5' 7½" (1, 71 m)
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.
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.
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.
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".
subsequently wrote four books that proved successful enough to earn him
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
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.
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).
time the Wizard of Oz (1939) was made only
The Good Earth
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.
Between 1940 and 1942 he played Inspector Queen in the unsuccessful series of seven movies based on the Ellery Queen character.
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.
He and his wife, Anna,
celebrated their forty-fifth wedding anniversary by being married all
over again, with all the trimmings. (May 1941)
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.
Page first published on Jan 1. 2010
Latest update May 21, 2017
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