The unsung heroes: James Finlayson

James Henderson “Jimmy” Finlayson (27 August 1887 – 9 October 1953) was a Scottish actor who worked in both silent and sound comedies. Bald, with a fake moustache, Finlayson had many trademark comic mannerisms and is famous for his squinting, outraged, “double take and fade away” head reaction, and characteristic expression “d'ooooooh”, and as the most famous comic foil of Laurel and Hardy.

Born in Larbert, Stirlingshire, Scotland […], he worked as a tinsmith before pursuing an acting career. […] he emigrated to the U.S. in 1911 at the age of 24 […] and became a U.S. citizen in 1920.

As part of John Clyde’s company, he played the part of Jamie Ratcliffe in Jeanie Deans at the Theatre Royal in Edinburgh in 1910. […]
Arriving in Los Angeles in 1916, he found work at L-KO and Thomas Ince’s studio. He starred in numerous Mack Sennett-produced comedies, most notably as one of the original Keystone Kops.

The promotional newspaper article for the 1920 premiere of Sennett’s Down on the Farm, refers to Finlayson as “legitimate and screen player of international celebrity” and of his performance says: “The villian [sic] in the case - a sort of cross between a Turkish Don Juan and a ‘loan shark’ - is played with rare power and comic results of seriousness by James Finlayson”.

As a freelance actor late in his career, he made some of his final films in the UK. He played bit parts in films like Foreign Correspondent, To Be or Not to Be, and Royal Wedding, his last film before his death in 1953.

However, Finlayson is most remembered for his work at the Hal Roach Studios. In the mid-1920s, Roach attempted to make a top-billed star out of Finlayson, but the effort was unfocused and he never caught on. The next step came in 1927 when the All-Star Comedy series gave Finlayson equal billing with up-and-coming co-stars Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy, comedienne Edna Marion, and others; some studio publicity even referred to Finlayson, Hardy and Laurel as a “famous comedy trio.”

But Roach staff producer and future multi-Oscared director Leo McCarey recognized the great potential of a Laurel-and-Hardy pairing and began developing their characters and expanding their roles toward that end; by the autumn of 1928, Laurel and Hardy was a formal studio series with its own production prefixes while the All-Star Comedy series – and Finlayson’s equal co-billing – were things of the past. Yet so memorable an antagonist was he to “The Boys” that even with his diminished billing, he was still “considered by many to be an indispensable part of the Laurel & Hardy team.”

Altogether, Finlayson played roles in 33 Laurel and Hardy films, usually as a villain or an antagonist, notably in the celebrated films Big Business (1929) and Way Out West (1937). He also starred alongside Stan Laurel in 19 films and opposite Oliver Hardy in five films before Laurel and Hardy were teamed together. He appeared in dozens of Roach Studio films, with Charley Chase, Glenn Tryon, Snub Pollard, and Ben Turpin. He was also in several Our Gang shorts, notably Mush and Milk, in which he and Spanky McFarland match wits in a comically adversarial phone conversation. […]
One of Finlayson’s trademarks was a drawn out "dohhhhhhh!”. Finlayson had used the term as a minced oath to stand in for the word “Damn!” This would later inspire Dan Castellaneta, the voice actor of Homer Simpson.

Originally posted by funnynhilariousgif

During the voice recording session for a Tracey Ullman Show short, Castellaneta was required to utter what was written in the script as an “annoyed grunt”. He rendered it as a drawn out “dohhhhhhh”. This was inspired by Finlayson. Matt Groening felt that it would better suit the timing of animation if it were spoken faster. Castellaneta then shortened it to a quickly uttered “D'oh!”
He also partly inspired the character Groundskeeper Willie who is also voiced by Castellaneta.

An interview with Dan Castellaneta in which he elaborates on this to be found here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UGiJOHDJEss

Sources: YouTube (1),(2), Wikipedia
GIFs by me


Michael - Carl Theodor Dreyer - 1924

In this scene Walter Slezak and Nora Gregor are looking at some dolls. Two are clearly Charlie Chaplin and Jackie Coogan from Chaplin’s film The Kid, but what about the others? Are they film related? Are they also from The Kid (it’s a LONG time since I’ve seen it)?

They are clearly discussing the dolls but being a silent film and as no title cards refer to it who knows what they’re saying. Slezak pulls a face at the end of the conversation which again seems connected to the dolls but actually reminded me of Laurel and Hardy’s foil James Finlayson!

Watch on 1863-project.tumblr.com

This is legitimately one of the cutest things in the whole world and it always makes me feel better for a few reasons:

  1. Every time Stannie tries to say anything (usually along the lines of “Stop it!”), he just squeaks and it’s adorable
  2. His daughter Lois has confirmed that even though he’s acting this is in fact his real laugh and that just makes it even cuter
  3. Ollie’s genuine concern when he can’t get into the same room as Stan is just the sweetest thing (also, the way he says “It did?” at the end is ADORBS)
  5. You can just tell everyone is having way too much fun shooting this and it’s just infectious as hell
  6. Did I mention that I really love Stan’s laugh? Because I do.

Just watch it, okay? Just watch it.


Remembering character actor James Finlayson (August 27, 1887 - October 9, 1953).

Finlayson is best known for his comic work with Laurel and Hardy. He had roles in 33 of their films.

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James Finlayson
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