Walter Catlett

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Mike Paradise
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Walter Catlett

Postby Mike Paradise » Wed Aug 28, 2013 4:25 pm

I'm trying to rundown some information on Walter Catlett, comedic actor and Woolsey impersonator. He actually spent two periods in film. A time in silent films during the teens, then a break, appearing on Broadway until 1929(?), and a return to film in talkies. Can anyone help me with dates, suggest a source for a filmography, or just recommend sources other than the obvious,i.e., Harrick, Moving Image Archive, etc. All donations gratefully accepted.

Richard Finegan
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Re: Walter Catlett

Postby Richard Finegan » Wed Aug 28, 2013 11:58 pm

One thing I find interesting about Walter Catlett (and maybe I'm the only one!) is that sometimes when he signed his autograph he would draw a cat face in the middle of his name Catlett. And he also wore a ring with that same cat face on it. Sometimes it can be seen in films when there is a clear enough close-up. I have a still of him holding a razor to his face in the 1939 Columbia short STATIC IN THE ATTIC in which the ring with the cat face can very clearly be seen.

Richard M Roberts
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Re: Walter Catlett

Postby Richard M Roberts » Thu Aug 29, 2013 1:46 am

Richard Finegan wrote:One thing I find interesting about Walter Catlett (and maybe I'm the only one!) is that sometimes when he signed his autograph he would draw a cat face in the middle of his name Catlett. And he also wore a ring with that same cat face on it. Sometimes it can be seen in films when there is a clear enough close-up. I have a still of him holding a razor to his face in the 1939 Columbia short STATIC IN THE ATTIC in which the ring with the cat face can very clearly be seen.



I just picked up a print of STATIC IN THE ATTIC, and you can indeed see the ring in some shots. Not a bad little Columbia Comedy directed by Charley Chase.


RICHARD M ROBERTS

Mike Paradise
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Re: Walter Catlett

Postby Mike Paradise » Thu Aug 29, 2013 3:38 pm

Catlett had somewhat of a catch phrase that he used from time to time, "Holy Cats!", when something startled him in a film. Can anyone else help us beat this cat thing to death? Please join in. What I am looking for is any unusual source material on comedian and catman, Walter Catlett. Anyone know of an archive that has any papers that may have been donated to a University library? I'm trying to find something that isn't on the internet exclusively about Catlett. If you google "Walter Catlett" you get things like a story about how he taught Katherine Hepburn how to use timing to sell the comedy lines in "Bringing Up Baby". Howard Hawks evidently hired him to do this. It's a good story, but it's mentioned in every other citation. I'm looking for something more substantial that helps define the guy's career in film or on stage. Any suggestions?

Richard M Roberts
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Re: Walter Catlett

Postby Richard M Roberts » Tue Sep 03, 2013 1:50 pm

Mike Paradise wrote:Catlett had somewhat of a catch phrase that he used from time to time, "Holy Cats!", when something startled him in a film. Can anyone else help us beat this cat thing to death? Please join in. What I am looking for is any unusual source material on comedian and catman, Walter Catlett. Anyone know of an archive that has any papers that may have been donated to a University library? I'm trying to find something that isn't on the internet exclusively about Catlett. If you google "Walter Catlett" you get things like a story about how he taught Katherine Hepburn how to use timing to sell the comedy lines in "Bringing Up Baby". Howard Hawks evidently hired him to do this. It's a good story, but it's mentioned in every other citation. I'm looking for something more substantial that helps define the guy's career in film or on stage. Any suggestions?




I don't believe there are any Walter Catlett papers housed anywhere, but I'm sure the New York Public Library would have a file on his theatrical career. He seemed to be a pretty quiet living fellow, worked steadily in character parts in films, did some radio, and I believe continued to work on the stage as well, but though he made the occasional two -reel comedy for Educational, RKO, Columbia, etc, he never seemed to click into a continuing series for any of them. This may have been his choice, due to other work, or not, I don't know. He died out at the Motion Picture Home in Woodland Hills and seems to have been well thought of by those who worked with him, at least those who mentioned him at all.

Catlett is indeed a comic deserving further study, but he isn't one on my current list for that sort of investigation.


RICHARD M ROBERTS

Eric Stott
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Re: Walter Catlett

Postby Eric Stott » Sun Sep 22, 2013 8:41 pm

I wouldn't call him a Woolsey Impersonator. They were two men with separate careers but similar styles. I'll grant that he may have copied Woolsey when he stepped into his part & was probably expected to. That could also be said for Joe E Brown and Bert Lahr.

Much as I love Woolsey I think Catlett is a far better actor. He could project many subtle grades of befuddlement, annoyance, pig-headedness, exasperation - and in any combination needed. His reactions were also superb.

Mike Paradise
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Re: Walter Catlett

Postby Mike Paradise » Wed Sep 25, 2013 10:42 am

Hey, Eric-
Just a little misguided sarcasm on my part about Catlett being a "Woolsey impersonator." It was actually the other way around. I quote Frank Cullen:
"(Woolsey) did get a job in upstate New York with a stock company whose star was comedian Walter Catlett. Walter took Bob under his wing and became his mentor and friend. Woolsey imitated Catlett's performance style and never escaped or tried to escape Walter's influence on his style. Indeed, Woolsey freely admitted as much. In turn, Walter was aware of the imitation but never resented it."
Vaudeville, Old & New: An Encyclopedia of Variety Performers in Vaudeville, Volume 1.

As far as Catlett being a better actor than Woolsey, you have my vote. I don't think it's a contest. If there is anything to add about the two men, Ed Watz is the closest thing I know to an expert on them. I would be interested to hear what he has to say.

Ed Watz
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Re: Walter Catlett

Postby Ed Watz » Wed Sep 25, 2013 2:34 pm

Thanks Mike for the heads-up. Frank Cullen paraphrased what I had researched and written concerning the professional relationship between Walter Catlett and Robert Woolsey in my book, WHEELER & WOOLSEY (McFarland & Company, 1994). Mr. Cullen included these remarks in a later, revised edition of his book; I hope that he acknowledged the source in his bibliography.

Bob Woolsey freely admitted that his stage & screen personality was based on Catlett's "brash braggart" characterization. And within Bob's studied technique he was an excellent musical comedy player - he could sing, dance, and move funny; he gave excellent delivery to his gag lines. Walter Catlett played that same type in his early films as on the stage. Catlett in talkies was initially in bigger demand than Woolsey. After Woolsey finished working on RIO RITA, RKO dropped his option, whereas the studio kept Bert Wheeler under contract and even planned to star him in a solo feature opposite Marie Dressler in late 1929. While Woolsey was unemployed for about six months, Catlett meanwhile was under contract and busy working in features at Fox.

After RIO RITA proved to be a tremendous hit, RKO reconsidered reteaming Wheeler with Woolsey for a sequel. But Woolsey was hired for considerably less money than Bert Wheeler; he was clearly considered less important. Bert Wheeler remarked years later that the studios had figured they could easily hire Catlett when needed but overlooked the fact that he was already under contract elsewhere.

Over the years Catlett proved to be a versatile and better actor than Woolsey but he lost the opportunity to become a major comedy player once Wheeler & Woolsey became RKO's biggest comedy stars later in 1930. Any time Catlett portrayed his original comic persona, moviegoers presumed HE was imitating Woolsey.
"Of course he smiled -- just like you and me." -- Harold Goodwin, on Buster Keaton (1976)

Louie Despres
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Re: Walter Catlett

Postby Louie Despres » Wed Sep 25, 2013 2:58 pm

Here's one which would be interesting to see. El Brendel and Walter Catlett teamed together in "Olsen's Big Moment" (1933).

Image

Eric Stott
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Re: Walter Catlett

Postby Eric Stott » Wed Sep 25, 2013 6:04 pm

Some time during an English tour (20's or earlier) Catlett stepped into the HMV studio and cut a record. I've seen a copy but have never heard it - and can't recall what it was!


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