Jack Norton

Active - 1923 - 1948  |   Born - Sep 2, 1889   |   Died - Oct 15, 1958   |   Genres - Comedy, Musical, Romance

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Biography by Hal Erickson

A confirmed teetotaller, mustachioed American actor Jack Norton nonetheless earned cinematic immortality for his innumerable film appearances as a comic drunk. A veteran vaudevillian - he appeared in a comedy act with his wife Lillian - and stage performer, Norton entered films in 1934, often playing stone-cold sober characters; in one Leon Errol two-reeler, One Too Many, he was a stern nightcourt judge sentencing Errol on a charge of public inebriation! From Cockeyed Cavaliers (1934) onward, however, the Jack Norton that audiences loved began staggering his way from one film to another; it seemed for a while that no film could have a scene in a nightclub or salloon without Norton, three sheets to the wind and in top hat and tails, leaning precariously against the bar. To perfect his act, Norton would follow genuine drunks for several city blocks, memorizing each nuance of movement; to avoid becoming too involved in his roles, the actor drank only ginger ale and bicarbonate of soda. Though his appearances as a drunk could fill a book in themselves, Norton could occasionally be seen sober, notably in You Belong to Me (1940), The Fleet's In (1941) and Harold Lloyd's Sin of Harold Diddlebock (1946); he also "took the pledge" in such short comedies as Our Gang's The Awful Tooth (1938), Andy Clyde's Heather and Yon (1944) and the Three Stooges' Rhythm and Weep (1946). One of Norton's oddest roles was as a detective in the Charlie Chan thriller Shadows over Chinatown (1947), in which he went undercover by pretending to be a souse. Retiring from films in 1948 due to illness, Norton occasionally appeared on live TV in the early '50s. Jack Norton's final appearance would have been in a 1955 episode of Jackie Gleason's The Honeymooners, but age and infirmity had so overwhelmed him that he was literally written out of the show as it was being filmed - though Jackie Gleason saw to it that Norton was paid fully for the performance he was ready, willing, but unable to give.

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