Nat Pendleton

Nathanial Greene Pendleton
August 9, 1895, Davenport, Iowa – October 12, 1967, San Diego, California

In my favorite, The Thin Man,  as Lieutenant John Guild…

…with Myrna Loy and William Powell as Nick and Nora Charles:

Nat Pendleton made over 100 movies in his career from the 1920s to the 1940s. Some I knew (Manhattan Melodrama), some I didn’t (Swing Your Lady) but I’ve recently re-watched everything I could find of his on Amazon and YouTube, along with some DVDs I had in my collection. It’s turned out to be a valuable, enjoyable lesson in the history of Hollywood films from the Golden Era and beyond. From pre-code to post-war, from silents to musicals, from the Marx Brothers to Dr. Kildare, Nat Pendleton’s career in the studio system took him through every major studio and many different genres.

I suppose I once took it for granted that Mr. Pendleton always played a version of the same character in every movie, a like-able, but not too bright policeman, gangster, assistant, etc. – he certainly played a lot of those. But, there were other roles too:

As the Mighty Goliath in At The Circus with the Marx Brothers. in 1939
As Sandow, with William Powell, in The Great Ziegfeld in 1936.

I point these two roles out because they’re a tiny nod, if only in costume, to Mr. Pendleton’s life before film…

…you see, he was a wrestler in Iowa.  A championship wrestler who won the silver medal at the 1920 Olympics in Antwerp, Belgium.

Deception was a significant movie for Pendleton because his wrestling experience helped him write it for Columbia Pictures. He also starred in it as wrestler Bucky O’Neill.  The 1932 film, also known as Cauliflower Alley, tells the story of an ex-football player turned wrestler. I’d love to find this one.

It was when he returned from Belgium that his Uncle Arthur (Johnson), a silent film actor, influenced him to become an actor in silent films too. His film career started with the 1924 silent, Hoosier Schoolmaster (if anyone has any idea where I can find this one, please let me know!) and went all the way to 1947 with his his last film, Scared to Death with Bela Lugosi. (I can verify that it was, indeed, scary).

I love spending time with Pendleton in these movies…

…like 1934’s The Defense Rests with Jean Arthur.  (It’s free to watch on YouTube!)…

…or 1940’s The Ghost Comes Home….

….or 1940’s Dr. Kildare’s Strange Case.

 

Hell-Fire Austin, also from 1932, was one of the films where Mr. Pendleton played a more significant role. Of all the films I’ve watched of his, this is the one in which he had the most screen time. I’m generally not a Western film lover, but I’ll watch this one again, just to see Nat Pendleton play Bouncer. It’s a perfect part for him. It’s less than an hour long, and it’s the oldest “buddy movie” I’ve ever seen. I loved it.

Rocky…Bouncer…Bucky…his character names are so fitting aren’t they?

So yes, it’s fair to say that Nat Pendleton played many rolls like Lt. Guild in the Thin Man, but it’s been more than worth it to explore the roles he played in his other films.  I’ve learned a lot about classic movies thanks to Mr. Pendleton: I saw my first Marx Brothers movie, I actually enjoyed a Western for the first time and I was introduced to a new-to-me series in Dr. Kildare.

I’m looking forward to some of the 80+ movies of his I haven’t watched yet!

Sources:
Iowa Wrestling Hall of Fame
American Film Institute – AFI
Wikipedia
Amazon

 


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