6/18/20: Fathers In The Movies

By Fred Muenz

Clifton Webb in CHEAPER BY THE DOZEN (1950) and THE REMARKABLE MR. PENNYPACKER (1959). In CHEAPER BY THE DOZEN, Webb portrays the real-life head of the Gilbreth family, a pioneer in the field of motion studies, who uses his large family as guinea pigs in his research. In the comedy, THE REMARKABLE MR. PENNYPACKER, he plays a businessman who, unbeknownst to even his father, has two large families in two different cities. Webb was directed into show business by an overbearing stage mother who sent him for singing, dancing and acting lessons beginning at age three. She dominated his life and career until her death at age 91. Despite his mother’s influence, or because of it, he was nominated for three Oscars. In real life, he was the finicky, fussy, abrasive character he made famous as Mr. Belvidere in three films.

Last month to honor Mother’s Day, I highlighted several award-winning supporting actresses who had been type-cast as strong mother figures and played that role throughout their careers. For Father’s Day, I had intended to highlight award winning actors who, like their female counterparts, had been type-cast into strong fatherly roles. Surprisingly, with the possible exception of Charles Coburn, I could not think of any. Yes, there were actors like Lewis Stone who played Judge Hardy in the series of Andy Hardy epics and Percy Kilbride who became Pa Kettle in a series of films, but these were not strong performances. Judge Hardy appeared once in a while to offer sage advice to son Andy, while Pa Kettle was simply a buffoon who supplied comic relief.

Therefore, for Father’s Day, I am honoring those actors who gave my favorite performances as a father or grandfather.

William Powell in LIFE WITH FATHER (1947). In the film, Powell plays an 1890’s banker who thinks he is head of his household, but is overwhelmed by his ditzy wife, four sons and visiting relatives, including a very beautiful 15-year-old Elizabeth Taylor. A consummate actor best known for his film portrayals of detectives Philo Vance and Nick Charles, Powell appeared in 14 films with Myrna Loy, including eight as THE THIN MAN. Powell’s career was highlighted by three Oscar nominations.

Clifton Webb in CHEAPER BY THE DOZEN (1950) and THE REMARKABLE MR. PENNYPACKER (1959). In CHEAPER BY THE DOZEN, Webb portrays the real-life head of the Gilbreth family, a pioneer in the field of motion studies, who uses his large family as guinea pigs in his research. In the comedy, THE REMARKABLE MR. PENNYPACKER, he plays a businessman who, unbeknownst to even his father, has two large families in two different cities. Webb was directed into show business by an overbearing stage mother who sent him for singing, dancing and acting lessons beginning at age three. She dominated his life and career until her death at age 91. Despite his mother’s influence, or because of it, he was nominated for three Oscars. In real life, he was the finicky, fussy, abrasive character he made famous as Mr. Belvidere in three films.

Charles Coburn in BATCHELOR MOTHER (1939) and THE REMARKABLE MR. PENNYPACKER (1959). In the romantic comedy, BATCHELOR MOTHER, Coburn plays the head of a large New York department store whose son, played by David Niven, is caught up in a case of mistaken identity over exactly who is the father of a baby. In THE REMARKABKE MR. PENNYPACKER, Coburn plays Clifton Webb’s father, and is completely unaware his son has two families until a son from one family shows up at the other family’s home. Despite not making his film debut until the age of 60, he was nominated for three Oscars, winning one.

Spencer Tracy in FATHER OF THE BRIDE (1950), and GUESS WHO’S COMING TO DINNER (1967). In FATHER OF THE BRIDE, Tracy remembers the day his daughter, played by a very beautiful 18-year-old Elizabeth Taylor, got married, starting from the day she announces her engagement, through the wedding, with all the surprises and disasters along the way. In GUESS WHO’S COMING TO DINNER, Tracy is father of a young woman who falls in love and wants to marry a black man. The film portrays inter-racial marriage in a positive light at a time when it was still illegal in seventeen states. Tracy’s remarkable acting career was highlighted by nine Oscar nominations, and two wins.

Dustin Hoffman in KRAMER VS. KRAMER (1979). In an Academy Award winning performance, Hoffman plays a workaholic saddled with his young son when his wife walks out, forcing him to become a real father. Hoffman was a poor student in college and was advised to take an acting course since “nobody flunks acting”. He later admitted that he drifted into acting because he did not want to go to work, or into the army. It worked out well for him as he has received seven Oscar nominations for best actor, winning twice.

Gregory Peck in TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD (1962). Peck plays a small-town lawyer in a racially divided 1930’s Alabama town. Despite the feelings of his friends and neighbors, he agrees to defend a black man charged with raping a white woman, while teaching his children about prejudice and justice. In college, Peck had decided on a career in medicine. His life changed, however, when the 6’3” athlete was recruited by the acting teacher for a part in the school play. He caught the “acting bug”, and the rest is history. Gregory Peck received five Oscar nominations for best actor, winning once.

Here are some other great father and father figure roles which should not be missed:

Robert Duvall in THE GREAT SANTINI (1979).

Cary Grant in HOUSEBOAT (1958) and FATHER GOOSE (1964).

Darren McGavin in A CHRISTMAS STORY (1983).

James Stewart in IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE (1946).

And, of course, Marlon Brando in THE GODFATHER (1972).

LOOK FOR MORE SILVER SCREEN MEMORIES NEXT WEEK.

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