For nearly two decades in Hollywood, Scottish-born actor Donald Meek lived up to his name by portraying a series of tremulous, shaky-voiced sycophants and milquetoasts -- though he was equally effective (if not more so) as nail-hard businessmen, autocratic schoolmasters, stern judges, compassionate doctors, small-town Babbitts, and at least one Nazi spy! An actor since the age of eight, Meek joined an acrobatic troupe, which brought him to America in his teens. At 18 Meek joined the American military and was sent to fight in the Spanish-American War. He contracted yellow fever, which caused him to lose his hair -- and in so doing, secured his future as a character actor. Meek made his film bow in 1928; in the early talkie era, he starred with John Hamilton in a series of New York-filmed short subjects based on the works of mystery writer S. S. Van Dyne. Relocating to Hollywood in 1933, Meek immediately found steady work in supporting roles. So popular did Meek become within the next five years that director Frank Capra, who'd never worked with the actor before, insisted that the gratuitous role of Mr. Poppins be specially written for Meek in the film version of You Can't Take It With You (1938) (oddly, this first association with Capra would be the last). Meek died in 1946, while working in director William Wellman's Magic Town; his completed footage remained in the film, though he was certainly conspicuous by his absence during most of the proceedings.
by Hal Erickson biography