• 8 April 1887
  •  Cincinnati, Ohio, USA

Walter Connolly


The name may have been forgotten, especially today (seven decades later), but the portly, apoplectic, exasperated figure on the 1930s screen wasn't. While his film career, save a couple of silents, lasted a paltry seven years (1932-1939), character actor Walter Connolly certainly ran the distance. While some film historians complain that a number of his performances were annoying or overbaked, he was for the most part applauded for his zesty contributions to a number of comedy classics. Frank Capra's Lady for a Day (1933), Broadway Bill (1934) and It Happened One Night (1934), not to mention the Carole Lombard/Fredric March screwball farce Nothing Sacred (1937) as news reporter March's hot-headed editor boss are sure-fire examples. The Cincinnati, Ohio native was born on April 8, 1887 and schooled there. The son of the head of the Western Union relay office, he attended St. Xavier College and the University of Dublin in Ireland before making his New York debut in 1910 in an outdoor presentation of "As You Like It". For the next year or so he was a member of E.H. Sothern's touring company and played supporting roles in a number of Shakespearean shows on the road. After a few silent pictures left him unimpressed with film-making, he turned to the Broadway stage in the 1920s and scored quite well. Somewhat short and tubby, it was not difficult for the jowly, mustachioed actor to seize laughs and he found his share in such outings as "The Talking Parrot" (1923), "Applesauce" (1925), "The Springboard" (1927), "The Happy Husband" (1928), "Stepping Out" (1929), "Your Uncle Dudley" (1930), "Anatol" (1931), "Six Characters in Search of an Author" (1931), "The Good Fairy" (1932) and "The Late Christopher Bean" (1932). With his talents as a stage farceur firmly established, it was time to make a second attempt at a film career and Hollywood (specifically, Columbia) wisely opened their doors to him. Interestingly, his debut in a full-length talking picture came at age 45 in the form of a drama, Washington Merry-Go-Round (1932), where he was third-billed as a rather benign senator. For the next seven years Connolly, often playing older than he really was, could be found everywhere giving good fluster to the greatest and glossiest of stars -- Janet Gaynor, Carole Lombard, Clark Gable, Jean Harlow, Myrna Loy, Paul Muni, Spencer Tracy, and Ginger Rogers, among hordes of others. Every now and then he was asked to hold up a film, as with his leading roles in the drama Whom the Gods Destroy (1934), the Hecht/MacArthur comedy/drama Soak the Rich (1936), and the whodunnits Father Brown, Detective (1934) (as the title priest/gumshoe) and The League of Frightened Men (1937) (as supersleuth Nero Wolfe). Connolly's archetypal fuming was on full display in the comedies She Couldn't Take It (1935) with George Raft and Joan Bennett and Fifth Avenue Girl (1939) with Ginger Rogers. His last role was as the great composer himself in the highly fictional The Great Victor Herbert (1939), although it wasn't the leading role. Connolly married actress Nedda Harrigan in 1920. The two appeared together in the Broadway comedies "Treat 'Em Rough" (1926) and "Merry Andrew" (1929). They had one daughter, actress Ann Connolly (1924-2006), who also appeared on stage and played the grownup Wendy in the 'Mary Martin' /Cyril Ritchard Broadway production of "Peter Pan" in 1954. Ironically, Connolly, whose obesity was probably a contributing factor to his fatal stroke suffered on May 28, 1940, received his final divorce decree on the day he died. He was only 53.