Monday, October 5, 2009

Character Actor Corner: Charles Coburn

Born in Macon, Georgia in 1877, Charles Coburn was an actor whose talents allowed him to star on the stage, in motion pictures, and on radio and television. He was known for his trademark monacle.  At age fourteen, when only a Program Boy at the Savannah Theater, Coburn began his love affair with acting. He eagerly accumulated valuable theater experience as an usher, doorman, treasurer, and finally at age eighteen, the theater manager. By twenty one, Coburn was regularly working as an actor in stock companies. He and his wife, Ivah Wills, formed their own successful touring company, The Coburn Players, in 1905 specializing in Shakespearian plays.

Coburn left the stage in grief following the death of his wife in 1937 and was persuaded to try out for character roles in motion pictures. Performing in over forty films between 1938 and 1959, Coburn received critical acclaim and in 1943 was awarded an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor in The More the Merrier. He also starred in The Green Years,Gentlemen Prefer Blondes and Monkey Business with Marilyn Monroe, and King's Row with Ronald Reagan. He also worked with Henry Fonda in The Lady Eve, and Bing Crosby in Mr. Music and Gregory Peck in The Paradine Case.

Coburn was particularly proud of being a Georgian, and he regularly visited the University of Georgia Library. Before his death in 1961, Coburn bequeathed to the Library all of his theatrical library and vast papers including scripts, scrapbooks, celebrity photographs, publicity photographs and motion picture stills. He died of a heart attack in New York City.

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