Precise in speech and manner in every way, but possessed of a smarmy nature that lent a tone of acidic irony to every line he uttered, Eric Blore was a character actor well-loved by movie fans for his comic turns in such popular features as "The Gay Divorcée" (1934), "The Lady Eve" (1941) and "The Road to Zanzibar" (1941), among numerous other films. Blore was best used as a valet or managerial type whose professionalism and poise masked a genuine contempt for those around him, borne out by an extraordinarily inflated ego; in this capacity, he lent memorable support to stars like Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers in five films, beginning in 1933 with "Flying Down to Rio" (1933), as well as Laurel and Hardy in "Swiss Miss" (1938) and the Marx Brothers in "Love Happy" (1950). After voicing Mr. Toad in the Disney feature "The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad" (1948), Blore's career was reduced to roles in B-pictures before his death in 1959, but his flawless comic timing made him an instantly recognizable favorite for generations of classic movie fans.
Born Dec. 23, 1887 in the Finchley district of Middlesex county, England, Eric Blore began his professional life at the age of 18 as an insurance agent. He decided to leave his profession and take up acting while on a tour of Australia, much to the chagrin of his father, who regarded performing as a "ladylike" pursuit. After a stint in the infantry during World War I, Blore began acting on the London stage, primarily in comedies. He made his film debut in a U.K. comic short, "A Night Out and a Day In" (1920) shortly before heading to New York, where he made his Broadway debut in Little Miss Bluebeard (1923), which ran for 175 performances. Blore soon became a staple of Broadway musical revues, for which he also occasionally penned song lyrics.
Blore made his Hollywood debut in a silent adaptation of "The Great Gatsby" (1926), but remained largely off-screen - save for a few uncredited turns - until 1933. That year, he gave a memorable turn as an officious hotel manager in "Flying Down to Rio," which featured the first screen pairing of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. Though his screen time was relatively limited, audiences were delighted by his smug turn, and Blore's screen career was launched in earnest. Like many comic character actors, Blore essentially played variations on his most popular role throughout his career. Slight in stature and blessed with a crisp, lock-jawed British accent, he was the go-to for unctuous, highly professional men whose inflated sense of self came through in their dialogue, which fairly dripped with condescension.
Following the success of "Flying Down to Rio," Blore made similar appearance in four subsequent Astaire-Rogers pictures including "The Gay Divorcée" (1934), RKO's screen adaptation of the musical "The Gay Divorce," which also featured Blore in its cast during its Broadway run. He was soon abetting such top comic talent as Laurel and Hardy in "Swiss Miss" (1938) and Martha Raye in "The Boys from Syracuse" (1940). Blore could also be counted on to inject a degree of dry comedy into genre pictures, most notably as Jamison, the faithful manservant to jewel thief-turned-private eye Michael Lanyard, a.k.a. the "Lone Wolf," in a series of 11 thrillers between 1940 and 1947.
But comedies remained his best showcase, and Blore's best moments in that field came with appearances in two of Preston Sturges' acclaimed screwball comedies. In the best of the pair, "The Lady Eve" (1941), Blore played a cagey con man posing as a British royal in order to fleece wealthy businessmen, while in "Sullivan's Travels" (1941), he reprised his manservant persona as the skeptic butler to Joel McCrea's idealistic director. Between assignments with Sturges, Blore also turned up as a dizzy diamond baron opposite Bob Hope and Bing Crosby in "The Road to Zanzibar" (1941), and as the devoted bookkeeper to casino owner Mother Gin Sling in Josef von Sternberg's cult oddity "The Shanghai Gesture" (1941). During this period, Blore also toured the country, promoting his career and his pictures as "the screen's funniest butler."
Blore continued to contribute turns as well-heeled men of authority in pictures like "The Moon and Sixpence" (1942), with George Sanders, and "Holy Matrimony" (1943), as Monty Woolley's devoted valet. But by the end of the 1940s, he struggled to find quality roles, and was reduced to glorified cameos in the Doris Day-Jack Carson musical "Romance on the High Seas" (1948) and "Fancy Pants" (1950) with Bob Hope and Lucille Ball. In 1948, Blore lent his precise, clipped diction to the fun-loving J. Thaddeus Toad, a direct if amphibian descendant of his proper-but-loony career roles, in the Walt Disney animated feature "The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad." After that departure, Blore turned up in just two more features: "Love Happy" (1950), the Marx Brothers' final, disappointing feature, and "Bowery to Baghad" (1955), an absurd Bowery Boys programmer which featured Blore as a dipsomaniacal genie rescued by Huntz Hall's aging "Boys." The following year, Blore retired from the screen following a debilitating stroke.
In 1959, critic Kenneth Tynan referred to the actor as the "late Eric Blore" in the pages of The New Yorker, which generated an angry request for a retraction from Blore's lawyer. The magazine's editor demanded that Tynan follow through with the request, citing with some indignation that the New Yorker had never before printed a correction in its long and storied history. Tynan complied, but Blore never lived to see the retraction, having suffered a fatal heart attack in Los Angeles on March 2, 1959 - one day before the issue containing the item hit the newsstands. Blore, whose screen persona would have undoubtedly clucked with great amusement over the farrago, was buried at Forest Lawn Memorial Park in Glendale, CA.
By Paul Gaita