John Qualen

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John Qualen
His Girl Friday 3.jpg
Qualen in His Girl Friday (1940)
Johan Mandt Kvalen

(1899-12-08)December 8, 1899
Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada
DiedSeptember 12, 1987(1987-09-12) (aged 87)
Resting placeForest Lawn Memorial Park, Glendale, California, U.S.
Great Mausoleum, Sanctuary of Reliance, Crypt 9632
Other namesJohn M. Qualen
John T. Qualen
Years active1931–1974
Pearle Larson
(m. 1924)

John Qualen (born Johan Mandt Kvalen, December 8, 1899 – September 12, 1987) was a Canadian-American character actor of Norwegian heritage who specialized in Scandinavian roles.

Early years[edit]

Qualen was born in Vancouver, British Columbia, the son of immigrants from Norway; his father was a Lutheran minister[1] and changed the family's original surname, "Kvalen", to "Qualen"[citation needed] – though some sources give Oleson,[2] later Oleson Kvalen[3] as Qualen's earlier surnames. His father's ministering meant many moves and John was 20 when he graduated from Elgin (Illinois) High School in 1920. For four years, Qualen attended the University of Toronto, but he left there to join a Toronto-based traveling troupe as an actor.[1]


In a Milwaukee Journal interview he said he needed to start working and did so with the Chautauqua Circuit.[citation needed] He drove stakes for the tent used for presentations until a night in Ripon, Wisconsin, when the scheduled principal lecturer did not arrive. Qualen replaced the missing man after he showed the Chautauqua manager a medal he had won for oratory as a high school student. Not long after that, he formed his own troupe, The Qualen Concert Company.[4] At the conclusion of a tour following his marriage, Qualen and his wife, Pearle, formed the company to produce plays. The group's stops in a two-year tour included Boston, Chicago, and New Orleans. The Qualens' income was low enough that he sold cookware in New York for additional funds. Using a handcart to move the merchandise, he made more money from sales than from his acting.[1]

Qualen in The Grapes of Wrath (1940)

Eventually reaching Broadway, he gained his big break as the Swedish janitor in Elmer Rice's Street Scene. His movie career began when he re-created the role in the film version. This was followed by his appearance in John Ford's Arrowsmith (1931), which began a more than 35-year membership in the director's "stock company", with supporting roles in The Searchers (1956), Two Rode Together (1961), The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962) and Cheyenne Autumn (1964).

Qualen (left) and Paul Henreid in Hollow Triumph (1948)

Appearing in well over one hundred films, and acting on television into the 1970s, Qualen performed many of his roles with various accents, usually Scandinavian, often intended for comic effect. Three of his more memorable roles showcase his versatility. Qualen assumed a Midwestern dialect as Muley, who recounts the destruction of his farm by the bank in Ford's The Grapes of Wrath (1940), in a performance so powerful it reportedly reduced director Ford to tears; and as the confused killer Earl Williams in Howard Hawks' classic comedy His Girl Friday (1940). As Berger, the jewelry-selling Norwegian resistance member in Michael Curtiz' Casablanca (1942), he used a light Scandinavian accent, but put on a thicker Mediterranean accent as the homeward-bound fisherman Locota in William Wellman's The High and the Mighty (1954)

Qualen was also a flautist, having begun to play at age eight. He continued his musical education while at the University of Toronto and went on to play with some professional orchestras, including the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra.[1]

Qualen was treasurer of The Authors Club and historian of The Masquers, Hollywood's social group for actors.

Personal life[edit]

Qualen married Pearle Larson, whom he had known in high school, after he became an actor. She joined him in the Toronto-based traveling troupe when he left university, becoming the troupe's costume mistress.[1]

Later years and death[edit]

On September 12, 1987, Qualen died of heart failure in Torrance, California, aged 87.[5]



  • Alfred Hitchcock Presents, episode "A Bullet for Baldwin" – Benjamin Steep (1956)
  • Alfred Hitchcock Presents, episode "Help Wanted" – Mr. Crabtree (1956)
  • Alfred Hitchcock Presents, episode "Shopping for Death" – Elmer Shore (1956)
  • Father Knows Best, episode "The Bus to Nowhere" - Old Man (1956)
  • Cheyenne, episode "Deadline" – Charley Dolan (1957)
  • Maverick, episode "The Lonesome Reunion" – Leland Mills (1958)
  • The Californians episode "J. Jimmerson Jones, Inc."—J. Jimmerson Jones (1958)
  • Sea Hunt (1960) Season 3, Episode 31
  • Mister Ed, episode "Ed's New Shoes" – Axel (the Handyman) (1961)
  • Bonanza, episode "Springtime" – Parley (1961)
  • Maverick, episode "The Golden Fleecing" – Henry Albright (1961)
  • The Andy Griffith Show, episode "The Jinx" – Henry Bennett (1962)
  • Laramie, episode "Shadow of the Past" – Mr. Elbee (1962)
  • The Real McCoys, episode "Cupid Wore a Tail" – Frank (1963)
  • The Real McCoys, episode "The Other Side of the Fence" – Frank (1963)
  • Make Room for Daddy, episodes "Sense of Humor" and "Call Off the Hounds" – Swenson, the Janitor (1964)
  • The Virginian, episode "A Bride for Lars" – Gosta Swenson (1964)
  • The Girl from U.N.C.L.E., episode "The Jewels of Topango Affair" – Dr. Elmer Spritzer (1966)
  • Hazel, episode "A Question of Ethics" – Mr. Johansson (1966)
  • Shane, episode "The Hant" - Old Man (1966)
  • I Spy, episode "Red Sash of Courage" – Hannos (1967)
  • Green Acres, episode "Eb's Romance" - Mr. Appleby (1968)
  • Green Acres, episode "The Ex-Con" - Willy Dunhill (1970)
  • The Odd Couple, episode “The Taste Of Money” - Sam (1971)
  • Make Room for Granddaddy, episode "The Arm Wrestle" Folsom (1971)
  • The Partridge Family episode "My Heart Belongs to a Two Car Garage" – The Old Man (1972)
  • The F.B.I., episode "The Detonator" (1973)
  • Movin' On, episode "Life Line" – Liggett (1974) (final appearance)


  1. ^ a b c d e Foster, Charles (2003). Once Upon a Time in Paradise: Canadians in the Golden Age of Hollywood. Dundurn. pp. 953–964. ISBN 9781550024647. Retrieved September 12, 2019.
  2. ^ Joseph F. Clarke (1977). Pseudonyms. BCA. p. 136.
  3. ^ Adrian Room (July 1, 2010). Dictionary of Pseudonyms: 13,000 Assumed Names and Their Origins (fifth ed.). McFarland. p. 392. ISBN 978-0-7864-5763-2.
  4. ^ Hough, Donald (December 15, 1940). "There's That Man Again". The Atlanta Constitution. pp. 97, 102. Retrieved September 19, 2021 – via
  5. ^ Jones, Jack (September 16, 1987). "John Qualen, 87; Character Actor in Films, TV". Los Angeles Times. p. Part 1 - page 28. Retrieved October 28, 2021.

Further reading[edit]

  • Young, Jordan R. (1986) [First published 1975]. "John Qualen". Reel Characters : Great Movie Character Actors (softcover) (Sixth softcover printing ed.). Beverly Hills, CA: Moonstone Press. pp. 87–100. ISBN 978-0-940410-79-4.

External links[edit]