December 9, 2015

Unforgettable: Revisited

About five years ago I started profiling different character actors that I was particularly fascinated with. It was a fun project, but I quickly stopped after a few entries.

I decided to pick the idea back up again and write some new thoughts about my favorite performers.

I've posted these articles on my Facebook and Instagram pages, but decided to share them here, as well. The first few entries originally appeared on my blog back in 2010, but have been tweaked and updated slightly.

Glenn Shadix (1952-2010) 

I first noticed Glenn (as I'm sure most people did) in Tim Burton's Beetlejuice (1988), where he played Otho, the snotty interior designer. It was a funny and memorable role and he got to deliver some great lines. The famous quote, "Don't mind her. She's still upset because somebody dropped a house on her sister", was his own and he was thrilled that Burton let him use it in the famous "Day-O" dinner scene.

Soon after, I began seeing him in more films, like his bits in Heathers (1989), Meet the Applegates (1991), Sleepwalkers (1992) and his second most well-known role, as Associate Bob in Demolition Man (1993). I loved his role in this film - he was like an outrageous Buddha with his flowing, heavy robes and that sneaky, smarmy gleam in his eye. It reminded me of a 1960s Batman villain. In addition to numerous voice over roles in a wide variety of animated series - and, most notably, in his third most famous role, the voice of The Mayor in The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993) - Glenn was also an amazing photographer and overall champion and supporter of the arts.

Rafaela Ottiano (1888-1942)

The second I saw this actress appear in Tod Browning's impressive The Devil-Doll (1936), I fell hopelessly in love. Playing Malita, the damaged assistant to Lionel Barrymore's revenge-seeking, escaped convict Paul Lavond (who, in his effort to elude the authorities, disguises himself as an old woman), Ottiano's first appearance is a bit startling. Sporting a shock of unruly hair that includes an artistically arranged white streak (perhaps inspired by the Bride of Frankenstein?) and hobbling around on one crutch, I was reminded of two current actresses that I also admired - Grace Zabriskie and Diane Salinger.

Perhaps a bit too stylized in an attempt to let the viewer know that she was the villain of the piece, her performance is fun and her facial reactions and wild eyes are put to great effect in a truly suspenseful scene where Lavond and Malita try to hide some stolen jewelry from a police officer. Plus Ottiano's ultimate intentions and madness come through when she declares, "We'll make the whole WORLD small!" - referring to Lavond's scheme of shrinking down his victims using a serum developed by Malita's deceased scientist husband.

After seeing her in this role, I looked into other films that she had appeared in and was surprised to see that she had quite the interesting career which further endeared me to her. A stage actress who eventually played opposite Mae West in the hit Broadway play, "Diamond Lil" (which led to the two actresses reprising their roles for the 1933 film version, She Done Him Wrong), another notable role for her was as Greta Garbo's maid in Grand Hotel (1932).

A line from Ottiano's Wikipedia entry made me laugh; "Throughout the 1930s, Rafaela Ottiano would often specialize in roles as sinister, malevolent, or spiteful women."

This, of course, means I need to see every single film she has ever been in.

Ernest Thesiger (1879-1961) 
I recently watched James Whale's 1932 film, The Old Dark House and was immediately taken by the appearance of actor Ernest Thesiger who played Horace Femm, an incredibly effeminate and grotesque old man who's amazing, emaciated skull-like face was used perfectly in his role as the snotty and nervous host to a group of stranded motorists. His delivery of dialogue was impeccable - try not to smile when he articulates the line, "Have a potato".

Thesiger would reunite with director Whale for his most notorious role - that of Dr. Septimus Pretorius (best name ever?) in Bride of Frankenstein (1935).

All accounts appear to indicate that Ernest was as much a colorful character in real life as he was on film and stage. Openly gay, Thesiger was originally intent on being an artist before focusing on acting. He continued to paint watercolor throughout his life and also enjoyed needlepoint. So much so that he even wrote a book called Adventures in Embroidery.

Unusual and clearly fabulous, Ernest Thesiger was one of a kind...and definitely ahead of his time.

Check out the incredibly well-researched ernestthesiger.org for lots of great info and photography.

Diana Browne (?-?)

Probably THE most obscure actress I've ever been interested in. Basket Case (1982) features what is most likely the only role she has ever played on screen. Diana plays the evil Dr. Judith Kutter, a ruthless veterinarian who separates an unfortunate set of conjoined twins. They are on a mission of revenge and she is not pleased about it.

The thing that immediately drew me to her was her wacky, Ruth Buzzi-on-steroids appearance and her persistent nastiness. Plus she meets a memorable demise at the hands of the monstrous Belial in a truly unforgettable example of amazing, low-budget special effects makeup.

I asked director Frank Henenlotter about her, asking "Who was that incredible lady?" Turns out she was a friend of a friend and he ultimately lost touch with her. What a shame. I would have loved to have seen her in other films. I could have seen her playing parts like The Evil Judge, The Evil High School Principal or The Evil Department of Motor Vehicles Lady.