Saturday, 29 December 2012

Tommy Noonan

b.29th April 1921;
d.24th April 1968

The not-that-great 1955 heist film Violent Saturday had pretty much only two highlights for me - one was seeing Ernest Borgnine, playing an Amish farmer, of all things, finally get angry enough to go against his pacifist code and plunge a pitchfork through Lee Marvin's chest, and the other was seeing Tommy Noonan in a weird, meandering subplot about a shy banker who is a peeping tom. When the pretty nurse he's been spying on finds out he's been following her home and looking through her window, she laughs and says she'll remember to draw her curtains from now on. You see that attitude in popular culture a lot - that if the guy being a creeper is a bashful nerd then it's treated as sort of harmless. It's messed up!

Noonan played shy nerds often - he's possibly best known for his part in Howard Hawks' Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, where he's Mr. Augustus Esmond, the fiance of Marilyn Monroe's character. He plays Mr. Esmond as a nervous fool, with hesitant vocal tics that feel like they're modeled on the ones Cary Grant used in Hawks' Bringing Up Baby. Another notable role was as Judy Garland's pianist buddy in the George Cukor musical melodrama A Star is Born, which I haven't seen (though it sounds neat).

Primarily, Noonan was a comedian - half of the comedy duo Noonan and Marshall, with Peter Marshall. They appeared on TV a bunch in the 1950s, including on the Ed Sullivan show. A lot of the film work Noonan did was in comedies which sound awful but which have great titles: What, No Cigarettes?; How to be Very, Very Popular; Ding Dong Williams; the painfully dismal sounding Cottonpickin' Chickenpickers. Later in his life he wrote, directed and starred in softcore sex comedies, including 3 Nuts in Search of a Bolt, which starred Mamie van Dooren - the trailer promises that "You'll wheeeee with glee at Mamie's uninhibited love stuff!"

Tommy Noonan's brother was the actor John Ireland, who was in Spartacus, All The King's Men, and My Darling Clementine, among about a million other things. He is unrelated and not to be confused with the awesome actor Tom Noonan, star of Manhunter, Heat and Robocop 2. 

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