The What a Character Blogathon is an event devoted to the great character actors of classic Hollywood and the often memorable supporting roles they played throughout film history, hosted by Once Upon a Screen, Outspoken & Freckled, & Paula's Cinema Club. For a complete list of participating bloggers, visit the links at any of the host sites.
Okay, I was all set to write about the life and career of Sig Ruman, but it turns out there's not a lot of information on him out there. His IMDB and Wikipedia pages have the same handful of facts: born in Hamburg, Germany in 1884; studied electrotechnology (yes, that's a real thing; it's the science of the application of electricity in technology); fought in World War 1; appeared on Broadway before switching to movies. I looked through my Billy Wilder biography, but he's barely mentioned there. Ditto for my Ernst Lubitsch biography. I guess I kinda hoped there was more information available.
So what can we say about him? For one thing, he was totally typecast. He usually played the pompous European blowhard. He was good at it, though! His size (six feet even, says IMDB), combined with his voice, made him a forceful presence on the screen. At the same time, he could inject a certain amount of whimsy into his roles. He seemed intimidating at first, but not so much that Groucho Marx or Jack Benny or Peter Lorre couldn't take him down a peg or two.
Obviously, he was a go-to guy to play a Nazi. One wonders how he felt about that. We know he shortened his name from Siegfried so it wouldn't sound too German. As many movies as he made, though, I imagine he was simply eager to accept the work. Even a cinematic Nazi is better than the real thing.
Not too much more I can say. For a long time, he was "that German guy" who always popped up in 30s and 40s movies until I learned who he was. I always enjoy seeing him, whether he's doing comedy or drama, but especially comedy. I can't think of any modern actor comparable to him. Christophe Waltz isn't as physically big as Ruman, nor as buffoonish. Ruman, like so many character actors from his time, was an original.
Films with Sig Ruman:
To Be or Not To Be
One Two Three