Truly a single-note man, American actor Arthur Lake spent most of his adult life portraying only one screen role: Dagwood Bumstead. The son of circus acrobats and the brother of character actress Florence Lake (famed for her ongoing portrayal of Mrs. Edgar Kennedy in nearly 100 two-reel comedies), Lake began his professional career as one of the "Fox Kiddies" in a series of silent-film takeoffs of famous fairy tales, featuring casts comprised completely of children. Lake graduated to a succession of collegiate and office boy roles in feature films, gaining a degree of stardom in the late 1920s and early 1930s after appearing in the title role of Harold Teen (1928). The actor's high-pitched voice and Mama's boy features were amusing for a while, but audiences became bored with Lake by 1934, and the actor found himself shunted to supporting parts and bits. An amusing role as a flustered bellboy in Topper (1937) rejuvenated his career, but Lake's comeback wouldn't be complete until Columbia Pictures cast him as woebegone suburbanite Dagwood Bumstead in Blondie (1938), based on Chic Young's internationally popular comic strip. The strip's characterizations were altered to fit the personalities of Lake and his costar Penny Singleton; in the films, Dagwood was the dope and Blondie the brains of the family, precisely the opposite of the comic-strip situation. A few scattered "straight" performances aside, Lake was nothing other than Dagwood in films from 1938 through 1950; he not only starred in 28 "Blondie" pictures, but repeated the role on radio and starred in an unsuccessful 1954 TV series based on the property. Not at all the blithering idiot that he played on screen, Lake was a sagacious businessman in real life, his wise investments increasing the fortune he'd already accumulated by playing Dagwood -- and also bolstering the moneys inherited by his socialite wife, Patricia Van Cleve. Though he often remarked that it would be wonderful to play Dagwood forever, Lake parted company with the role in the mid-1950s; when another Blondie TV series appeared briefly in 1968, it starred Will Hutchins. Appearing publicly only rarely in the 1960s and 1970s (usually in summer theatres and revivals of 1920s musicals like No, No Nanette), Lake retired before his 70th birthday, a far more prosperous and secure man than his alter ego Dagwood Bumstead -- who's still being fired regularly by boss Mr. Dithers in the funny papers - ever would be.
by Hal Erickson biography