Gus Leonard

Active - 1919 - 1937  |   Born - Jan 1, 1855   |   Died - Jan 1, 1939   |   Genres - Comedy, Drama

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Biography by Bruce Eder

Gus Leonard was a character actor who specialized in comedy. Like most performers at his level of the acting profession, he usually played small roles in major films and large roles in small films. But the fact that three of those "small films," Mush and Milk (1933), Teacher's Beau (1935), and The Lucky Corner (1936), happened to be installments of Hal Roach's Our Gang/Little Rascals shorts has assured that generations of viewers recognize Leonard's face, if not his name, which changed considerably across his life. He was born Amedee Theodore Gaston Lerond in Marseilles, France, in 1859, which puts him in the running (if not at the head of the pack) for being the oldest actor to have made a career in talking pictures. Leonard came into the world 68 years before the advent of talking pictures, a year earlier than British character actor Morton Selten, four years before C. Aubrey Smith, and 10 years earlier than D.W. Griffith stock company player Spottiswood Aitken, and 14 years before Guy Standing, all of whom were known for playing old man roles in the silent or early sound eras. Leonard's parents moved to the United States and settled in California when he was a boy, and he made his stage debut in San Francisco with producer Tony Pastor when the latter's road show company performed there. He worked in vaudeville for a time and made the move into motion pictures in 1915, at the age of 56, under the aegis of Harold Lloyd. Leonard's earliest surviving credited screen appearance was in the 1916 William Beaudine-directed short The Missing Mummy, and he was seen in almost two-dozen short films that year, and even more in 1917 and 1918. It was with Lloyd, in shorts and then in features, however, that Leonard got more notice and better parts, and he was busy across the teens and into the 1920s in a multitude of roles and films. He was still working with Lloyd in Speedy (1928), and appeared in movies made at MGM and other major studios, sometimes in small character roles and mostly in minor, uncredited parts.

In the mid-'30s, however, Roach and his directors recognized a kindly, comically avuncular quality in Leonard -- sort of like a humorous equivalent to Lionel Barrymore -- that they realized played well opposite the natural charm of the Our Gang cast. And so Leonard found himself immortalized on-screen first in Mush and Milk (1933), playing Cap, the aging, sweet-tempered teacher to the Our Gang orphans, who tries to educate them and protect them from his mean, scowling, whip-wielding wife (Louise Emmons); as the kind-hearted adult tries to help Spanky McFarland at the dinner table in Teacher's Beau; and Gus, Scotty Beckett's grandfather, trying to run his little lemonade stand, in The Lucky Corner (1936). His last screen appearance was in the Jeanette MacDonald/Nelson Eddy vehicle Maytime (1937). He passed away in 1939 at the age of 80.

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