Saturday, August 4, 2012

GEORGE ZUCCO: HIGH PRIEST OF B-MOVIE HORROR


"I am Hollywood's unhappiest actor because I am always being cast as a blood-letting, law-breaking, evil old man." -- George Zucco

Instantly recognizable but largely unsung is film actor George Zucco. Born 11 January 1886 to Greek and English parents, Zucco began his career on stage in the 1920's and went on to play in almost 100 films beginning in the 1930's.

Mr. Zucco is most often remembered for his many appearances in horror and mystery films. He was a familiar face in numerous potboilers, murder mysteries, and quickie monster flicks for low-budget studios such as PRC.

Zucco's roles often cast him as a villain, and he played one of history's most famous -- Professor Moriarity -- opposite Basil Rathbone's Sherlock Holmes, in THE ADVENTURES OF SHERLOCK HOLMES (1939).

Zucco also appeared in a number of Universal horror films. He was in one of my personal favorites, THE MUMMY'S HAND, as the sinister Professor Andoheb. Who can forget his assumption as the High Priest of Karnak in the film's opening sequence, his seemingly bumbling act of "accidentally" dropping the vase with the inscription that showed the way to the Hill of the Seven Jackals, or his ignominous end after being shot by Babe Jenson and rolling down the temple steps (actually done by a stuntman)?

Filmmaker, author, occultist and all-around weirdo Kenneth Anger wrote about Zucco's supposed "real life" end in his ridiculous HOLLYWOOD BABYLON II, describing his last, violent days in a madhouse, with his wife and daughter following the next day as suicides.

Anger was stretching the truth more than a little. Zucco suffered a stroke in 1951, while filming THE DESERT FOX. After a lengthy illness he finally died of pneumonia at an assisted living facility called Monterey Sanitarium in San Gabriel, California. And, although his daughter died at an early age (Mary, 1962, age 29 of throat cancer), she and his wife did not commit suicide the day after he died as Anger so irresponsibly put it. Stella Francis, whom Zucco married in 1930, died at the age of 99 in 1999.

Following is a review of George Zucco's film work, from FILM FAN MONTHLY #162, dated December 1974. Written by Doug McClellan, it was the most complete review of his career at the time. McClellan calls Zucco his favorite villain and describes him as "the master of tight-lipped, eye-narrowing, elegant knavery."A more in-depth article came later, in the the Feb/Mar 1992 issue of FILMFAX, containing a lengthy article by Gregory William Mank. The article included an interview with the then, very much alive, Mrs. George Zucco.








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