This is my entry in the What a Character Blogathon hosted by Once Upon a Screen, Outspoken and Freckled, and Paula's Cinema Club. Click here for more about our favorite folks who don't need star billing to shine.
|George Tobias as himself|
For me, the best character actors are the ones who press that automatic happiness button that's wired in our movie-loving brains. As soon as they appear, you recognize them and the world - movie-wise, that is - is a better place. Like a cuddle under a warm blanket or the platonic hug from an old and dear friend, certain actors who operate below the star billing can provide us with a sense of reassurance. Once they appear, we know everything is going to be fine. And even if it isn't, well, we thought it might.
My introduction to the stars of classic films came through television. Older stars who worked in TV were identified by my mother (See Alice Faye on "The Hollywood Palace"? She used to be a great big star). When it came to movies, I was a Warner Brothers gal from the get-go, chiefly because those were the only films my local TV station seemed to show. Plus, they really did have the best roster of supporting players, didn't they? So, it was only natural for me to recognize that guy playing an immigrant from some foreign land as good old Abner Kravitz from "Bewitched."
Warner Brothers cornered the market on New York types (my favorite type, by the way), and George was no exception. Having spent most the the 1920s and early 1930s on the stage, he committed to Hollywood in 1939 and somehow became everybody's favorite immigrant. Some of the roles played by this nice Jewish boy were an uncredited Soviet in "Ninotchka," Sascha in "Music in My Heart," Pasha in "Affectionately Yours," Igor Propotkin in "Out of the Fog," Nick Popoli in "My Wild Irish Rose," and Vassili Markovitch in "Silk Stockings." Two of my favorite George Tobias immigrants are Rosario La Mata in 1940's "Torrid Zone" and Nicholas Pappalas in 1941's "Strawberry Blonde." In both films he supported James Cagney, and they seemed to go together like peanut butter and jelly.
|A revolutionary George Tobias|
Somehow, somebody thought George would make a good Central American revolutionary in "Torrid Zone." Despite the questionable believability factor here, George plays his role with such ingratiating good humor and gusto that you just have to root for him to escape justice and live to fight another day.
|Nick and Biff reminisce about the good old days in "Strawberry Blonde"|
The other part I adore him in is as Nick the Greek barber in "Strawberry Blonde." As the usual best friend he gets some very funny lines, my favorite being "boy how those foreigners murder the English language" in his heavy Greek accent while observing a German band singer. Noting that the beautiful strawberry blonde of the title (Rita Hayworth) would not have turned into a nagging shrew if he had married her, he states that "a woman who has 17 children got no time to nag."
In 1943, George got to show another side of himself in "Thank Your Lucky Stars," a Warner Brothers showcase of performers who donated their salaries to the Hollywood Canteen. Supported by Olivia de Havilland and Ida Lupino as jitterbuggers, George donned a zoot suit and, as always, gave it his all. For once he got support from "A" list leading ladies.
When not playing a fellow from some foreign land, George also turned up everywhere and anywhere as the good friend of the hero. Never a double-crosser, he was reliable and sympathetic, and when he sometimes met his demise as the script demanded, you can't help but miss him (thinking "Captains of the Clouds" here).
|Abner and Gladys Kravitz|
And then there was Mr. Kravitz. George did lots of television and when he landed on "Bewitched," well, what can I say? He was the fellow I was always happy to see - just like in the movies.