Friday, November 23, 2012

JACK HALEY: AMERICA'S TIN MAN

The Wizard Of Oz (1939) is a movie that has captured the hearts of countless movie fans, young and old alive. Everyone has a favorite character from the movie. Even though the movie is remembered as a "Judy Garland" film, my favorite actor in the movie is the great Jack Haley as the Tin Man.

Jack was born John Joseph Haley on August 10, 1898. Haley started off as a vaudeville song-and-dance comedian in the early 1920s. One of his closest friends was fellow vaudeville alumnus Fred Allen, who would frequently mention "Mr. Jacob Haley of Newton Highlands, Massachusetts" on the air. In the early 1930s Haley starred in comedy shorts for Vitaphone in Brooklyn, New York. His wide-eyed, good-natured expression landed him supporting roles in many musical feature films like Poor Little Rich Girl (1936) with Shirley Temple, and the Irving Berlin musical Alexander's Ragtime Band (1937). Both Poor Little Rich Girl and Alexander's Ragtime Band were released by Twentieth Century-Fox, where Haley was under contract. Personally, I think Alexander's Ragtime Band was one of his best films, and he worked well as a fellow band member in a band that consisted of Tyrone Power and Don Ameche.


MGM hired Haley for The Wizard of Oz after another song-and-dance comic, Buddy Ebsen, who was originally set to play the Tin Man, had a near-fatal reaction from inhaling the aluminum dust makeup. This character was known as the Tin Woodman in the original book. The makeup was switched to a paste, to avoid risking the same reaction for Haley. The new makeup did cause an eye infection which caused Haley to miss four days of filming, but he received treatment in time to prevent permanent damage. Haley did not take to the makeup or to the discomfort of the costume very kindly. When being interviewed about the film years later by Tom Snyder, he remarked that many people had commented that making the film must have been fun. Haley's reply: "Like hell it was; it was work!" Haley's natural voice (which he used for the "Hickory" character) was moderately gruff. For the Tin Woodman, he spoke more softly, which he later said was the tone of voice he used when reading stories to his children. Oz was one of Haley's two MGM films (the other was Pick a Star, a 1937 Hal Roach production distributed by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer).

Haley returned to musical comedies in the 1940s, and he made more movies for 20th Century Fox. One of my favorite movie appearances from that period was his supporting role in Moon Over Miami (1941). He was courted my Charlotte Greenwood and performed a pretty good jitterbug number. Most of his 1940s work was for RKO Radio Pictures. He was fired by the studio in 1947 when he refused to appear in a remake of RKO's old story property Seven Keys to Baldpate. Phillip Terry later took the role.


Jack pretty grew tired of the movie studio system and did much of his later work on television. He appeared throughout the 1970s on such shows as "Burke's Law" , "Make Room For Daddy", and "Marcus Welby MD". His last movie was a short appearance in his son's movie Norwood (1970) which starred Glenn Campbell.

Haley was married for 58 years to the same woman. He married Florence McFadden, a native of Wilkes Barre, Pennsylvania on February 25, 1921, and they remained married until his death. Flo Haley opened a successful beauty shop and counted many show people among her customers. (The establishment became known informally as "Flo Haley's House of Correction.") She died in 1996 at the age of 94. The couple had one son, Jack Haley, Jr.(1933-2001) (later a successful film producer) and one daughter, Gloria (1927-2010). Jack Haley, Jr. was married to Liza Minnelli, daughter of his father's Oz co-star Judy Garland, from 1974 to 1979.


Haley died suddenly of a heart attack on June 6, 1979 in Los Angeles, California, aged 80. Only a short time previously, he had made an appearance at that year's Academy Awards ceremony with Ray Bolger, who had played the Scarecrow in The Wizard of Oz. He was still active only a week prior to his death. Years after his death and decades after The Wizard Of Oz came out, Haley is not remembered too much as an actor. However, his role in the Tin Man is forever eched in the audience's mind and will be for decades and centuries to come...

1 comment:

  1. My son had to do a report on Jack Haley's radio career for a communications class in college. I knew he had his own show for two years in the 30's and 50’s but I was shocked his radio career was so extensive lasting almost 20 years. After listening to all the ones we could find; I can see why so many other shows wanted him as a guest. He was so funny and charming. His rapport with Fred Allen in particular was so wonderful I can see why they were best friends. (Jack Haley was the executor of Fred Allen's estate after his death.)

    As a kid of about five or six, I was watching Poor Little Rich Girl and asked my mom to let me take tap dancing lessons so I can dance like 'that guy' not realizing until years later he was the Tin Man. Now that my son and I and put his career together we've realized how talented he really was. Not just as a comedian but a singer and dancer. I only wished I lived 80 or so years ago so I could have enjoyed him on Broadway that would have really been something to see!

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