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Bess Flowers, and all those extras

Posted: Fri Jan 12, 2018 7:23 pm
by Phillyrich
I recently read that Bess Flowers appeared in over 350 Hollywood films, including 23 nominated for best picture. She had almost as many film appearances as Lon Chaney had faces!

She rarely had a talking part, though. I guess she was called a "dress extra" for that reason.

I wonder how many film buffs here are fans of the "extras," who appear again and again in films but rarely have a
substantial part. Do you have any favorite extras who have interesting back stories themselves?

Re: Bess Flowers, and all those extras

Posted: Fri Jan 12, 2018 11:01 pm
by bradleyem
Larry Steers. Distinguished-looking, mustached, silver-haired gentleman. Worked constantly. Was more likely to have small speaking roles early on (meaning early sound days).

Re: Bess Flowers, and all those extras

Posted: Sat Jan 13, 2018 6:57 am
by R Michael Pyle
Phillyrich wrote:I recently read that Bess Flowers appeared in over 350 Hollywood films, including 23 nominated for best picture. She had almost as many film appearances as Lon Chaney had faces!

She rarely had a talking part, though. I guess she was called a "dress extra" for that reason.

I wonder how many film buffs here are fans of the "extras," who appear again and again in films but rarely have a
substantial part. Do you have any favorite extras who have interesting back stories themselves?
Actually, Bess Flowers has 810 film appearances credited at IMDb alone, and that's just feature films! She has 41 credits in short films, too. Plus, TV, etc. She's fun to spot. It seems to me that if I watch a film from the 40's or 50's I can't miss her; she seems to be in nearly all of them.

As for extras I look for, it's mainly with "B" Westerns. I'm always amazed at how many of these films Lafe McKee appeared in. As for other films, again mainly Westerns, one man who seems to show up so many times is Earl Dwire, although he appears in countless Westerns as the main bad guy, too.

Re: Bess Flowers, and all those extras

Posted: Sat Jan 13, 2018 3:15 pm
by Wm. Charles Morrow
I always enjoy spotting Leo White, former Chaplin colleague at Essanay and Mutual, who appears in scores of movies of the '30s and '40s. He plays waiters, hotel managers, floorwalkers, small time crooks, etc. He's practically the male Bess Flowers.

A couple of years ago I revisited the Bette Davis vehicle Marked Woman (1937). There's a scene where the assembled staff of a nightclub is listening to an impromptu speech delivered by the new owner, and the camera slowly pans across their faces. I thought to myself: "I bet Leo is going to turn up in that crowd," and presto -- he did!

Re: Bess Flowers, and all those extras

Posted: Sun Jan 14, 2018 3:37 pm
by Brooksie
There's an insightful section in David Niven's The Moon's A Balloon about the hierarchy of the extras. He claimed that some were offered larger roles but declined, preferring the predictability of work as a background player. Looking at the filmography of someone like Stuart Hall (more than 150 roles over four-odd decades, most of them uncredited), you can actually believe him.

Almost as interesting to me is the phenomenon of stand-ins. I can't imagine it being a very fulfilling career path, though you do sometimes come across stories of stars who became long-time friends of their regular stand-in or stuntperson.

Re: Bess Flowers, and all those extras

Posted: Sun Jan 14, 2018 7:55 pm
by FrankFay
Brooksie wrote:There's an insightful section in David Niven's The Moon's A Balloon about the hierarchy of the extras. He claimed that some were offered larger roles but declined, preferring the predictability of work as a background player. .
Bess Flowers actually had a crack at being a featured player. She gets a credited role in IRENE and a substantial part in LINDA- and particularly in the later you can see that while she looks fabulous she just doesn't have "it"

I read an early 30's article on extras, and it said that the top earners had to put effort and quite a bit of money into their job- you were more likely to be hired ad a dress extra if you showed up on set already costumed, and to be featured if you were very well dressed.

Re: Bess Flowers, and all those extras

Posted: Sun Jan 14, 2018 8:59 pm
by Wm. Charles Morrow
FrankFay wrote:
Brooksie wrote:There's an insightful section in David Niven's The Moon's A Balloon about the hierarchy of the extras. He claimed that some were offered larger roles but declined, preferring the predictability of work as a background player. .
Bess Flowers actually had a crack at being a featured player. She gets a credited role in IRENE and a substantial part in LINDA- and particularly in the latter you can see that while she looks fabulous she just doesn't have "it"
I saw Linda a couple of years ago and liked it a lot -- and I enjoyed seeing Bess Flowers in an actual role -- but I think her real problem was her height. In Linda I noticed that she towered over Helen Foster. That worked for their roles, as Foster was supposed to be a teenager and Flowers was her teacher, but how could she play opposite the leading men of the day? With a few obvious exceptions (Gary Cooper, Joel McCrea, etc.) most of the guys were on the short side. And it would've been a challenge to play the leading lady's sidekick when she's a head taller, or more, than most of the ladies.

Re: Bess Flowers, and all those extras

Posted: Sun Jan 14, 2018 9:03 pm
by Dean Thompson
This performer may not count since she played several leading roles early on, but—Margaret Mann. Some fifty years ago I bawled my eyes out when she was threatened with being sent to the poor farm in Helping Grandma, and the sight of her sweet, suffering face in countless thirties films has made me well up ever since. The last time I saw Gone With the Wind and recognized her as the hospital nurse weepily taking down a letter--oh brother, that was it.

However!—when she turned up on the Late Late Show as a nun cheering at the top of her lungs(!) in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, my eyebrows hit my hairline. Doubtless there are other Happy Margaret cameos waiting to be discovered, but I’m not sure if my heart will stand the shock.

Re: Bess Flowers, and all those extras

Posted: Mon Jan 15, 2018 1:49 am
by FrankFay
Wm. Charles Morrow wrote:
I saw Linda a couple of years ago and liked it a lot -- and I enjoyed seeing Bess Flowers in an actual role -- but I think her real problem was her height. In Linda I noticed that she towered over Helen Foster. That worked for their roles, as Foster was supposed to be a teenager and Flowers was her teacher, but how could she play opposite the leading men of the day? With a few obvious exceptions (Gary Cooper, Joel McCrea, etc.) most of the guys were on the short side. And it would've been a challenge to play the leading lady's sidekick when she's a head taller, or more, than most of the ladies.
Definitely true- she'd have had to be a character actress to pull that off- like Charlotte Greenwood. Bess's height did help her in crowd scenes though

Re: Bess Flowers, and all those extras

Posted: Mon Jan 15, 2018 6:58 pm
by Ray Faiola
Here are some of my favorite extras:

MAJOR SAM HARRIS. Ubitquitous in tails.
BROOKS BENEDICT. Former name player became party regular, occasionally with lines.
JEFFREY SAYRE Croupier par excellence!
JIM THORPE All-American Extra!
FRANK MILLS - Could double for W.C. Fields but with black hair
CHARLES SULLIVAN - Henchman or cabbie, a reliable Irishman
BUD GEARY - bit player became a serial baddie
SPEC O'DONNELL - a silent comedy kid but went to the background in talkies (notable exceptions Angels with Dirty Faces and Rhapsody in Blue)
CYRIL RING - He had "parts" in Coconuts and Barber Shop but soon was relegated to the party circuit.
and, of course, ELINOR VANDERVEER. As delightful was Bess, Elinor was pained. But we loved her.

Re: Bess Flowers, and all those extras

Posted: Tue Jan 16, 2018 5:47 pm
by Harlowgold
I was delighted to see Constance Purdy had a couple of lines in RINGS ON HER FINGERS (1942) which I saw this weekend, she is almost always unbilled and usually a wordless extra. She always reminds me of the Queen of Hearts from Alice in Wonderland.Image

Re: Bess Flowers, and all those extras

Posted: Wed Jan 17, 2018 11:27 am
by Robert Moulton
Ray Faiola wrote:Here are some of my favorite extras:

FRANK MILLS - Could double for W.C. Fields but with black hair
Wow, spot on about Frank Mills. That hadn't registered with me before.

Re: Bess Flowers, and all those extras

Posted: Wed Jan 17, 2018 1:34 pm
by earlytalkiebuffRob
FrankFay wrote:
Wm. Charles Morrow wrote:
I saw Linda a couple of years ago and liked it a lot -- and I enjoyed seeing Bess Flowers in an actual role -- but I think her real problem was her height. In Linda I noticed that she towered over Helen Foster. That worked for their roles, as Foster was supposed to be a teenager and Flowers was her teacher, but how could she play opposite the leading men of the day? With a few obvious exceptions (Gary Cooper, Joel McCrea, etc.) most of the guys were on the short side. And it would've been a challenge to play the leading lady's sidekick when she's a head taller, or more, than most of the ladies.
Definitely true- she'd have had to be a character actress to pull that off- like Charlotte Greenwood. Bess's height did help her in crowd scenes though
And she is credited in the opening titles...

Re: Bess Flowers, and all those extras

Posted: Wed Jan 17, 2018 1:55 pm
by earlytalkiebuffRob
Mildred Dixon, the Louise Brooks lookalike...

Re: Bess Flowers, and all those extras

Posted: Thu Jan 18, 2018 10:02 am
by Ray Faiola
By the way, I remember seeing one Andy Griffith Show episode with Bess Flowers, Major Sam Harris, and Spec O'Donnell.