Percy Helton

Active - 1922 - 1971  |   Born - Jan 1, 1894   |   Died - Sep 11, 1971   |   Genres - Comedy, Drama, Western, Musical, Romance

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Biography by Hal Erickson

The son of actors, Percy Helton began his own career at age two in a Tony Pastor revue in which his parents were performing. The undersized Helton was a valuable juvenile player for producer David Belasco, making his film debut in a 1915 Belasco production, The Fairy and the Waif. Helton matured into adult roles under the stern guidance of George M. Cohan. After serving in the Army during World War I, Helton established himself on Broadway, appearing in such productions as Young America, One Sunday Afternoon and The Fabulous Invalid. He made his talkie debut in 1947's Miracle on 34th Street, playing the inebriated Macy's Santa Claus whom Edmund Gwenn replaces. Perhaps the quintessential "who is that?" actor, Helton popped up, often uncredited, in over one hundred succinct screen characterizations. Forever hunched over and eternally short of breath, he played many an obnoxious clerk, nosey mailman, irascible bartender, officious train conductor and tremulous stool pigeon. His credits include Fancy Pants (1950), The Robe (1953), White Christmas (1954), Rally Round the Flag Boys (1959), The Music Man (1962) and Hush Hush Sweet Charlotte (1965), as well as two appearances as sweetshop proprietor Mike Clancy in the Bowery Boys series. Thanks to his trademarked squeaky voice, and because he showed up in so many "cult" films (Wicked Woman, Kiss Me Deadly, Sons of Katie Elder), Helton became something of a high-camp icon in his last years. In this vein, Percy Helton was cast as the "Heraldic Messenger" in the bizarre Monkees vehicle Head (he showed up at the Monkees' doorstep with a beautiful blonde manacled to his wrist!), the treacherous Sweetieface in the satirical western Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969), and the bedraggled bank clerk Cratchit on the TV series The Beverly Hillbillies.

Movie Highlights

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