Oscar Actors: Calhern, Lewis–Background, Career, Awards

November 25, 2020
Lewis Calhern Career Summary:

Occupational Inheritance: No

Social Class: Middle; father tobacco dealer

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Screen Image: character actor

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Marriage: 4 marriages and divorces

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Death: battled alcoholism; 61; sudden heart attack

 

Carl Henry Vogt (February 19, 1895 – May 12, 1956), known professionally as Louis Calhern, was an American stage and screen actor.

For portraying Oliver Wendell Holmes in the film The Magnificent Yankee (1950), he was nominated for the Best Actor Oscar.

Calhern was born Carl Henry Vogt in Brooklyn, New York in 1895, the son of Eugene Adolf Vogt and Hubertina Friese Vogt, both of whom immigrated to New York from Germany. He had one known sibling, a sister.  His father was a tobacco dealer. His family left New York while he was in elementary school and moved to St. Louis, Missouri, where he was raised. While playing high school football, a stage manager from a touring theatrical stock company noticed the tall, handsome youth, and hired him as a bit player. Another source states “Grace George hired his entire high school football team as supers for a Shakespearean play.” Due to the anti-German sentiment during World War I, he thought it wise to change his Teutonic given name. His stage name is an amalgam of his hometown of St. Louis and his first and middle names, Carl and Henry (Calhern).

Just before World War I, Calhern decided to return to New York to pursue an acting career. He began as a prop boy and bit player with various touring and burlesque companies. He became a matinee idol by virtue of a play titled Cobra.

Calhern’s Broadway credits include:

Roger Bloomer (1923)
The Song and Dance Man (1923–1924)
Cobra (1924)
In a Garden (1925–1926)
Hedda Gabler (1926)
The Woman Disputed (1926–1927)
Up the Line (1926)
The Dark (1927)
Savages Under the Skin (1927)
A Distant Drum (1928)
Gypsy (1929)
The Love Duel (1929)
The Rhapsody (1930)
The Tyrant (1930)
Give Me Yesterday (1931)
Brief Moment (1931–1932)
The Inside Story (1932)
Birthday (1934–1935)
Hell Freezes Over (1935–1936)
Robin Landing (1937)
Summer Night (1939)
The Great Big Doorstep (1942)
Jacobowsky and the Colonel (1944–1945)
The Magnificent Yankee (1946)
The Survivors (1948)
The Play’s the Thing (1948)
King Lear (1950–1951)
The Wooden Dish (1955)

Calhern’s burgeoning career was interrupted by the World War I, and he served in France in the 143rd Field Artillery of the US Army.

Calhern began working in silent films for director Lois Weber in the early 1920s; the most notable being The Blot in 1921. A newspaper article commented “The new arrival in stardom is Louis Calhern, who, until Miss Weber engaged him to enact the leading male role in What’s Worth While?, had been playing leads in the Morosco Stock company of Los Angeles.”

In 1923, Calhern left the movies, deciding to devote his career entirely to the stage, but he later returned to the screen after the advent of sound pictures. In films, He was primarily cast as a character actor while he continued to play leading roles on the stage. During the early 1950s, he achieved his greatest success in films as a MGM contract player.

Among Calhern’s many memorable screen portrayals were Ambassador Trentino in the Marx Brothers classic Duck Soup (1933) and three diverse roles that he appeared in at MGM in 1950: a singing role as Buffalo Bill in the film version of the musical Annie Get Your Gun, as a double-crossing lawyer and sugar-daddy to Marilyn Monroe in John Huston’s The Asphalt Jungle, and his Oscar-nominated performance as Oliver Wendell Holmes in The Magnificent Yankee (re-creating his role from the Broadway stage). He was praised for his portrayal of the title role in the John Houseman production of Julius Caesar (adapted from the Shakespeare play) in 1953, directed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz. Calhern played the role of the devious George Caswell, the manipulative board member of Tredway Corporation, in the 1954 production of Executive Suite.

Calhern’s other roles included the partner in crime to Spencer Tracy and Bette Davis in 20,000 Years in Sing Sing (1932), the spy boss of Cary Grant in Hitchcock’s Notorious (1946), and a jaded and acerbic high school teacher in The Blackboard Jungle (1955). His performance as Uncle Willie in High Society (1956), a musical remake of The Philadelphia Story, was his final film.

Calhern was married four times: Ilka Chase (1900–1978) from 1926 to 1927, Julia Hoyt (1897–1955) from 1927 to 1932, Natalie Schafer (1900–1991) from 1933 to 1942, and Marianne Stewart (1922–1992) from 1946 to 1955. All four marriages ended in divorce.

Calhern battled alcoholism for much of his adult life; as a result, he lost several important screen and stage roles. According to former wife Schafer, Calhern’s inability to overcome his addiction ended their marriage. While he was willing to consult doctors, she said Calhern refused to attend Alcoholics Anonymous because he was an atheist, and he considered AA to be a religious organization. Calhern ultimately overcame his alcohol addiction by the late 1940s.

Calhern died at age 61 of a sudden heart attack in Nara, Japan, while there to film The Teahouse of the August Moon. He was replaced in the film by Paul Ford, who had played Calhern’s role in the original Broadway production. Calhern was cremated and is interred at Hollywood Forever Cemetery.

Selected Filmography

What’s Worth While? (1921) as “Squire” Elton
Too Wise Wives (1921) as Mr. David Graham
The Blot (1921) as The Professor’s Pupil as Phil West
Woman, Wake Up (1922) as Monte Collins
The Last Moment (1923) as Harry Gaines
Stolen Heaven (1931) as Steve Perry
The Road to Singapore (1931) as Dr. George March
Blonde Crazy (1931) as Dapper Dan Barker
Okay, America! (1932) as Mileaway Russell
Night After Night (1932) as Dick Bolton
They Call It Sin (1932) as Ford Humphries
Afraid to Talk (1932) as Asst. District Attorney John Wade
20,000 Years in Sing Sing (1932) as Joe Finn
Frisco Jenny (1932) as Steve Dutton
The Woman Accused (1933) as Leo Young
Strictly Personal (1933) as Magruder
The World Gone Mad (1933) as Christopher Bruno
Diplomaniacs (1933) as Winkelreid
Duck Soup (1933) as Ambassador Trentino of Sylvania
The Count of Monte Cristo (1934) as De Villefort Jr.
The Man with Two Faces (1934) as Stanley Vance
The Affairs of Cellini (1934) as Ottaviano
Sweet Adeline (1934) as Major Day
The Arizonian (1935) as Sheriff Jake Mannen
Woman Wanted (1935) as Smiley
The Last Days of Pompei (1935) as Prefect
The Gorgeous Hussy (1936) as Sunderland
Her Husband Lies (1937) as Joe Sorrell
The Life of Emile Zola (1937) as Major Dort
Fast Company (1938) as Elias Z. “Eli” Bannerman
Juarez (1939) as Le Marc
5th Ave Girl (1939) as Dr. Kessler
Charlie McCarthy, Detective (1939) as Arthur Aldrich
I Take This Woman (1940) as Dr. Duveen
Dr. Ehrlich’s Magic Bullet (1940) as Dr. Brockdorf
Heaven Can Wait (1943) as Randolph Van Cleve
Nobody’s Darling (1943) as Curtis Farnsworth
The Bridge of San Luis Rey (1944) as Don Andre, The Viceroy
Up in Arms (1944) as Colonel Ashley
Notorious (1946) as Captain Paul Prescott
Arch of Triumph (1948) as “Col.” Boris Morosov
The Red Pony (1949) as Grandfather
The Red Danube (1949) as Colonel Piniev
Nancy Goes to Rio (1950) as Gregory Elliott
Annie Get Your Gun (1950) as Colonel William “Buffalo Bill” Cody
The Asphalt Jungle (1950) as Alonzo D. Emmerich
A Life of Her Own (1950) as Jim Leversoe
Devil’s Doorway (1950) as Verne Coolan
Two Weeks with Love (1950) as Horatio Robinson
The Magnificent Yankee (1950) as Oliver Wendell Holmes
It’s a Big Country (1951) as Narrator
The Man with a Cloak (1951) as Charles Francois Thevenet
A Letter from a Soldier (1951 short) as Narrator
Invitation (1952) as Simon Bowker
Washington Story (1952) as Charles W. Birch
We’re Not Married! (1952) as Frederick C. “Freddie” Melrose
The Prisoner of Zenda (1952) as Col. Zapt
The Bad and the Beautiful (1952) as voice of Georgia Lorrison’s Father
Confidentially Connie (1953) as Opie Bedloe
Julius Caesar (1953) as Julius Caesar
Remains to Be Seen (1953) as Benjamin Goodman
Latin Lovers (1953) as Grandfather Eduardo Santos
Main Street to Broadway (1953) as Himself
Executive Suite (1954) as George Nyle Caswell
Rhapsody (1954) as Nicholas Durant
Men of the Fighting Lady (1954) as James A. Michener
The Student Prince (1954) as King Ferdinand of Karlsberg
Betrayed (1954) as General Ten Eyck
Athena (1954) as Grandpa Ulysses Mulvain
The Prodigal (1955) as Nahreeb
Blackboard Jungle (1955) as Jim Murdock
Forever, Darling (1956) as Charles Y. Bewell
High Society (1956) as Uncle Willie