Loopline Collection: Irish Film Institute (IFI) Archive

Kasandra O’Connell, Irish Film Institute

22 May 2020


“It’s somewhere between art and education, if you can capture those two things, you’re home and dry”[i]

Se Merry Doyle, Loopline films

In May 2020 the Irish Film Institute (IFI) [ii] published the second volume of the Loopline Collection on its online platform- the IFI Player. [iii] This material is the output of Loopline Films, one of Ireland’s most influential independent production companies, founded in 1992 by filmmaker Sé Merry Doyle. The internationally award-winning company named after the River Liffey viaduct, AKA the Loopline Bridge in Dublin’s Inner City, specialises in producing documentaries and TV series “with heart”.[iv] Merry Doyle and his collaborators forgo traditional documentary techniques, such as narration, preferring a more experimental approach to their subjects.[v] Since its inception Loopline has become renowned for its perceptive, political and poetic body of work, particularly a series of portraits of prominent cultural figures and a succession of programmes highlighting pressing social issues and documenting changes in Irish society. Amongst the material made available on the IFI Player in April 2019 was previously unreleased footage of U2 playing live on Dublin’s Sheriff Street in 1982, the inclusion of which ensured international media interest in the project.

Sé Merry Doyle and Eugene Finn at the launch of the collection on the IFI Player

Project origins

The genesis of the collaboration between the IFI and Loopline was an approach by Loopline’s founder Sé Merry Doyle, to the IFI Irish Film Archive in 2015.[vi] This resulted in funding being secured from the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland’s (BAI) archiving scheme in order to preserve the output of the production company. [vii] Over the following year, Merry Doyle and archivist Eugene Finn assessed and catalogued the various media elements that made up the collection, which had resided in the Loopline offices for many years. This material included a wide variety of formats: 16mm and 35mm films, a multitude of tape formats, numerous audio materials and a significant amount of born digital content held on hard drives and camera cards- illustrating the transition of the production world from analogue to digital through the period in which the production company has operated. When Loopline closed its studios in 2017 this material was transferred to the IFI Irish Film Archive, where the IFI began its part of the project to catalogue, digitise and preserve the collection, eventually making it available to the public via the IFI Player.

Despite the fact that IFI Archive team had been provided with a sample of the collection’s content in order to write the BAI funding application, it was only when the entire collection was transported to the IFI premises for assessment that its full value was appreciated. In addition to 47 finished programmes chronicling the social, cultural and political landscape of Ireland between 1982 and 2015, the collection contained outtakes, interviews, pilots and additional material not included in the final broadcast programmes, thus giving unparalleled access not only to the programme subjects but to Merry Doyle’s immersive, and instinctive approach to filmmaking.

The collection contains undeniably starry content including such high profile figures as U2, Patrick Kavanagh, Martin Scorsese, Peter Bogdanovich, Maureen O’Hara, J.G. Ballard, Margaret Atwood and Gore Vidal amongst many others, but it is the footage chronicling changes in Irish urban and rural society and documenting key areas of Irish history and the arts that is of particular value to the IFI. Although the IFI Irish Film Archive collection holds material from  1890s to the present day it is weighted towards the mid-20th century, so the inclusion of such a  wide ranging and extensive (over 900 hours of footage) collection  covering the latter part of the 20th century provided some welcome curatorial balance.  This was also the first full broadcast collection that the IFI archive had acquired and processed in conjunction with the filmmaker, thus providing a valuable opportunity to work with Merry Doyle to ensure the material was correctly documented, the context of its creation was captured and allowing staff to gain a deep insight into the production process itself.

An instinctive practitioner, Merry Doyle stumbled into filmmaking with no formal training. Born into the working- class Dublin suburb of Finglas he began his artistic career in the theatre. A contemporary of director Jim Sheridan and actors Gabriel Byrne and Liam Neeson, his first foray into filmmaking was in the early 1980s when he borrowed footage from the legendary Irish documentary maker George Morrison editing it into a theatre set piece, the success of which encouraged him into a career as a film editor in Dublin and then London. [viii] Returning to Ireland in the 1990s he officially set up Loopline films, although his first work Looking On (1982), was created prior to his departure to England.

The Dublin Merry Doyle returned to was in flux as the last vestiges of tenement life and the old city were being swept away by internationalism, capitalism and a sense of the modern. Merry Doyle was acutely aware of the internal tension within the capital as communities fought to retain their identity in the face of economic and social change. He felt compelled to capture not only the Dublin he knew before it disappeared, but also the struggle of working-class communities as they tried to navigate their changing environs; and so, he began to film those around him. This resulted in a trio of films that are still relevant as they deal with issues that continue to effect Dublin, urban regeneration and gentrification and social and economic deprivation. Looking On, Loopline’s inaugural work focuses on a 1982 cultural festival, spearheaded by community activist Mick Rafferty and the Independent politician Tony Gregory; this landmark event sought to reclaim the inner city for the local population and instil pride in an area facing financial hardship, lack of employment and increasing levels of drug abuse. It notably features an early rooftop appearance by U2 in Alive Alive O: A Requiem for Dublin, Merry Doyle’s first full length documentary featuring original poetry from Paula Meehan and footage shot by Oscar-nominated cinematographer Robbie Ryan, chronicling the fight of Dublin’s iconic street traders to maintain their livelihood against the threat of commercial interests in the inner city who seek to expel the traders from their traditional locations of the Iveagh Market and Moore Street.[ix]

Liam McGrath’s Essie’s Last Stand depicts 76-year-old Essie Keeling’s fight to stay in her home as developers attempt to demolish St Ultan’s, the block of flats she has resided in for four decades. One of the last remaining tenants she and a neighbour refuse to be evicted, determined to thwart the ambitions of developers to create luxury apartments on the site of their home. The film is considered a companion piece to Alive Alive O by Tony Tracy as it similarly depicts a “proud and marginalised community defying mainstream expectations”.[x]

In addition to topics that explore the shifting community and values within the city, Loopline’s other focus is creating intimate portraits of renowned Irish cultural figures. These deeply personal works include Patrick Scott: Golden Boy, produced by Andrea Pitt and Maria Doyle Kennedy of Mermaid Films, which gives an insight into the work of one of Ireland’s foremost abstract painters; the film includes footage shot by Seámus McGarvey, the Oscar-nominated cinematographer. Patrick Kavanagh: No Man’s Fool which focuses on the life of the renowned poet, with contributions from poets John Montague and Macdara Woods, writer Dermot Healy, and actor T.P. McKenna. James Gandon: A Life which looks at the career of the renowned 18th-century architect responsible for some of Dublin’s most iconic buildings including the Customs House and the Four Courts; the documentary is notable for an extensive interview with former Taoiseach (Irish Prime Minister) Charles J. Haughey at his Gandon-designed home in Abbeyville, North Dublin.

Loopline also made several series for television, including Imprint which was hosted by the poet Theo Dorgan and first broadcast on RTÉ between 1999 and 2001. It features in-depth and revealing interviews with some of the literary world’s most notable figures such as Margaret Atwood, Richard Ford, Gore Vidal, Eavan Boland and Colm Tóibín, while the six-part series A Good Age, originally broadcast in 1997, is an intriguing look at the issues facing older people, with candid personal testimonies about intimacy, self-care, and ageism. The most recent series for television was Muintir na Mara (People of the Sea) which ran for six series on TG4.[xi] A travel programme of sorts, presented by traditional boatbuilder Pádraig Ó Duinnín, it followed his journey around the Irish coastline as he visited Cork, Kerry, Galway, Clare and Sligo/ Mayo, engaging with a variety of local characters, before ending his travels in Donegal. The series illustrates Loopline’s continuing preoccupation with location and identity albeit it in a vastly different setting to previous urban focussed works. Ó Duinnín explores and memorialises the activities of range of crafts people, artists, musicians as well as addressing “contentious issues facing Ireland’s coastal towns”, such as “over regulation of the fishing industry, the impact of multinationals on communities and the natural environment and the demise of the fishing community and traditions”.[xii]

Folklife material 

Rural life is also the focus of a particularly valuable sub-collection within the Loopline corpus; the material shot for the BBC/RTE series Hidden Treasures directed by Anne O’Leary in 1998 explores a range of trades, crafts and traditions widely practised in rural Ireland from the 1850s to the 1950s.  The series is built around a collection of 16mm films commissioned by the National Museum of Ireland’s Folklife Division, in association with the Irish Folklore Commission and filmed from the 1950s through to the 1970s and which is also preserved as part of the Irish Film Institute collection.

Hidden Treasures, episode 1: ‘Cot, Coracle and Currach’

Hidden Treasures, episode 4: ‘Rod, Rhyme and Spinning’

These films emphasise the self-sufficiency of rural householders and crafts specialists, through their use of everyday materials to make objects for practical use in their daily lives and cover a wide variety of pre-industrial practices, such as rope-making, tinsmithing, various forms of fishing and grain-threshing, turf-cutting, tillage, and straw and seaweed gathering. They are a beautifully shot record of a fading Ireland and indicative of Loopline’s preoccupation with changing tradition, landscape and place.

Feminist perspective

Another prominent strand within the Loopline output is work that memorialises the lives of Irish women, although the company has sometimes met with controversy whilst doing so.

Martina Durac’s documentary Mairéad Farrell: Comhrá nár Chríochnaigh (An Unfinished Conversation) is about the Republican activist who was shot by the British Army in Gibraltar in 1988, in which her friend historian Bríona Nic Dhiarmada, attempts to uncover the complex woman behind the mythology that has been woven around her.

Still from Mairéad Farrell: Comhrá nár Chríochnaigh (An Unfinished Conversation)

MNÁ AN IRA is a six- part series that focuses on the role played by female members within the Provisional IRA, taking a very personal approach to its subject matter the series explores what motivated the women to become involved in the conflict. The sympathetic tone taken by the filmmakers led to criticism of the series, not least by Concubhar O Liathain, a member of the TG4 board, who asked for the decision to broadcast the series to be reviewed following the airing of the episode featuring Rose Dugdale, as he felt its tone would prove “heart-breaking for the victims of the IRA and their relatives”.[xiii] In response the producers of the series Vanessa Gildea and Martina Durac, defended their work explaining that it was “an attempt to understand part of the recent history of our country and why certain people became involved in violent activity — by hearing their personal stories and finding out what motivated them into such drastic action.”

Another less controversial female figure that is celebrated within the collection is Kathleen Lynn, Rebel Doctor a programme that rediscovers the legacy of this extraordinary humanitarian. Structured around Lynn’s diaries, the programme explores Lynn’s remarkable journey from a clergyman’s daughter in the West of Ireland to become a physician and suffragette who founded the first Irish children’s hospital St Ultan’s and was chief medical officer for the Irish Citizen Army.  This celebration of women’s achievements continues with Merry Doyle’s next project Hanna and Me which tells the story of republican suffragette Hanna Sheehy Skeffington through the eyes of her great granddaughter Micheline.

Value of the collection

In addition to the completed programmes within the collection, Loopline project archivist Eugene Finn highlights the value of the uncompleted works, projects which Loopline began but were unable to progress due to lack of financial support, thus illustrating the difficulty in “raising funding for serious social cultural and historical documentaries”.[xiv] These fragments provide an insight into the subject matter which fascinates Merry Doyle and his collaborators, as the abandon works offer a glimpse of partial profiles of figures such as the controversial writer Ulick O’Connor, and trade unionist and socialist politician Jim Kemmy. Equally tantalising is a series of interviews with international practitioners such as D.A. Pennebaker, Kim Longinotto, Les Blanc and Molly Dineen amongst others, for an unfinished project entitled Documentary Where Art Thou?

In his piece for Cassandra Voices, Finn also remarks on the value of the collection in providing a window into the production process, as outtakes and rushes document “the filming of establishing shots”, and “ the pursuit of best takes” and show how the “ideas that arise during interviews” are developed into new concepts, giving us an unparalleled insight into the development the and construction of the work. In an in-depth interview at the IFI Merry Doyle’s further emphasises the instinctive and organic nature of the production process, as relationships, coincidence and circumstance led Loopline from one topic to another.[xv]

Availability of the collection

The first tranche of the Loopline Collection was made available on the IFI Player in April 2019, with the second tranche published in May 2020. Volume 2 can be viewed here. In preparation for publication the IFI player curatorial team mapped out an online programming strategy, working with Merry Doyle to identify themes within the material in order to present the collection to the public in an engaging and accessible way.[xvi] Video segments and introductions were filmed with a range of contributors to provide context and create a route for further critical engagement with the content.  Additionally, the IFI programmed a retrospective of Loopline films in its cinemas, including a career interview with Merry Doyle to coincide with the public availability of the work. The collection is now available on the IFI Player without geo-blocking so that an international audience can explore and enjoy its diverse subject matter. Taken as a whole the collection is fascinating document of recent Irish history and the changing cultural life of the nation.

Merry Doyle’s interest in complex themes such as changing identity, social justice, and the creative process, has ensured that the collection contains a rich seam of material for researchers, historians, sociologists and programme makers to mine. Similarly, Merry Doyle’s innate ability to find the human story within universal themes, will no doubt ensure that the work of Loopline continues to resonate with audiences long into the future.

You can view the trailer for the Loopline Collection, Volume 2 here.


[i] ‘900 hours of footage that tells the story of Ireland’: Video from the last 30 years archived at IFI https://jrnl.ie/4594823 Apr 16th 2019, Journal.ie Andrew Roberts.

[ii] The Irish Film Institute is Ireland’s national cultural institution for film with a remit to Exhibit, Preserve and Educate.

[iii] The IFI Player is a virtual viewing room for the IFI Irish Film Archive’s collections. Launched in 2016, it gives fee global access to a range of material from the IFI’s collections, and acts as a platform to publicise the IFI’s preservation and digitisation projects. In collaboration with tech partners Axonista a suite of apps for Android, Apple and Roku was launched in 2017.

[iv] IFI Career interview.

[v] Merry Doyle was not always at the helm and collaborated with a range of accomplished producers and directors such as Martina Durac, Vanessa Gildea, Anne O’Leary, Liam McGrath amongst others stepping in.

[vi] The IFI Irish Film Archive is part of the IFI. It has a mission to collect, preserve and share Ireland’s moving image heritage.

[vii] The Broadcasting Authority of Ireland is Ireland’s broadcast regulator, but also runs an archiving scheme which aims to promote a culture of preservation within the broadcast sector and provides funding for preservation projects for audio-visual material made for broadcast.

[viii] George Morrison is an Irish documentary maker, best known for his ground-breaking film Mise Eire (1959) which is created entirely from archival footage and tells the story of events around and during the Easter Rising.

[ix] Alive Alive O, review Film West, Issue 39, Dan McCarthy

[x] Essie’s Last Stand review, Flim West,issue 41, Tony Tracy

[xi] TG4 is Ireland’s Irish language television station.

[xii] www.loopline.com

[xiii] IRA series Seriously stains TG4, Independent, 8th Jan 2012

[xiv] ‘Archiving the Recent Past: the Loopline Collection’, EUGENE FINN ON JULY 19, 2019 https://cassandravoices.com/uncategorized/archiving-the-recent-past-the-loopline-collection/

[xv] https://ifi.ie/2019/05/se-merry-doyle

[xvi] Shauna Lyons, Kasandra O’Connell, Sunniva O’Flynn and Saskia Vermeulen


Kasandra O’Connell has been Head of the IFI Irish Film Archive custodian of Ireland’s national moving image collection for two decades. Prior to this she worked in conservation at the National Museum of Ireland and has a postgraduate qualification in Archival Science, an M.A. in Museum Studies and is currently undertaking PhD research in moving image preservation and policy at DCU. She is on the editorial board of the Association of Moving Image Archivists journal and has written about digital preservation and moving image archiving for a number of publications including Film Ireland, History Ireland, Journal of the Society of Archivists and International Journal of Film Preservation; she has also contributed to a number of television and radio programmes on the subject. She devised and teaches an MA module in digital media preservation at Maynooth University and was one of a group of international experts selected as faculty for 2018 FIAF preservation and restoration workshop in India. Her focus in recent years has been devising and implementing the IFI Irish Film Archive’s Digital Preservation and Access Strategy, developing the award winning IFI Player and undertaking large scale preservation and access projects such as the Irish adverts project, Loopline and the Irish Independence film collection.


Disclaimer: The IAMHIST Blog is a platform that offers individual scholars the opportunity to present their work and thoughts. They alone are responsible for the content, which does not represent the view of the IAMHIST council or other IAMHIST members.

Asian archives and archivists: travels and revelations

Dina Iordanova, University of St Andrews

15 May 2020


I am not a specialist on archives. As an East Europeanist, I mainly know of archives in places like Tirana – magnificently supported through the Albanian Cinema Project and depicted in Mark Cousins’ film Here Be Dragons (2013) or Bucharest, the Romanian capital, where a number of B&W documentaries from the time of state socialism, made at the Sahia studio, were recently restored and published in a series of DVDs, in a project sponsored by the One World Romania film festival. Then, as a specialist on film festivals, I have had the chance to learn about the role of festivals in showcasing restored films, which expands far beyond festivals like Il Cinema Ritrovato or Pordenone, and comprises of a global network of festivals in places like in Chile or Japan, discussed in contributions to the Archival Film Festivals volume, edited by Alexander Marlow-Mann in 2013.

However, it so happened that in recent years I travelled a lot across Asia and had the chance to visit and get to know the work of quite a few Asian film archives and preservation organisations that I previously knew next to nothing about.

In 2013, friends from Kasetsart University in Bangkok took me to the Thai Film Archive, an imaginatively designed complex on the outskirts of the city which combines a film museum, a small cinema, as well as storage space. I came to know about the amazing life work of Dome Sukwong, the archive’s committed founder, who had been collecting old films on his own, with no support from the state nor institutional framework until his work came to be noticed many years later. Having commissioned a contribution from archivist Chalida Uabumrungit for the collection Film Festivals and East Asia (2011, which I co-edited with Ruby Cheung), I already knew about the adverse climatic conditions that affect preservation efforts in these parts of Southeast Asia. In Bangkok I witnessed on the spot how they address these difficulties in action, with dedication and perseverance.


Then, whilst guest lecturing at the Beijing Film Academy in 2016, I was invited to give workshops on film festivals at the venerable China Film Archive, which occupies a large 16-storey building in Beijing, and features an adjacent cinema that has a full programme of screenings of films from China’s rich film heritage, in many respects similar to the programme that one finds on a daily basis at the Cinematheque in Paris. It is here where I saw the largest screen I have ever come across in my lifetime. I also enjoyed the privilege to be shown around their restoration department, which occupies one of the floors and where over twenty young employees are seated in front of advanced computers, each engaged with clearing the scratches from the scanned old prints that they are in process of digitising. From a detailed flowchart displayed on the wall, I learned that a trainload of films for restoration are being shipped to them every week from the storage depot in Xi’an and then processed by the restoration unit. China’s whole film heritage is being digitized here. Even if this is not yet released to the public, I was able to realise that the global cinephile community will have access to an amazing resource once a decision is made for the release of this digitized material.

The Big Screen at China Film Archive

Fast forward two years later, to December 2018. Serving a term as Visiting Research Professor at the University of Hong Kong, I chose to live in Kwun Tong, a part of town where few foreigners ever set foot. A former industrial area occupied by large building blocks where various factories were clustered in the past, nowadays this is one of the places in the city where rents are still affordable. So no wonder that even if not obvious on the surface, Kwun Tong is the epicentre for the city’s cultural industries. Quite remote from Hong Kong’s glossy commercial areas such as Central, Causeway Bay and Tsim Sha Tsui, it is the home of leading modern art galleries such as Agnes Lin’s Osage and the Sun Museum, as well as of popular music venues. It only took me a few daysin Kwun Tong to discover it is also the centre for Hong Kong’s burgeoning film industry, with the venerable Hong Kong International Film Festival having its offices here, as well as many production and distribution companies occupying co-working space in the buildings nearby. One of these older industrial space, The Milky Way Building, is owned by director Johnnie To and his associates – and it is on its staircase that many scenes of well-known Hong Kong action movies have been shot.

Today the Milky Way is home of various film companies. I visited it one day with my friend, documentary producer Peter Yam, who took me to meet Bede Cheng, the director of L’Immagine Ritrovata Asia, a highly specialised film restoration lab which is local subsidiary of Cineteca di Bologna. I was shown around their premises, witnessed the high-tech equipment and seeing several young women at restoration work in front of large computer screens. The big scanner in one of the back spaces – amidst buzzing FedEx trucks and commercial spaces storing Chinese herbs — was loaded with an old copy of a King Hu film which was being scanned and slowly transferred to the new digital format.


Most recently, whilst attending the first Film Festivals and Restoration Forum at Xiamen University in China in the summer of 2019, I was privileged to join the expedition to their brand new large campus, which, being the size of a small town, is home of one of the newest film archives in China. Its holdings, still in process of being organised, are occupying several floors within their 12 -storey spacious library, which also has a good-sized modern cinema equipped for showing various formats on the ground floor. With many historical posters displayed on the walls, the colleagues from Xiamen showed us many rooms where they had stored historical projection equipment, cans of 35 mm film prints, as well as many other film-related paraphernalia. I had the chance to browse and view some of the material they screened for me, along with colleagues such as Jan-Christopher Horak of the Pacific Film Archive at UCLA and Dan Streible and Juana Suarez from NYU. Even if this archive in Xiamen is not yet organised in a manner that would allow to systematically research their holdings, it is one that will stake its presence soon.

The Film Festivals and Restoration Forum at Xiamen University, July 2019

The restoration part of the conference itself was particularly interesting, not least because it allowed for encounters with archivists from China and various other Asian countries who spoke about their work. Several of the speakers had been invited by Prof. Ray Jing, a well-known archivist and anthropologist and long-standing director of the Taipei Film Archive, whose new venture is the Film Collector’s Museum (see Jan Christopher Horack’s blog entry on his subsequent visit to Taiwan and encounter with Jing). I was particularly impressed with the account given by an amateur archivist from Lanzhou, the capital of the remote province of Gansu, who is struggling for the preservation of rich material that he has discovered after the closure of older local cinemas.

Most importantly, the event included screenings of rare restored material with introductions given by Asian archivists who elaborated on how the films were brought back to life. The programme included early ethnographic films made about Yunnan province’s numerous ethnic minorities in the 1950s, for example. But there were also screenings of several other restorations of Asian films – including the Thai classic Santi-Vina (1954) which had long been believed lost and the Singaporean gongfu extravaganza Fist of Fury (1973), which had been banned at the time of making and only now restored and shown.

Scene from the restored Thai classic Santi-Vina (1954)

In listening to the amazing stories of these restorations as told by archivists such as Sanchai Chotirosseranee of the Thai Film Archive and Karen Chan of the Asian Film Archive, I felt I was particularly inspired to realise the extent of transnational collaborative preservation efforts that each one of these stories revealed. It was also clear that film festivals had played an important part in each case. So, as someone who believes in cinema’s transnational essence and the key role of film festivals in global circulation, I felt I wanted to create a resource that would showcase these important aspects of global archiving. So I invited the archivists from Thailand and Singapore to write accounts on the discovery and restoration of the films they were presenting at Xiamen. I also asked two of the doctoral students from our programme at the University of St Andrews to conduct interviews with prominent figures involved with preservations efforts in Asia – such as Bede Cheng of L’Immagine Ritrovata in Hong Kong and Nick Deocampo from the Philippines. The dossier we created will be published in June 2020 as part of the next issue of Frames Cinema Journal.


Dina Iordanova is Professor of Global Cinema and Creative Cultures at the University of St Andrews in Scotland, and director of the eponymous Institute. She has worked extensively on the dynamics of global film industries and transnational film cultures, with focus on non-Western cinematic traditions and contexts. The forthcoming dossier on Archives and Preservation in Asia which she curated for Frames Cinema Journal 17 will be published in June 2020. It contains contributions from the Philippines, Hong Kong, Singapore and Thailand.


Disclaimer: The IAMHIST Blog is a platform that offers individual scholars the opportunity to present their work and thoughts. They alone are responsible for the content, which does not represent the view of the IAMHIST council or other IAMHIST members.

“Certainly No Clark Gable” – Reflections on the Journalistic Discourse about Hollywood Character Actors, ca. 1915-1949

Linn Lönroth, Stockholm University, Sweden

8 April 2020


In a reader’s letter entitled “Character Actors are the Greatest” published in Picture-Play Magazine in 1926, an anonymous film fan criticised the allegedly much too predominant journalistic focus on Hollywood’s leading stars. “Always I read of stars – stars – stars!” the fan objected, and declared that leading actors were better understood as “merely a set of rather good-looking nonentities.” While emphasising the brilliance of players such as Dale Fuller, Cesare Gravina and Joseph Swickard, the letter suggested that film fans of the day were starved of stories about “the true artistes of the screen” – the character actors.[i]

Albeit not representative of the views of the editors and writers of Picture-Play Magazine, this reader’s letter is nevertheless indicative of a more widespread cultural fascination with the “non-star” in Hollywood, and particularly with the character actor. Consistently in US fan magazines and newspapers from mid 1910s and onwards through the 1920s, 1930s and 1940s, character acting was a significant point of journalistic interest that gave rise to lively discussions about the hierarchies of the star system and its effect on the profession of film acting. Typically framed within discussions of stardom, character actors were imagined as embodiments of difference that offered contrast to the leading stars and a glimpse into a less glamorous side of Hollywood. Distinguished by their alleged peculiarities, individual quirks, unremarkable lifestyles and run-of-the-mill presence on screen, these actors were celebrated as quintessential examples of “non-stars” in Hollywood.

Drawing on a wide array of articles, interviews, films reviews, gossip columns and other types of journalism from Hollywood fan magazines and US newspapers from the classical era, this essay explores the significant popular discourse that emerged around the character actor.[ii] While previous research has shown how such national press coverage helped to create and sustain the notion of the film star and affirm its place within US film culture, I will argue for how the notion of the “non-star,” as exemplified by the character actor, was similarly established within this film culture.[iii] Because of the close ties between the film industry and the fan magazines in particular, as emphasised in previous studies, this discourse arguably also indicates the overlooked importance of the “non-star” to the industry itself and to classical Hollywood filmmaking.[iv]

Personality vs. Versatility: The Silent Era

In order to better understand how the notion of the “non-star” gained in cultural significance in the US, it is worth going back to the emergence of the star system and the development of the many non-starring categories of actors that this system brought about. In her study of typecasting in US cinema, Pamela Robertson Wojcik has shown how the development of the star system in the early 1910s indeed gave rise to a more hierarchical division of labour among film actors. While the stars were positioned at the top of this hierarchy, the majority of actors rather had to settle for filling the many non-starring, supporting roles that the movies required. The character actor emerged at this point as a “mid-level player,” as Robertson Wojcik suggests, as it was ranked above a number of other non-starring actors, such as bit players and extras. It was, however, invariably ranked below the star. Although a certain level of movement up and down the star system’s hierarchy was possible for some actors, Robertson Wojcik notes that is was unusual for character actors in particular to ascend in the ranking. Despite their status as mid-level players, then, character actors were perceived as possessing qualities that ultimately prevented them from attaining starring roles.[v]

This dividing line between stars and character actors is worth emphasising, because it very quickly made its way into the popular discourse of the time. Already in the mid 1910s but increasingly so in the 1920s, 1930s and 1940s, the character actor was very emphatically imagined as existing in a dichotomous relationship with the leading star. Although journalists found various ways of addressing and conceptualising this dichotomy over the years and decades, there was a notable consistency within the discourse and a prevailing sense that character actors deviated from the prevailing Hollywood ideal.[vi]

In journalism from the silent era, this perceived difference between stars and character actors was primarily expressed in terms of acting technique and personality. Curiously, the majority of reporters also sided with the character actors and emphasised their alleged superiority over the stars. While the latter tended to be described as mere figures of beauty whose personalities were simply repeated across films, character actors were instead perceived as versatile in their roles and as possessing tangible acting skills. As the New York Times put it in 1920, character actors are the “true highlights of photoplays.” Their acting style involves the “art of impersonation” and of allowing their individuality to become “absorbed” by the character in question.[vii] Stars, on the other hand, only ever rely on their good looks and personality. As such, they have to confine themselves to playing only one type of role: “that of being themselves, as they have become known to the public.”[viii]

Arguing along similar lines, many other newspaper reporters and fan magazine writers suggested that character actors were the “bright fellow[s]” or “fine old actors” with “real merit” and “skilled artistry.”[ix] Contrary to popular perception, the story went, it was the character actors who gave the most “splendid” performances; invariably a step above those of the “stars they support[ed].”[x] Indeed, within this discourse, the stars were conceived as having little to show in terms of acting technique and were rather described as “Greek gods,” “modern demigods or goddesses” or “vivacious little dolls who play silly flapper roles,” and so on.[xi]

Closely associated with the notion of the character actor’s versatility was also the idea of physical disguise. Repeatedly when discussing the character actors’ skills in impersonation, journalists emphasised the actors’ physical appearance and ability to disguise themselves in convincing ways. While the stars had to look natural in order to be recognised as the personality with whom the public had become familiar, most writers maintained, the character actors were instead free to experiment with costume and make-up in order to obscure their own “self.” As the character actor Theodore Roberts put it himself in Photo-Play Journal in 1920, the character man is someone who “carries his personality in his make-up box.”[xii]

For Roberts, the fact that his profession indeed required him to actively disguise himself was in fact something he deemed as a blessing. In his article, which was given the title “The Happy Lot of the Character Actor,” Roberts imagined the stars as being in constant worry about their looks and personalities. Character actors such as himself, however, never felt tied down by Hollywood’s constrictive beauty norms and ideals. As he put it:

I thank my stars that I have no need to be “Lean and Slippered,” but can grow fat with no fear of the shrivelling of the salary envelope. I am on my knees in gratitude that the fates decreed me a personality that did not lend itself to the fluff and pulchritude but called upon me to clothe myself in the habiliments of other personalities than my own.[xiii]

Figure 1: Theodore Roberts, “The Happy Lot of the Character Actor,” Photoplay-Journal, June, 1920, 22. Accessed via The Media History Digital Library

Contrary to Roberts’ positive outlook, however, most writers were critical of the fact that character actors were unable to attain starring roles. There was also a strong sense that the star system had destroyed the art of acting in favour of an emerging personality cult. While criticising Hollywood’s growing obsession with young and pretty film stars with popular personalities, many reporters called for change and envisioned the character actor as taking centre stage in this process. As Screenland argued in 1923, “golden curl[es]” and a “perfect profile” doesn’t do it anymore, “the public is actually demanding that actors act!”[xiv] On a more radical note, The Los Angeles Times even went so far as to proclaim that the “rise of the character actors” would come with the inevitable demise of the star system.”[xv]

Although this kind of rhetoric had little effect on the realities within the US film industry, it is nevertheless notable that certain strands within this silent-era discourse about character actors evidently formed a critique against the consolidation of the star system. Because the character actors were perceived as representing different (and, according to many journalists, better) values than those of the stars, they were repeatedly singled out as symbols for change. In this way, the character actor became central to the imagination of a film industry in which versatility was valued higher than beauty and personality. Consistently, reporters also positioned themselves, and indeed the publication they wrote for, as active agents in this change and as champions of the underdog who advocated a different Hollywood.

Godlike Beauties vs. Everyday Eccentrics: The Sound Era

As sound came to US film industry and the studio system was further consolidated, the hierarchies of the star system were reinforced rather than undermined. The discourse about character actors, however, grew stronger. Not only was there more written about non-starring actors more generally in the 1930s and 1940s, many reporters were also becoming increasingly persistent when it came to differentiating between stars and character actors. As focus shifted from the versatility of character actors and the set personalities of stars, journalists were now increasingly concerned with the supposedly unconventional nature of character actors and the ways in which their physical appearances differed from those of the stars. Although reporters continued to celebrate the character actor and to position themselves as rooting for the underdog, the sometimes reactionary tone of the silent-era discourse nevertheless faded. Rather than envisioning or calling for radical change, journalists were now reinforcing the hierarchies of the star system by persistently establishing the character actors as figures that diverged from Hollywood’s constrictive beauty ideals.

In particular, notions of physical attractiveness, glamour and youth were held as counterpoints to that which defined the character actor. There was also a growing tendency to pathologise the bodies of these actors and to foreground their traits and attributes as flawed. Numerous writers for instance drew attention to the character actors’ weight (which was typically just brought up if the actor was considered overweight), purportedly strange or asymmetrical facial features, old age or quite simply what was thought of as their unattractive (or at very least plain) bodies, especially when defined in contrast to the svelte, taught or sculpted physiques of the leads. While the stars were described as otherworldly, extraordinary and beautiful, then, character actors were rather defined according to their alleged shortcomings and imperfections. This could, for instance, include their “chubby” or “fat” bodies, “pop-eyed” and “potato pan” faces, “un-actorish-looking” appearances, “stooped shoulders,” “long nose[s],” “thick and bushy” eyebrows, “thinning hair,” “mush mug” faces, oversized Adam’s apples or more generally their lack of “sex appeal.”[xvi] As Gladys Hall put it in reference to the character actor Walter Connolly in an article published in Modern Screen in 1934, “[h]e is certainly no Clark Gable.”[xvii]

Figure 2: Gladys Hall, “Average But Wonderful: A grand story about a great actor, Walter Connolly,” Modern Screen, December, 1934, 37. Accessed via The Media History Digital Library

Descriptions such as these were typically also accompanied by comments about the character actors’ peculiar behaviour, acting styles and personalities. Frequently, writers emphasised the eccentricity of the character actors’ mannerisms and commented on their posture, gestures or facial expressions. Writing in 1937, a reporter in Hollywood for instance drew attention to the “excitable” and “neurotic” foibles of Edward Everett Horton. His fellow character actor Henry Ametta was similarly noted for his “extremely nervous,” “fidgety,” and “worried” manner.[xviii] Various other reporters emphasised traits or “idiosyncrasies” such as “flutterings,” “jitters,” “bewilderment,” “occasional wheezes” or the “nervous” temperament, “snooty reserve” or “whimsical” nature of specific actors.[xix] Weighed against the otherwise naturalist, restrained and subtle acting styles that permeated Hollywood, as explored by scholars such as Roberta Pearson and Cynthia Baron, it is notable that character actors were perceived as so prone to exploring more ostentatious or eccentric forms of performance.[xx]

The blatant body shaming and othering that invariably also characterised these kinds of conversations were usually, and very much indifferently, justified as a way of stressing the alleged “humanness” or “ordinariness” of the character actor. This might seem contradictory, but the eccentric traits and attributes that many writers associated with these actors were also believed to make them into recognisable figures from everyday life. In comparison to the “unearthly” and “glamorized” “pretty boys” and “eye-filling gals,” as a reporter in Photoplay described the leading stars in 1938, the character actors were rather perceived as “real human beings.” As the writer put it, it was their job to provide the “human background” of the otherwise fairy-tale like worlds of the movies.[xxi] Although the discourse about these actors was growing increasingly problematic, then, the journalists were nevertheless in agreement that the characters actors brought something unique to the movies, and crucially something that the stars could not provide.

Struggles for Attention

Besides this continuous dialogue about the perceived difference between stars and character actors, the 1930s also saw the emergence of a conversation in press about an imagined power struggle between the two parties. In these discussions, character actors were described in a rather jarring language as reporters drew analogies to theft or burglary when referring to what they saw as a particularly arresting performance.[xxii] Variations of the expressions “stealing the show” or “stealing someone’s thunder,” as they are still known and used today, were hence beginning to be used in reference to the performances of certain non-starring actors.[xxiii]

The figurative use of language within this context cannot be emphasised enough. Metaphors, analogies and hyperbole were invariably used to amplify the reporters’ points and to add a sense of drama, comedy or fun to their writings. Typically, journalists reached for words such as “picture stealing,” “scene stealing,” “screen theft,” “lens larceny,” “cinema-swiping,” “film lifting,” “plundering” or the like while simultaneously referring to the character actors as “bandits,” “muggers,” “thieves,” “larcenists,” “pickpockets” “star kidnappers,” “film falcons” and even “rascals.”[xxiv] It was also common to describe successful character performances as though the actors were “turning the tables,” “outsmarting,” “upstaging” or even “eclipsing” the leading stars, thus evoking a sense of Hollywood being turned on its head.[xxv] It is important to note that the term “character actor” was occasionally used in conflation with, for instance, “minor actor,” “supporting actor” and sometimes “bit actor” within this context. The primary aim appears to have been to shed light on the alleged power struggle that played out between stars and non-stars in Hollywood at large.

Figure 3: “Picture Stealers,” Silver Screen, August, 1937. Accessed via The Media History Digital Library

A number of journalists of the time even took it upon themselves to act as detectives of sorts in order to identify the many guilty offenders among the non-starring actors and to call attention to the alleged danger they posed to the status quo. In a photospread entitled “The Most Dangerous Men in Hollywood” published in 1938, for instance, Hollywood presented a list of what they called “the screen’s worst scene stealers.” Each of the eleven actors (one of whom, curiously, was a child actor) were presented with a thumbnail story as well as a photograph in the style of a mugshot. Among those accused were Charles Ruggles, who was noted for his “long record of picture stealing,” Leo Carrillo, who allegedly “terrorized many quiet dramas” and Edward Everett Horton, whom the reporter suggested was “particularly dangerous to romantic scenes where the heroine and hero wish to be alone.” Notably, the listed actors were also conflated with their on-screen characterisations and described as though they were deliberately plotting to hijack the movies. Their various physical traits, mannerisms and acting techniques were further described as devious “disguises” or “appearances” that were “assumed” in order to “gain access” or “entrance” to the most important scenes.[xxvi]

Figures 4 and 5: “The most dangerous men in Hollywood,” Hollywood, October, 1937, 38-39. Accessed via The Media History Digital Library

However extreme these usages of hyperbole appear to be, they were by no means unique or stand-alone examples. Some journalists even assumed a faux point-of-view of a judge or prosecutor and argued that, to put it in the words of Katherine Alberts, the character actors should be “charged” with “grand larceny” and “[handed] over to the audience for sentence.”[xxvii] Other reporters referred to the actors as “pirates” or “little devil[s],” suggested that they were part of the “Hollywood underworld” or compared their alleged scene thefts with “kleptomania” and even “cradle snatching.”[xxviii] The Chicago Daily Tribute went so far as to suggest that the FBI agent Edgar J. Hoover and Attorney General Frank Murphy would probably have to make an “emergency trip” to the East Coast in order to “combat the wave of scene stealing.”[xxix]

Caught up in the midst of this chaos, of course, were the stars, and they were typically described as defenceless, victimised or outright scared of the presence of their supposed subordinates. A reporter in Modern Screen suggested that movie stars were haunted by a sense of “terror” whenever they found out that a “picture stealer” was “on the lot.” The best thing for the poor stars to do, the journalist suggested, was to simply say a quick “don’t-let-him-steal-my-picture prayer” before shooting commenced.[xxx] Similarly, a journalist in Silver Screen suggested that the stars did what they could to “protect themselves” in the “dog-cat-dog business” of Hollywood filmmaking. With “hawklike eyes,” the stars watch the rest of the cast to see that they are not “photographed too glamorously, that they are not given the choice lines, that they are not given scenes that are ‘fat’ in dialogue content.”[xxxi]

Despite the typically problematic wording of this conversation and the somewhat ridiculous claim that the stars were the real victims, the majority of the articles were nevertheless jesting in tone and the reporters were evidently rooting for the character actors to come out victorious in their fight for the limelight. There was also a clear intention of bringing these actors into the public eye and to suggest that the success of movies often hinged on the presence of non-starring actors. The general idea was that a certain degree of scene stealing was necessary in order to break up the movies’ otherwise unrelenting focus on the leading stars. As Silver Screen put it in 1935, the entrance of a character actor on screen is like “a ripple of joyous expectations” sweeping over an otherwise “dying party.”[xxxii]

Even so, the idea of scene stealing of course implied ownership and it arguably affirmed the idea that the limelight did not belong to the character actor, but rather to the leading star. The whole narrative of there being struggles for attention on screen was presumably also a dramatic (in a narrative sense) and engaging way of illustrating the hierarchies of the star system and the tensions it gave rise to. Not only did it allow readers to familiarise themselves with certain non-starring actors and to recognise their place within the hierarchy. Arguably, readers were also encouraged to interpret film performance on a meta-level in the sense that the acting styles of non-starring actors could be read as calculated attempts to upstage the leading stars. That is, as deliberate schemes of resistance that challenged the status quo.

On the whole, the significant journalistic focus on character actors during the classical helped establish their place within US film culture. Because the actors’ appeal was persistently traced to how they differed from the stars, the discourse also consolidated the value of the “non-star” more generally to contemporaneous fan culture and to the Hollywood filmmaking tradition. In an article published in The Ogden Standard in 1918, the American screenwriter Al Giebler attempted to shed light on precisely this alleged indispensability of small-part actors. In his article, entitled “The Supporting Cast in a Movie Film,” Giebler curiously tried to prove his point by comparing the movie business with baking pudding. Just as you need a variety of ingredients to make a tasty pudding, he suggested, you need a variety of actors to make a successful photoplay. As he put it, “the two stars could no more pretend to be the whole show and get away with it than the two eggs could say, ‘Behold us! We are pudding!”[xxxiii]

Figure 6: A. H. Giebler, “The Supporting Cast in a Movie Film,” The Ogden Standard, Jan 19, 1918. Accessed via Chronicling America: Historic American Newspaper, Library of Congress


Notes

[i] S. H. P., “Character Actors are the Greatest,” in “What the Fans Think,” Picture-Play Magazine, September, 1926, 115.

[ii] The material for this essay has primarily been collected from digital repositories. In particular, I have gathered material from the Media History Digital Library (MHDL) and ProQuest Historical Newspapers. A limited number of articles have also been retrieved from the Library of Congress digitised newspaper database, Chronicling America as well as the Internet Archive. The fan magazines I have accessed range from leading periodicals with extensive runs in the MDHL database, such as Photoplay, Modern Screen and Motion Picture Magazine, to those with shorter life spans and with less extensive runs in the database, such as Movie Classic and Motion Picture Classic. When it comes to newspapers, I have primarily found relevant material in papers such as The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, Chicago Daily Tribune and The Washington Post. I have also gathered material from fan magazines and collections of clippings from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences at the Margaret Herrick Library.

[iii] See e.g. Richard Abel, Menus for Movieland: Newspapers and the Emergence of American Film Culture (Oakland, California: University of California Press, 2015); Richard DeCordova, Picture Personalities: The Emergence of the Star System in America (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1990); Richard Dyer, Stars, 1. ed., (London: BFI, 1979).

[iv] See e.g. Anne Jerslev, “American Fan Magazines in the 30s and the Glamorous Construction of Femininity,” in The Nordicom Review (No. 1, 1996), 195-209; Anthony Slide, Inside the Hollywood Fan Magazine: A History of Star Makers, Fabricators, and Gossip Mongers (Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 2010).

[v] Pamela Robertson Wojcik, ‘Typecasting’ in Movie Acting: The Film Reader, ed. Pamela Robertson Wojcik (New York: Routledge, 2004), 177-181.

[vi] It is important to note that terms such as “character actor,” “supporting actor,” “minor actor” and, to a lesser degree, “bit player” were often used interchangeably during these decades. While this variation of terms partly appears to have been a way for journalists to simply vary their language when referring to non-stars, “character actor” was by far the most widely used definition within this context.

[vii] “Actors and Stars,” The New York Times, April 25, 1920, X4.

[viii] “Actors and Stars,” The New York Times, April 25, 1920, X4.

[ix] “The Character Actors are Getting all the Bouquets,” Photoplay, November, 1927, 24; “Thirty Years a Trooper,” The Washington Post, January 15, 1928, F5; Lillian Blackstone, “Frozen Echoes,” Motion Picture Magazine, August, 1917, 126; “Thirty Years a Trooper,” The Washington Post, January 15, 1928, F5.

[x] Scoop Conlon, “Character Actors Come into Their Own After Long, Hard Struggle on Silver Screen,” San Francisco Chronicle, June 18, 1922, D1.

[xi] Conlon, “Character Actors Come into Their Own After Long, Hard Struggle on Silver Screen,” D1; “Actors and Stars,” The New York Times, April 25, 1920, X4; “Thirty Years a Trooper,” F5.

[xii] Theodore Roberts, “The Happy Lot of the Character Actor,” Photoplay-Journal, June, 1920, 22.

[xiii] Theodore Roberts, “The Happy Lot of the Character Actor,” Photoplay-Journal, June, 1920, 22.

[xiv] Eunic Marshall, “Grand Larceny: Anent the gentle art of stealing the picture,” Screenland, October, 1923, 40.

[xv] William Foster Elliott, “The Character Actor’s Boom: Claude Gillingwater Talks on Recent Developments,” The Los Angeles Times, June 11, 1922, III35.

[xvi] Mary Weisse, “Guy Kibbe’s Case” in “Fan Mail,” Hollywood, August, 1936, 16; “Here’s One Fat Man Somebody Loves,” Photoplay, January, 1935, 47; Larry Reid “Accidentally Funny,” Movie Classic, December, 1936, 77; Carlisle Jones, “Picture Stealer No. 1,” Screenland, August, 1936, 88; Cyril Vandour, “He Supplies the Background,” Photoplay, April, 1938, 33; Fanya Graham, “Man Behind the Medals,” Picture Play, Oct, 1934, 29; Jones, “Picture Stealer No. 1,” 58, Hamilton, “Roundup of Characters,” 21; Gladys Hall, “Average But Wonderful: A grand story about a great actor, Walter Connolly,” Modern Screen, December, 1934, 37; Jones, “Picture Stealer No. 1,” 88; Hamilton, “Roundup of Characters,” 20; Fanya Graham, “Man Behind the Medals,” Picture Play, Oct, 1934, 29.

[xvii] Gladys Hall, “Average But Wonderful: A grand story about a great actor, Walter Connolly,” Modern Screen, December, 1934, 37.

[xviii] “The Most Dangerous Men in Hollywood: Thumb-nail stories on the screen’s worst scene stealers,” Hollywood, October, 1937: 38-39.

[xix] “Screenland Honor Page,” Screenland, November, 1936, 6; Larry Reid, “Accidentally Funny,” Movie Classic, Dec, 1936, 77; Reid, “Accidentally Funny,” 77; Fanya Graham, “Man Behind the Medals,” Picture Play, Oct, 1934, 29; Maude Cheatham, “For Laughing Purposes,” Silver Screen, September, 1937, 54; Ralph Wotherspoon, “Edward Everett Horton” in “What do You Think? Letters from our Readers,” Picturegoers, April, 1946, 14; Judith Ann Ice, “These Charming Thieves: Insight into the lives of active players you read little about,” Picture Play, June, 1934, 60.

[xx] Cynthia Baron, “Stage Actors and Modern Acting Methods Move to Hollywood in the 1930s,” Cinémas, 25:1, 2014, 109-129; Roberta E. Pearson, Eloquent Gestures: The Transformation of Performance Style in the Griffith Biograph Films (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1992).

[xxi] Cyril Vandour, “He Supplies the Background,” Photoplay, April, 1938, 33.

[xxii] It is worth noting that there are occasional examples of these expressions being used in a similar context already in the 1920s. However, these types of articles appear sparingly in the early 1920s and it is only towards the end of the decade and much more so in the early 1930s that a trend begins to emerge.

[xxiii] The expression “stealing someone’s thunder” itself dates back to theatrical traditions of the early 18th century. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the term goes back to an utterance made by the English dramatist John Dennis, whose method for simulating thunder on stage was “stolen” and supposedly used more successfully in someone else’s play. See: “To steal (someone’s) thunder,” Oxford English Dictionary, (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000).

[xxiv] See e.g.: C. L. “Occupation – Picture Stealer.” Picturegoer, July, 1943; “Special Art Section: Scene Stealers! Pat and Jo – by request,” Screenland, May, 1936; Dwight Evans, “An Open Letter to Jack Oakie,” Screenland, February, 1941; Herbert Cruikshank, “Forty Thieves of Hollywood,” Modern Screen, May, 1931; Judith Ann Ice, “These Charming Thieves: Insight into the lives of active players you read little about,” Picture Play, June, 1934, 31; Shelia Graham, “Piracy on Film Seas Involves Notables,” LA Times, September 1, 1936, 14; M.A.C. “Scene Stealer!” Picturegoer, November, 1943, 11.

[xxv] Mack Hughes, “Tricks of the Trade,” Modern Screen, Sep, 1937, 10; Hughes, “Tricks of the Trade,” 10; Review of The Flame Within in “Reviews,” Modern Screen, August, 1935, 6; Samuel Richard Mook, “Empty Honors: Scene stealers are given their due, but their artistic thefts bring them little,” Picture Play, February, 1933, 40.

[xxvi] “The Most Dangerous Men in Hollywood: Thumb-nail stories on the screen’s worst scene stealers,” Hollywood, October, 1937: 38-39

[xxvii] Katherine Alberts, “Caught with the Goods,” Photoplay, April, 1932, 37.

[xxviii] “Picture ’Pirates’,” Picturegoer, August, 1932, 16; Paula Berc, “Our Eugenes Off to Una,” in “Movie Classic’s Letter Page,” Movie Classic, December, 1931, 8; Ed Sullivan, “Looking at Hollywood: Scene Stealers,” Chicago Daily Tribune, August 19, 1939, 9; Georges Kay, “Not Guilty!”, Picture Play, January, 1933, 22; Georges Kay, “Not Guilty!”, 22.

[xxix] Ed Sullivan, “Looking at Hollywood: Scene Stealers,” Chicago Daily Tribune, August 19, 1939, 9.

[xxx] Herbert Cruikshank, “Forty Thieves of Hollywood,” Modern Screen, May, 1931, 46.

[xxxi] Ed Sullivan, “Picture Stealers Spotted,” Silver Screen, November, 1938, 76.

[xxxii] Patricia Keats, “The Picture Savers: Edward Everett Horton, Henry Armetta, Ned Sparks,” Silver Screen, March, 1935, 32.

[xxxiii] A. H. Giebler, “The Supporting Cast in a Movie Film,” The Ogden Standard, Jan 19, 1918: no page number.


Linn Lönroth is a PhD student in Cinema Studies at Stockholm University in Sweden. Her dissertation is an archival study into the histories of character actors in Hollywood during the classical era. In addition to exploring the popular discourse and fan culture that emerged around these actors, the thesis examines how the industry defined, typecast, employed, credited and promoted their non-starring actors during this period.


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