The actor who
famous as "Dagwood Bumstead" was born in
Corbin, Kentucky, on April 17, 1905. At the time, his father and
uncle were touring with a circus in an aerial act known as "The Flying
Silverlakes". His mother, Edith Goodwin, was an actress.
His parents later appeared in vaudeville in a skit called "Family
Affair" and spent years traveling with small shows that played
throughout the South and Southwest. Arthur and his sister,
Florence, became part of his parents' act in 1910.
children to Hollywood in 1917, hoping to
get them into movies. Arthur had already made his screen debut in
"Jack and the Beanstalk" (1917). He acted in Westerns and
eventually got a good part in the successful feature "Skinner's Dress
Suit" in 1925.
Pictures signed him
to a contract and changed his last
name. He was featured in their "Sweet Sixteen" series of
comedies. First National Pictures borrowed him to play the title
role in "Harold Teen" (1928) which was based on the popular comic-strip
[I'm going to interject here
this fun fact taken from a photo caption in this article: "When
Carl Laemmle, Sr. signed Arthur Lake to a contract with Universal
Pictures, he shortened his last name, explaining that Silverlake
sounded too Jewish." Of course, he wasn't. In fact, the
town in which Arthur Silverlake was born (Corbin, Kentucky) has been
accused of being extremely racist as no African-American has ever lived
there. Lots of stories have floated around about Corbin, Kentucky
since the 1800s. An interesting sidenote, this is also the town
Colonel Harlan Sanders started the Kentucky Fried Chicken chain and
where you can still go to the first ever KFC restaurant and museum.]
Shortly after RKO
Arthur became one of their contract
players. There he made "Dance Hall" (1929), a hit of the time,
and "Cheer Up and Smile" (1930), playing a part that had originally
been written for "Whispering" Jack Smith. His leading lady in it
was Dixie Lee, who had not yet married Bing Crosby. Arthur was
all set to play "Tol'able David", but at the last minute, his studio
refused to loan him. The late Richard Cromwell got the role, and
it made him a star. A few of Lake's other talkies were
"Indiscreet" (1931) with Gloria Swanson, "Silver Streak" (1934),
"Orchids to You" (1935), and "Topper" (1937).
free-lancing when he
heard that Columbia Pictures was looking
for someone to play "Dagwood Bumstead" in a series of low-budget films
to be based on the "Blondie" comic strip. Louella Parsons claimed
that she was the first person to suggest Arthur to studio head Arthur
Cohn. Although it is hard to imagine anyone else playing the
character, over two-dozen name actors were tested. Two who were
seriously considered were Eddie Quillan and the late Frank
Albertson. "But," Lake admits, "I had a couple of people rooting
for me named Marion Davies and William Randolph Hearst."
[Here I go again with another
fact taken from a photo caption from this article: "Arthur Lake
as Dagwood Bumstead has been called the greatest piece of casting in
the history of movies. Don Miller added the comment, 'A lot of
credit goes to Lake himself. Actually, he made Dagwood a bit
dumber than he was in the funnies and etched the characterizations more
broadly. The Blondie series has never received its due,
especially the first dozen entries. Production, direction, cast-
all were excellent."]
Lake had become
with the sons of the newspaper tycoon and
was a frequent guest at the beach house of Marion Davies, Hearst's
mistress. There, he met her niece, Patricia Van Cleve, whom he
later married at San Simeon. "Blondie" was syndicated by King
Features which was owned by Hearst.
share with you how Marion
loved Arthur Lake, I'm going to bring in this fact from a photo caption
from this article: "Marion Davies was Arthur Lake's aunt by
marriage. One evening Lake, his wife and Ms. Davies were at
Ciro's night club when Harry Cohn came over to their table. Cohn,
who was noted for his rudeness and gaucheries, was the head of Columbia
Pictures, which produced the "Blondie" pictures. 'Well, Marion,'
said Cohn 'thanks to me your nephew is now a star. What do you
think about that?' Without missing a beat, Marion Davies replied,
'You son of a bitch! Thanks to my nephew and the success of those
movies, your studio is still in business.'
Arthur Lake had
been on the
first picture "Blondie" (1938) for about a
week when Shirley Deane, the original actress playing the title role
was replaced by Penny Singleton. "That first gal was real good, I
thought," says Lake. "But when we looked at the rushes, she
seemed kind of mean. When she scolded Dagwood, there was a
harshness there that just wasn't right. Now when Penny would get
mad at me, it was kind of cute-mad."
Ms. Singleton and
the characters in all twenty-eight of the
features. They were also together on the radio show for the first
seven years of its twelve-year run. Lake did "Dagwood" all the
time it was on the air and for a brief time on TV.
Marion always spoke her mind,' said Lake recently. 'But
talking like that to Harry Cohn really had me scared. I kept
thinking he'd fire me because everyone around us heard what she said,
and some of them laughed out loud. But nothing ever came of it.']
[I'm going to interject here
some more fun facts taken from a photo caption from this article:
"Blondie began in 1939 over the CBS Radio Network and lasted for twelve
years. After seven seasons,
Patricia Van Cleve, the wife of
Arthur Lake and the niece of Marion Davies, replaced Penny
Singleton. THIS PORTION OF THE CAPTION IS
FULL OF INNACCURACIES. PLEASE CLICK HERE TO GET THE "REAL" SCOOP. For
broadcasts which had a studio audience, Lake
wore the same little, tight suit he used in the movies. He had
only to appear on the stage for the audiences to be convulsed with
doing other roles besides "Blondie".
Lake, however, was quite content and did very little else after the
series began. Lake says that he was sorry when the Blondie
pictures were discontinued after "Beware of Blondie" (1950). His
grandchildren and many of his friends still call him "Dagwood".
He never misses an installment of the comic strip, which is now drawn
by Dean Young, the son of the late Chic Young who created it.
The Lakes spend
most of their
time at their home on the ground of the
Thunderbird Country Club in Palm Desert, California. Their
next-door neighbor is silent star Billie Dove. Arthur runs into
Norris Goff, who played "Abner" of "Lum 'n Abner", on the golf course
several times a week. Their desert home contains many of the
things left to them by Marion Davies. Its walls are decorated
with the original drawings done by Henry Clive as covers for Hearst's
"American Weekly" magazine. Autographed photos in their living
room include General MacArthur, Lindbergh, and George Bernard Shaw.
Mrs. Lake was a
Star in 1940 and the daughter of Marion
Davies' sister, Rose. Throughout their marriage, she and Lake
have had a large house several doors away from Marion Davies' famed
beach house. Their son and his children now live there.
Their grandson, Arthur Lake IV, is a champion skateboard rider.
The Lake's daughter lives in Paris. Arthur and his wife have six
grandchildren and twelve dogs, the youngest of which is named "Baby
Lake hasn't heard
Simms, who played "Baby Dumpling", in many
years. He ran into the father of Marjorie Kent, who played
"Cookie", not long ago. "She's got a little 'Cookie' of her own
now," says Arthur.
[Because facts are fun, let me
in here with some more fun facts taken from a photo caption in this
article: "Penny Singleton and Arthur Lake always got along very
well and have kept in touch over the years. The two were reunited
in 1976 when they were starred in a Milwaukee production of "No, No,
Nanette". Ms. Singleton lives in New York. She is the
executive president of the American Guild of Variety Artists."]
Fan mail still
pours in for
"Dagwood" from around the world. He
delights in being recognized and often appears at benefits where he is
invariably presented with a "Dagwood" sandwich.
women at a party cut in while former
President Gerald Ford was dancing. "I was going to cut in on him,
too," says Arthur. "But I lost my nerve. He's a real good
sport, so the next time I'm going to do it. People would love to
see that- a President of the United States dancing with "Dagwood
Bumstead"! This statement was concluded with the famous "Dagwood"
laugh, which has been described as "a sound not unlike that heard at a
zoo around feeding time".
Arthur & Patricia Lake in
1977. This rare photo was
contributed by James P. McDonald. I apologize for the quality of
the scan, but it's the best I could make it come out. If I can
find a better quality version of this picture I'll replace this