Eugene Pallette, a ‘Corker’ of a Silent Star and a ‘Croaker’ of a Supporting Player in the Talkies!

Eugene Pallette the Young Star

Eugene Pallette, the Young Star

Eugene Pallette AKA Eugene Pallett, Gene Pallette, Jean Pallette, (Guy Mourdant) is truly a very interesting, controversial actor from the Golden Age of Hollywood. He was the son of Baird William Pallette, referred to as J. W. or Baird[1] the general-manager of The National life Insurance Company in St. Louis, Missouri,[2] and his mother was Elnora ‘Ella’ Jackson-Pallette. Baird Pallette was able to pass on his love and experience of having lived on a farm, and his time spent as cowboy, and his familiarity with the cattle business[3] to Eugene; Pallette had just one sibling, his older sister Beulah.

Baby Eugene Pallette

Baby Eugene Pallette

Eugene Pallette with his sister Beulah

Eugene Pallette with his sister Beulah

 

According to Culver Military Academy (located in Culver, Indiana) Eugene Pallette graduated in 1912, which makes no sense, for Culver is a preparatory school, which would have made Pallette twenty-three when leaving Culver. Culver Academy was a boarding and educational institution, so we may assume that like everyone else Pallette graduated by the time he was eighteen, but that does not jibe with the fact that he was a clothing salesman, hailing from Sedalia, Missouri, in 1906.[4] Since Pallette is listed proudly as alumni of the Culver Military Academy, we may conjecture that he was not expelled; therefore he either left or graduated early.

Eugene Pallette made his first appearance on stage in Little Eva (yes, the title role), with his next performance being in East Lynne as Little Willie.[5] In fact in seems that his parents were in a tour of East Lynne, when young Eugene played ‘Little Willie’ in that production;[6] Pallette’s parents being actors is confirmed, according to an article by Robert Grandon.[7] Who’s Who on the Screen had Mr. Pallette’s first stage role in Alias Jimmy Valentine, which was written by Paul Armstrong, 1909 and began its Great White Way run in January of 1910; there is no record that Pallette was cast in the original Broadway production.[8] In 1909-10, Pallette traveled with a stock company to Portland, Oregon, maybe Alias Jimmy Valentine was the play that he went to Portland, Oregon for? Anyway, enough of that conjecture. When the acting troupe went broke in Portland,[9] he paid the bills by working as a streetcar motorman.[10] He acquired the position of motorman by circumventing the crowd of applicants ahead of him, slipping through a side window; the superintendent was impressed by Pallette’s enterprise, and hired him.[11] Trolley veterans who worked with Pallette recounted his solution to slow fares one day, saying that he took his trolley off route to the baseball park, but, even after he picked up more fares, Pallette was still instructed to stay on his own route.[12]

His hodgepodge of jobs did not end there, somewhere in between the years-who knows when, and pounds-300 of them, Pallette found time to be a jockey, a circus bareback rider and an aerialist;[13] with twelve years in front of live audiences, [14] Pallette arrived in Hollywood in 1910.[15]

From the horse’s mouth is usually the best way to get the correct information or sometimes it may end up being an exaggeration, yet, Pallette claimed that in his first four years in Hollywood, he made one-hundred pictures per annum![16] Of course there is some allusion by Pallette that he was a stunt rider (which fits nicely when remembering his bare-back circus riding days) before he acted. It appears that a goodly amount of his traceable early work in Tinsel-Town is lost; if his start year is 1910, then that is a full three years before our earliest knowledge of any of his film work. Further, a 1932 report claims that Pallette had already worked in 640 motion pictures.[17] Some others have claimed as many as twelve-hundred movies to his credit.[18] These hundreds of extra titles would have to have been walk-ons, crowd-scenes and stunt work, or I would think we would have a little more evidence. And one piece of information that is often forgotten is that Pallette was also a supervisor of productions during his early stint in Hollywood,[19] and he worked with director Tom Ricketts at Universal in 1912;[20] this definitely could have rolled up the stats for young Pallette’s résumé. But with that said, it was in February, 1913 that we saw his official film debut (The Fugitive), at least it will remain official until someone somewhere, turns over a movie-stone and changes film and date.

Eugene Pallette a little stache above the lip and more stashed in the waist-line.

Eugene Pallette a little stache above the lip and more stashed in the waist-line.

 

There are so many classic films to make mention of, our first few selections are from the silent-era:

The Birth of a Nation, 1915

Intolerance, 1916

Tarzan of the Apes, 1918

The Three Musketeers, 1921 (in the role of Aramis)

The Wolf Man, 1924 (a lost film)

Chicago, 1927

 

And now for that froggy-voice we all are so familiar with from 1928 onward; listing just a few of his most memorable roles:

My Man Godfrey, 1936 (Alexander Bullock)

Topper, 1937 (Mr. Casy)

The Adventures of Robin Hood, 1938 (Friar Tuck)

Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, 1939 (Chick McGann)

The Mark of Zorro, 1940 (Fray Felipe)

The Lady Eve, 1941 (Mr. Pike)

The Male Animal, 1942 (Ed Keller)

Heaven Can Wait, 1943 (E. F. Strable)

Suffice it to say that Pallette not only may be one of your favorite Hollywood supporting players, he is one of mine, but he was definitely a favorite of many producers, directors and his acting peers.

Pallette miscellany Pallette was a close friend of actor-director Raoul Walsh and shared an apartment with the Hollywood legend, somewhere around 1914-15.[21] Once Pallette gained his weight (which began creeping up in the 1920’s), it was constant fodder (pardon the food pun) for the press, nary an article was remiss in making reference to his portly state. In the 1920’s Pallette slowed down his acting assignments and concentrated on black-gold in Texas, gaining a fortune in oil and then losing it all.[22]

Eugen Pallette with extra-weight and extra-gravel in his voice.

Eugene Pallette with extra-weight and extra-gravel in his voice.

One drawback to this character actor supreme, at least according to Otto Preminger, is that he was a racist, which if true was a sad epitaph for such a talented actor.[23] Yet, still more confusion in the matter was supplied by Jet Magazine, reporting that Pallette was in attendance, at the banquet for Madame Sul-Te-Wan; at that time the oldest living black actress in the world. Sul-Te-Wan and Pallette had both appeared in The Birth of a Nation in 1915 and Intolerance in 1916.[24] Is this a contradiction to Preminger’s statements? Did Jet Magazine bow to the pressure of the Hollywood machine trying to rehabilitate Pallette or was this a ‘wink and nod’ from Jet to let everyone in Hollywood know that they knew the truth? Or, yet again, was this the real Pallette?

In 1937, as though Oregon was calling, Pallette begin to make regular journeys to the Beaver state beginning to acquire small parcels of land that would eventually add up to around  thirty-five hundred acres. By those outside of Wallow County, Oregon, the retreat was labeled a compound, a fortress, but for those who knew Pallette, it was his home; a self-sustaining community was his goal.[25] To that end he developed (his retreat was located in the wilderness, in the eastern part of the state, along the Imnaha River)[26] the property with a ranch-house (constructed next to an old post-office), bombproof underground installations, a saw-mill, a gas station and he built a slaughter-house. He had bunk houses, a central kitchen and a mess-hall. Machine shops, stables, a cannery, water works were added to the mix and a 60×90 foot concrete warehouse to handle all of the foodstuffs.[27] Pallette ventured back to Hollywood in 1949,[28] (the world having not been blown-up, as he anticipated[29]) and according to some reports he sold the Oregon ranch in 1951; it included three-hundred head of cattle, and the foodstuffs in the sale.[30] But, in one obit, it makes mention that a 3,500 acre ranch in Oregon, was not affected by the probate proceedings.[31] Much of the preceding information was related by Claude Hall, in 1977. Mr. Hall was a retired Wallowa County, Oregon, judge and had been a former partner in the Pallette Ranch.

Eugene Pallette the Pallette Ranch-House Lewiston Morning Tribune Lewiston Idaho July 11 1977 (3)

The Pallette Ranch-House

 

 

By C. S. Williams

 

[1] The Winfield Tribune (Winfield, Kansas) July 4, 1907

The Sedalia Democrat (Sedalia, Missouri) August 29, 1906

[2] The Winfield Tribune (Winfield, Kansas) July 4, 1907

The Sedalia Democrat (Sedalia, Missouri) August 29, 1906

[3] The Book of St. Louisans: A Biographical Dictionary of Leading Living Men of City of St. Louis, edited by

John W. Leonard, published by the St. Louis Republic, 1906, page 447

[4] The Sedalia Democrat (Sedalia, Missouri) August 28, 1906

[5] The Ogden Standard-Examiner (Ogden, Utah) July 27, 1932

[6] New York Journal-American (New York, New York( September 5, 1954

[7] The Ogden Standard-Examiner (Ogden, Utah) July 27, 1932 “Like Infants Roles Saw Sexes Mixed: Telling on

Hollywood”

[8] We piece together more plays that Pallette had roles in, from the Motion Picture Studio Directory and Trade

Annual, by the Motion Picture News October 21, 1916: The Barrier, Chief of Police, The Deep Purple and Raffles

[9] Eugene Register-Guard (Eugene, Oregon) September 4, 1954

[10] Toledo Blade (Toledo, Ohio) March 28, 1947

[11] Eugene Register-Guard (Eugene, Oregon) September 4, 1954

[12] Eugene Register-Guard (Eugene, Oregon) September 4, 1954

[13] The Pittsburgh Press (Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania) August 3, 1944

[14] Who’s Who on the Screen, edited by Charles Donald Fox and Milton L. Silver Ross Publishing Co., Inc, New York,

1920, page 269

[15] The Calgary Herald (Calgary, Alberta, Canada) May 30, 1940

[16] The Calgary Herald (Calgary, Alberta, Canada) May 30, 1940

[17] The Pittsburgh Press (Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania) May 29, 1932

[18] Lewiston Morning Tribune (Lewiston, Idaho-Clarkston, Washington) July 11, 1977

[19] Motion Picture Studio Directory, Fifth Edition, 1919

[20] Motography, November 23, 1912

[21] Raoul Walsh: The True Adventures of Hollywood’s Legendary Director, by Marilyn Moss, The University Press of

Kentucky, 2011, page 39

[22] New York Journal-American (New York, New York( September 5, 1954

[23] Otto Preminger: The Man Who Would Be King, by Foster Hirsch, Knopf, 2007

[24] Jet Magazine, October 1, 1953

[25] Lewiston Morning Tribune (Lewiston, Idaho-Clarkston, Washington) July 11, 1977

[26] The Washington Post and Times Herald (Washington, D. C.) September 4, 1954

[27] Lewiston Morning Tribune (Lewiston, Idaho-Clarkston, Washington) July 11, 1977

The Tuscaloosa News (Tuscaloosa-Northport, Alabama ) September 5, 1954

Eugene Register-Guard (Eugene, Oregon) September 4, 1954

[28] The Terre Haute Star (Terre Haute, Indiana) September 23, 1949

[29] The Palm Beach Post (West Palm Beach, Florida) September 4, 1954

[30] Eugene Register-Guard (Eugene, Oregon) September 4, 1954

[31] The Palm Beach Post (West Palm Beach, Florida) September 9, 1954

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One thought on “Eugene Pallette, a ‘Corker’ of a Silent Star and a ‘Croaker’ of a Supporting Player in the Talkies!

  1. Pingback: The Kennel Murder Case, A Keen, Kanine Kinetic, Killing Kind of Movie, With a Tasty Kernel Named Vance; Happy Anniversary! | Classic Film Aficionados

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