James Finlayson (actor)

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James Finlayson
Born James Henderson Finlayson
(1887-08-27)27 August 1887
Larbert, Stirlingshire, Scotland, UK
Died 9 October 1953(1953-10-09) (aged 66)
Los Angeles, California, U.S.
Cause of death Heart attack
Occupation Actor
Years active 1910–1951
Spouse(s) Emily Cora Gilbert (1919–19??)

James Henderson "Jimmy" Finlayson (27 August 1887 – 9 October 1953) was a Scottish-American 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.


Born in Larbert, Stirlingshire, Scotland to Alexander and Isabella (nêe Henderson) Finlayson,[1] he worked as a tinsmith before pursuing an acting career.[2] After the death of both his parents, he emigrated to the U.S. in 1911 at the age of 24 with his brother Robert.[3][4]

He married Emily Cora Gilbert, an American citizen from Iowa, in 1919[5] and became a U.S. citizen in 1942.


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.[6] 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:[7][8] "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."[9][10]

He later won the role of Rab Biggar in the popular Broadway production of Bunty Pulls the Strings by Graham Moffat,[9] and dropped out of a country-wide theatrical tour in 1916 to pursue a career in Hollywood.

Still from Down on the Farm (1920)
Still from the 1920 film Down on the Farm


Arriving in Los Angeles in 1916, he found work at L-KO and Thomas H. Ince's studio.[9] In October 1919, he signed a contract with the Mack Sennett Comedies Corporation.[11] He starred in numerous Sennett-produced comedies, most notably as one of the original Keystone Kops.[citation needed]

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".[12] As a freelance actor late in his career, he made some of his final films in the UK. He played bit parts in films such as Foreign Correspondent, To Be or Not to Be, and Royal Wedding, his last film 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,[13] 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, comedian Edna Marion, and others;[14] some studio publicity even referred to Finlayson, Hardy and Laurel as a "famous comedy trio."[15] 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;[16] 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.[17] 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."[18]

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, where she discovered his body. Finlayson had died of a heart attack. He was 66 years old.[19]


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!"[20]


  • His trademark moustache was a prop used mainly in Roach films.[17]
  • 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'"[21] – 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.
  • 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.
  • A street in his home town of Larbert - Finlayson Place - was named after him.

Partial 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
The Noon Whistle O'Hallahan, the foreman Hal Roach Studios; with Stan Laurel
White Wings Dental patient Hal Roach Studios; with Stan Laurel
Pick and Shovel The foreman Hal Roach Studios; with Stan Laurel
Oranges and Lemons Worker Hal Roach Studios; with Stan Laurel
A Man About Town Humko, store detective Hal Roach Studios; with Stan Laurel
Roughest Africa Lt. Hans Downe (Little Boss) Hal Roach Studios; with Stan Laurel
Scorching Sands James Hal Roach Studios; with Stan Laurel
The Whole Truth Defense lawyer Hal Roach Studios; with Stan Laurel
Frozen Hearts General Sappovitch Hal Roach Studios; with Stan Laurel
The Soilers Smacknamara Hal Roach Studios; with Stan Laurel
Mother's Joy Baron Buttontop Hal Roach Studios; with Stan Laurel
1924 Smithy Sergeant Hal Roach Studios; with Stan Laurel
Zeb vs. Paprika Trainer Hal Roach Studios; with Stan Laurel
Postage Due Postal inspector Hal Roach Studios; with Stan Laurel
Brothers Under the Chin Hal Roach Studios; with Stan Laurel
Wide Open Spaces Jack McQueen Hal Roach Studios; with Stan Laurel
Rupert of Hee Haw Rupert of Hee Haw Hal Roach Studios; with Stan Laurel
Short Kilts McGregor's son Hal Roach Studios; with Stan Laurel
Near Dublin Brick merchant Hal Roach Studios; with Stan Laurel
Our Congressman Dinner Party Guest (uncredited) Hal Roach Studios
1925 The Haunted Honeymoon Hal Roach Studios
Innocent Husbands The Desk Clerk Hal Roach Studios; with Charley Chase
Yes, Yes, Nanette Hillory, the new husband Hal Roach Studios; with Oliver Hardy
1926 Dizzy Daddies Jonathan Haig Hal Roach Studios
Ukulele Sheiks Hal Roach Studios; with Glenn Tryon and Vivien Oakland
Madame Mystery Struggling author Hal Roach Studios; with Theda Bara
Thundering Fleas Justice of the Peace Hal Roach Studios; with Oliver Hardy
Raggedy Rose Simpson Sniffle Hal Roach Studios; with Mabel Normand
1927 Seeing the World Hal Roach Studios; Our Gang series
One Hour Married Hal Roach Studios; with Mabel Normand
Love 'em and Weep Titus Tilbury Hal Roach Studios; with Laurel and Hardy
Do Detectives Think? Judge Foozle Hal Roach Studios; with Laurel and Hardy
With Love And Hisses Captain Bustle Hal Roach Studios; with Laurel and Hardy
The Honorable Mr. Buggs Hal Roach Studios; with Oliver Hardy
No Man's Law Jack Belcher Hal Roach Studios; with Oliver Hardy
The Second Hundred Years Gov. Browne Van Dyke Hal Roach Studios; with Laurel and Hardy
1928 Ladies' Night in a Turkish Bath Pa Slocum First National Pictures
Lady Be Good Trelawney West First National Pictures
Show Girl Mr. Dugan First National Pictures
1929 Big Business Homeowner Hal Roach Studios; with Laurel and Hardy
Liberty Store Keeper Hal Roach Studios; with Laurel and Hardy
Hard to Get Pa Martin First National Pictures
1930 Young Eagles Scotty
The Dawn Patrol Field Sergeant
For the Defense Parrott
Night Owls Meadows, the butler Hal Roach Studios; with Laurel and Hardy
Another Fine Mess Colonel Buckshot Hal Roach Studios; with Laurel and Hardy
1931 Chickens Come Home Butler Hal Roach Studios; with Laurel and Hardy
Pardon Us Teacher Hal Roach Studios; with Laurel and Hardy
One Good Turn A Community Player 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
Fra Diavolo Lord Rocberg Hal Roach Studios; with Laurel and Hardy
1934 Trouble in Store The Watchman ( leading role ) Warner Brothers ( U.K Comedy Short )
1935 Thicker Than Water Auction Operator Hal Roach Studios; with Laurel and Hardy
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
Pick a Star Director Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer
1938 Carefree Man on golf course (uncredited) RKO Pictures; with Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers
Block-Heads The man on the stairs Hal Roach Studios; with Laurel and Hardy
1939 Hollywood Cavalcade Himself 20th Century Fox
The Flying Deuces Jailer RKO Pictures; with Laurel and Hardy
1940 A Chump at Oxford Baldy Vandevere Hal Roach Studios; with Laurel and Hardy
Saps at Sea Dr J.H. Finlayson Hal Roach Studios; with Laurel and Hardy
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
Royal Wedding Cabby (uncredited) Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer


  1. ^ Scotland Statutory Registers: Births in the Parish of Larbert in the County of Stirling, 1887 – page 51, Item #151
  2. ^ 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)
  3. ^ Ship manifest for the California, sailing from Glasgow, arrived New York on 5 June 1911; page 766; line: 3
  4. ^ 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
  5. ^ California, County Marriages, 1850–1952; page 209; film number: 1033287; digital folder number: 004540626; image number: 00664
  6. ^ The Scotsman; 3 May 1910; ProQuest Historical Newspapers: The Scotsman (1817–1950); pg. 5
  7. ^ Review in New York Tribune, 12 May 1912
  8. ^ Review in New York Herald, 17 May 1912.
  9. ^ a b c Louvish, Simon (2001); Stan and Ollie: The Roots of Comedy; London: Faber and Faber; ISBN 0-571-20352-3; p. 157
  10. ^ Review in New York Dramatic Mirror, 22 May 1912; retrieved 25 January 2012.
  11. ^ Mack Sennett papers, Margaret Herrick Library, Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, 90-f.1312.
  12. ^ "Fort Wayne Journal-Gazette". 4 April 1920. p. 3 (Section 4). 
  13. ^ Mitchell, Glenn, (1995). The Laurel and Hardy Encyclopedia. London: Batsford Press. ISBN 0-7134-7711-3. p. 101
  14. ^ Skretvedt, Randy, (1996). Laurel and Hardy: The Magic Behind the Movies. Beverly Hills: Past Times Publishing. ISBN 0-940410-29-X. p 93
  15. ^ Skretvedt, p. 98
  16. ^ Skretvedt, pp. 95–97
  17. ^ a b Mitchell, p. 102
  18. ^ Mitchell, p. 101
  19. ^ Obituary in Los Angeles Times, 10 October 1953; retrieved 17 March 2016.
  20. ^ "What's the story with ... Homer’s D’oh!". The Herald. 21 July 2007. Retrieved 21 September 2008. 
  21. ^ Skretvedt, p. 77

External links[edit]