Frank Mitchell (actor)
|Born||May 13, 1905|
New York City, U.S.
|Died||January 21, 1991 85) (aged|
Jane Fields (Gilbert)
(m. 1926; her death 1979)
Frank Mitchell was a short, stocky, mischievous-looking comic and acrobat who got his start in entertainment by entering contests imitating Charles Chaplin. From there he broke into Vaudeville with a comedy acrobatic troupe and later toured with the International Seven in Europe. Aside from the stage, Mitchell also worked circuses performing stunts on horses as a trick rider. It was in the Vaudeville circuit that he met comic Jack Durant. The two formed the comedy duo "Mitchell & Durant," which appeared in The Earl Carroll Vanities of 1931. Their success also led them in to films, most notably providing comic relief in several Alice Faye musicals such as She Learned About Sailors, 365 Nights in Hollywood and Music Is Magic.
After Mitchell and Durant split, Mitchell found minor comedy roles throughout the 1940s and 1950s films. Because of his experience as a trick-rider, Mitchell found himself working in several westerns. One of his more famous characters was in a series of Westerns for Columbia Pictures playing the role of "Cannonball" (originally played by Dub Taylor). As television became more previlant, Mitchell transitioned to smaller and often uncredited parts on television shows such as The Lucy-Desi Comedy Hour and The Red Skelton Hour. During this time in his career he was usually playing gangsters and straight-man roles. His last picture was a television movie titled Miracle of the Heart: A Boys Town Story in which he played a police officer.
The Three Stooges
At a few different times in his career Mitchell was a member of the Three Stooges. His first tenure with the team was in 1929, replacing Shemp Howard in the Broadway revue George's White Sandals alongside Ted Healy and Stooges main-stays Moe Howard and Larry Fine.
In 1929 Ted Healy and His Racketeers, Howard, Fine and Howard, were appearing in A Night in Venice for the Shubert Brothers on Broadway. By the end of the run, Fred Sanborn, who originally appeared in the revue as a separate act, joined Healy as a Racketeer. Ted Healy and His Laugh Racketeers then tourerd Vaudeville and appeared in the Fox movie, Soup to Nuts. Healy never appeared in George White's Scandals. Shemp Howard never appeared in George White's Scandals. The Three Stooges would appear in the Scandals in 1939, with Curly rather than Shemp.
In 1974, The Three Stooges had booked a tour of stage and nightclub shows and personal appearances. However, Larry Fine had suffered a debilitating stroke in 1970, and Moe had been too sick to tour, so Moe suggested that Curly-Joe DeRita make the commitments rather than cancel and to assemble what would ultimately be the last official incarnation of the troupe. In the middle-stooge role Curly-Joe hired long-time Ted Healy Stooge Paul "Mousie" Garner. The head-stooge role was filled by Frank Mitchell who cut his hair to look more like Moe. They performed music-based comedy, mostly, a good portion of which was reworked from Mousie's nightclub act. The first appearance of the team was at a nightclub just outside Boston. Despite concerns by the team that the act would flop due to them not being the "real stooges", it was a great success. The act toured throughout the year, but was cut short due to DeRita losing his eyesight. Aside from a few brief stints where Mitchell was ill (and filled-in for by Eddie Ennis) Frank Mitchell was the only actor to ever officially appear in the head-stooge role of Moe's other than Moe himself.
Personal life and death
Mitchell was born in New York City. He was married to Jane Fields from 1926 until her death in 1979. They had two children. Mitchell retired from films in 1980, and died of cardiac arrest on January 21, 1991, at age 85.
- Smith, Bill. The Vaudevillians. New York: Macmillan, 1976, p. 110.