Saturday, May 10, 2008

The Pleasure of Charlie Ruggles' Company

There was a becoming modesty to Charlie Ruggles‘ career. The critical establishment’s recognition of his presence often reflected the scale of his long career. In 1915, the good, gray New York Times anointed his youthful presence on the Broadway stage with some tepid remarks under the heading “Second Thoughts on First Nights.” While acknowledging that he was the brightest performer in playwright Edgar Selwyn’s Rolling Stones, calling him “an adroit farceur, winning in manner, and possessed, it would seem, of a nice sense of nonsense”, the anonymous critic said that his “advent is scarcely a momentous theatrical event” and he “did not set the Hudson afire with his talent.” Thank goodness Ruggles didn’t take this faint praise to heart. Perhaps the theater-goer from the Times was merely spoiled by the relatively rich range of acting talent offered by the entertainment world back then. Only in retrospect do the best of the players appear to shine.

Instead of being discouraged by this, Charles Ruggles plugged on, seemingly always eager and game to try to take on a new play or film or medium throughout his life. Beginning with an unconfirmed appearance in a movie of L. Frank Baum’s The Patchwork Girl of Oz (1914), he’d already dipped his toe into the new medium of the flickers, just as he would decades later in television, which, thanks to nearly endless rotations of Bullwinkle and Rocky, The Andy Griffith Show & other series, he became familiar to Baby Boomers and their children too. Born in 1886 in Los Angeles and growing up in the San Francisco area, Charlie and his younger brother, Wesley Ruggles, who would become a movie director, were attracted to the theatre from an early age. His early life was marked by tragedy when his mother was shot by an armed bandit in his family home, reportedly when she stepped between her husband and the robber. Despite this, and his surviving parent’s requirement that he try to become a pharmaceutical salesman prior to becoming an actor, he apprenticed in stock companies on the West coast, specializing in playing older characters from an early age. Ruggles toured extensively throughout America, eventually becoming known as a reliable comic supporting actor with a distinctive, hard to describe but memorable voice, (rather like a creaking garden gate hinge)...More on the TCM Movie Morlocks


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