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He was nearly sixty before he made his first feature film but Georgia-born character actor Charles Coburn swiftly made up for lost time. With his trademark monocle (he really needed it!) and omnipresent cigar, Coburn was a natural to fill the wingtips of sundry crusty old codgers, invariably moneyed, inescapably sardonic, but not infrequently revealed in the final reel to possess a heart of gold. After proving his mettle in supporting roles in such hits as The Lady Eve (1941) with Henry Fonda and Barbara Stanwyck, Heaven Can Wait (1943) with Gene Tierney and Don Ameche, and The More the Merrier (1943) with Jean Arthur and Joel McCrea, Coburn was entrusted by Columbia Pictures to carry a star vehicle of his own. Shot under the working title Without Notice, Richard Wallace's My Kingdom for a Cook (1943) showcases Coburn (in Monty Woolley whiskers) as a persnickety English author and self-professed gourmand who rekindles British-American hostilities when he visits a small New England town and attempts to steal away the personal chef of a noted Daughter of the Revolution. Marguerite Chapman, Mary Wickes, Almira Sessions, and Mantan Moreland also turn up in this charming comedy of manners, whose protagonist was patterned after novelist-playwright George Bernard Shaw but who perhaps owes an unspoken debt to The Man Who Came to Dinner (1942).
By Richard Harland Smith