What a Character! 11th Annual Blogathon 2023 Elisha Cook Jr. – Like it says in the newspaper I’m a bad boy

It’s the 11th Annual What a Character! Blogathon. Not only is it my favorite gathering of bloggers paying tribute to actors who deserve our recognition, but it also gives me a reason to dive in and binge their films and television appearances. Thank you, Aurora at Once Upon A Screen, Kellee at Outspoken & Freckled, and Paula at Paula’s Cinema Club  for hosting this year’s wonderful event!

Impish pint-sized, blue-eyed, and baby-faced with a  raspy voice, American character actor Elisha Vanslyck Cook Jr. was born on December 26, either 1903 or 1906 (sources vary) in San Francisco, California.

Cook spent his childhood in Chicago, Illinois, and his first job was selling programs in the theatre lobby. He attended St. Albans College and the Chicago Academy of Dramatic Art, debuting on the stage at age 14, and was an assistant stage manager at age 17. He later traveled with a repertory company as a stage actor, appearing in vaudeville, debuting in the vaudeville act Lightnin.’ He worked in stock companies where he got his first big break after Eugene O’Neill cast him in the lead role of his production of Ah, Wilderness on Broadway.

At age 23 Cook debuted on the Broadway stage in 1926 as Joe Bullitt in the musical comedy Hello, Lola. He also appeared as Dick Wilton in Henry Behave 1926, Many a Slip, Hello, Gertie 1926-27, The Kingdom of God 1928-29 – (featuring Ethel Barrymore), and Her Unborn Child 1928  at the Empire Theatre. In 1963 he returned to the stage as “Giuseppe Givola” in “Arturo Ui” on Broadway, written by Bertolt Brecht from The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui. The show featured the music of Jule Styne.

Elisha Cook Jr. then moved to Hollywood where he settled in 1936. He made his film debut revising his stage role as the romantic young lead in the film version of Her Unborn Child 1930 alongside Francis Underwood. “A vividly dramatic all-talker of the Broadway stage hit which rocked the nation with its frankness.” After Hollywood spotted the young actor’s fun-sized flair, he would not return to the stage until 1963.

The diminutive actor co-starred in over 220 films and television shows from the 1930s to the 1980s. His film career, including his later television roles, lasted almost 60 years. Cook a flexible actor, played a wide range of characters. ‘Cookie’ as his friends referred to him, was cast in a wide variety of genres starting out in musical comedy, westerns, crime dramas, and most notably film noir and B horror movies.

“Few actors could claim to have played as many memorable roles in as many recognized classics or to have become the answer to so many Hollywood trivia questions,” – Robert Thomas, Jr., in a New York Times obituary.

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31 Flavors of Noir on the Fringe to Lure you in! Part 4 The last Killing in a Lineup of unsung noir

☞SPOILERS!

27-The Killing 1956

Daring hold-up nets $2,000,000! Police baffled by fantastic crime! Masked bandit escapes with race track loot! These 5 Men Had a $2,000,000 Secret Until One of them told this Woman!
Narrator – At exactly 3:45 on that Saturday afternoon in the last week of September, Marvin Unger was, perhaps, the only one among the hundred thousand people at the track who felt no thrill at the running of the fifth race. He was totally disinterested in horse racing and held a lifelong contempt for gambling. Nevertheless, he had a $5 win bet on every horse in the fifth race. He knew, of course, that this rather unique system of betting would more than likely result in a loss, but he didn’t care. For after all, he thought, what would the loss of twenty or thirty dollars mean in comparison to the vast sum of money ultimately at stake.

The Killing is an enigmatic tour de force directed by the fiercely independent Stanley Kubrick, who also penned the screenplay adapting its non-linear story structure from Lionel White’s novel ‘clean break.’ Kubrick chose Jim Thompson for the atypical style of writing in his pulp fiction books and had a great ear for dialect and an original approach to dialogue.

{about writer Jim Thompson} “At the time he was just another bitter alcoholic wordsmith living on paltry advances for paperback originals like Savage Night, The Grifters and The Killer Inside Me. Kubrick recognized his affinity for desperate characters and the great gallows humor in his dialogue. Thompson had a nasty falling out with Kubrick after Kubrick took a screenwriting credit, and reduced Thompson’s credit to merely – dialogue by…” (Eddie Muller)

Kirk Douglas and Stanley Kubrick on the set of Paths of Glory 1957.

Thompson and Kubrick came together two years later to collaborate on his break-out film Paths of Glory 1957. Working within the Hollywood system there would always be strings attached, initially, Kubrick and writer Thompson’s screenplay (Thompson was popular as a writer of hard-boiled paperback crime novels) did not include a narrator, but the studio insisted they use one in order to lessen the audience’s confusion.

Kubrick’s insistence on staying true to White’s novel and his style of writing made him bang heads with United Artists who were distributing the film. They thought they were getting an unambiguous film noir heist picture, not a rip-off story told in the middle of a time warp.

Kubrick cleverly disrupted the studio’s demand for a Narrator and only used Gilmore when the narrative became linear, making him an unreliable storyteller, which had the outcome he was looking for from the beginning which was – to confuse the audience.

When Kubrick turned in his final cut United was furious and insisted he restructure the film so it wouldn’t mess with the audience’s heads. After a bit of a debate, Kubrick held his ground and stuck with White’s vision. The result was rather than spending any more money editing the film, United Artists marooned it under the half of a double bill with Robert Mitchum’s western, Bandito directed by Richard Fleischer who made some interesting B noir/crime movies His Kind of Woman 1951 with Robert Mitchum, The Narrow Margin 1952, Compulsion 1959, Crack in the Mirror 1960, and The Boston Strangler 1968.

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