(Sep 24,1886 -
(1) Elizabeth Catherine Bowen (aka Billie Bowen, actress)
(Jun 20, 1917 New York - Apr 7,1920, divorced Chicago)
(2) Eleanor Durkin (1921 - Sep 23, 1957, her death)
Daughter (according to 1930 census adopted):
aka Marylee (born 1929 in Michigan) Now Mrs.
Raymond, Thomas, and Adrian (New York Judge)
Above right: James Michael Burke in 1920.
James Michael Burke was born on September 24, 1886 in
Manhattan, New York City as eldest son to Thomas Burke and Rose Daw.
Irish-American character actor, started out in vaudeville and performed
on stage in New York from 1912. It was upon advice of Max Winslow
he formed a vaudeville act called "Burke & Harris" (1913).
After performing there for 8 months they became known as the boys from Coney Island's
"The College Inn",
James and Ralph were described
as two cabaret singers, who sang pop songs (ragtime!) with a couple of character
numbers added. They looked well en also did well, there act was called
in Song. For a while they even
performed as a trio "Harris, Burke and Harris" (1916).
Above left: "Burke & Harris" in Some Team (1914).
Above right: (From L to R) "Burke and Harris" (1915).
Shortly after inlisting (Jun 1, 1917)
Jimmie married Billy Bowen (an actress in the Garden cabaret, New
York) on Jun 23, 1917.
In World War I, Burke held the rank of top Sergeant (American
with the 12th New York Regiment aka "The Dirty Dozen"
(company I, 52nd infantry). Jim served 18 months
(1917-18) in France, fought at Saint-Mihiel and in the Argonne
was badly gassed and wounded by shrapnel. Fearing that he mightn't live
"Jimmy" was picked up and carried away to hospital. He spent 10 months in a French Hospital
and later Staten Island. By the end of 1919 he emerged limping and
wabbling a bit, but ready to throw off his old khaki and get back behind
the footlights. In the early months of 1920 Burke was back touring the
Central West and South whilst performing in vaudeville.
Eleanor Marguerite Durkin, originally from Kansas,
worked in vaudeville and was part of the Durkin Sisters a musical comedy
act. She met James and together they performed in a vaudeville routine of songs and chatter
called A Tete-a-Tete
in Songs (1919-1929). In 1920 James was
granted a divorce claiming Billie had deserted him and one year later he
married Eleanor Durkin in Sainte-Anne-de-Beaupré, Quebec. They continued
performing. Burke who handled most of the singing, had a unique
delivery that made his numbers count for double value, while "Miss"
Durkin, who also played the piano, was by no means in the background
when it came to voice and personality. Their 20 minutes program evolved
over time but sufficient descriptions remain. Burke gave an edition de
luxe et de comedie of the "Home Again Blues". He then
demonstrated how a possible proposal of marriage would take place in
1940. In that case the woman proposed to the man. One of the best bits
was Burke's impression of Bert Williams singing You Cannot Make
Your Shimmy Shake of Tea. The act closed with a comedy song, When
Frances Dances with Me. Burke was praised for "his ability to
handle his feet'. His forte was coon songs but he could also handle
tough kid songs.
Above left: Miss Eleanor Durkin, who will sing and dance
with James Burke, war veteran, at B.F. Keith's "Palace Theatre"
Above middle: Eleanor Durkin part of Harry Weber Attractions (1925).
Above right: Promo for Harry Weber Attractions: James Burke and Eleanor
Durkin in "If I Could Only Think" by Ted Wilde (1928).
On March 31. 1927 it was reported that James and
Eleanor, Keith and Orpheum circuit vaudeville stars had returned to
their New Rochelle home after a tour of the west, including Hollywood,
and that they may return to the film colony within a few months to take
parts offered to them by a producer who saw them on the stage in Los
August 1929 James Burke and Eleanor Durking performed
their vaudeville act for Vitaphone films in A Tete-a-Tete
in Songs (directed by Murray Roth). Shot in a drawing room
they played among others "Sincerely Yours"
(Pink-ard-Belledna-Casey); "I'm from the East Side and She's
from Tenth Avenue" (Eagen); "The Greeks
Have Taken Dear Old Dixieland". The film had to be re-shot.
He made his film debut in 1932 after much stage
experience. He was immediately typecast as tough cops with Irish brogues
and names like Muldoon, Mulligan, Kelly, Maloney or Burke (!). When not
playing the obtuse flatfoot or bemused, sympathetic plod, he would show
up in costume films in small roles as soldiers or guards. For years he
was one of Hollywood's go-to guys for roles as urban street cops, which
he delivered with a bemused lip and colorful brogue.
In Frank Capra's It Happened One Night
(1934) he (again uncredited) played a detective
opposite Clark Gable and Claudette Colbert. One of his best roles was as Charles Ruggles' rowdy
rancher pal in Ruggles of Red Gap (1935).
In October 1935 Eleanor was recuperating at the
Pasadena Hospital after a major operation only to return home by
November just when Burke signed for Song and Dance Girl, in
which he appeared with Ruth Donnelly.
In Flight Into Nowhere (1938) Burke was
ideally cast as the flippant, bragging pilot Ike Matthews. In Beau
Geste (1939) Burke had the important role of
Sergeant Dufour, his brother Thomas Burke also appeared in the movie as
Above left: Clark Gable, Claudette Colbert, Joseph Crehan,
James Burke and Arthur Hoyt It Happened One Night (1934)
Directed by Frank Capra.
Above right: You Can't Take It with You
(1938) had James Burke in the uncredited role of Chief Detective.
Above left: James Burke (Muldoon) with the very talented
Lucille Ball in the comedy The Affairs of Annabel (1938).
Above right: In Beau Geste (1939) Major
Henri de Beaujolais (James Stephenson) (middle) and his deputy
Lieutenant Dufour (James Burke) have revolvers.
Burke was W.C. Fields' nemesis in several comedies,
and in Columbia's "Ellery Queen" series of the early
1940s he played Sgt. Velie, who wished that detective Queen (Ralph
Bellamy) would mind his own business.