Tuesday, July 21, 2009


Hollywood, April 2

“Broadway or Bust,” slogan of troupers for generations, is just another catchline of Guy Kibbee, veteran actor, who has been appearing for First National in important roles for several months. Kibbee is not even convinced there is a Broadway at the moment – for all that he has played on it, even made an outstanding hit on it.

For many years Kibbee trouped the provinces waiting for the break that seemed to grow more remote each season. He played in stock companies in every section of the country. He played in vaudeville. Also, he had good parts in Broadway productions from time to time, but always after they had left Broadway. Whenever he could afford it, as he tells the story, he would come to New York to wait for that chance on the Big Street. But each time the wait would outlast the funds that he would have to accept the first touring job that came along.

Finally he gave up. By now, he figured, he was too old to get there. What was the use of hoping? So he settled down philosophically to a life-time of “the road,” determined to be satisfied with his lot.

Suddenly, when it was least expected, the chance came. Kenyon Nicholson, author of “Torch Song,” which Arthur Hopkins was about to produce, had seen Kibbee in one of his numerous stock assignments. He remembered him when it was necessary to cast the benevolent traveling salesman who played so significant a role in the drama. Kibbee, a little dazed, responded to the summons from Hopkins. He rehearsed, he appeared, he made one of the resounding hits of the decade.

After “Torch Song” he got another part or two, none of them offering the opportunities the Nicholson play had. But anyhow he was on Broadway. Nothing else mattered. It was too good to be true; too good to last, at any rate.

Hollywood heard about Guy Kibbee and Hollywood wanted Guy Kibbee, though he did not altogether approve of it, succumbed at length to West Coast persuasions. After all, he would be going back to Broadway after a picture or two. Why not make a flying trip to California?

It has proved no flying trip. One of two pictures, and audiences began to clamor more for Kibbee. Now he is under a long-term contract to the affiliated companies, Warner Brothers and First National, and Broadway, unapproachable Broadway, is as far away as it ever was.

Lately he has become a sort of trademark for these two companies’ pictures, for his appearance has been frequent and widely noted. The public has seen him as the cheerful tramp in “Union Depot,” the equally cheerful “dummy” president in “High Pressure,” the harassed baseball manager of “Fireman, Save My Child,” the veteran cabman of “Taxi!” and in many other roles. Most recently he has been appearing for First National in “Tinsel Girl,” which has just been completed.

If this goes on much longer, Kibbee feels he will never get back to Broadway. Already it beings to seem just the name of a street some place, a place one always likes to go, but can’t; a blur on the horizon.

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