James Finlayson (actor)
27 August 1887|
Larbert, Stirlingshire, Scotland, UK
|Died||9 October 1953
Los Angeles, U.S.
|Cause of death||heart attack|
|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. As his comic outrage would build his posture would become more stooped, his gaze more intense, and his vocalizing more harsh. This characteristic lengthy build in Finlayson's comic outrage earned him the nickname, "Slowburn Finlayson".
Born in Larbert, Stirlingshire, Scotland to parents Alexander and Isabella (Henderson) Finlayson, he worked as a tinsmith before pursuing an acting career. After the death of both his parents, he emigrated to the U.S. in 1911 at the age of 24 with his brother Robert. He married Emily Cora Gilbert in 1919 and became a U.S. citizen in 1920.
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.
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: "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."
He later won the role of Rab Biggar in the popular Broadway production of Bunty Pulls the Strings by Graham Moffat, and dropped out of a country-wide theatrical tour in 1916 to pursue a career in Hollywood.
Arriving in Los Angeles in 1916, he found work at L-KO and Thomas Ince's studio. In October 1919, he signed a contract with the Mack Sennett Comedies Corporation. He starred in numerous Sennett-produced comedies, most notably as one of the original Keystone Kops.
The promotional newspaper article for the 1920 premiere of Sennett's Down on the Farm, refers to Finlayson as "legitimate and screen player of international celebrity" and of his performance says: "The villian [sic] in the case - a sort of cross between a Turkish Don Juan and a 'loan shark' - is played with rare power and comic results of seriousness by James Finlayson".
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, his last film before his death in 1953.
Hal Roach Studios
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, 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; some studio publicity even referred to Finlayson, Hardy and Laurel as a "famous comedy trio." 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; 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. 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."
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.
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.
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!" He also partly inspired the character Groundskeeper Willie who is also voiced by Castellaneta.
- His trademark moustache was a prop used mainly in Roach films. 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'" – 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.
- 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."
|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||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||General Sappovitch||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||Love 'Em and Weep||Titus Tilbury||Hal Roach Studios; with Laurel and Hardy|
|1927||Do Detectives Think?||Judge Foozle||Hal Roach Studios; with Laurel and Hardy|
|1927||The Honorable Mr. Buggs||Hal Roach Studios; with Oliver 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||Lady Be Good||Trelawney West||First National Pictures|
|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||The Dawn Patrol||Field Sergeant|
|1930||For the Defense||Parrott|
|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|
- Scotland Statutory Registers: Births in the Parish of Larbert in the County of Stirling, 1887 – page 51, Item #151
- 1901 Census of the Household of Alexander FINLAYSON in the Hamlet of North Broomage, Parish of Larbert, Stirlingshire, Scotland; ScotlandsPeople (Census 1901 485/0A 001/00 043)
- Ship manifest for the California, sailing from Glasgow, arrived New York on 5 June 1911; page: 766; line: 3
- 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
- California, County Marriages, 1850–1952; page: 209; film number: 1033287; digital folder number: 004540626; image number: 00664
- The Scotsman; 3 May 1910; ProQuest Historical Newspapers: The Scotsman (1817–1950); pg. 5
- Review in New York Tribune, 12 May 1912
- Review in New York Herald, 17 May 1912
- Louvish, Simon (2001); Stan and Ollie: The Roots of Comedy; London: Faber and Faber; ISBN 0-571-20352-3; p. 157
- Review in New York Dramatic Mirror, 22 May 1912. Retrieved 2012-01-25.
- Mack Sennett papers, Margaret Herrick Library, Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, 90-f.1312.
- "Fort Wayne Journal-Gazette". 4 April 1920. p. 3 (Section 4).
- Mitchell, Glenn, (1995). The Laurel and Hardy Encyclopedia. London: Batsford Press. ISBN 0-7134-7711-3. p. 101
- Skretvedt, Randy, (1996). Laurel and Hardy: The Magic Behind the Movies. Beverly Hills: Past Times Publishing. ISBN 0-940410-29-X. p 93
- Skretvedt, p. 98
- Skretvedt, pp. 95–97
- Mitchell, p. 102
- Mitchell, p. 101
- Obituary in Los Angeles Times, 10 October 1953. Retrieved 2012-01-23.
- Louvish, p. 456
- "What’s the story with ... Homer’s D’oh!". The Herald. 21 July 2007. Retrieved 21 September 2008.
- Skretvedt, p. 77
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to James Finlayson (actor).|
- James Finlayson at the Internet Movie Database
- James Finlayson at the Complete Index to World Film
- James Finlayson at the Internet Broadway Database
- James Finlayson at Find a Grave
- James Finlayson at WikiTree