Charles Winninger

Active - 1924 - 1960  |   Born - May 26, 1884   |   Died - Jan 27, 1969   |   Genres - Comedy, Musical, Romance, Drama

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Biography by Hal Erickson

Born with show business in his blood, Charles Winninger was nine years old when he joined his parents' vaudeville act, the Winninger Family Novelty Company. The troupe appeared at the Chicago World's Fair of 1893, then spent the next sixteen years touring the provinces. Going out as a "single" in 1909, Winninger trod the boards as a monologist, dialectician, singer, dancer, dramatic actor and master of ceremonies. He made his Broadway debut as a German comic in 1912's Yankee Girl Company. Three years later, he launched his film career at the L-KO comedy studios. The character-actor phase of his Hollywood years began in 1924, though at the time he was still more committed to the stage than film. In 1927, he scored one of his biggest Broadway successes as Cap'n Andy in Showboat, a role he repeated with gusto in the 1936 film version. Except for occasional Dutch-comic turns in such films as Soup to Nuts (1930) and Friendly Enemies (1945) Winninger was generally seen in talkies in "foxy papa" or roguish-reprobate roles. His own favorite screen part was Deanna Durbin's roving-eyed millionaire father in Three Smart Girls (1936) and its three sequels. Winninger's performance as the drink-sodden, grudge-bearing general practitioner in Nothing Sacred (1937) is perhaps his finest cinematic hour, with his portrayal of Iowa farmer Abel Frake in State Fair (1945) running a close second. Usually billed at the top of the supporting cast list, Winninger was afforded a rare starring role as Judge Priest in John Ford's wonderful The Sun Shines Bright (1953). On TV, Winninger co-starred in the 1956 sitcom The Charles Farrell Show as Farrell's dad, and guested as Fred Mertz' down-and-out vaudeville partner in the "Mertz and Kurtz" episode of I Love Lucy. Charles Winninger was at one time married to Broadway favorite Blanche Ring, meaning that he was briefly the brother-in-law of silent screen star Thomas Meighan and comedienne Charlotte Greenwood.

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