Lively, entertaining reviews of, and essays on, old and newer films and everything relating to them, written by professional author William Schoell.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010


PERCY HELTON 1894 - 1971.

You may not recognize the name, but you certainly recognize the face -- for Percy Helton had a grand total of 209 film and television credits. I suppose one could argue that Helton played the same role 209 times, but that may be unfair, as I haven't seen every single appearance of the actor. Generally Helton was cast as the superficially friendly but smarmy undertaker/janitor/clerk and so on, who smiled in your face but had larceny or something worse in his heart and would sell out his own mother for a nickle. The word that first comes to mind when thinking of Helton's portrayals is "weasel." Perhaps his most famous appearance was in the film Kiss Me Deadly, in which he squeals in agony when anti-hero Ralph Meeker sadistically crushes his fingers in a desk drawer. Helton was always very adept in his roles, but he was so unique in his way that he really wasn't the kind of expert character actor who could lose himself in a characterization -- he always seemed to be playing a variation of Percy Helton. In spite of this he was a very busy actor throughout the 50's, 60's and for many years afterward. My mother once said that if Don Knotts made her stomach turn, Percy Helton made her flesh crawl. Helton, who radiated a quietly sinister quality that served him well on such series as Alfred Hitchcock Presents, was decidedly one of a kind. One of his best roles was in Wicked Woman with Beverly Michaels.


Anonymous said...

Don Knotts made your mother's stomach crawl??!!

William said...

I'm sure she wasn't the only one.

Gary R. said...

Thanks for spotlighting Percy Helton. He was definitely a one-of-a-kind character actor and I always enjoy it when he pops up in something. I understand your mother's reaction to him, though. The poor guy did seem like he shared DNA with Gollem.

William said...

Ha, good way of putting it!