Last month, my friend Diana and I caught a screening of Bringing Up Baby at Film Forum. This was easily the umpteenth time I have seen Bringing Up Baby. I’m about to totally surprise you all but Bringing Up Baby is my favorite movie. (What? You never saw that coming? You must have just accidentally found this post on Google.)
Often with your favorite anything, some aspects get lumped together and are quickly forgotten. When it comes to Bringing Up Baby, I’ve never quite focused on the supporting cast, the character actors who make this screwball comedy so effective. Cary Grant and Katharine Hepburn are the stars but it is the actors like Barry Fitzgerald, May Robson, Charles Ruggles, and Walter Catlett who add a level of comedic genius to the film that is unmatched. For the most part these actors are seasoned performers who had long careers on the stage, film and television. You probably saw them time and time again in bit parts in some of your favorite movies. They are the type of actors who seemingly appear everywhere and make the whole product come together.
Their characters slowly trickle into the film’s story, fitting around Susan and David’s completely frantic search for the leopard Baby as needed. At first these characters – the local sherrif, the rich aunt, the psychiatrist – seem to be the straightlaced foils to Susan’s peculiar brand of zaniness. But as the movie continues, everyone becomes unhinged and in the final moments. When they all wind up in the local jail for one reason or another (a perfect metaphor for the ensemble) in the most manically hilarious scene imaginable, the ensemble cast almost outshines the two major stars.
Here they are:
Virginia Walker as Miss Swallow
Ah, Miss Swallow. She is Susan Vance’s polar opposite. She is serious, studious, career-driven, and has a firm grip on David’s balls. It is her hold over him eventually drives him away and eventually towards Susan. Not much is known about Virginia Walker, who played Miss Swallow. Bringing Up Baby was Walker’s first screen appearance and one of only five. She was married to William B Hawks, Howard Hawks’ brother, and died in 1946 at age 30.
George Irving as Mr. Peabody
I’ll be with you in a minute, Mr. Peabody.
Starting in 1914, George Irving appeared in bit parts in more than 200 films before retiring from acting in 1954. He died in 1961 at age 86.
Charlie Ruggles as Maj. Horace Applegate
The Major makes his entrance by climbing over the dutch door and straight into the madness. He may be a big game hunter but he doesn’t know how to handle Baby.
Ruggles began his career as a stage actor in 1905 before transitioning to film. Over the course of his six decade stage, film and television career, he appeared in more than 100 films (including The Parent Trap) and won an Tony Award in 1959. He received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 1960. Ruggles died in 1970.
May Robson as Aunt Elizabeth Random
May Robson is at the center of arguably the most memorable scene in Bringing Up Baby. When Cary Grant shouts his infamous, “I just went gay all of the sudden” line, he shouts it at her character. Aunt Elizabeth tries to keep
Born in Australia in 1858, Robson became an actress after being widowed in 1884. She was first a major stage actress before successfully transitioning to silent cinema and talkies. In 1933, she became the oldest actress nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actress for her performance in Lady for a Day. Robson was 75; she lost out to Katharine Hepburn, who won her first Oscar for Morning Glory. Robson died in 1942 at age 84.
Walter Catlett as Constable Slocum
Slocum is my favorite secondary character in the movie. His bumbling local sheriff can’t get anything right.
Walter Catlett began his career in vaudeville, a fact that becomes clear when you see him in many featured bit parts. He started appearing regularly in films in 1929 and he provided the voice of Foulfellow the Fox in Pinocchio. Catlett died in 1960.
Fritz Feld as Dr. Fritz Lehman
Early on, Dr. Lehman tells Susan that David provided is afflicted by “the love impulse” and that he has a fixation on her. Susan takes this to mean that David loves her without realizing yet, setting off their wild excursion to Connecticut. And then Dr. Lehman probably caught on that Susan Vance is just a little off her rocker. Why else would a woman being singing “I Can’t Give You Anything But Love Baby” outside his window to an alleged leopard?
Fritz Feld, like every other supporting actor in Bringing Up Baby, was a character actor who appeared in more than 140 films. He began his career in Germany in 1917 and began appearing in American films in the 1920s. He died in 1993.
Barry Fitzgerald as Aloysius Gogarty
Gogarty is Mrs Random’s drunk Irish gardener who spots Baby before anyone else. Barry Fitzgerald is the most recognizable character actor in Bringing Up Baby. He was notably nominated for the Best Actor Oscar and the Best Supporting Actor for the same role, Father Fitzgibbon in Going My Way (he won the Best Supporting Actor award). Fitzgerald appeared in other films such as The Long Voyage Home, How Green Was My Valley, And Then There Were None, The Naked City, and The Quiet Man. Fitzgerald died in 1961 at age 72.
Asta as George
Saving the best for last? Definitely. You know Asta (sometimes Skippy) as the terrier from The Thin Man franchise. Best movie dog ever? Absolutely.
This post took much longer than I intended but anyways. Who is your favorite supporting cast member from Bringing Up Baby? Let me know in the comments.