Friday, December 15, 2017

Alan Hale Sr.: More than Flynn's sidekick

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 ScreenOutspoken & Freckled, & Paula's Cinema Club. For a complete list of participating bloggers, visit the links at any of the host sites. 

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 addition to making movies with Douglas Fairbanks, Rudolph Valentino, Lon Chaney, Jackie Coogan, Tom Mix, Colleen Moore and others, he had a side as a director. He helmed a movie called Braveheart seventy years before Mel Gibson. Here's a funny story from his silent era days.

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.

Hale made thirteen movies with Errol Flynn, including the 1938 Robin; they were mostly adventure films of one kind or another, whether they were swashbucklers, like The Prince and the Pauper and The Sea Hawk, or westerns like Dodge City and Santa Fe Trail. When Hale reprised his Little John role in 1950 for Rogues of Sherwood Forest, it was without his friend Flynn; John Derek put on the green tights, but not as Robin: as Robin's son, who must reunite the Merry Men.

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.:
So Big!
Stella Dallas
The Adventures of Robin Hood
They Drive By Night

Sig Ruman
Shelley Winters
Joe E. Brown


  1. I enjoyed reading about this favourite fellow. Although, I'm going to be wondering about that Billy Boyd bit.

    It is always a treat to watch Alan Hale Sr. I especially enjoy him as Cagney's dad in The Strawberry Blonde. Also, I love it when he sings as in Thank Your Lucky Stars. It's too bad the movies didn't make greater use of that side of his talent.

  2. Oh, so he does sing in a movie! I'll have to look for that one someday. I did see THE STRAWBERRY BLONDE; that was pretty good.

  3. I'm a big Laurel & Hardy fan, so of course I'm biased, but my favorite Hale Sr. appearance is in OUR RELATIONS, as an exasperated bartender who has to deal with The Boys. Great blogathon entry!

    1. I have not seen nearly enough L&H as I should. Adding it to the list.

  4. Oh man, do I ever want to watch all three Robin Hoods in a row now!! An entertaining read as always, Rich. I too love seeing Mr. Hale in movies even though I often forget he's in them in between viewings.


  5. The third one, with Robin's son and the older Merry Men, strikes me as a little dubious - I've never heard of John Derek - but all three at once would make for a great triple-header.

    1. John Derek was great in, The Ten Commandments. Also, he was the husband of Bo Derek, famous for being a "10"

  6. Alan Hale Sr truly does have an easy charm and ebullience, as you pointed out. He's always a treat on screen.

    I was a bit surprised when you said it was Alan Hale who stopped at the sight of Claudette Colbert's leg in "It Happened One Night". I call myself a big fan of Mr Hale, but how come I never noticed that? Sheesh!

  7. So says Wikipedia. I still haven't seen the film. Hope to one day.

  8. Alan Hale is one of my favorites, and count me among those who knew the son long before the father. Thank you for this excellent summary. Hale seemed to do well in and relish all his roles, no matter how small. I really enjoyed him as the villain in Union Depot.

  9. Never saw that one. Not sure how I feel about him as a villain. I think I prefer him as a good guy, given a choice, but if he was good in it...

  10. I remember him best as the truck company owner in They Drive By Night. His character had real integrity, which is more than you can say for his wife, played by Ida Lupino.

  11. That was a really good movie until the ending, especially Lupino's over-the-top courtroom scene.

  12. My favorite of his roles is also in Stella Dallas. I'll keep my eyes wide open to see Hale in Robin Hood - both versions - when I revisit them.
    Thanks for the kind comment!

  13. The Flynn ROBIN HOOD is one of the all-time greats.

  14. Hale starred in a WW1 P.O.W. movie with Fredric March but it bombed so badly that they both had their names taken off the film and is not in their filmographies. March later regretted taking this action because he thought it was Hale's finest work, worthy of an Oscar, and could save the lives of future P.O.W.s. There was a guard named Hitler in it.


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