Mention the name Alan Hale today and if you don't get a blank stare, you might get a response associated with Gilligan's Island - but that was Alan Junior, a noted film and TV actor in his own right. We'll get to him in a bit. Today's subject is his dad, Alan Senior, a fixture within classic Hollywood going way back.
The former Rufus Edward Mackahan originally aspired to sing opera before going into the movies instead. He spent the early 1910s appearing in a wide variety of shorts before graduating to features. As a young man, he's recognizable; his mustache is smaller, but he's still a big guy (6' 2"), still has that wavy hair.
In 1922, Hale made the first of three Robin Hood movies, playing Robin's right hand man Little John in all three. The silent Robin is pure Tinseltown spectacle, with a large cast and larger sets: the castle alone is believed to be the biggest for a Hollywood silent. It's Fairbanks' movie through and through, but Hale acquits himself just fine in it.
It's not until the talkies that we get a better sense of Hale's boisterous screen persona, usually in support to the protagonist(s). In It Happened One Night, for example, he's the driver who stops at the sight of Claudette Colbert's bare leg, singing as he drives.
My favorite role of his is in Stella Dallas, where he plays Barbara Stanwyck's drinking buddy who inadvertently drives a wedge between her and her family; Stanwyck wants to be respectable, but at the same time her association with Hale, who isn't a bad guy at heart, embarrasses her husband.
Alan Jr. was born to Alan Sr. and his wife of over thirty years, actress Gretchen Hartman, in 1921. Junior made movies beginning in 1933 after starting on Broadway. He made a bunch of films and TV shows before he set sail on that ill-fated three-hour tour beginning in 1964. In 1979, he reprised his father's role of Porthos (from the Three Musketeers film The Man in the Iron Mask) in The Fifth Musketeer.
I like seeing Hale Sr. in old movies; he has an easy charm and ebullience that plays well with his bigger co-stars. He shared a screen with two of the biggest action heroes of all time, Fairbanks and Flynn (not to mention Douglas Fairbanks Jr.), and perhaps that's how he's remembered best amongst cinephiles, but he also had a substantial career that began deep within the silent era and well beyond, which is pretty impressive.
Films with Alan Hale Sr.:
The Adventures of Robin Hood
They Drive By Night
Joe E. Brown