William Demarest

Active - 1926 - 1976  |   Born - Feb 27, 1892   |   Died - Dec 28, 1983   |   Genres - Comedy, Crime, Western

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Biography by AllMovie

Famed for his ratchety voice and cold-fish stare, William Demarest was an "old pro" even when he was a young pro. He began his stage career at age 13, holding down a variety of colorful jobs (including professional boxer) during the off-season. After years in carnivals and as a vaudeville headliner, Demarest starred in such Broadway long-runners as Earl Carroll's Sketch Book. He was signed with Warner Bros. pictures in 1926, where he was briefly paired with Clyde Cook as a "Mutt and Jeff"-style comedy team. Demarest's late-silent and early-talkie roles varied in size, becoming more consistently substantial in the late 1930s. His specialty during this period was a bone-crushing pratfall, a physical feat he was able to perform into his 60s. While at Paramount in the 1940s, Demarest was a special favorite of writer/director Preston Sturges, who cast Demarest in virtually all his films: The Great McGinty (1940); Christmas in July (1940); The Lady Eve (1941); Sullivan's Travels (1942); The Palm Beach Story (1942); Hail the Conquering Hero (1944); Miracle of Morgan's Creek (1944), wherein Demarest was at his bombastic best as Officer Kockenlocker; and The Great Moment (1944). For his role as Al Jolson's fictional mentor Steve Martin in The Jolson Story (1946), Demarest was Oscar-nominated (the actor had, incidentally, appeared with Jolie in 1927's The Jazz Singer). Demarest continued appearing in films until 1975, whenever his increasingly heavy TV schedule would allow. Many Demarest fans assumed that his role as Uncle Charlie in My Three Sons (66-72) was his first regular TV work: in truth, Demarest had previously starred in the short-lived 1960 sitcom Love and Marriage.

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