Films of Emil Sitka: HOT HEIR (1947)
by Saxon E. Sitka
HOT HEIR represented a landmark role for Emil: "Uncle Newt" was his first "old-man" movie character. Although he was only thirty-one years old, Emil had played "old-man" characters several times in roles on stage, and he pulled this one off rather well.
Emil still worked days driving a truck, but for the most part, he resumed his lengthier diary entries. Two days prior to filming, Emil was contemplating this next movie role, as we see from his diary entry for September 26, 1946:
On becoming "Uncle Newt" --
While driving my old jalopy truck for Hobart's all day long with drunken Joe Murphy I doted upon my forthcoming characterization of "Uncle Newt" in the next Hugh Herbert comedy at Columbia.
Will I pass muster? It's a difficult characterization, that of an eccentric but dignified old millionaire uncle to Hugh Herbert. My voice will have to be raised & cracked somewhat. But how much?
I'll need to be senile in walk, gestures, posture, expressions and voice. But how to do all this and be funny? How to have all the violent acts committed upon my characterization -- and not provoke sympathy and pity instead of humor and belly-laughs? To what degree to be in character and how far to go to reach for laughs? All this caused me to occasionally make faces in the side-mirror or say a line in an "old-man's" voice, which must have startled Joe Murphy, even in his drunken stupor!
And his diary for two days later, September 28, 1946:
Movie Bit #16 -- and $75.00 per day!
After Leo Brown delivered me to the casting office of Columbia -- which is being picketed along with all the other major studios by the jurisdictional strike of the C. S. U. -- I was at the mercy of a make-up artist who tried to make my young face look about forty years older, ala "Uncle Newt." A studio bus took us to Columbia ranch where Hugh Herbert & company greeted me with a vase in the face, several pratfalls, walkovers, and other brutal antics of comedy that had me all over the floor all morning. My ability to "take falls" amazed all. Soon after lunch I was thru but had to stay on because the studio bus was to take the company back to Hollywood.
The following day, Sunday, September 29, 1946, Emil wrote:
A day of rest, said the Bible -- and I agree. My shoulder muscles and arms hurt from yesterday's falls during shooting of Hugh Herbert's comedy at Columbia.
Emil's diary for the next day, Monday, September 30, 1946:
My second day as "Uncle Newt" --
By the time I got to be shot today the day was almost over. I waited and waited and only the final fade out of the picture "Hot Heir" was shot -- and this after Ed Bernds (the director) revised the ending to show me getting the wives of both Hugh Herbert and Dick Wessel after I knock both of them out with a board and vengeance!
But in this long day I got to be complimented even by Hugh Herbert who got to know me very intimately. He wondered why I was a truck-driver between film chores, and expressed real Herbertian amazement at my big family.
He told me he gets a $1000 per day and that I soon will, too! Imagine! When someone suggested to him that I should have an agent, he loudly asked, "Why? A comedian like Emil needs only one other studio to recognize his ability like they do here. Men like McCullum & White."
Still getting familiar with Columbia's short subject personnel, Emil misspelled producer Hugh McCollum's name.
After writing at such length for several days in a row, Emil's diary for the next day is extremely brief:
My third day as "Uncle Newt" --
Emil enacted this role so well that many "old-man" parts started coming his way, including "Amos Flint" in ALL GUMMED UP (1947), "Old-Man Goodrich" in WHO DONE IT? (1949), "Professor Sneed" in FUELIN' AROUND (1949), and of course "Uncle Phineas" in GENTS IN A JAM (1952), the remake of HOT HEIR. The Stooge Chronicles
by Jeff Forester quotes Emil with the following explanation:
This is the story I got from Moe. The Stooges were doing their vaudeville act in a theater one night, and after they finished, a two-reel comedy was shown. I was playing an old man in that particular short. By the time the short came on, the Stooges had already taken off their make-up and costumes. They were headed out of the theater toward a coffee shop to grab a bite after the show. On their way out of the theater, they heard the audience howling with laughter. They had to go back and see what was so funny. So they went back inside and saw that it was my character that was getting all the laughs. They decided they would like me to play that kind of character in one of their pictures, too.
Hugh Herbert's HOT HEIR and The Three Stooges re-make GENTS IN A JAM share story-lines and many passages of dialog. Emil's "Newt" and "Phineas" parts were the same role: the rich old uncle who visits and gets clobbered. This is a rare instance where Emil plays the same character in both an original film and then in a complete remake of the story with different stars years later.
Copyright, Saxon Emil Sitka. All rights reserved.
Reproduction of any portion of this article in any form is prohibited.
EmilSitka.com Image Gallery:
HOT HEIR (1947)