Eugene Pallette

Eugene Pallette


Birth Place
Winfield, Kansas, USA
July 08, 1889
September 03, 1954


With the transition in Hollywood from silent to talking pictures, audiences most often heard rather than saw Eugene Pallette coming. His once athletic build blown out to rotund proportions and his voice registering an octave lower than a bullfrog's, Pallette was a singular presence among the ranks of studio players during the Great Depression. He found his niche playing irascible big cit...

Photos & Videos

Slightly Dangerous - Lobby Cards
Shanghai Express - Movie Posters
Shanghai Express - Lobby Cards

Family & Companions

Marjorie Pallette
Died in 1964.


With the transition in Hollywood from silent to talking pictures, audiences most often heard rather than saw Eugene Pallette coming. His once athletic build blown out to rotund proportions and his voice registering an octave lower than a bullfrog's, Pallette was a singular presence among the ranks of studio players during the Great Depression. He found his niche playing irascible big city cops, most famously in five whodunits starring William Powell as debonair sleuth Philo Vance, beginning with "The Canary Murder Case" (1929). Comfortable in the sackcloth of a country cleric, as in "The Adventures of Robin Hood" (1938) opposite Errol Flynn and "The Mark of Zorro" (1940) with Tyrone Power, Pallette was most widely seen in business attire, playing a Beltway fixer stumped by Senate do-gooder James Stewart in "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington" (1939), and the patriarch of a wacky Depression-era family in the screwball classic "My Man Godfrey" (1936). Larger than life on the big screen, Pallette was no less outsized in his private life, where he allegedly opposed racial integration and was an early champion of Adolf Hitler. Growing fearful of an impending atomic Armageddon, Pallette stockpiled supplies on an Oregon compound but died of cancer in Hollywood in 1954. The memory of his unpalatable politics lost to time, Pallette lived on in the hearts of moviegoers as an indispensable element of Hollywood's Golden Age, a versatile character actor who could speak for the masses or drown out its voice with his own.

Eugene William Pallette was born on July 8, 1889, in Winfield, KS. Though his parents had been actors in their younger years (his mother, Ella Jackson, had once posed in costume for Matthew Brady), his father, William Baird Pallette, pursued a career in the insurance business. Educated at Illinois' Culver Military Academy, Pallette relocated with his family to Los Angeles, where his father assumed the position of general manager for the International Indemnity Company. Restless to make his fortune, Pallette joined a number of stock companies and served his apprenticeship in repertory before gravitating to extra work in films. He made his feature film debut for the American Film Manufacturing Company in Santa Barbara in 1910, but by 1913 was based in Hollywood. In 1914, Pallette appeared in 30 films as both a stuntman and actor. During World War I, he served with the flying corps. Trim in his twenties, Pallette brought an athletic presence to roles for D. W. Griffith, playing both a Union soldier and a Negro brawler in "Birth of a Nation" (1915) and waxing his mustache as doomed Huguenot Prosper Latour in "Intolerance" (1916).

Pallette appeared in three early films for director Tod Browning, among them "The Highbinders" (1915), which found him cast as Seena Owen's brutish Chinese husband. He had a small role in Scott Sidney's "Tarzan of the Apes" (1918), the first of many film adaptations of the novel by Edgar Rice Burroughs, but had more to do playing Aramis to Douglas Fairbanks' D'Artagnan in Fred Niblo's "The Three Musketeers" (1922). Gaining weight and gravitas as he approached middle age, Pallette transitioned from romantic leads to figures of authority at home on either side of the law and order equation. An investment in a Texas oil field netted Pallette a small fortune that he lost in less than a year. Returning to films, Pallette signed with Hal Roach Studios and appeared in several shorts in support of Laurel and Hardy, among them "Sugar Daddies" (1927) and "The Battle of the Century" (1927), in which he played an insurance agent. Though he had made a living for himself in silent films, it was the advent of talking pictures that assured Pallette's fame.

Possessing a speaking voice two octaves below that of a bullfrog, Pallette distinguished himself with ease from the pack of contract players at Paramount. In "The Canary Murder Case" (1929), he played blustery police sergeant Ernest Heath to William Powell's unflappable sleuth Philo Vance, a role he reprised for four sequels. He was the draggletail Duke of Bilgewater in "Huckleberry Finn" (1931), the first sound adaptation of the Mark Twain novel. In Josef von Sternberg's "Shanghai Express" (1932), Pallette's garrulous American gambler was offered in comedic contrast to poker-faced lovers Marlene Dietrich and Clive Brook. He was a loquacious Louisiana sheriff in John Ford's "Steamboat Round the Bend" (1935), a busted Manhattan businessman in charge of a seemingly insane family in Gregory La Cava's classic comedy "My Man Godfrey" (1936), and an apoplectic hotel detective spooked by blithe spirits Cary Grant and Constance Bennett in "Topper" (1937). His weight having ballooned to near 300 lbs., Pallette was the perfect fit for the robe and tonsure of Friar Tuck in the swashbuckling classic, "The Adventures of Robin Hood" (1938), opposite Errol Flynn.

For Frank Capra, Pallette played a Washington fixer exasperated by honest senator James Stewart in "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington" (1939) and for Rouben Mamoulian, a comic cleric in "The Mark of Zorro" (1940), starring Tyrone Power. He was back in pinstripes as Damon Runyon's Nicely Nicely Johnson in "The Big Street" (1942) and played the fall guy for Bud Abbott and Lou Costello in "It Ain't Hay" (1943). Pallette was paired to good effect with Marjorie Main as Gene Tierney's bickering parents in the Ernst Lubitsch fantasy "Heaven Can Wait" (1943) and played another Beltway insider in the Fibber McGee and Molly vehicle "Heavenly Days" (1944). That same year, Pallette was cast as the father of British actress Jeanne Crain in Otto Preminger's "In the Meantime, Darling" (1944). In interviews, Crain alleged that Pallette was not only a bigot, who refused to share a table with black cast member Clarence Muse, but an admirer of Adolf Hitler as well. Due to the controversy, Pallette was fired from the production, with his character downsized to accommodate scenes already completed.

Pallette retired from acting after contributing a character role to the skating rink noir "Suspense" (1946), starring Barry Sullivan and Belita the Ice Maiden, a former Olympic contender making her film debut. That same year, growing concerned over atomic proliferation, he purchased a 3,500 acre plot of land in northeast Oregon for the purposes of constructing a fallout shelter, where he intended to sit out World War III. His health deteriorating more rapidly than world peace, Pallette was diagnosed with cancer, forcing him to sell off his Oregon compound and resign himself to ending his days in Hollywood. He died in his Wilshire Boulevard apartment on Sept. 3, 1954, at the age of 65, leaving behind a rich legacy of character actor work in all genres of Golden Age film classics.

by Richard Harland Smith



Cast (Feature Film)

TBD (2005)
In Old Sacramento (1946)
Jim Wales
Suspense (1946)
Harry Wheeler
The Cheaters (1945)
James C. Pidgeon
Pin Up Girl (1944)
Chief Barney Briggs
Sensations of 1945 (1944)
Gus Crane
In the Meantime, Darling (1944)
H. B. Preston
Heavenly Days (1944)
Senator Bigbee
Lake Placid Serenade (1944)
Carl Cermak
Step Lively (1944)
Simon Jenkins
The Kansan (1943)
Tom Waggoner
Slightly Dangerous (1943)
It Ain't Hay (1943)
Gregory Warner
The Gang's All Here (1943)
Andrew J. "A. J." Mason, Sr.
Heaven Can Wait (1943)
E. F. Strabel
Silver Queen (1942)
Stephen Adams
The Big Street (1942)
Nicely Nicely Johnson
The Male Animal (1942)
Editor Keller
Lady in a Jam (1942)
Are Husbands Necessary? (1942)
Almost Married (1942)
Dr. Dobson
The Forest Rangers (1942)
Mr. [Howard] Huston
Tales of Manhattan (1942)
The Lady Eve (1941)
Mr. Pike
Appointment for Love (1941)
George Hastings
Unfinished Business (1941)
The Bride Came C.O.D. (1941)
Lucius K. Winfield
World Premiere (1941)
Gregory Martin
Ride, Kelly, Ride (1941)
[Morton] Duke [Klopstock]
Swamp Water (1941)
Sheriff Jeb McKane
It's a Date (1940)
Governor Allen
Sandy Is a Lady (1940)
P. J. Barnett
He Stayed for Breakfast (1940)
Maurice Duval
Young Tom Edison (1940)
Mr. Nelson
The Mark of Zorro (1940)
Fray Felipe
A Little Bit of Heaven (1940)
First Love (1939)
James Clinton
Wife, Husband and Friend (1939)
Mike Craig
Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939)
Chick McGann
There Goes My Heart (1938)
Mr. Stevens, editor
The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938)
Friar Tuck
One Hundred Men and a Girl (1937)
John R. Frost
She Had to Eat (1937)
Raymond Quincy Nash
The Crime Nobody Saw (1937)
Clarence (1937)
Mr. Wheeler
Topper (1937)
Stowaway (1936)
The colonel
The Luckiest Girl in the World (1936)
Campbell Duncan
The Golden Arrow (1936)
Mr. Meyers
The Golden Arrow (1936)
Mr. Meyers
The Ghost Goes West (1936)
Mr. [Joe] Martin
Easy to Take (1936)
Doc [Reginald] Kraft
My Man Godfrey (1936)
Alexander Bullock
Baby Face Harrington (1935)
Uncle Henry
Black Sheep (1935)
Colonel Upton Calhoun Belcher
Steamboat Round the Bend (1935)
Sheriff Rufe Jetters
Bordertown (1935)
Charlie Roark
All the King's Horses (1935)
Con Conley
One Exciting Adventure (1934)
The Dragon Murder Case (1934)
Sgt. Heath
Friends of Mr. Sweeney (1934)
[Wynn] Rixey
Caravan (1934)
Gypsy chief
I've Got Your Number (1934)
[Joe] Flood
Cross Country Cruise (1934)
Strictly Dynamite (1934)
Sourwood [Sam]
Shanghai Madness (1933)
[Captain] Lobo Lornegan
Made on Broadway (1933)
[Mike] Terwilliger
The Kennel Murder Case (1933)
Detective [Sergeant Ernest] Heath
From Headquarters (1933)
Sgt. Boggs
Storm at Daybreak (1933)
Hell Below (1933)
MacDougal--Chief torpedo man
Mr. Skitch (1933)
Cliff Merriweather
Dancers in the Dark (1932)
Wild Girl (1932)
Yuba [Bill]
Thunder Below (1932)
The Half Naked Truth (1932)
The Night Mayor (1932)
Hymie Shane
Strangers of the Evening (1932)
Sergeant Brubacher
Shanghai Express (1932)
Sam Salt
It Pays to Advertise (1931)
Cyrus Martin
Girls About Town (1931)
Benjamin Thomas
Gun Smoke (1931)
Stub Wallock
Dude Ranch (1931)
Huckleberry Finn (1931)
The Duke of Bilgewater, [Junior]
Fighting Caravans (1931)
Seth [Higgins]
The Kibitzer (1930)
Sea Legs (1930)
Hyacinth Nitouche
The Border Legion (1930)
"Bunco" Davis
Slightly Scarlet (1930)
Sylvester Corbett
The Sea God (1930)
Square Deal McCarthy
The Santa Fe Trail (1930)
Doc Brady
The Benson Murder Case (1930)
Sergeant Heath
Playboy of Paris (1930)
Follow Thru (1930)
J. C. Effingham
Men Are Like That (1930)
Traffic cop
The Love Parade (1930)
Minister of War
Let's Go Native (1930)
Creditor's man
Paramount on Parade (1930)
The Greene Murder Case (1929)
Sergeant Heath
The Virginian (1929)
Honey Wiggin
Pointed Heels (1929)
Joe Clark
The Canary Murder Case (1929)
Ernest Heath
The Studio Murder Mystery (1929)
Lieutenant Dirk
The Dummy (1929)
Lights of New York (1928)
His Private Life (1928)
Henri Bérgère
Chicago (1928)
Out of the Ruins (1928)
The Red Mark (1928)
The Good-Bye Kiss (1928)
The Captain
Moulders of Men (1927)
Barney Mulholland
Mantrap (1926)
E. Wesson Woodbury
Whispering Canyon (1926)
Harvey Hawes [Hinky Dink]
Whispering Smith (1926)
Bill Dancing71 Walling, WillMurray Sinclair
Rocking Moon (1926)
Side Money
Desert Valley (1926)
The Fighting Edge (1926)
Without Mercy (1925)
The Light of Western Stars (1925)
Wandering Husbands (1924)
The Wolf Man (1924)
The Cyclone Rider (1924)
The Wolf Man (1924)
Hell's Hole (1923)
North of Hudson Bay (1923)
Peter Dane
A Man's Man (1923)
Captain Benevido
To the Last Man (1923)
Simm Bruce
Two Kinds of Women (1922)
Old Carson
Without Compromise (1922)
Tommy Ainsworth
The Three Musketeers (1921)
Fine Feathers (1921)
Bob Reynolds
Alias Jimmy Valentine (1920)
"Red" Jocelyn
Parlor, Bedroom and Bath (1920)
Reggie Irving
Terror Island (1920)
Guy Mourdant
Words and Music by -Xxx (1919)
Gene Harris
The Amateur Adventuress (1919)
George Goodie
Fair and Warmer (1919)
Billy Bartlett
Be a Little Sport (1919)
Dick Nevins
The Turn of a Card (1918)
Eddie Barrett
Viviette (1918)
Dick Ware
No Man's Land (1918)
Sidney Dundas
Breakers Ahead (1918)
Jim Hawley
A Man's Man (1918)
Captain Benevido
Madam Who (1918)
Lieutenant Conroy
His Robe of Honor (1918)
Clifford Nordhoff
The World Apart (1917)
Clyde Holt
The Lonesome Chap (1917)
George Rothwell
The Heir of the Ages (1917)
Larry Payne
The Ghost House (1917)
Spud Foster
Each to His Kind (1917)
Dick Larimer
The Bond Between (1917)
Raoul Vaux
The Marcellini Millions (1917)
Mr. Murray
The Winning of Sally Temple (1917)
Sir John Gorham
Gretchen, the Greenhorn (1916)
Intolerance (1916)
Prosper Latour
Hell-to-Pay Austin (1916)
Harry Tracey
Sunshine Dad (1916)
Fred Evergreen
The Children in the House (1916)
Arthur Vincent
Going Straight (1916)
Jimmy Briggs

Cast (Short)

Assistant Wives (1927)
Fluttering Hearts (1927)
The Second 100 Years (1927)

Misc. Crew (Short)

The Voice That Thrilled the World (1943)
Archival Footage

Life Events


Made stage acting debut


Became leading man with the American Film Manufacturing Company


Appeared in D W Griffith's "The Birth of a Nation"


Interrupted film career for military service


Supported Douglas Fairbanks in "The Three Musketeers"


Made last silent film. "His Private Life"


Co-starred as the father in "My Man Godfrey"


Played Friar Tuck in "The Adventures of Robin Hood", starring Errol Flynn


Appeared in "The Lady Eve"


Final film "Silver River"

Photo Collections

Slightly Dangerous - Lobby Cards
Slightly Dangerous - Lobby Cards
Shanghai Express - Movie Posters
Shanghai Express - Movie Posters
Shanghai Express - Lobby Cards
Here are a few Lobby Cards from Paramount's Shanghai Express (1932), starring Marlene Dietrich. Lobby Cards were 11" x 14" posters that came in sets of 8. As the name implies, they were most often displayed in movie theater lobbies, to advertise current or coming attractions.


Movie Clip

Half Naked Truth, The (1933) -- (Movie Clip) Douse The Haberdashery Crafty agent Jimmy (Lee Tracy) stops Broadway producer Farrell (Frank Morgan) from dropping the curtain, interrupting the fake Turkish princess act so Teresita (Lupe Velez) can do her saucy "Carpenter" number (by Edward Eliscu and Harry Akst), in Gregory La Cava's The Half Naked Truth, 1932.
Half Naked Truth, The (1933) -- (Movie Clip) Thirty Pounds Of Raw Meat Scamming promoter Jimmy (Lee Tracy) with sidekick "Achilles" (Eugene Pallette), angered at a Broadway producer's tactics, gets an idea to boost his phony Turkish princess Teresita (Lupe Velez), leading to a riff by director Gregory La Cava, in The Half Naked Truth, 1932.
Half Naked Truth, The (1933) -- (Movie Clip) All Turkish Harems Arrived in New York embarking on a new scam, carnival man Jimmy (Lee Tracy) conjures new identities for his cohorts Teresita (Lupe Velez) and Achilles (Eugene Pallette), and neatly bamboozles the concierge (Franklin Pangborne), in Gregory La Cava's The Half Naked Truth, 1931.
Kennel Murder Case, The (1933) -- (Movie Clip) Someone Miscalculated Beginning his detective work, Philo Vance (William Powell) with Sergeant Heath (Eugene Pallette), D-A Markham (Robert McWade) and Wrede (Ralph Morgan), secretary to the deceased, considering possibilities, in The Kennel Murder Case, 1933.
Kennel Murder Case, The (1931) -- (Movie Clip) Don't Touch That Body Socialite Hilda (Mary Astor) proves herself a straight shooter when she walks in on society sleuth Philo Vance (William Powell), supported by law and order (Robert McWade, Eugene Pallette), investigating the death of her skinflint uncle, early in The Kennel Murder Case, 1934, directed by Michael Curtiz.
Shanghai Express (1932) -- (Movie Clip) Both Their Souls Are Rotten Pompous clergyman Carmichael (Lawrence Grant) unloads on Brit military doctor Harvey (Clive Brook) about Hui Fei (Anna May Wong) and Magdalen (Marlene Dietrich, a.k.a. Shanghai Lily), whose subsequent chat suggests a complex history, early on the trip in Shanghai Express, 1932.
Kennel Murder Case, The (1931) -- (Movie Clip) Unsolved Murders This is William Powell in a different movie from his capable colleagues, as Philo Vance, deducing what must have happened to the missing murder suspect, Arthur Hohl as servant Gamble, Robert McWade as prosecutor Markham, Eugene Pallette as cop Heath, in The Kennel Murder Case, 1931.
Lady Eve, The (1941) -- (Movie Clip) She's Never Been In South America Con artist Barbara Stanwyck, now assuming title role, appears at the Hamptons home of beer baron Pike (Eugene Pallette), intent on getting even with his scientist son Charles (Henry Fonda), who presumes she's just a look-alike for the gal he fell for on the cruise ship, in Preston Sturges' The Lady Eve, 1941.
Swamp Water (1941) -- (Movie Clip) The Okefenokee Swamp Opening renowned French director Jean Renoir’s first film in the U.S., on location at the Okefenokee in Georgia, Dana Andrews in a search party, with Walter Huston, Ward Bond and others, in Swamp Water, 1941, from the only novel by Georgia-born Vereen Bell, who died in action in the Philippines in World War Two.
Swamp Water (1941) -- (Movie Clip) You Little Fightin' Cat Dana Andrews is backwoods Georgia teen Ben, planning to enter the Okefenokee to find his dog, at the general store with locals including Eugene Pallette, Russell Simpson, Ward Bond, Guinn Williams and Anne Baxter, as the rather wild young ward of the owner, Jean Renoir directing, in Swamp Water, 1941.
Step Lively (1944) -- (Movie Clip) As Long As There's Music Playwright Glenn (Frank Sinatra) and producer Gordon (George Murphy) panic when Christine (Gloria DeHaven) reports Jenkins (Eugene Pallette) doesn't like what he's seen, although Miss Abbott (Anne Jeffreys) comes around, song by Sammy Cahn and Jule Styne, in Step Lively, 1944.
Mr. Smith Goes To Washington -- (Movie Clip) Daniel Boone's Lost Chick (Eugene Pallette) informs Saunders (Jean Arthur, her first scene) that the new senator (James Stewart) has gone missing in the capital, launching director Frank Capra's thundering montage, in Mr. Smith Goes To Washington, 1939.


My Man Godfrey (1936) - (Re-issue Trailer) A zany heiress (Carole Lombard) tries to help a tramp (William Powell) by making him the family butler in My Man Godfrey, 1936, directed by Gregory La Cava.
Mr. Smith Goes To Washington - (Original Trailer) Mr. Smith Goes To Washington (1939), Frank Capra's masterpiece about a naive young senator (James Stewart) who uncovers political corruption.
Adventures of Robin Hood, The -- (Re-issue Trailer) The Sherwood Forest legend (Errol Flynn) leads his Merry Men in a battle against the wicked Prince John in The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938).
Young Tom Edison -- (Original Trailer) Mickey Rooney is Young Tom Edison (1940), defying authority to develop his first inventions.
Golden Arrow, The (1936) - (Original Trailer) A waitress posing as an heiress (Bette Davis) enters a "marriage of convenience" with a writer (George Brent) in The Golden Arrow (1938).
From Headquarters - (Original Trailer) Police lieutenant George Brent uses forensic science to solve a decadent playboy's murder in From Headquarters (1933).
Friends of Mr. Sweeney, The - (Original Trailer) When an editorial writer opposes his boss he finds himself with strange bedfellows in the comedy The Friends of Mr. Sweeney (1934).
Big Street, The - (Re-issue Trailer) Lucille Ball plays a selfish showgirl who ignores Henry Fonda's lovestruck waiter until she is injured in The Big Street, 1942, produced by Damon Runyon from his short story.
Baby Face Harrington - (Original Trailer) A milquetoast has to fight off cops and gangsters when he's mistaken for the notorious Baby Face Harrington (1935).
Topper (1937) - (Original Trailer) Cary Grant and Constance Bennett are a couple of playful ghosts adding new life to a stuffy bank president (Roland Young), called Topper (1937).
Step Lively - (Original Trailer) Fly-by-night producers dodge bill collectors while trying for one big hit in Step Lively (1944) starring Frank Sinatra.
Lady Eve, The - (Original Trailer) Lady card shark Barbara Stanwyck tries to con Henry Fonda, heir to the Pale Ale fortune, only to fall for him in Preston Sturges' The Lady Eve (1941).


Beulah Phelps


Marjorie Pallette
Died in 1964.