Porter Hall

Active - 1931 - 1954  |   Born - Apr 11, 1911 in Cincinnati, Ohio, United States  |   Died - Oct 6, 1953   |   Genres - Comedy, Drama, Crime, Western, Mystery

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Biography by Hal Erickson

After working his way through the University of Cincinnati, Porter Hall slaved away as a Pennsylvania steel worker, then turned to acting, spending nearly 20 years building a solid reputation as a touring Shakespearean actor. Hall was 43 when he made his first film, Secrets of a Secretary. Never entertaining thoughts of playing romantic leads, Hall was content to parlay his weak chin and shifty eyes into dozens of roles calling for such unattractive character traits as cowardice, duplicity and plain old mean-spiritedness. Cast as a murder suspect in The Thin Man (1934), Hall's guilt was so transparent that it effectively ended the mystery even before it began. In DeMille's The Plainsman (1936), Hall played Jack McCall, the rattlesnake who shot Wild Bill Hickok in the back (his performance won Hall a Screen Actors Guild award). In the rollicking Murder He Says (1944), Hall portrays the whacked-out patriarch of a family of hillbilly murderers. And in Miracle on 34th Street (1947), Hall is at his most odious as the neurosis-driven psychiatrist who endeavors to commit jolly old Kris Kringle (Edmund Gwenn) to the booby hatch. Even with only one scene in Going My Way (1944), Hall manages to pack five reels' worth of venom into his role of a loudmouthed atheist. In real life, Hall was the exact opposite of his screen image: a loyal friend, a tireless charity worker, and a deacon at Hollywood's First Presbyterian Church. Porter Hall died at age 65 in 1953; his last film, released posthumously, was Return to Treasure Island (1954).

Movie Highlights

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  • Served for several years as a deacon at First Presbyterian Church of Hollywood.
  • Made his Broadway debut in the original production of The Great Gatsby.
  • Worked for the Fleischmann Company while also directing and acting in smaller theater productions in Cleveland after graduating from college.
  • Made his film debut playing a Drunk in the 1931 drama Secrets of a Secretary.
  • Appeared in 6 classic films that were nominated for the Best Picture Oscar - Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, The Thin Man, The Story of Louis Pasteur, Going My Way, Double Indemnity, and Miracle on 34th Street.