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Charles Grapewin (Dec 20,1869 - Feb 2,1956)

Picture of  Charles E. Grapewin in The New York Clipper (Dec 22. 1900).
 

 

Height: 5' 7½" (1, 71 m)
Marriages:
(1) Ella Wilson, actress (Nov 27, 1889 - 1894, divorced)
(2) Anna Augusta Chance 
     (1896 - Sep 10. 1943, her dead)

(3) Loretta McGowan Becker (Jan 10, 1945 - Aug 26, 1950,
     divorced)

On December 20, 1869, in the small town of Xenia, Ohio, Charley Ellsworth Grapewin was born to Joseph H. Grapewin and Charity Lorena Heaton. He ran away from home at an age of 10 to begin a lifetime of upward mobility within some form of show business. As a young child he used his ability as a roller skater to gain entry into at least two different circuses. He also began to practice with a group of aerial acrobats and briefly appeared in the last circus as a trapeze artist. He had left the circus in Portland Oregon when offered a job to act in a stock company there.
Nov 27, 1889 in Bridgeport, Conn. he married Ella Wilson, daughter of Fred "Pop" Wilson, formerly stage manager of the Casino and Miner's theatres in New York and niece of George Wilson, the minstrel. By 1890 Grapewin was hooked on a theatrical career. From there he was hired for his first professional stage work. 
Late 1894 Grapewin divorced his first wife (In August 1894 he was served whilst working on Dr. Cupid in Catskill N.Y.) and subsequently met and married, the then 17 year old, Anna Chance
(1896). Together with Gertrude Haynes, Lillian Durham and Kittie Beck she was part of The Trocadero Comedy Four a host of young and pretty girls in beautiful costumes which Grapewin managed at the time.

Ella Wilson in 1988 Charley Grapewin in 1915 Anna Chance in 1917

He moved between the theater and the circus until the end of the decade, when he landed a role in a New York production of the play Little Puck. He never returned to the circus, although he did lend his skills to vaudeville for a time, writing plays along the way and touring with one of his own productions, The Awakening of Mr. Pipp, for a dozen years.

Grapewin began in silent films at the turn of the century. His very first films were 2 "moving image shorts" made by Frederick S. Armitage; Chimmie Hicks at the Races (aka Above the Limit) and Chimmie Hicks and the Rum Omelet, both shot in September and October of 1900 and released in November of that year, the latter with Anna in it. 

Grapewin began to write stage plays which he sold and acted in. He is credited with writing a play called "The Mismated Pair" which was the first legitimate Vaudevillian sketch without singing or dancing.  His has very few Broadway theatre credits, the short-lived play It's Up To You John Henry in 1905 being one. Reportedly Grapewin also appeared in the original 1903 Broadway theatre production of The Wizard of Oz however this seams unlikely since it would imply performing simultaneously in his own play The Awakening of Mr. Pipp.

Picture in Newspaper for "The Awakening of Mr. Pipp" (1903) 

Charley and Anna lived in West End, a neighborhood in Long Branch, New Jersey. There he designed and built an elaborate home filled with theatrical memorabilia, a billiard's room and probably a shop (Charley was a talented woodworker building tables with inlaid tops). While living in New Jersey Charley was the captain of a semi-professional baseball team known as Grapewin's National Stars (sometimes called the Invincibles) that soundly beat most of its opponents. For a number of years he was the owner of the club.

In 1919, Grapewin gave up performing to join General Motors; having invested his money wisely, he retired. As many people did, in late 1929, he and his wife Anna awakened to discover that their net worth -- once two million dollars -- had dropped to about 200.  

 He wrote books e.g. in 1933 he wrote a humerous book entitled 'The Flowing Bowl', it had a colorful drawing of a toilet-paper-stuffed commode on the cover, was only 17 pages long, concerned itself with a fanciful discussion among various bottles of bootleg booze, cocktails shakers, and other liquor-related paraphernaliaSo that meant back to work...and Charley tried his luck in writing (he even dabbled in composing music). Then he moved over into the world of motion pictures when in 1929, together with his wife Anna Chance, he appeared in 3 shorts by Christie Comedies films: "Jed's Vacation", "That Red-Headed Hussy", "Ladies Choice," and  1 short by Universal "House Cleaning".  He subsequently wrote four books that proved successful enough to earn him some income. e.g. in 1933 he wrote a humorous book entitled 'The Flowing Bowl', it had a colorful drawing of a toilet-paper-stuffed commode on the cover, was only 17 pages long, concerned itself with a fanciful discussion among various bottles of bootleg booze, cocktails shakers, and other liquor-related paraphernalia. The language is decidedly un-political correct by today's standards, with very salty, countrified dialogue. Another example being the privately published  'The Town Pump, An American Comedy'(1933)  in collaboration with Anthony Hillyer. 
Luckily the arrival of sound in movies meant that actors who could read lines well, were in great demand. Since he had retired to California, Grapewin decided to give Hollywood a try.

As the Thirties progressed, Grapewin could be seen in such memorable films as American Madness (1932), Judge Priest (1934), Alice Adams (1935), The Petrified Forest (1936) and Captains Courageous (1937). 

Hell's House a.k.a. Juvenile Court (1932) with Grapewin as Uncle Henry with Bette Davis Charley with Helen Westley in Anne of Green Gables, a 1934 film based upon the novel, Anne of Green Gables by Lucy Maud Montgomery
In 1937 he played Dr. Sam Webster in' Between Two Women' with Franchot Tone Arthur Aylesworth, Charles Grapewin and Brenda Fowler watch the boat bringing Walter Houston, James Stewart and Beulah Bondi to their village in MGM's 'Of Human Heart' (aka 'Benefits Forgot') (1938) directed by Clarence Brown, and produced by John W. Considine Jr.

At the time the Wizard of Oz (1939) was made only The Good Earth (1937) and Ben Hur (1925) cost the movie studio more dollars to produce. M-G-M's The Good Earth was a story written by the West Virginia author Pearl S. Buck and the book won a Nobel Prize in literature and also the prestigious Pulitzer Prize in literature.
With many of the prestigious roles played by Charley Grapewin we who love Oz will still best remember the lovable Uncle Henry as a part of the total charm of the classic movie,
The Wizard of Oz (1939).
 

Almost unrecognizable! Grapewin as the Old father of Wang (Paul Muni) in The Good Earth (1937) Opposite Judy Garland, Charley Grapewin as the lovable Uncle Henry in the classic movie, The Wizard of Oz (1939).

Between 1940 and 1942 he played Inspector Queen in the unsuccessful series of seven movies based on the Ellery Queen character.

Charley Grapewin as Inspector Queen in the movie adaptations for Ellery Queen (1940-42) From left to right: Grapewin, Ralph Bellamy (Ellery Queen), Margaret Lindsay (Nikki Porter) and Anna May Wong in Ellery Queen and The Penthouse Murder (1941)

Frequently described as grizzled, cantankerous, wheezy, grumpy and a codger in his grandfatherly roles. Success in films came late in his career (he was 60ish). As we remember him best he was of medium height, stocky build with a mop of white hair, square jawed with squinty eyes. He had a slightly raspy voice and a western drawl which served him well in these roles. 
One of the next films in which Grapewin played a leading role, as Grandpa Joad, another Pulitzer Prize winning book of John Steinbeck's,
The Grapes of Wrath (1940). He also played Jeeter Lester in the Erskine Caldwell's Tobacco Road (1941).

With Henry Fonda (right) as Grandpa Joad (Far Left), another Pulitzer Prize winning book of John Steinbeck's, The Grapes of Wrath (1940) As Jeeter Lester in Erskine Caldwell's Tobacco Road (1941).
Here you see Charley assisting Errol Flynn (and Olivia De Havilland)  in They Died with Their Boots On a 1941 western film directed by Raoul Walsh.  Grace McDonald & Charley Grapewin in Follow The Boys (1944) a picture with Orson Welles and WC Fields in his last role.

He and his wife, Anna, celebrated their forty-fifth wedding anniversary by being married all over again, with all the trimmings. (May 1941)
In September 1943 Anna passed away. Two years later on Jan 10, 1945 Charley remarried Loretta McGowan, Chicago social figure. This marriage would end in divorce on Aug 26, 1950.
During his life span, with everything else he did, he is credited with having made over 100 films. He last role was as Grandpa Reed in  the 1951 When I Grow Up where he crossed paths with Harry Morgan (who later would also play Inspector Queen).

Charles Grapewin and his bride, the former Mrs. Loretta McGowan Becker of Chicago (Jan 1945) Charley Grapewin in 1944

He died on February 2, 1956 in Corona, California of natural causes at age 86. Upon the filing of his will it was disclosed that his long time housekeeper was the beneficiary of his Estate. The city where he died named Grapewin Street in his honor.

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References
(1) IMDb
(2) Wikipedia

(3) IBDB

Additional video & audio sources
(1) Vaudeville act, Library of Congress (video clip, 1902)
(2) The Wizard of Oz, Video Clip, 1939


Page first published on Jan 1. 2010 
Latest update May 21, 201
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