The Sunday Intertitle: George K. American

THE BOOB (1926) is a slice of Americana — a product only available in slices, it seems. You never see a whole, unsliced one, even in the work of Norman Rockwell.

We open on a swing, where a city slicker seduces a simple she-bumpkin. Director William Wellman fixes his camera to the swing, so he can frame the couple rock-steady while the bucolic scene behind them lurches seasickeningly up and down. Grand!

George K. Arthur had the damnedest career. I can’t make him out. He first appeared on my radar as star and putative backer of Josef Von Sternberg’s debut film, THE SALVATION HUNTERS. He offered JVS a budget of $$60,000 to make a film that would give him a starring role. Then, according to the director (and I’ve been unable to ascertain how honest the memoir Fun In a Chinese Laundry is, but I’ve pinpointed no definite lies), filming was begun using available locations and cheap talent, and GKA tearfully confessed that the 60K didn’t exist. Jo ploughed on regardless with his own savings, and the film made a name for him. (JVS had an indomitable, triumph-over-adversity side as well as a knack for making everyone hate him: part Horatio Alger, part Alger Hiss.)

It no doubt boosted George’s profile too, though he’d already played some big parts, going by the IMDb (he OUGHT to have had $60,000).

In THE BOOB, Englishman George (the son of a traveling salesman and a department store product demonstrator, so he may have had the right nature and nurture to pull the con on JVS) plays an American yokel, with much pasty-faced gurning. I’m reminded unpleasantly of El Brendel, though here the grimace supplants the smirk.

For the next ten years or so, GKA alternated between biggish supporting roles and uncredited bit parts. He departs Hollywood, or at least his credits die out, in 1935.

But GKA will resurface, in his native England, as producer for Wendy Toye’s excellent short films THE STRANGER LEFT NO CARD (1952) and ON THE TWELFTH DAY (1955), and also, uncredited, in the same capacity on Jack Clayton’s THE BESPOKE OVERCOAT (1955), thus kickstarting two more major cinematic careers, whatever his role in Von Sternberg’s origin story.

So I salute you, George K. Arthur! And your little dog, too.

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6 Responses to “The Sunday Intertitle: George K. American”

  1. Mark Fuller Says:

    The prequel to your tale is as interesting …..if it can be ratified; I understand GKA left some unpublished memoirs somewhere. He started as a very good juvenile comedy lead in the UK in the early 20s, particularly noticed in Harold Shaw’s HG Wells-based films Kipps and Wheels Of Chance; GKAs performance in the former elicited approval from Chaplin, who saw it at a preview with Wells. AD on the film, according to reliable sources was a young American who in anti-German post WW1 Britain, called himself Joe Stern. You won’t find that in Chinese Laundry either….but I say that if you watch those Shaw films you see usage of landscape that would influence a young man wanting to learn.
    So when GKA is lured to Hollywood isn’t it natural that he would get together with the only person in Hollywood he knew ??? And what if it was GKA that provides the link between Chaplin and Von when Charlie wanted to showcase his beloved Edna in a dramatic role ???….but that’s MY speculation.

  2. It all makes sense!

    Sternberg had some story about bribing Chaplin’s projectionist to screen The Salvation Hunters when the scheduled film failed to show up, but GKA may have been the link who made that possible. Chaplin then poached Georgia Hale from the film for The Gold Rush (and nearly put her in City Lights). At any rate, Chaplin promoted Salvation Hunters to the studios and hired JVS on the strength of it, also getting him a job with Pickford which ended badly.

    Clive Brook also talks about JVS working as an extra on a British film with him, shot on location. One day JVS, looking in a hand mirror, asked, “Which is more repulsive, with the mustache or without?”

    “Why do you want to look repulsive?”

    “If they hate you, at least they remember you?”

  3. bensondonald Says:

    Saw “The Boob” on TCM; struck me as one of those generic comedies with a leading man instead of a funny man. Joan Crawford as a sexy undercover cop promises some surprises, but one waits in vain for the movie to become funnier or more interesting.

    Harold Lloyd certainly milked sympathy as a seemingly normal underdog hero. But his gags and story construction were better and his character more sharply defined than the titular boob here.

    The kind of bland, safe comedies I’d come to associate with the 50s, fraught with interchangeably pleasant leading men, blandly pretty heroines and shampoo ad femme fatales, were a big part of the business even in the silent era. Only some of them Had Faces Then; we forgot the rest existed until places like TCM disinterred their movies.

  4. Mark Fuller Says:

    Do seek out that 1922 Kipps, or Wheels Of Chance; BFI have both, but not yet on BFIplayer. Kipps is a contender for best British silent, and plays more like a 1928 film.

  5. Fascinating — I will!

    Agree that GKA seems more suited to light leading man roles than broader comedy, but that maybe just be this one part that doesn’t fit. Harold Lloyd used situations to pile adversity on his hero, but he never asked for sympathy with facial mugging the way Arthur immediately does here. It leaves no room for audience response.

  6. Mark Fuller Says:

    Yes, he is nowhere near as broad in either Kipps or Wheels Of Chance. And now you mention him, what inspired casting Harold Lloyd would have been as Kipps…..it’s that same persona, a lowly lad trying to self-improve in life but eventually realising that the best thing his life can have is the hometown girl he sort-of left behind….so goes back to get her.
    Good luck in getting to see it. I think you will be utterly charmed….I was.

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