Thursday, November 19, 2015

Seven Things to Know About Sydney Greenstreet

1. Sydney Greenstreet did not appear in a movie until he was 62. His film debut was pretty memorable, though—he played Kasper Gutman in The Maltese Falcon.

2. Despite a number of popular supporting performances (e.g., Casablanca, Christmas in Connecticut, Devotion), etc., he received only one Oscar nomination. That was for The Maltese Falcon and he lost in the Best Supporting Actor category in 1941 to Donald Crisp (How Green Was My Valley). It was a strong field that year, with the other nominees being James Gleason (Here Comes Mr. Jordan), Walter Brennan (Sergeant York), and Charles Coburn (The Devil and Miss Jones).

3. Greenstreet’s screen career consisted of just 23 films made between 1941 and 1949. Warner Bros. paired him with his Maltese Falcon co-star Peter Lorre nine times.

With Peter Lorre in Three Strangers.
4. Peter Lorre said of Sydney Greenstreet: “He was not only one of the nicest men and gentlemen I’ve ever known, I think he was one of the truly great, great actors of our time.” According to the biography The Lost One: A Life of Peter Lorre by Stephen Youngkin, Lorre referred to Greenstreet as “the old man,” while Greenstreet called Lorre “Puck.”

5. Tennessee Williams dedicated his 1946 one-act play The Last of the Solid Gold Watches to Sydney Greenstreet. Williams conceived the role of an “old-time traveling salesman” with Greenstreet in mind for the lead (Vincent Price played the part in 1947 at a small theatre in Los Angeles.)

6. Greenstreet provided the voice of Rex Stout’s portly sleuth Nero Wolfe in a half-hour 1950-51 NBC radio program (you can easily find episodes on the Internet). Fans of Stout’s books often criticize the series for taking too many liberties (e.g., Wolfe rarely mentions his orchids and, though reclusive, he's willing to leave his beloved brownstone on occasion).

Sydney Greenstreet and Humphrey Bogart in Casablanca.
7. Sydney Greenstreet, who battled kidney disease and diabetes, died in 1954 at age 74. Despite a brief acting career, he created a pantheon of memorable characters. My favorite may still be Kasper Gutman, so I leave you with this quote from The Maltese Falcon (imagine it delivered by Mr. Greenstreet—as only he could): “I couldn't be fonder of you if you were my own son. But, well, if you lose a son, it's possible to get another. There's only one Maltese Falcon.”


This post is part of the What a Character! blogathon co-hosted by Once Upon a Screen. It was delayed from last week and now technically starts on November 21st. Click here for the full schedule.

13 comments:

  1. "The old man" and "Puck". I like that. It makes me smile. I admire Greenstreet exceedingly. My favourite role, beyond Guttman, is his Columbo-like police detective in "The Velvet Touch".

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  2. A very unique and memorable actor. One of the rare performers, only Judy Holliday comes to mind beside him, who managed never to appear in a really bad film. Of course there are some pictures that are stronger than others for both but nothing really dreadful as Davis, Crawford, both Hepburn, Doris Day and every other great star had on their sheet. Surely the brevity of their filmographies had a great deal to do with that but perhaps a personal script sense had something to do with it as well.

    From what I've read he had a solid reputation as a comic actor, as well as classical roles, on stage before becoming somewhat typed as the villain by Falcon and was always on the lookout for a good comedic role, one of his favorites being his part in Christmas in Connecticut.

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    1. His performance in CHRISTMAS IN CONNECTICUT may be my favorite. I can hear that laugh.

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  3. I didn't realize Sydney Greenstreet was in his 60s when his film career began. Amazing. I only wish he had made more films, he always added so much color to those he was in. His lines in The Maltese Falcon are classic and his delivery - magnificent! (the line you quoted, "I'm a man who likes talking to a man who likes to talk," etc.)

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  4. Thanks for info on Sidney Greenstreet. He left a strong impression despite a short career in films. My older kids, in their 20s now, used to watch Sesame Street and the program would air a montage of alphabet letters and the V was announced by an actor trying to sound like Greenstreet! Even in the 1990s, he left his mark! Be sure to read my post about C. Aubrey Smith at portraitsbyjenni@wordpress.com

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  5. Greenstreet was great, and an integral part of some of my favorite films, but I also remember him in 1946's "Three Strangers" which has a downright strange plot about a lucky Chinese statue, a racehorse, and a murderous conspiracy. He and Peter Lorre are as delightful as ever, with Lorre playing the romantic lead (!), but it's one of those films where, when thinking about it years later, you kind of go: "Did I dream that up? That couldn't have been an actual movie..."

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    1. I haven't seen THREE STRANGERS in years!

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  6. By Gad, sir, what a fine look back at one of the all-time great scene stealers! It's a shame that Greenstreet only got a chance to really flex his comedic muscles in Christmas in Connecticut. Even in dramatic roles, he often managed to work in little bits like the fly swatter in Casablanca.
    By an amazing coincidence (to me, at least), on Monday I'll be taking a look at Maria Ouspenskaya, another stage veteran who made their Hollywood debut at 60-plus (and got an Oscar nomination for their first film), and whose career was relatively brief.

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    1. If Maria Ouspenkaya has done nothing but her appearances as Maleva the gypsy, I would have loved her! She was always good.

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  7. That's a great quote from Greenstreet re: the Maltese Falcon!

    I was happy to read Peter Lorre saying such nice things about him.

    What a great actor. A person could go on about him all day, no? I like how you offered these 7 tidbits, most of which I didn't know.

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  8. Greenstreet was excellent - amazing to think that The Maltese Falcon was his first film role. I also like him with Joan Crawford in 'Flamingo Road' - quite a lot of black humour in his role in that. As I've just been reading some of the Nero Wolfe books, must listen to him in the role on radio!

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  9. Great post Rick! Greenstreet might not have appeared in a film until his 60s, but he certainly left an impressive legacy. Imagine if he'd been a Hollywood from his earliest years - surely he'd have been a household name!

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  10. I love reading things about an actor I love that I didn't know before. Perfect pick for a character actor blogathon. Thanks for the info and the tribute.

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