The apotheosis of Canadian-born Berton Churchill's film career might well have been 1939's Stagecoach, in which he was cast to perfection as the outwardly "solid citizen" banker whose pompous bluster hides the fact that he's actually absconding with his depositors' funds. On Broadway since the turn of the century, Churchill dabbled in filmmaking throughout the 1920s, settling in Hollywood for good in the talkie era, appearing in as many as 25 pictures per year! Often seen as small-town big shots, Churchill proved an excellent foil for the homespun homilies of Will Rogers in such films as The County Chairman (1935); he was also effectively cast as Joan Blondell's furtive "sugar daddy" in Dames (1934). Though generally forgotten today, Churchill exerted a great deal of influence on other character actors of his ilk. Indeed, radio star Harold Peary admitted that he based much of his famous character "The Great Gildersleeve" on the pompous pretensions of Berton Churchill.
photo credit: Warner Brothers
by Hal Erickson biography