Slim and Athletic Second Lead in Silents
Let that be a lesson to us all.
All of you know Eugene Pallette, I'm certain of it, but you may not ever put the name to the face. Inevitably, he's in a movie with Franklin Pangborn or Edward Arnold, and if you're like me, you'll occasionally reach for his name and come up with one of theirs, knowing it's wrong. One guy's too skinny and the other too mean.
Just to be clear, Pallette is the large, deep-voiced uncle, father, friar, or corrupt politician in any one of roughly 240 motion pictures made between 1913 and 1946; the massive sweetheart of a guy who sounds like he's gargling rocks.
Pallette was born in Kansas and attended a military academy in Indiana. He spent six years in stock theater in the early years of the last century, then became a film actor in the fledgling moving picture industry in southern California. By the end of 1914, he had appeared in 50 short films (mostly Westerns) as a rangy second lead. As he gained more and more weight, his career shifted to comic character roles for the Hal Roach Studios, and with the advent of sound (and weighing in at roughly 300 pounds), Pallette's distinctive voice and comic timing propelled him into character actor stardom (if that's a thing).
Pallette worked steadily until the mid-1940s, when his right-wing paranoia over impending nuclear annihilation compelled him to set up a survivalist compound in rural Oregon.
After a couple of years, however, and with no sign of Armageddon on the horizon, Pallette moved back to Hollywood, but did not return to films. Eugene Pallette died of cancer on September 3, 1954 at his home in Los Angeles. He was 65 years old.