Charles Coburn


Actor
Charles Coburn

About

Also Known As
Charles Douville Coburn
Birth Place
Savannah, Georgia, USA
Born
June 19, 1877
Died
August 30, 1961
Cause of Death
Heart Attack

Biography

An Oscar®-winning character actor from Hollywood's Golden Age, Charles Coburn was as well-recognized as the stars whom he supported, and from whom he often stole the show. At times, in a distinction unusual for a character player, he was given star billing. Specializing in hardened businessmen with a soft heart, the cigar-smoking, monocled actor did not enter movies until he was in...

Photos & Videos

The Impatient Years - Lobby Cards
The Impatient Years - Behind-the-Scenes Photos
The Devil and Miss Jones - Lobby Cards

Family & Companions

Ivah Wills
Wife
Actor. Died in 1937.
Winifred Natzka
Wife

Biography

An Oscar®-winning character actor from Hollywood's Golden Age, Charles Coburn was as well-recognized as the stars whom he supported, and from whom he often stole the show. At times, in a distinction unusual for a character player, he was given star billing. Specializing in hardened businessmen with a soft heart, the cigar-smoking, monocled actor did not enter movies until he was in his mid-50s, but still enjoyed a film career that lasted almost 30 years.

Born June 17, 1877, in Savannah, Georgia, Coburn was full of Southern charm -- and so well spoken that he was sometimes mistaken by audiences as being British. He had begun in theater as a "program boy" and by age 17 was manager of a Savannah theater in 1901. He made his Broadway debut in 1901 and, five years later, organized the Coburn Shakespeare Players with his first wife, Ivah Wills. Coburn made his movie debut in the title role of Boss Tweed (1933) but did not sign a Hollywood contract until after his wife's death in 1937.

Coburn had another lead in The Captain Is a Lady (1940), the touching story of an aging sea captain who poses as a female so he can live with his wife (Beulah Bondi) in a poor house for old women. The fortunes of the couple change after the captain helps rescue a shipwrecked schooner. One of Coburn's best-remembered roles came in the Preston Sturges screwball comedy The Lady Eve (1941), in which he plays Barbara Stanwyck's card-sharp father and helps her fleece naive millionaire Henry Fonda

For another of his roles that year, that of the world's richest man in The Devil and Miss Jones (1941), Coburn received his first Oscar® nomination as Best Supporting Actor. The third-billed Coburn thoroughly dominates Unexpected Uncle (1941), playing a retired tycoon who poses as the uncle of a lingerie saleswoman (Anne Shirley) to help her land a millionaire. Coburn is again a wealthy uncle, and something of a fraud, in George Washington Slept Here (1942), the Moss Hart-George S. Kaufman Broadway hit as adapted for the talents of Jack Benny. Coburn won his Oscar® for The More the Merrier (1943), in which he plays a volatile yet lovable business executive forced by the wartime housing shortage to share a Washington D.C. apartment with Jean Arthur.

Oscar®-nominated yet again for The Green Years (1946), Coburn continued his film career energetically through the 1950s, memorably playing Marilyn Monroe's sugar daddy in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1953) and making his final screen appearance as a guest star in Pepe (1960). He also remained active in television and on the stage, giving his final performance in a stock production of You Can't Take It With You in Indianapolis only a week before his death in 1961.

by Roger Fristoe

Filmography

 

Cast (Feature Film)

Pepe (1961)
A Stranger in My Arms (1959)
Vance Beasley
John Paul Jones (1959)
Benjamin Franklin
The Remarkable Mr. Pennypacker (1959)
Grampa Pennypacker
How to Murder a Rich Uncle (1958)
Uncle George [Clitterbern]
Town on Trial (1957)
Dr. John Fenner
The Story of Mankind (1957)
Hippocrates
Around the World in 80 Days (1956)
Hong Kong steamship office clerk
The Power and the Prize (1956)
Guy Elliot
How To Be Very, Very Popular (1955)
Dr. Tweed
The Rocket Man (1954)
Mayor Editor Johnson
The Long Wait (1954)
Gardiner
Trouble Along the Way (1953)
Father Burke
Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1953)
Sir Francis "Piggy" Beekman
Has Anybody Seen My Gal (1952)
Samuel G. Fulton, also known as John Smith
Monkey Business (1952)
Oliver Oxly
The Highwayman (1951)
Lord Walters
Mr. Music (1950)
Alex Conway
Peggy (1950)
Professor ["Brooks"] Brookfield
Louisa (1950)
Mr. [Abel] Burnside
Everybody Does It (1949)
Major Blair
Impact (1949)
Lt. [Tom] Quincy
Yes Sir, That's My Baby (1949)
Professor Jason Hartley
The Gal Who Took the West (1949)
General Michael O'Hara
The Doctor and the Girl (1949)
Dr. John Corday
The Paradine Case (1948)
Sir Simon Flaquer
B. F.'s Daughter (1948)
B. F. Fulton
Green Grass of Wyoming (1948)
Beaver Greenway
Lured (1947)
Inspector Harley Temple
The Green Years (1946)
Alexander Gow
Colonel Effingham's Raid (1946)
Colonel William Seaborn Effingham
Rhapsody in Blue (1945)
Max Dreyfus
Over 21 (1945)
Robert Drexel Gow
Shady Lady (1945)
Colonel John Appleby
Wilson (1945)
Professor Henry Holmes
A Royal Scandal (1945)
Nicolai Illytch, the chancellor
Together Again (1944)
Jonathan Crandall, Sr.
The Impatient Years (1944)
William Smith
Knickerbocker Holiday (1944)
Peter Stuyvesant
The More the Merrier (1943)
Benjamin Dingle
Heaven Can Wait (1943)
Grandfather
Princess O'Rourke (1943)
Uncle
My Kingdom for a Cook (1943)
Rudyard Morley
The Constant Nymph (1943)
Charles Creighton
In This Our Life (1942)
William Fitzroy
Kings Row (1942)
Dr. Henry Gordon
George Washington Slept Here (1942)
Uncle Stanley
H. M. Pulham, Esq. (1941)
Mr. [Harry] Pulham, Sr.
Our Wife (1941)
Professor Drake
The Devil and Miss Jones (1941)
[John P.] Merrick
The Lady Eve (1941)
"Colonel" Harrington
Unexpected Uncle (1941)
Seton Mansley
Edison, the Man (1940)
General Powell
Road to Singapore (1940)
Mr. Mallon [Josh Mallon IV]
Florian (1940)
Hofer
Three Faces West (1940)
Dr. [Karl] Braun
The Captain Is a Lady (1940)
Capt. Abe Peabody
The Story of Alexander Graham Bell (1939)
Gardner Hubbard
Idiot's Delight (1939)
Dr. Waldersee
In Name Only (1939)
Mr. [Richard] Walker
Made for Each Other (1939)
Judge Doolittle
Bachelor Mother (1939)
J. B. Merlin
Stanley and Livingstone (1939)
Lord Tyce
Lord Jeff (1938)
Captain Briggs
Vivacious Lady (1938)
Mr. Morgan
Yellow Jack (1938)
Dr. Finlay
Of Human Hearts (1938)
Dr. Charles Shingle

Life Events

1897

Moved to New York to pursue acting career

1899

First acting job, "Quo Vadis" in Ames, Iowa

1901

Broadway debut

1905

Met Ivah Wills

1906

Founded Coburn Shakespeare Players with Ivah Wills

1910

Appeared at the White House before President Taft

1937

Moved to Hollywood

1938

Feature film acting debut, "Lord Jeff"

Photo Collections

The Impatient Years - Lobby Cards
Here are several Lobby Cards from Columbia Pictures' The Impatient Years (1944). Lobby Cards were 11" x 14" posters that came in sets of 8. As the name implies, they were most often displayed in movie theater lobbies, to advertise current or coming attractions.
The Impatient Years - Behind-the-Scenes Photos
The Impatient Years - Behind-the-Scenes Photos
The Devil and Miss Jones - Lobby Cards
The Devil and Miss Jones - Lobby Cards
Wilson - Movie Poster
Wilson - Movie Poster
Vivacious Lady - Publicity Art
Here are some pieces of advertising art created by RKO to publicize Vivacious Lady (1937), starring Ginger Rogers and James Stewart.
Lured - Movie Poster
Here is an original-release insert movie poster for Lured (1947), starring Lucille Ball. Inserts measured 14x36 inches.
Bachelor Mother - Publicity Stills
Here are a few Publicity Stills taken for Bachelor Mother (1939), starring Ginger Rogers and David Niven. Publicity stills were specially-posed photos, usually taken off the set, for purposes of publicity or reference for promotional artwork.
In This Our Life - Scene Stills
Here are a number of scene stills from Warner Bros' In This Our Life (1942), starring Bette Davis, Olivia De Havilland, and Dennis Morgan.
Bachelor Mother - Lobby Cards
Here are a few Lobby Cards from Bachelor Mother (1939), starring Ginger Rogers and David Niven. Lobby Cards were 11" x 14" posters that came in sets of 8. As the name implies, they were most often displayed in movie theater lobbies, to advertise current or coming attractions.
Monkey Business - Lobby Card
Here is a Lobby Card from Howard Hawks' Monkey Business (1952), starring Cary Grant and Ginger Rogers. Lobby Cards were 11" x 14" posters that came in sets of 8. As the name implies, they were most often displayed in movie theater lobbies, to advertise current or coming attractions.
Trouble Along the Way - Movie Posters
Here are a few original movie posters from Warner Bros' Trouble Along the Way (1953), starring John Wayne and Donna Reed.
Vivacious Lady - Lobby Cards
Here are a few Lobby Cards from RKO's Vivacious Lady (1937), starring Ginger Rogers and James Stewart. Lobby Cards were 11" x 14" posters that came in sets of 8. As the name implies, they were most often displayed in movie theater lobbies, to advertise current or coming attractions.

Videos

Movie Clip

B.F.'s Daughter (1948) - Your Pretty Little Head Park Avenue, 1932, breakfasting with his wife (Spring Byington), industrialist B.F. Fulton (Charles Coburn) fumes over a radio commentator’s criticism as daughter Polly (Barbara Stanwyck) appears, sniffing a chance to help her fiancé (Richard Hart), opening MGM’s B.F.’s Daughter, 1948.
Lord Jeff (1938) - We Carry Our Own Kit Exposed fake Lord Geoffrey (Freddie Bartholomew) and pals Baker, Thrums and Potter (Terry Kilburn, Walter Tetley and Peter Lawford age maybe 15, on harmonica) arrive at Russell-Cotes Nautical Academy, Jelks (Herbert Mundin) introducing Captain Briggs (Charles Coburn), in MGM's Lord Jeff, 1938.
Lord Jeff (1938) - Any Major Infractions Captain Briggs (Charles Coburn), head of the Russell-Cotes naval academy, addresses the boys with good news, then chats with Terry O'Mulvaney (Mickey Rooney), then new boy Geoffrey (Freddie Bartholomew), about an earlier incident, in MGM's Lord Jeff, 1938.
Monkey Business (1952) - Not Yet, Cary! Perhaps a bit creaky now but a neatly tied-in opening from director Howard Hawks, introducing Cary Grant as scientist Barnaby Fulton, Ginger Rogers as his wife Edwina, in Monkey Business, 1952, co-starring Marilyn Monroe.
In Name Only (1939) - Crashing Garden Parties Maida (Kay Francis) social engineering at her party, with friend Ned (Jonathan Hale) and her in-laws (Charles Coburn, Nella Walker), framing husband Alec (Cary Grant) and neighbor Julie (Carole Lombard), in John Cromwell's In Name Only, 1939.
Bachelor Mother (1939) - Women And Things Merlin (Charles Coburn), owner of the department store that just dismissed holiday-employee Ginger Rogers, and his heir (David Niven) are introduced, while the head of the foundling home (Ernest Truex), who believes she abandoned her baby, follows, in Bachelor Mother, 1939.
Bachelor Mother (1939) - I Want A New Duck! Department store heir David Merlin (David Niven) is under-cover, attempting to prove to employee Polly (Ginger Rogers) that it’s easy to return a defective product, disaster ensuing, Fred (Frank Albertson) making things worse, Garson Kanin directing, in Bachelor Mother, 1939.
Bachelor Mother (1939) - There Isn't Any Mother Just given-notice Christmas department store clerk Polly (Ginger Rogers, in her first post-Fred Astaire picture) is looking for work when she sees some lady abandon a baby, the folks at the foundling home (Frank Thomas, Edna Holland) immediately suspicious, in Bachelor Mother, 1939.
Of Human Hearts (1938) - I'm Going To Bleed You Ames (Guy Kibbee) is persuaded by Dr. Shingle (Charles Coburn) and congregation to give a raise to Rev. Wilkins (Walter Huston), whose son Jason (James Stewart) pursues sweetheart Annie (Ann Rutherford) afterward, in Of Human Hearts, 1938.
Made For Each Other (1939) - Among The Least Important Producer David Selznick getting his money's worth, marrying stars James Stewart and Carole Lombard on paper in the credits, meeting his boss (Charles Coburn) at the law firm, in what looks at this stage entirely like a romantic comedy, Made For Each Other, 1939.
Made For Each Other (1939) - Blood Transfusion Angling for his promotion, strapped Jane (Carole Lombard) and John (James Stewart) are entertaining his boss Judge Doolittle (Charles Coburn), his frowning daughter (Ruth Weston) and rival Carter (Donald Briggs), the temporary maid (Esther Dale) making trouble, in Made For Each Other, 1939.
Lady Eve, The (1941) - She's Never Been In South America Con artist Barbara Stanwyck, now assuming title role, appears at the Hamptons home of beer baron Pike (Eugene Pallette), intent on getting even with his scientist son Charles (Henry Fonda), who presumes she's just a look-alike for the gal he fell for on the cruise ship, in Preston Sturges' The Lady Eve, 1941.

Trailer

Green Years, The - (Original Trailer) An orphaned Irish boy is taken in by his mother's Scottish relations in The Green Years (1946) from the author of The Citadel and The Stars Look Down.
H.M. Pulham, Esquire - (Original Trailer) Robert Young plays a stuffy businessman who livens things up by having a fling with Hedy Lamarr. Directed by King Vidor.
Gentlemen Prefer Blondes - (Original Trailer) Gentlemen prefer Marilyn Monroe preferring diamonds in her most famous musical Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1953) directed by Howard Hawks.
Doctor and the Girl, The - (Original Trailer) A doctor (Glenn Ford) leaves his wealthy family to work in the slums in The Doctor and the Girl (1949) with Janet Leigh as the girl.
Constant Nymph, The - (Original Trailer) A composer (Charles Boyer) marries a rich woman rather than her young cousin (Joan Fontaine) who loves him in The Constant Nymph (1943).
Bachelor Mother - (Re-issue Trailer) Ginger Rogers is a fun-loving shop girl who is mistaken for the mother of a foundling in Bachelor Mother (1939) co-starring David Niven.
Trouble Along the Way - (Original Trailer) A famous football coach (John Wayne) uses underhanded means to turn a bankrupt college's team into winners in Trouble Along the Way (1953).
Road To Singapore (1940) - (Original Trailer) Bob Hope, Bing Crosby and Dorothy Lamour star in Road To Singapore (1940), the first of their riotous "road" comedies.
Green Grass of Wyoming - (Original Trailer) A roving stallion causes problems for Wyoming ranchers when he leads their blue-blooded racing mares off to join his wild horse herd in Green Grass of Wyoming (1948).
Lady Eve, The - (Original Trailer) Lady card shark Barbara Stanwyck tries to con Henry Fonda, heir to the Pale Ale fortune, only to fall for him in Preston Sturges' The Lady Eve (1941).
George Washington Slept Here - (Original Trailer) Jack Benny says goodbye to city life when he buys a Connecticut farmhouse in the movie version of the Kaufman and Hart play George Washington Slept Here (1942).
Unexpected Uncle - (Original Trailer) A bored retiree (Charles Coburn) decides to play matchmaker in Unexpected Uncle (1941).

Companions

Ivah Wills
Wife
Actor. Died in 1937.
Winifred Natzka
Wife

Bibliography