Walter Catlett began his acting career in stock companies in his hometown of San Francisco. After attending St. Ignacious College, he reached New York in 1911 in the musical The Prince of Pilsen. Catlett's dithering comic gestures and air of perpetual confusion won him a legion of fans and admirers when he starred in several editions of The Ziegfeld Follies, and in the Ziegfeld-produced musical comedy Sally, in which he appeared for three years. Catlett made a handful of silent film appearances, but didn't catch on until the advent of talking pictures allowed moviegoers to see and hear his full comic repertoire. Usually sporting horn-rimmed spectacles or a slightly askew pince-nez, Catlett played dozens of bumbling petty crooks, pompous politicians and sleep-benumbed justices of the peace. Hired for a few days' work in Howard Hawks' Bringing Up Baby (1938), Catlett proved so hilarious in his portrayal of an easily befuddled small-town sheriff that his role was expanded, and he was retained off-screen to offer advice about comic timing to the film's star, Katharine Hepburn. In addition to his supporting appearances, Catlett starred in several 2-reel comedies, and was co-starred with his lifelong friend Raymond Walburn in the low-budget "Henry" series at Monogram. Busy until a few short years before his death, Walter Catlett appeared in such 1950s features as Davy Crockett and the River Pirates (1956), Friendly Persuasion (1956) and Beau James (1957) (as New York governor Al Smith).
by Hal Erickson biography