|The 'brains' and 'action' heavies who had meaty roles and lots of dialog ... and the players who were fathers, ranch owners, lawman, mayors, judges, lawyers, storekeepers, newspaper editors, wardens, etc.|
(Courtesy of Boyd Magers)
1943 - in FALSE COLORS, one of the Hopalong Cassidy adventures.
(Courtesy of Boyd Magers)
1946 - in the Roy Rogers' UNDER NEVADA SKIES.
(Courtesy of Boyd Magers)
1954 - in the Johnny Carpenter oater THE LAWLESS RIDER.
|Special thanks to guest commentator Bill Russell for authoring the biography on Douglass Dumbrille.|
When you add up the number of westerns (26) that this fine supporting and character actor played in compared to his total number of nearly 200 films, the ratio weighs heavily one way. But in the westerns that he appeared, and the one in which he starred, THE MYSTERIOUS RIDER ('38, more about that later) his performances were of the highest caliber, thanks largely to his long stage career.
A Canadian, Douglass (with two s's) Dumbrille, was born in Hamilton, Ontario, on October 13, 1889. Following his early education where he excelled in athletics, primarly hockey, he worked as a bank clerk and onion farmer before taking up acting. His deep penetrating eyes and dark thin mustache served him well for the generally unsympathetic roles he played on stage and later on screen. After an extensive career on the live stage, Dumbrille decided to ply his trade before the camera and appeared in Hollywood around 1931 when he was seen in an uncredited part in the Marx Brothers' first film, MONKEY BUSINESS. That same year he received his first screen credit, a third billing in the Paramount Gary Cooper/Claudette Colbert sea story, HIS WOMAN. By this time Dumbrille was already in his forties.
The following year he was cast as a district attorney in the Paul Muni social reform picture, I AM A FUGITIVE FROM THE CHAIN GANG, the film that awoke America's conscience to the brutality of the Southern "chain gang" system. Throughout his career, Dumbrille, who presented a somber, no-nonsense countenance, would be cast in a variety of roles that ranged from unscrupulous characters to law-abiding, authoritative types such as judges, lawyers, and badge-toting lawmen.
In 1933 the Canadian-born actor appeared in his first western, SMOKE LIGHTNING, a Fox feature starring George O'Brien. The following year he would portray the role of Bill Brett in Tom Mix's final sound oater for Universal, RUSTLER'S ROUNDUP. The year 1933 was a busy one for Dumbrille, for in addition to the two westerns, he was cast in seventeen other features, none of them westerns however, but action dramas in which he displayed his imposing presence.
The following year he received a bit role in an unusual western with Richard Barthelmess (who appeared in a few westerns) as the lead. The film, MASSACRE, a First National release, focused on the injustice of the Indian reservation system and one man's (Barthelmess) attempts to change it.
More non-westerns would follow until 1936 when Dumbrille received good billing in the Jack Holt Columbia picture, END OF THE TRAIL (not to be confused with the 1932 Tim McCoy film by the same title, both of which were superior westerns).
And finally, two years later, Dumbrille would get his starring role in a western, Paramount's THE MYSTERIOUS RIDER. This was the second sound treatment of the Zane Grey story, and probably stuck closer to the novel than the 1936 version featuring Kent Taylor in the lead role. Reportedly, Dumbrille wasn't originally slated for the lead. Actor George Bancroft, who had been around for many years but who had not done too many westerns, (he would play the sympathetic lawman "Curley" the following year in John Ford's STAGECOACH) had been selected but quit in a contract dispute with producer Harry Sherman, more noted for his production of the Hopalong Cassidys. Nevertheless, it was a "corker of a movie" as put by reviewer Michael Pitts. Dumbrille plays the dual role of "Ben Wade" and the mysterious masked avenger called "Pecos Bill," who comes to the aid of ranchers plagued by an outlaw gang. The film also featured Sidney Toler and Russell Hayden. There was another western made with the same title, the 1942 PRC actioner starring Buster Crabbe that had nothing do with Zane Grey.
Between 1939-42, Dumbrille would appear in a number and variety of roles including some Charlie Chans, several westerns (ROVIN' TUMBLEWEEDS with Autry; VIRGINIA CITY with Flynn; and Abbott and Costello in that nonsensical comedy, RIDE 'EM COWBOY). He had a good role in the Republic Mountie serial thriller, KING OF THE MOUNTIES, starring Allan Lane, and in '43-'44 was cast in three Cassidys - FALSE COLORS, LUMBERJACK, and FORTY THIEVES.
But in 1945 came what can be considered his best performance, that of Sheriff Tom Nightlander in Monogram's FLAME OF THE WEST, starring Johnny Mack Brown, arguably one of the best B westerns ever made, so good in fact that only the budget would classify it as a B western. Brown is cast in an unusual role as a doctor who has put away his guns at the expense of being called a coward, only to strap them on again when his friend Nightlander is murdered. Dumbrille pinned on a lawman's badge again that year in Universal's THE DALTONS RIDE AGAIN that featured Alan Curtis, Lon Chaney, Jr., Kent Taylor, and Noah Berry, Jr. as the tragedy-bound outlaws.
For the next several years Dumbrille would continue his mixed bag of films - from westerns to mysteries to comedies, from good guy to devious heavy and roles that ranged from that of "Lepidus" in the Joseph Mankiewicz-directed JULIUS CAESAR ('53) to Indian chief "Powhatan" in CAPTAIN JOHN SMITH AND POCAHONTAS, released the same year.
His last western appearance occurred in 1954 in the United Artists western outing, THE LAWLESS RIDER, starring Johnny Carpenter (Forbes), considered by some to be the last of the B westerners. Despite a solid cast that included - in addition to Dumbrille - Frankie Darro, Kenne Duncan, Bud Osborne, and directed by Yakima Canutt, it was not very well received.
TV beckoned him also during this period and Dumbrille landed parts in two series, LIFE OF RILEY, starring William Bendix, and CHINA SMITH, a short series based in the South Seas starring Dan Duryea. Dumbrille was a police inspector and friend of Duryea, a private eye. He would appear in a host of other TV episodes, including finally a doctor in a 1966 episode of BATMAN. It would be his last known appearance. Two years before that he ended his film career with two uncredited roles in WHAT A WAY TO GO, starring Paul Newman and Shirley MacLaine, and SHOCK TREATMENT, a thriller starring Stuart Whitman and Lauren Bacall, the latter in an unusual role as a sinister doctor in a mental institution. Dumbrille dons a judge's robes in this film.
Les Adams has Dumbrille identified in about 160 sound era films. Of those, 28 are westerns and 2 are cliffhangers.
He was married twice, the first time to Jessie Lawson, who died in 1958. Dumbrille, at the age of 70, married 28-year old Patricia Mowbray in 1960. She was the daughter of friend and fellow actor, Alan Mowbray.
On April 2, 1974, the Canadian-born actor passed away from a heart attack at the Motion Picture Home and Hospital, Woodland Hills, California. He was 84.
Although some of the data is incomplete or inaccurate, the Internet Movie Database (IMDb) has information on Douglass Dumbrille: http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0241523
The Internet Broadway Database has Dumbrille in nine plays during the years 1924 - 1932: https://www.ibdb.com/broadway-cast-staff/douglass-r-dumbrille-56830
J. David Goldin's RadioGoldIndex website has a listing of a dozen or so programs featuring Dumbrille (such as Lux Radio Theater). When you get to the site, click "Start Here", then select "Search By Artist", then select D, and then scroll down for Dumbrille's radio credits: http://radiogoldindex.com/
The Northern Stars website is dedicated to Canadian born film personalities and performers, and the page on Dumbrille is at: http://www.northernstars.ca/dumbrille_douglass/
The New York Times newspaper website has a death notice on Dumbrille: http://www.nytimes.com/1974/04/04/archives/douglass-dumbrille-dead-at-84-film-tv-actor-began-on-stage-left.html
The Family Search website (free), California Death Index, Social Security Death Index (SSDI), and newspapers provide more on Douglass Dumbrille and family:
Jim Tipton's Find A Grave website has info that Dumbrille is interred at Pierce Brothers Valhalla Memorial Park in North Hollywood: http://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GRid=6805651
(Courtesy of Dale Crawford & Jim Sorensen)
|Valhalla Memorial Park, North Hollywood, California, Lot 5, Section 6868, Memorial G.|