Percy Kilbride

Percy William Kilbride[1] (July 16, 1888 – December 11, 1964) was an American character actor. He made a career of playing country hicks, most memorably as Pa Kettle in the Ma and Pa Kettle series of feature films.

Percy Kilbride
Kilbride as Pa Kettle circa 1950
Percy William Kilbride

(1888-07-16)July 16, 1888
San Francisco, California, U.S.
DiedDecember 11, 1964(1964-12-11) (aged 76)
Los Angeles, California, U.S.
Resting placeGolden Gate National Cemetery
Years active1928–55

Early life

Kilbride was born in San Francisco, California, the son of Elizabeth (née Kelly), a native of Maryland, and Owen Kilbride, a Canadian.[1][2]


Kilbride began working in the theater at the age of 12 and eventually left to become an actor on Broadway.[3] He first played an 18th-century French dandy in A Tale of Two Cities.[3] His film debut was as Jakey in White Woman (1933), a Pre-Code film starring Carole Lombard. He left Broadway for good in 1942, when Jack Benny insisted that Kilbride reprise his Broadway role in the film version of George Washington Slept Here.[4] According to Benny, Percy Kilbride was the same character offscreen and on: quiet and friendly but principled, refusing to be paid more or less than what he considered a fair salary. Kilbride followed up the Benny film with a featured role in the Olsen and Johnson comedy Crazy House (1943). In 1945, he appeared in The Southerner.

In 1947, he and Marjorie Main appeared in The Egg and I, starring Fred MacMurray and Claudette Colbert as a sophisticated couple taking on farm life. Main and Kilbride were featured as folksy neighbors Ma and Pa Kettle, and audience response prompted the popular Ma and Pa Kettle series. Pa Kettle became Kilbride's most famous role: the gentle-spirited Pa seldom raised his voice, and was always ready to help friends—by borrowing from "other" friends, or assigning any kind of labor to his Indian friends Geoduck and Crowbar.

Kilbride retired after filming Ma and Pa Kettle at Home in 1953.[5] ; although it was the final film he worked on, a previous film in the series, Ma and Pa Kettle at Waikiki (filmed in 1952), wasn't released until 1955, after the release of Ma and Pa Kettle at Home in 1954.

Kilbride disliked making the Kettle films. In a 1953 interview, he discussed the monotony of his career due to his portrayal of Pa Kettle:

I had my training on the stage, where I did a variety of roles. That's the fun of being an actor: to meet the challenge of creating new characters. But Pa Kettle is always the same. He can do anything; there is no need to establish any motivation. There's no kick in doing him over and over again. I have had dozens of offers to do television series, but I have turned them all down. I might do one-shot appearances; but I won't let myself get tied down to one character.[6]


On September 21, 1964, Kilbride and another actor, Ralf Belmont, were struck by a car while crossing the street in Hollywood.[7]

Belmont died instantly; Kilbride died three months later from atherosclerosis and terminal pneumonia which were caused by head injuries, having undergone brain surgery at the Good Samaritan Hospital in Los Angeles on November 11, aged 76.[8]

A veteran of World War I, Kilbride was buried at Golden Gate National Cemetery in San Bruno, California. Kilbride, who never married, left his estate to four nephews and a sister-in-law. [9]


Year Title Role Notes
1933 White Woman Jakey
1936 Soak the Rich Everett, 2d detective
1942 George Washington Slept Here Mr. 'Kimbie' Kimber, the Handyman
Keeper of the Flame Orion Peabody
1943 Crazy House Col. Cornelius Merriweather
The Woman of the Town Rev. Samuel Small
1944 Knickerbocker Holiday Schermerhorn
The Adventures of Mark Twain Billings, Enterprise Typesetter
She's a Soldier Too Jonathan Kittredge
Guest in the House John – the Butler
1945 The Southerner Harmie
State Fair Dave Miller
Fallen Angel Pop
She Wouldn't Say Yes Judge Whittaker
1946 The Well-Groomed Bride Mr. Dawson
1947 The Egg and I Frank 'Pa' Kettle
Welcome Stranger Nat Dorkas
Riffraff Pop
1948 You Were Meant for Me Mr. Andrew Mayhew
Black Bart Jersey Brady
Feudin', Fussin', and A-Fightin' Billy Caswell
You Gotta Stay Happy Mr. Racknell
1949 The Sun Comes Up Mr. Willie B. Williegood
Ma and Pa Kettle Pa Kettle
Mr. Soft Touch Rickle
Free for All Henry J. Abbott
1950 Ma and Pa Kettle Go to Town Pa Kettle
Riding High Pop Jones
1951 Ma and Pa Kettle Back on the Farm Pa Kettle
1952 Ma and Pa Kettle at the Fair
Ellis in Freedomland The Dehumidifier Voice
1953 Ma and Pa Kettle on Vacation Pa Kettle
1954 Ma and Pa Kettle at Home
1955 Ma and Pa Kettle at Waikiki Final film role


  1. "Overview for Percy Kilbride – TCM". Retrieved August 3, 2012.
  2. "Percy Kilbride Death Certificate". Retrieved August 3, 2012.
  3. "'Pa Kettle' of Movies, Percy Kilbride, Dies". The Milwaukee Journal. December 11, 1964. Retrieved May 11, 2014.
  4. Thomas, Bob (November 8, 1951). "Percy Kilbride Sole Film Star on Hollywood Boulevard". Reading Eagle. Retrieved May 11, 2014.
  5. Thomas, Bob (July 5, 1962). "Pa Kettle's Taking Life Easy Now". The Tuscaloosa News. Retrieved May 11, 2014.
  6. Thomas, Bob (April 8, 1953). "'Pa Kettle To Quit Family Film Series". Sarasota Journal. Retrieved May 11, 2014.
  7. "People In The News: Condition Improves". Reading Eagle. November 14, 1964. Retrieved May 11, 2014.
  8. "Percy Kilbride Dead at Age 76". The Owosso Argus-Press. December 11, 1964. Retrieved May 11, 2014.
  9. "Percy Kilbride Heirs Awarded $10,000." Kansas City Times. July 24, 1965. Retrieved March 6, 2019.
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