Sunday, April 24, 2022


Never a huge star, character actor Ben Blue nevertheless was a popular fixture in countless movies. He was born Benjamin Bernstein in Montreal, Quebec on September 12, 1901 to David Asher Bernstein and Sadie Goldberg. Blue emigrated to Baltimore, Maryland at the age of nine, where he won a contest for the best impersonation of Charlie Chaplin. At the age of fifteen he was in a touring company and later became a stage manager and assistant general manager. He became a dance instructor and nightclub proprietor. In the 1920s Blue joined a popular orchestra, Jack White and His Montrealers. The entire band emphasized comedy, and would continually interact with the joke-cracking maestro. Blue, the drummer, would sometimes deliver corny jokes while wearing a ridiculously false beard. The band emigrated to the United States, and appeared in two early sound musicals — the Vitaphone short subject Jack White and His Montrealers and Universal's feature-length 2-strip Technicolor revue King of Jazz (1930).

In 1930, Blue toured with the "Earl Carroll Vanities". Blue left the band to establish himself as a solo comedian, portraying a bald-headed dumb-bell with a goofy expression. Producer Hal Roach featured him in his "Taxi Boys" comedy shorts, but Blue's dopey character was an acquired taste and he was soon replaced by other comedians. Later in the 1930s he worked at Paramount Pictures, notably in The Big Broadcast of 1938, and later at Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, in films such as Easy to Wed. One of my favorite roles he had was as Gene Kelly's buddy in the 1942 MGM musical For Me And My Gal.

In 1951, Blue began concentrating on managing and appearing in nightclubs in Hollywood, California and San Francisco. He once appeared in a Reno, Nevada nightclub called the Dollhouse where he lost $25,000 to its owner, Bill Welch. Blue and Maxie Rosenbloom owned and performed in Hollywood's top nightclub in the 1940s called "Slapsie Maxie's." Again, in the 1960s he opened a nightclub in Santa Monica, California, called "Ben Blue's". It quickly became the "in" place and night after night was packed with top celebrities. Ben closed the club three years later because of health problems. Blue made the cover of TV Guide's June 11, 1954 Special Issue along with Alan Young, headlining an edition featuring that season's summer replacement shows. He also made appearances in TV shows such as The Jack Benny Program and The Milton Berle Show.

In 1964 he was indicted by a federal grand jury on six counts of tax evasion for the non-payment of more than $39,000 (approximately $325,000 today) in income taxes from the nightclub he operated, the Merry‐Go‐Round, in Santa Monica, California. The case was contested for five years, before he pled no contest to a single count of evading corporate tax. He was fined $1,000, with the payment suspended.

He also had a recurring role in Jerry Van Dyke's television series Accidental Family in 1967. His film roles included many cameo appearances. In It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World (1963), his role was the pilot of the Standard J-1 biplane that flew Sid Caesar and Edie Adams, and he played Luther Grilk, the town drunk, in The Russians Are Coming, the Russians Are Coming (1966). His other film appearances included small roles in The Busy Body (1967), A Guide for the Married Man (1967) and Where Were You When the Lights Went Out? (1968). He made one of his last television appearances in Land of the Giants in 1969. He was also seen the following year in the Dora Hall vanity syndicated television special, "Once Upon a Tour". Blue died in Hollywood, California on March 7, 1975. He may never have starred in a movie, but he made many movies better because he was a part of them...

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