Sunday, January 22, 2012

VERTIGO, the Bit Players

by guest contributor Allen Hefner

Kim Novak with Tom Helmore in Vertigo

A movie as incredible as Vertigo (1958) is a collaboration of many parts.  Even an actor as talented as James Stewart can’t carry a film of this complexity by himself.  The locations, scenery, costumes, set decoration, lighting, music, bit parts and even the cars are important to make any film a success. 

I enjoy looking at the Bit Parts in a movie…seeing where the Bit Actors came from and where they went after a successful movie.  Most of them didn’t get paid much, but the good ones put their whole heart and soul into each role, whether it was a small part in a television western or an opportunity to supply an important plot element in a movie like Vertigo.

Let’s look at some of the larger Bit Parts in Vertigo.  I have listed them in order of the number of roles they have played during their career. 


Ellen Corby and James Stewart
Ellen Corby (1911 – 1999)  238 titles are listed on IMDb for Ellen.  She worked with Alfred Hitchcock in Vertigo as the McKittrick Hotel manager, and also in several of his TV shows.  Her first movie was Rafter Romance (1933) starring Ginger Rogers, released just before Rogers teamed up with Fred Astaire in Flying Down to Rio the same year.

Corby’s next film was Sons of the Desert (1933) starring Laurel and Hardy.  She would make two other L&H films, Babes in Toyland (1934) and Swiss Miss (1938).  Her first pairing with James Stewart was in a little film called It’s a Wonderful Life (1946).  She plays a Bailey Savings and Loan customer who withdraws just $17.50 during the run.  Stewart didn’t expect her to say that small amount, so he kissed her!  I guess Frank Capra could get as much out of his actors as Hitchcock.

Most of Corby’s roles through the 1940s were uncredited, but she continued to get better and better parts.  Look for her in Mighty Joe Young (1949) the King Kong send-up, The Gunfighter (1950) with Gregory Peck, Angels in the Outfield (1951) with Janet Leigh, Sabrina (1954) with Humphrey Bogart, and Night Passage (1957) again with James Stewart…all before Vertigo, and all great films.

Corby’s television career is another long story, but it took her from being Mother Lurch in “The Addams Family” to Esther Walton on “The Waltons,” a role she played in the series and many of the Walton’s specials.

Henry Jones (1912 – 1999), shown at right, has 202 titles listed and is certainly one of the most recognizable Bit Actors in cinema.  He was born in Philadelphia, so I like him even more.  His first film was This is the Army (1943) starring George Murphy and featuring Ronald Reagan. 

Jones moved straightaway into television in 1950, and his second appearance on TV was with George Burns and Gracie Allen.  In the early days, television was considered a step down from acting on film, just as 50 years earlier acting on film was less desirable than being on Broadway.  Television appearances in the early days were much more frequent than movies, so all those kids (myself included) who were glued to the TV set until the next Saturday matinee at the local theatre would have the faces of those actors and actresses burned into their subconscious, only to resurface 50 years later and be written about on the Internet.

Jones continued making movies during his television work.  In 1957 look for him in Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter? with Tony Randall and Jayne Mansfield, and then in 3:10 to Yuma starring Glenn Ford, and of course in 1958 as the blue-suited coroner in Vertigo

In 1969 we see Henry in Support Your Local Sheriff! with James Garner, and as a bicycle salesman in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid with of course, Paul Newman and Robert Redford.  Later in his career he continues mostly on TV, but look for him in these great films –Nine to Five (1980), Deathtrap (1982), Dick Tracy (1990), and his final film The Grifters (1990).

Barbara Bel Geddes and Raymond Bailey
Raymond Bailey (1904 – 1980) is best known as Milburn Drysdale on “The Beverly Hillbillies.”  However, that came near the end of his career of 146 titles that started in 1939.  His first dozen years on the big screen went largely uncredited.

Television again allowed Bailey to find good work as an actor, but it wasn’t until the 1960s that he had a regular role in “My Sister Eileen,” a show I have never seen. 

In the movies he has quite a long list, but many are forgettable films with second tier stars like Jock Mahoney, Jeff Chandler, and Tab Hunter.  He appeared in Band of Angels (1957) which came near the end of Clark Gable’s career.

1958 may have been his finest film year, with appearances in Darby’s Rangers, Lafayette Escadrille, Vertigo (a small role as Scottie’s doctor), No Time for Sergeants, The Lineup, King Creole and I Want to Live!  Quite a year for him, and for us.

Then, more TV, more TV, and in 1960 The Gallant Hours starring James Cagney and From the Terrace with Paul Newman…and more TV.  Finally, Jed Clampett makes him a famous Beverly Hills banker and the rest is history.  His final films were Herbie Rides Again (1974) and The Strongest Man in the World (1975).

James Stewart and Lee Patrick
Lee Patrick (1901 – 1982) was the lady who is mistaken for Madeleine at her car.  Her role in Vertigo was small, but it helped fill in some questions in Scottie’s mind.  Of course to me, Lee Patrick will always be Henrietta Topper of the television series “Topper” starring Leo G. Carroll as Cosmo Topper.

Lee has 104 titles listed on IMDb starting in 1929.  Her first major motion picture, though not a starring role, was as Effie in the Bogart classic The Maltese Falcon (1941).  In a Hitchcockian (is that a word?) twist, her final film was The Black Bird (1975) and she played the same part.  I am sure that was a forgettable movie, where George Segal plays Sam Spade’s son, still looking for the elusive Falcon.

In between those films you can catch her in Now, Voyager (1942), George Washington Slept Here (1942), A Night to Remember (1942), Jitterbugs (a not so great Laurel and Hardy film in 1943), Mildred Pierce (1945), Vertigo and Auntie Mame in 1958, The Seven Faces of Dr. Lao (1964), and a bunch of television.

Tom Helmore with James Stewart
Tom Helmore (1904 – 1995)  Even though Gavin Elster (the real Madeleine’s husband) was a focal point of the mystery in Vertigo, I must include Tom Helmore as a Bit Player in a supporting role.  He really doesn’t have much screen time.  But he has 72 titles on IMDb.  And he appears in two earlier Hitchcock movies, The Ring (a silent film from 1927) and Secret Agent (1936) with John Gielgud.

There’s not much to write about in his other work.  Of note is an appearance in The Tender Trap (1955) with Frank Sinatra, The Time Machine (1960) with Rod Taylor, plus some good television work.  The last movie he worked in was Flipper’s New Adventure (1964).
Konstantin Shayne (1888 – 1974), shown at right, certainly sounds like a Russian cowboy.  Shayne played Pop Leibel, the bookstore owner who fills in the missing story about Carlotta Valdes.  Again, a very small part but integral to understanding the plot. 

Shayne has 49 titles listed on IMDb, starting in 1938.  His performances of note were in None But the Lonely Heart (1944), The Stranger (1946) and The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (1947).  You can also see him in small parts in a Bulldog Drummond film and in The Falcon in Hollywood (1944).  He appeared quite a few times on TV in the 1950s, and his final movie was Joy in the Morning (1965) starring Richard Chamberlain.

Margaret Brayton and Kim Novak
Margaret Brayton (1907 – 1992) played the saleswoman in the dress shop that Scottie and Judy went to.  While it may not seem like it was important to have this scene in Vertigo, it does serve to highlight the extent of Scotty’s obsession with turning Judy into Madeleine.  

She has 48 titles on IMDb from 1934 to 1959, mostly uncredited, with maybe five television appearances.  Another of her other well-known films was Who Done It? (1942) with Abbott and Costello.

Molly Dodd (1921 – 1981) was the beautician who also worked over Judy to recreate Madeleine.  I loved it when she told Scottie that she knew what HE wanted, as though everyone in San Francisco was tired of his fantasy.  Her 40 titles on IMDb include only four movies and Vertigo was her first.

Molly Dodd and James Stewart
Look for Molly in many of the sitcoms in the 1960s.  In 1976 she was also in a few episodes of “The Waltons” with Ellen Corby.  Her last movie was Harper Valley P.T.A. (1978).

And finally, there are the cars…Scottie’s 1956 DeSoto Firedome, Madeleine’s 1957 Jaguar Mk VIII, and Midge’s (Barbara Bel Geddes) 1956 Karmann Ghia.  I have written before about cars in cinema and I am sure there are volumes available on the topic. 

'Madeleine' in her 1957 Jaguar Mk VIII
The two main cars in Vertigo are more than obvious as plot vehicles  (Sorry!  I couldn’t resist).  They are as distinctive as the characters they belong to.  It was important for the cars to be instantly recognizable to avoid confusion in the film.  While Scotty is following Madeleine, you need to be able to pick out her car in the traffic.  You see it later at his apartment, and again after Madeleine’s staged death in the scene with Lee Patrick. 

It is also interesting that the three cars match their owner’s personalities perfectly.  I can see each one of them picking out their car at the dealership.  Of course, it wasn’t the Kim Novak Madeleine who bought the Jag, but it would fit the real Madeleine’s station in society.  Scottie would be matter-of-fact in his purchase, buying a car big enough for his needs, with a powerful V8.  And Midge would have chosen her Ghia because it was so cute!

'Midge' in her 1956 Karmann Ghia
Hitchcock thought of everything, right down to the cars.  His penchant for perfection is showcased in Vertigo and its excellent cast of Bit Actors.  And I’m sure you’ll agree that these parts helped make Vertigo the great classic film it is.

Many thanks to Eve for hosting this month long tribute, and to all the other writers who have put so much effort into the project.  I hope you enjoy every entry.  And please stop by my Bit Part Actors blog for more great profiles.

Allen Hefner of Bit Part Actors, the blog he launched in May 2010, is from Pennsylvania and has been interested in movies from an early age. He recalls attending Saturday matinees at the Keswick Theatre in Glenside, PA, every Saturday of his youth, “when 50 cents bought you a two reeler (usually The Three Stooges or Laurel & Hardy), a few cartoons and a feature film.” Allen is a member of the famed Laurel & Hardy fan organization, The Sons of the Desert, and has, over the years, met and enjoyed the company of many film buffs and performers of days gone by including Margaret Hamilton, William Windom, Penny Singleton and others - as well as Stan Laurel's daughter, Lois, and Sons of the Desert founder (and cartoonist) Al Kilgore.


  1. I love that you included the cars. I've always wondered about the models they were driving.

    Really enjoying this terrific series.

  2. This was a fun entry. Interesting how the faces of these actors (if not their names) often become bit players in our own subconscious. In my case, I saw most of these people in films and television so frequently as a child that their familiarity connects me to them immediately. An actor like Henry Jones had his own kind of charisma, even when in a small part (Strother Martin had a similar ability to hold your attention on screen - sometimes even stealing scenes). For me Jones's most memorable part was as the creepy Leroy, the knowing nemesis of Patty McCormack's twisted central character in "The Bad Seed". The cars in "Vertigo" are not only cool artifacts of the period but the focus of our attention as we follow the character's through the winding streets of San Francisco, and deeper into the story. There are many elements that contribute to a memorable film.

  3. Allan, a really fun and informative post. Some of the better-known actors you cover I was aware of by name, but most of them I wasn't, although reading your post, I realized I must have seen them in the movies you named. For example, I just watched "The Stranger" last week so must have seen Konstantin Shayne. I keep seeing Ellen Corby all over the place in small, uncredited roles, especially in movies of the 40s. When I saw Raymond Bailey's name in the cast, I said, "Aha, Mr. Drysdale" and started looking for him, although it took a long time for him to show up. I once read an article in a film magazine about the 10 best 5-minute performances in movies, and Henry Jones's turn in "Vertigo" as the coroner was one of them. (Another from a Hitchcock movie was Leo G. Carroll as the abortionist in "Rebecca.") I go along with everyone else and say how much I enjoyed your inclusion of the cars as bit players. They were, especially in that long, wordless sequence where Scottie in his DeSoto follows Madeleine in her Jag.

  4. I really love this post - so informative! I have watched this movie so many times that these folks are so well known to me by sight. Thank you for putting a name to the face (and the fender).

  5. Now this is an article someone could really sink their teeth into! This is a treasure trove of trivia facts! I loved reading about everyone listed and have always wondered who these people were while watching Vertigo (particularly Ellen Corby and Lee Patrick). Thank you so much for shedding the light on these people. They really do deserve credit for making Vertigo what it is today. I found it very interesting about Lee Patrick's part in The Maltese Falcon, and its "sequel" The Black Bird (a film I did not know existed, but am interested in seeing - despite the lack of acclaim).

    Your article is incredibly entertaining and well written. It was a pleasure to read. I love your inclusion of the cars and your opinion on why they purchased them. Thanks for sharing, I feel the saying is true: You Learn Something New Everyday.

    I cannot wait to share my Vertigo Vlog with you. :D

    - Brandon Kyle The Cinephile (@bkthecinephile)

  6. A wonderful and unique addition to the event. Love the inclusion of the cars!

  7. Allan, an amusing and fascinating contribution to “A Month Of Vertigo,” which is developing into the definitive tribute to a career defining film. Your background information brings a new appreciation for the lesser known individuals who fleshed out Scottie’s world. I recognized many of the faces from glimpses caught in classic films and television, too few of them I could match with a name. Your background information not only put careers of several decades in context, but also undescored the character’s importance to Scottie’s mysterious and obsessive journey. Your choice to highlight the vehicles used is simply inspired; I’m fascinated by these period details in films. The difference between Scottie’s DeSoto and Madeleine’s Jaguar is as significant as the difference between Madeine’s Jaguar and Midge’s Karmann Ghia (I had a crush on a boy in high school who drove a burgundy K-G, and the car always brings back bittersweet and wistful memories). Thank you for your revealing glimpse into the careers of men and women we know mainly for their very recognizable faces.

  8. Terrific addition to this series, Allan! It goes to show you that the old show biz adage is true: "There are no small parts, only small actors." Henry Jones sly delivery gave that courtroom scene the punch it needed and loved seeing "Grandma Walton" doddering around behind the desk. And we never DID find out why she didn't see Madeline/Carlotta, now, did we? Mmmmmmmmmmmm...nice touch, Hitch! Thanks again, Allan.

  9. A great article and great information. I love learning about underrecognized actors and I am glad this article covered them extensively and their contributions to Vertigo.

  10. Allen - This is such an enjoyable and information-filled post. You give full due to some very deserving supporting players. Not to mention the cars that were so well matched to their owners. For some reason I'd always thought Scottie drove a Chrysler - but Chrysler Corp. also made the DeSoto so I must've been confused by the "sibling" resemblance.

    Henry Jones turned in an amazing few minutes in "Vertigo" - truly memorable. The other movie role I'll always remember him for is as the hapless handyman in "The Bad Seed" - I believe he ended up one of the little girl's victims.

    And - I just recently discovered that Konstantin Shayne (Pop Leibel) was married to Leopoldine Konstantin, the actress who portrayed Madame Sebastian - Claude Rains' mother, in "Notorious" (it was her only American film - and what a performance!).

    Regardless of Hitchcock's views on actors (I suspect the "cattle" comment was a joke), he had a very sure instinct when casting his films.

    Great work on behalf of the often unappreciated, Allen, and thanks for being part of "A Month of VERTIGO."

  11. Allen, I liked reading the background info you provide for the bit players in Vertigo. You always have such good tidbits.

  12. Thanks to all who read my post and for the wonderful compliments. Most of all, thanks to Eve for putting this Month of Vertigo together with so many great writers. It is increasing my appreciation for the movie, and I can't wait to watch it again!

    Just a quick note about the DeSoto. You are correct, Eve, it is a badge engineered version of the Chrysler New Yorker. The two look very similar. Back in the 1050s it was easy to know which major auto maker made which car. Newer cars look more like jelly beans.

    For more on cars in the movies, go to, then pick your car from the listing to see what movies feature that marque.

  13. Allen:

    I agree with your comment that back in the 50's it was easy to identify the auto makers of each car - they tended to have a signature look and now there is a real generic quality to almost all the models. Your comment that "newer cars look more like jelly beans" is amusing - in my case, I find myself thinking of lozenges. I love the cars of "Vertigo"


    Yes, Henry Jone's character, Leroy, did end up Patty McCormack's victim in "The Bad Seed". By taunting the murderous moppet he was playing with fire so it was indeed fitting that his payback was to be burned alive.

  14. Loved this post, Eve. I am so fond of the character actors of yesteryear. They had faces then...

    I must say though, as much as I adore MIGHTY JOE YOUNG, I don't remember Ellen Corby in it. It must have been a tiny role....Wait, wait, was she the orphanage person near the end?

    I also love Lee Patrick in anything. Occasionally I would get her mixed up with Billie Burke early on, but not later.

    Henry Jones ALWAYS will be that slimy character in THE BAD SEED. Ugh.

  15. Nice collection of character actors. Henry Jones and Ellen Corby are special favorites of mine.

  16. How fun that you included the cars, in your awesome post. I also love the cars featured in "Vertigo".

  17. A wonderful piece of film writing. I'm sure I'm not the only fan who can barely stand to watch this movie, and always wish it could end with the neon gauze shot. How happy he was, and how willingly he flung himself into absolute madness. Wouldn't we all.

    I'll cavil about Hitchcock's famous attention to detail: in the fatal drive to SJC, look at the projection through the car's, er, rear window. Hitchcock was English. Scotty drives the whole way on the wrong side of the road!