S. Z. Sakall

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S.Z. Sakall
S.Z. Sakall in Small Town Girl trailerjpg.jpg
from Small Town Girl (1953)
Born Gerő Jenő
(1883-02-02)2 February 1883
Budapest, Hungary (Austria-Hungary)
Died 12 February 1955(1955-02-12) (aged 72)
Los Angeles, California, U.S.
Other names S.Z. "Cuddles" Sakall
Szoke Szakall
Occupation Actor
Years active 1926—1954
Spouse(s) Giza Grossner (1916–1918; her death)
Anne Kardos (1920–1955; his death)

Szőke Szakáll (2 February 1883 – 12 February 1955), known as S.Z. Sakall, was a Hungarian film character actor. He was in many films including In the Good Old Summertime, Lullaby of Broadway, Christmas in Connecticut and Casablanca in which he played Carl, the head waiter. Chubby-jowled Sakall played numerous supporting roles in Hollywood musicals and comedies in the 1940s and 1950s. His rotund cuteness caused studio head Jack Warner to bestow on Sakall the nickname "Cuddles". Warner asked that he be billed as S.Z. "Cuddles" Sakall in his later films, though he was never happy with the name.[citation needed] He became well known for using the phrase "everything is hunky dunky."

Early life and career[edit]

US Naturalization index record of SZ Sakall

Szőke Szakáll was born Gerő Jenő in Budapest, Hungary, to a Jewish family. During his schooldays, he wrote sketches for Budapest vaudeville shows under the pen-name Szőke Szakáll meaning "blond beard" in reference to his own beard, grown to make him look older, which he affected when at the age of 18 he turned to acting.

The actor became a star of the Hungarian stage and screen in the 1910s and 1920s. At the beginning of the 1920s, he moved to Vienna, where he appeared in Hermann Leopoldi's Kabarett Leopoldi-Wiesenthal. In the 1930s, he was, next to Hans Moser, the most significant representative of the Wiener Film, the Viennese light romantic comedy genre. He also appeared in Berlin.

He appeared in Familientag im Hause Prellstein (1927), Ihre Majestät die Liebe (1929, which was remade in Hollywood as Her Majesty Love, with W.C. Fields in Sakall's role) and Two Hearts in Waltz Time (1930). For a brief period during this time, he ran his own production company.

When the Nazis came to power in Germany in 1933, Sakall was forced to return to Hungary. He was involved in over 40 movies in his native land. When Hungary joined the Axis in 1940, he headed for Hollywood with his wife. Many of Sakall's close relatives later died in Nazi concentration camps, including all three of his sisters and his niece, as well as his wife's brother and sister.

The war years[edit]

Sakall began a career that included "an endless succession of excitable theatrical impresarios, lovable European uncles and befuddled shopkeepers." His first Hollywood role was in the comedy It's a Date (1940) with Deanna Durbin. The first big hit of his American career was Ball of Fire (1941) with Gary Cooper and Barbara Stanwyck. Later, he signed a contract with Warner Brothers, where he had a number of other small roles, including Yankee Doodle Dandy (1942) with James Cagney.

Later the same year, at the age of 59, he portrayed his best remembered character, Carl the head waiter in Casablanca (1942). Producer Hal B. Wallis signed Sakall for the role three weeks after filming had begun. When he was first offered the part, Sakall hated it and turned it down. Sakall finally agreed to take the role provided they gave him four weeks of work. The two sides eventually agreed on three weeks. He received $1,750 per week for a total of $5,250. He actually had more screen time than either Peter Lorre or Sydney Greenstreet.

Later career[edit]

Sakall appeared in 30 more movies after this, including Christmas in Connecticut (1945) with Barbara Stanwyck. Sakall appeared in four films released in 1948: the drama Embraceable You, followed by April Showers, Michael Curtiz's Romance on the High Seas (Doris Day's film debut), and Whiplash.

He was in four top movies in 1949. First Sakall played Felix Hofer in Doris Day's second film, My Dream Is Yours. Later that year, he starred with June Haver and Ray Bolger in Look for the Silver Lining. Next, he played Otto Oberkugen in In the Good Old Summertime, with Judy Garland and Van Johnson. This was a remake of Ernst Lubitsch's The Shop Around the Corner. Finally, Sakall was given the principal role of songwriter Fred Fisher in Oh, You Beautiful Doll, though top billing went to June Haver.

Sakall appeared in nine more movies during the 1950s, two of them musicals with Doris Day, playing J. Maxwell Bloomhaus in Tea for Two and Adolph Hubbell in Lullaby of Broadway. His other roles included: Poppa Schultz in the Errol Flynn western Montana; Miklos Teretzky in the June Haver musical The Daughter of Rosie O'Grady; Don Miguel in the Randolph Scott western Sugarfoot; Uncle Felix in the musical Painting the Clouds with Sunshine with Virginia Mayo; in one of the episodes in the movie It's A Big Country featuring Gene Kelly, Van Johnson, Gary Cooper, Janet Leigh, Fredric March and Ethel Barrymore. His last movie was in 1954 playing Joseph Ruder in The Student Prince.

Death[edit]

Sakall died of a heart attack in Hollywood on 12 February 1955, shortly after filming the The Student Prince, ten days after his 72nd birthday. He is buried in the Garden of Memory in Forest Lawn Memorial Park in Glendale, California, which is also the resting place of Casablanca co-stars Humphrey Bogart, Sydney Greenstreet and John Qualen, producer Hal B. Wallis, director Michael Curtiz and composer Max Steiner.

Partial filmography[edit]

References[edit]