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Article 2

A Pidgeon's Pedigree

The New York Times, June 22, 1941 page IX 4

Hollywood is a land where contradictory compliments are not infrequent, and in Walter Pidgeon's case these have been a regular occurrence. When he made his picture debut more than a decade ago one critic termed him the best new leading man prospect of the season; another said he would be a good bet only for character roles. Several writers have proclaimed him definitely and solely "a man's man"; others have argued with equal fervor that he is the arch-prototype of "a woman's man." Recently a leading film columnist had voted him "beyond any question the handsomest man in Hollywood." Another writer, just a few days before, had stated, in cold type: "There is nothing handsome about him in the Hollywood sense of the word."

Mr. Pidgeon, undoubtedly, has profited by these mildly stimulating little controversies. He sits back, relaxes his six-foot-three frame, smiles genially, says nothing and is said to enjoy as great personal popularity as any player one can name in the movie card files. The Canadian actor's success story is punctuated by some of the most extreme ups and downs in all the wide sweep of Hollywood's skittering "career graphs."

* * *

When he was still in high school he attempted to enroll for duty in the first World War. Barred because of his age, he refused to put the idea out of his mind, and a year later left the University of New Brunswick to join the Canadian Field Artillery. The aftermath was near-tragedy, but not on the field of battle. Crushed between two gun carriages in an accident at Camp Petawawa, he hovered between life and death for a long time; eventually he won the struggle, but during a period of seventeen months he had successively battled pleurisy, pneumonia and tuberculosis.

While his thoughts went back to his brief high school acting experience and ringing in his ears was the doctor's warning that he had better look for an open-air job and keep away from any concentrated physical strain, young Pidgeon located a bank messenger job in Boston. He spent a fair degree of each day in the open air and his evenings taking singing and dramatic lessons. One day he drummed up enough courage to beard the late E. E. Clive in his den, and ask for a chance with his repertory group. He candidly admitted that his stock experience had been confined to reading quotations of bank issues. Mr. Clive liked his frankness, offering him a gambling chance in "You Never Can Tell," and the bank hired another carrier with a less appropriate surname.

After making the grade in repertory, Pidgeon married his childhood sweetheart. Her sudden death two years later was a blow that seemed to disrupt and dispel all hopes for the future. Mechanically, he went back into the brokerage business; he was urged meantime by friends who believed in his dramatic ability to continue with a stage career. A chance suggestion led to a meeting with Elsie Janis, who was then preparing a concert tour. She thought he looked right, and was willing to take a chance on his limited vocal experience. In another twelve months he was playing opposite Miss Janis in the new London revue "At Home."

* * *

Hollywood, which had evidenced polite interest in the London correspondents' reports about "At Home," began to sniff hungrily at the stage door of the theatre where the returning actor had opened in the revue "Puzzles." A contract and a promised engagement in a Constance Talmadge picture led to nothing more tangible, however, than 180 days of Santa Monica sunshine. Then Director James Cruze asked for a chance to try the newcomer, opposite Dolores Costello, in "The Mannequin." Four other films followed; all were rated moderate successes, but none scored the hit which most cinema aspirants find is poetically referred to as "top screen billing."

After a return visit to Broadway, and a good part in "No More Ladies," Pidgeon went back to the West Coast. Several mediocre parts were followed by a role in Jean Harlow's last picture, "Saratoga," as a result of which the public began to show more interest than ever before in New Brunswick's gift to Hollywood.

* * *

Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer reported a great lift in Pidgeon fan mail after "Flight Command," and the first Nick Carter picture, which followed successes in "Too Hot To Handle" and "It's a Date." While most of the stars who started in Hollywood at about the same time are now somewhat obscure memories, Pidgeon seems to be starting the most successful cycle of his career.

Currently he is starring at the Roxy in the melodrama, "Man Hunt," and on Thursday he will be seen at the Music Hall in "Blossoms in the Dust," opposite Greer Garson.

© 1941 The New York Times

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