Charles King

Active - 1925 - 1935  |   Born - Oct 31, 1889 in New York, NY  |   Died - Jan 11, 1944 in London, England  |   Genres - Comedy, Musical

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Charles King -- not to be confused with the Western actor Charles King (often referred to informally as Charles "Blackie" King) -- was the first song-and-dance man on Broadway to make it big in Hollywood. He started out in vaudeville and graduated to the Broadway stage in the early '20s, primarily as a song-and-dance man with a brash singing style and stage persona. He cultivated these attributes for years on stage during the 1920s, and also cut a few records, most notably in association with the 1927 theatrical production of Vincent Youmans' Hit the Deck, in which King introduced the song "Sometimes I'm Happy." These same qualities made him a natural for the screen when the movies learned to talk, and in 1928 he went out to Hollywood. Al Jolson had already become a screen star from The Jazz Singer in 1927, but he was already a major theater star -- King's break came in 1929 when MGM made its first all-talking picture, the musical The Broadway Melody. He was cast in the lead, and introduced the Freed-Brown title tune to the screen in the opening scene. It was King's manner and singing style that Gene Kelly sought to emulate in one part of Singin' in the Rain in 1952. Identified as the quintessential song-and-dance man, King was later featured by MGM in a specialty number in its extravaganza The Hollywood Revue; he sang "Happy Days Are Here Again" in the musical Chasing Rainbows, and starred in the movie Oh, Sailor Behave. His most memorable screen performance, however, was his rendition of "The Broadway Melody" in the movie of that title, a brisk live-for-the-camera performance in which the song's co-author, Nacio Herb Brown, is seen in the backing band playing piano, in the offices of a music publisher. King's star didn't last long in movies, however, and by 1931, with the decline in popularity of the initial wave of musicals, he disappeared from starring roles. A handful of scattered film appearances followed, but he spent most of the remainder of his career on stage. He died of pneumonia early in 1944, while working in London.

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