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Friday, July 18, 2008

Charlie Ruggles (1886-1970)

Charles Sherman Ruggles was born February 8, 1886, in Los Angeles, California. His parents were Charles Herman Ruggles, a pharmaceutical salesman, and the former Maria Theresa Heinsch. They had two sons. After his mother was killed in a robbery attempt, his father left with his two sons from L.A. and they grew up in San Francisco. Charlie began acting in stage plays in 1903, at the age of 17, in community projects.

The 1906 San Francisco earthquake was the biggest event in his life. One evening, while the family was eating outside on the sidewalk (their house wasn't destroyed, but they were afraid of aftershocks), a police officer approached Charlie and asked if he knew how to use a firearm. He said he did and the officer gave him a loaded revolver. "Be careful, son."

In 1913 he had a major role in L. Frank Baum's The Tick Tok Man of Oz, at the Majestic Theater in Los Angeles. He moved on to Broadway plays one year later. And he became active as a motion picture actor one year after that. At this time, he married silent movie actress, Adele Rowland (1883-1971). Charlie divorced Adele in 1921.

He had a brother, Wesley H. Ruggles (1889-1972), who had been acting in some popular comedy films around 1915 when he shifted his interest to directing movies. After immense success as a silent film director in the 1920s, when movies had sound, Wes had some minor success directing minor comedies. After World War II, the J. Arthur Rank Organsation of the United Kingdom put him on a contract to create musicals for British audiences. The first such movie was London Town (1946) and featured Petula Clark. It was the first high budget British film made in Technicolor. It was also the biggest financial flop in British motion picture history. After it premiered and played to booing crowds in England, Wes proverbially tucked his head between his legs and never made another movie. He reedited that movie and released it in the United States as My Heart Goes Crazy in 1953.

But Charlie was successful. He was willing to portray almost any character. Appearing in more than 100 films, he developed into a mature, yet naive, character who could be drunk, rich, poor, or scatterbrained. His trademark line became, "Oh, my, my, my!"

During this time, Charlie worked in his best known movie, Ruggles of Red Gap (1935). Despite sounding to the contrary, the title role of was played by Charles Laughton. Charlie's role was Egbert Floud.

In 1941, being confident in his abilities as a comedian, he hosted his own radio comedy series, Barrel of Fun. It was heard over the Mutual Broadcasting System and the shows were produced at radio station KHJ on Melrose Avenue in Hollywood.

In 1942 Charlie married Marion La Barba, the ex-wife of featherweight boxer Fidel La Barba. Marion was a small, beautiful woman. Past her childbearing years, the Ruggles turned their Hollywood home into a literal zoo, having some 94 animals.

When television became popular, Charlie had a popular situation comedy in the early 1950s, The Ruggles (1949-1953). In it, he was married with four children. His wife was Margaret, played by Irene Tedrow (1907-95) in the first year, then Erin O'Brien-Moore (1902-79) subsequently. Their children were Sharon (a student at UCLA), Tom (a high school student), and nine year old twins Donald and Donna. One of the few programs of its type that had a planned ending, daughter Sharon got married in the final episode. In 1957, ABC (the American Broadcasting Company) had a couple of episodes of a radio series with the same premise made as pilots. The part of Margaret was played by Lurene Tuttle (1907-86).

Proving he didn't just act in movies and television, in 1958 he won a Tony Award for Best Featured Actor for his part of Mackenzie Savage in the Broadway comedy, The Pleasure of His Company.

The following year, he was honored by being the guest of honor on Ralph Edwards's This is Your Life. When, on the series, he realized that he was the guest for the evening, his reaction was, "Oh, my, my, my!"

During the 1960s, Charlie gave Aesop his voice on the Bullwinkle Show. He was also Milburn Drysdale's widowered father in law on the Beverly Hillbillies. He was also on many other TV series.

Knowing that his career was winding down (as well as his life), he donated several personal artifacts to UCLA in 1965. As most everything he attempted in his life was seemingly successful, he was interviewed by a reporter. When asked what his next big project was going to be he calmly replied, "Forest Lawn. After you've played everything I've done, there ain't no more."

Suffering from terminal cancer in 1970, he regretfully divorced his wife so he could live his last days alone. He was admitted to St. John's Hospital in Santa Monica on September 30, 1970. He died there on December 23. (Most Internet sources state that he died at his Hollywood home; however, the death certificate states that he died in the hospital). With no children and no wife, he was utterly alone. His wife still loved him. She bought the tombstone, which had the wrong year put on it. He's buried at Forest Lawn Cemetery in Glendale, California.


Charles Sherman Ruggles said...

love you miss you Charlie

Meli Stevenson said...

You were one of the greatest high lights of my life and I still love you to death!

Charles Sherman Ruggles said...

thank You Meli......Charlie is my beloved actor

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