Walter Abel

Walter Abel


Birth Place
St Paul, Minnesota, USA
June 06, 1898
March 26, 1987


A prolific staple of Hollywood cinema for over a generation, Walter Abel may not have duplicated some of his early New York stage successes in leading roles once he relocated to the film world out West, but his was a versatile and an intelligent talent. His attractively open face, with its trademark trim mustache, lent a dapper yet sincere quality to the many harried professionals he pla...

Photos & Videos

Mr. Skeffington - Lobby Cards
Fury - Scene Stills


A prolific staple of Hollywood cinema for over a generation, Walter Abel may not have duplicated some of his early New York stage successes in leading roles once he relocated to the film world out West, but his was a versatile and an intelligent talent. His attractively open face, with its trademark trim mustache, lent a dapper yet sincere quality to the many harried professionals he played so well.

With his clarion voice and controlled yet energetic acting style, Abel enjoyed considerable success onstage in both leads and character roles in the 1920s. Especially notable were his simultaneous roles in two productions of Eugene O'Neill plays in 1924, "Bound East for Cardiff" and "Desire Under the Elms." He also acted in major productions of "The Enemy" (1925) and "The Seagull" (1928-29), and made his London debut in "Coquette" (1929). Abel played a small film role in Frank Borzage's version of "Liliom" (1930), but his career in movies was not launched in earnest until several years later, by which time he had also performed onstage in New York in "First Mortgage" and "At the Bottom" and on tour in plays including O'Neill's "Mourning Becomes Electra."

Abel's compact size might have seemed a limitation for leading roles in film, but he was signed at RKO in precisely that capacity. His first major effort, though, would later seem a classic case of miscasting: the role of D'Artagnan in one of the many film versions of "The Three Musketeers" (1935). Abel was more than capable of giving a role charm and brio and he tried his best, but the mix of boyish naivete and macho swaggering the role needed simply did not mesh with his looks and acting style. RKO tentatively put him in a few more leading roles in modest programmers like fading diva Ann Harding's swan song for the studio, "The Witness Chair" (1936). Abel was much better served, though, on loan-out to MGM for Fritz Lang's blistering indictment of lynch violence, "Fury" (1936), he was in splendid form as the fiery D.A. who tries an entire mob for its apparent murder of an innocent man (Spencer Tracy).

Often billed as high as second in a cast list, and rarely commanding less than fourth or fifth billing, Abel worked at almost every studio in Hollywood. He was most often cast in modern stories and was rarely the villain. Instead, he played successful but usually modest middle-class businessmen; in comedy Abel could amusingly convey frustration, while in drama he could be quietly helpful or crusading as the occasion demanded. He spent the first half of the 1940s at Paramount; while there he essayed one of his best-remembered roles as the newspaper editor in the offbeat wartime serio-comedy, "Arise My Love" (1940). Supporting Claudette Colbert and Ray Milland as they chase after news, Abel made an indelible impression repeating his key line, "I'm not happy; I'm not happy at all," succinctly summing up his always vaguely dissatisfied Everyman persona.

Abel was also highly amusing in the musical "Holiday Inn" (1942), as Bing Crosby thwarts his efforts to locate Fred Astaire's ideal dance partner based on his memory of only the back of her head. He also shone as one of Bette Davis' admirers in the period soap opera "Mr. Skeffington" (1944), finally telling the vain heroine a few truths about herself. After the war Abel returned to the stage for a time in Dalton Trumbo's "The Biggest Thief in Town" (1949) and "The Wisteria Tree" (1952), Joshua Logan's adaptation of Chekhov's "The Cherry Orchard." During the 50s, though, Abel was vice president of the Screen Actors Guild while Ronald Reagan served as president, and he returned to film roles in "So This Is Love" (1953) and "Raintree County" (1957), among others. In the 60s, Abel served as president of the American National Theater and Academy and performed onstage in "Night Life" (1962) and "The Ninety Day Mistress" (1967). Screen credits continued intermittently as well, from the fine suspenser "Mirage" (1965) right up to his last credit in "Grace Quigley" (lensed 1983; released 1985), giving Katharine Hepburn the same sort of able support he had done for so many others.



Cast (Feature Film)

Grace Quigley (1985)
Homer Watkins
Silent Night, Bloody Night (1974)
The Man Without a Country (1973)
Mirage (1965)
Charles Calvin
Handle with Care (1958)
Professor Roger Bowdin
Raintree County (1957)
T. D. Shawnessy
Bernardine (1957)
Mr. Beaumont
The Steel Jungle (1956)
Warden Keller
The Indian Fighter (1955)
Captain Trask
Night People (1954)
Dr. R. A. Foster
Island in the Sky (1953)
Col. Fuller
So This Is Love (1953)
Col. James Moore
Williamsburg Restored (1951)
Narrated by
Dream Girl (1948)
George Allerton
That Lady in Ermine (1948)
Major Horvath/Benvenuto
13 Rue Madeleine (1947)
Charles Stevenson Gibson
The Fabulous Joe (1947)
Milo Terkel
The Kid from Brooklyn (1946)
Gabby Sloane
Duffy's Tavern (1945)
Kiss and Tell (1945)
Mr. Archer
The Affairs of Susan (1945)
Richard Aiken
Mr. Skeffington (1944)
George Trellis
An American Romance (1944)
Howard Clinton
The Hitler Gang (1944)
Star Spangled Rhythm (1943)
B. G. De Soto
Fired Wife (1943)
Chris McClelland
So Proudly We Hail! (1943)
Beyond the Blue Horizon (1942)
[Professor] Thornton
Holiday Inn (1942)
Danny Reed
Wake Island (1942)
Commander Roberts
Hold Back the Dawn (1941)
Inspector Hammock
Skylark (1941)
George Gorell
Michael Shayne, Private Detective (1941)
Elliott Thomas
Glamour Boy (1941)
A. J. Colder
Arise, My Love (1940)
Who Killed Aunt Maggie? (1940)
Dr. George Benedict
Dance, Girl, Dance (1940)
King of the Turf (1939)
Mr. [Robert] Barnes
First Offenders (1939)
Gregory Stone
Miracle on Main Street (1939)
Jim [Foreman]
Law of the Underworld (1938)
Warren Rogers
Racket Busters (1938)
[Hugh] Allison
Men with Wings (1938)
[Nicholas] Nick Ranson
Wise Girl (1937)
Karl [Stevens]
Portia on Trial (1937)
Dan Foster
Green Light (1937)
[Dr.] John Stafford
The Lady Consents (1936)
Stanley Ashton
Fury (1936)
District attorney [Adams]
Two in the Dark (1936)
Ford "Jitney" Adams, also known as David Robbins and Johnny Smith
We Went to College (1936)
Phil Talbot
Second Wife (1936)
Kenneth Carpenter
The Witness Chair (1936)
James Trent
The Three Musketeers (1935)
Liliom (1930)
The North Wind's Malice (1920)
Out of a Clear Sky (1918)

Life Events


Made film debut in a small role in "Out of a Clear Sky"


Stage acting debut in "Forbidden"


Simultaneously appeared in two Eugene O'Neill plays in NYC, "Bound East for Cardiff" and "Desire Under the Elms"


London stage debut, "Coquette"


Film acting debut in "Liliom"


Signed contract with RKO


First major film work, and first leading role in films, as D'Artagnan in an RKO adaptation of "The Three Musketeers"


Co-starred in "Fury"


Had one of his best screen roles in Mitchell Leisen's "Arise My Love"


Worked primarily for Paramount Pictures


Concentrated on stage and television work for a time after his work in such films as "That Lady in Ermine"


Resumed more regular work in films for the next five years beginning with "Island in the Sky" and "So This Is Love"


First TV-movie, "The Man Without a Country" (ABC)


Last Broadway appearance, "Saturday, Sunday, Monday"


Final New York stage acting role alongside Meryl Streep and Mandy Patinkin in a revival of "Trelawny of the 'Wells'" staged at Lincoln Center


Final feature role, supporting Nick Nolte and Katharine Hepburn in "Grace Quigley/The Ultimate Solution of Grace Quigley" (released in 1985)

Photo Collections

Mr. Skeffington - Lobby Cards
Here are several Lobby Cards from Mr. Skeffington (1944), starring Bette Davis and Claude Rains. 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.
Fury - Scene Stills
Here are several scene stills from Fury (1936), starring Spencer Tracy and Sylvia Sidney and directed by Fritz Lang.


Movie Clip

Mr. Skeffington (1944) -- (Movie Clip) Some Committed Suicide New York, 1914, having left a gang of suitors in her drawing room, we learn that Walter Abel is cousin George to top-billed Bette Davis, in her first scene as socialite Fanny, her brother Trippy (Richard Waring) joining them, early in Mr. Skeffington,1944, with Claude Rains in the title role.
Three Musketeers, The (1935) -- (Movie Clip) Best Blade In The Land Aspiring Musketeer D'Artagnan (Walter Abel) is making his case to the captain de Treville (Lumsden Hare) when rowdy Athos (Paul Lukas), Porthos (Moroni Olsen) and Aramis (Onslow Stevens) cause a ruckus, early in RKO's 1935 version of The Three Musketeers.
Three Musketeers, The (1935) -- (Movie Clip) Three Most Obnoxious Athos (Paul Lukas) receives D'Artagnan (Walter Reed) for their duel, when the also-challenged Porthos (Moroni Olsen) and Aramis (Onslow Stevens) arrive, followed by the Cardinal's guard (led by Ralph Faulkner), in RKO's The Three Musketeers, 1935.
Three Musketeers, The (1935) -- (Movie Clip) Your Harmless Face Queen's maid Constance (Heather Angel) is busy manipulating lustful landlord Bernajou (Murray Kinnell), when she discovers D'Artagnan (Walter Abel) and servant Planchet (John Qualen) in the upstairs flat, in The Three Musketeers,1935, from RKO.
Indian Fighter, The -- (Movie Clip) Big Mouth Tail end of the credits and vaguely provocative introduction of Onahti (Elsa Martinelli in her Hollywood debut), Johnny Hawks (Kirk Douglas) meets Grey Wolf (Harry Landers) and Red Cloud (Eduard Franz), in The Indian Fighter, 1955.


Night People - (Original Trailer) Communists kidnap a U.S. officer (Gregory Peck) in cold war Berlin in Night People (1954).
Handle with Care - (Original Trailer) During a mock trial, a small-town law student uncovers new evidence about a real crime in Handle With Care (1958).
Holiday Inn - (Re-issue Trailer) "White Christmas" was written for this movie where Bing Crosby sings and Fred Astaire dances at the Holiday Inn (1942).
13 Rue Madeleine - (Original Trailer) Tragedy occurs when a spy chief finds out one of his agents-in-training is actually a Nazi double agent in 13 Rue Madeleine (1947).
Wake Island - (Original Trailer) Sailors stationed in the Pacific fight off the Japanese during World War II. Released nine months after the actual battle.
So Proudly We Hail! - (Original Trailer) Nurses caught behind enemy lines during World War II fight to survive in So Proudly We Hail! (1943) starring Claudette Colbert and Paulette Goddard.
We Went To College - (Original Trailer) Three middle-aged men try to recapture the joys of their college days in the comedy We Went To College (1936).
Island in the Sky -- (Original Trailer) it's a saga of survival as a WWII transport plane crashes in the Canadian wilderness in William Wellman's Island in the Sky (1953).
Mr. Skeffington - (Original Trailer) A flighty beauty (Bette Davis) marries a stockbroker (Claude Rains) for convenience and almost ruins both their lives in Mr. Skeffington (1944).
Fury -- (Original Trailer) An innocent man (Spencer Tracy) escapes a lynch mob and then returns for revenge in Fury (1936), directed by Fritz Lang.
Racket Busters - (Original Trailer) Mobster Humphrey Bogart tries to take over the trucking business in Racket Busters (1938).