Films of Emil Sitka: BLONDIE'S SECRET (1948)
by Saxon Emil Sitka
BLONDIE'S SECRET was number twenty-four in a series of twenty-eight feature-length "Blondie" films made by Columbia Pictures. Based upon an extremely popular comic strip by Chic Young that debuted in 1930, the comedy series began in 1938 with BLONDIE and concluded with BEWARE OF BLONDIE in 1950. The success of the films spawned a weekly radio show that ran from 1939 through 1950 as well.
Starring throughout the series in the title role was Penny Singleton, who, before being cast as "Blondie," was a natural brunette. Singleton had worked in over a dozen movies with many of Hollywood's biggest stars, including William Powell, Myrna Loy, James Stewart, Humphrey Bogart, James Cagney, Ralph Bellamy, Ronald Reagan, Barbara Stanwyck, and Henry Fonda.
Then Columbia had her dye her hair yellow, and twelve years and twenty-eight films later she was known exclusively as "Blondie."
Much later, in 1962, Penny Singleton was cast as the voice of the animated character "Jane Jetson," the wife of "George Jetson" in the TV-cartoon series THE JETSONS, a role she reprised several times in the late 80's. Her last film appearance was in THE BEST MAN (1964) with Henry Fonda and Cliff Robertson. Despite working with many big names in Hollywood, after bleaching her hair and starring in the "Blondie" series, Singleton was forever remembered as Dagwood's better half.
Blondie's counterpart, "Dagwood Bumstead," was played by Arthur Lake, a comedian who had previously appeared in dozens of films and starred in many comedy shorts in the 1920's for Universal Pictures. Lake played the role of "Dagwood" so well and the "Blondie" series was so successful that he, like Singleton, was typecast for the remainder of his career. Once he appeared in the original BLONDIE (1938), he became "Dagwood" to the movie-going public and made only a few films outside of the series after 1938, none of which were notable.
Watching Arthur Lake as "Dagwood" reminds me of the young Jerry Lewis. The vocal effects and blundering mannerisms are so strikingly similar, I wonder if Lewis didn't borrow from Lake's "Dagwood" while creating his own early stage persona.
The plot of BLONDIE'S SECRET, written by Jack Henley, has Dagwood's boss trying to keep him from taking his vacation by hiring two bumbling burglars to steal his luggage. Joining Penny Singleton and Arthur Lake in the cast are Larry Simms, Marjorie Kent, Jerome Cowen, Thurston Hall, Jack Rice, Danny Mummert, Frank Orth, Alyn Lockwood, and Eddie Acuff.
Months after suffering injuries while making BILLIE GETS HER MAN (1948) in January, Emil still had numerous unrelenting symptoms such as severe headaches, a creaking neck, twitching muscles, and a tingling numbness in his arms. Emil was losing confidence in Lester Sweeney, Columbia's in-house doctor, and he often wondered if he'd ever fully recover. He also began to doubt his future in movies.
In early May, however, he received a call informing him he would be working in a feature film on May 28. After Emil had worked in twenty-nine short-subject "two reelers" at Columbia, this movie represented his first job in a feature film for the studio. The three movie roles Emil had done for other studio's, one for Republic and two for Monogram, were also in feature films, but they had been small "bit" parts. Emil believed that when he began to get feature film work at Columbia, because of his large body of work there, it would mean much bigger, possibly even starring roles. BLONDIE'S SECRET, however, provided Emil another small bit with only a single line to deliver.
Emil's diary entries provide an excellent description of this film role, so here from Emil's diary on May 28, 1948:
Instead of working in my first feature picture at Columbia Studios today I received a call to report tomorrow on Stage 6.
I am to work in my first Columbia "Blondie" picture. Ed Bernds directs. And I am thrilled. Wouldn't you be? Even tho, to tell the absolute truth, I sincerely believe that by now I should have been called many times for feature work - but because of either my injuries or Lester Sweeney or my broken nose - I just don't know.
This kind of handicap doesn't apply to an ordinary trade, but certainly to a profession where the body and face are meaningful 25 times normal for a close scrutiny of even a mole or scratch upon the skin.
My role calls for me to merely inform "Dagwood" that there is no more dogfood! As the camera goes unstoppingly by me I'm supposed to say "Sorry sir, we are fresh out."
How to make this tiny bit interesting and arresting and worth notice?
Emil's diary entry for Saturday, May 29, 1948:
I hereby hope it means something of luck, the fact that I'm appearing (very briefly) for the first time in a Columbia feature picture "Blondie's Secret," directed by Ed Bernds. This marks his first feature too!
Meeting Arthur Lake as Dagwood Bumstead was casual. First, he noticed how I juggled the cans in a corner in preparing for my line. He laughed & was intrigued by the way I did the stocking of cans as a grocer in this market scene.
Altho Ed Bernds forbade my bubble-gum & other "comic business," I and Lake persuaded him to let me juggle the cans while I said my one line "Sorry sir, we're fresh out." For this I got $75.00, which I can use!
While chewing gum, however, I broke a tooth, that had previously lost its filling.
Ed Bernds asked about my getting work elsewhere & how my injury was. I told him my neck still pained. He promised a bigger role in future pictures.
All the many technical workmen greeted me, and my scene required one "take" again.
These diary entries reveal just how determined Emil was, as always, to make the most of each and every role he ever enacted. Sometimes Emil was constrained by the director, as in this case, but many time he was allowed to contribute much more character to his part than was written into the script. This propensity to expand or embellish his roles was a hallmark of Emil's approach to his art.
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BLONDIE'S SECRET (1948)