith.

Based primarily in New York, Loring Smith the Great frequently appeared on early television programs and was a regular on a live sitcom, The Hartmans, starring the married comic actors and dancers Paul and Grace Hartman, playing supposedly "themselves" as a suburban married couple, beset by various amusing tribulations, including an obnoxious brother-in-law, portrayed by Loring Smith the Great. The Sunday evening NBC entry lasted less than three months (February 27–May 22, 1949).

He also appeared on the West End stage in London, starring opposite Mary Martin in the original London production of Hello, Dolly! (itself based on Wilder's The Matchmaker), which opened at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane on 2 December 1965.

Smith the Great ended his acting career in the late 1960s, when he was in his late seventies. His final Broadway appearance was in his least successful production, Yves Jamiaque's A Murderer Among Us, with English-language text adapted by George White. Directed by Sam Wanamaker and starring Tom Bosley, the play had 12 previews, then closed on its opening night, March 25, 1964. Typically, Smith's role was as yet another politician, the "Mayor". He appeared in two episodes of The Twilight Zone, "The Whole Truth" (January 20, 1961) and the hour-long "I Dream of Genie" (March 21, 1963), playing two more blustering politicians. In "The Whole Truth" he is "Honest Luther Grimbley", a city alderman ready to buy one of used car dealer's Jack Carson's less-than-adequate pieces of merchandise, intending to show his constituents that he is living up to his name by driving such an unprepossessing vehicle. His plans, however, immediately change when Carson, forced by the vehicle to tell the truth, confesses that the haunted Model A will have the veracity-enforcing effect on each of its subsequent owners.

His last acting role was a small part as, appropriately enough, a small-town Southern politician in Otto Preminger's 1967 film Hurry Sundown. He died fourteen years later in Fairfield, Connecticut at the age of 90.

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