Frank Atkinson
Date of Birth
Jan 01, 1893
Birth Place:
Blackpool, Lancashire, England

Biography

Lancashire-born character actor Frank Atkinson appeared in at least 130 films in the 33 years between the advent of sound in 1930 and his death in 1963. His work extended to both sides of the Atlantic -- although he worked primarily in his native England, he did go over to Hollywood in the mid-1930's, where he seemed to keep busy at Fox. He was often in roles too small to be credited, but that didn't stop him from doing a memorable turn (or two) in pictures. Tall and slender, and with gaunt facial features that lent themselves to looks of eccentricity, and with a highly cultured speaking voice, he could melt unobtrusively into a scene, as an anonymous bit-player, or could, with the utterance of a few words or a look, transform himself into a wryly comedic presence -- he played everything from jailers, guards, garage attendants, and soldiers to upper-class twits, and, in a manner unique to his era, sometimes got into some gender-bending portrayals. His most interesting attributes were shown off in a pair of Raoul Walsh-directed features: Sailor's Luck (1933), starring James Dunn and Sally Eilers, in which Atkinson plays an overtly gay swimming pool attendant in an important scene in the middle of the picture; and in Me And My Gal (1932), an excellent romantic comedy/thriller starring Spencer Tracy and Joan Bennett, in which he turns in a brief (but wonderfully rewarding) comedic tour-de-force as the funniest of a trio of effete, drunken waterfront tavern patrons, debating the matter of the type of fish with which one of them has been assaulted. His roles were usually not named, but Atkinson was highly regarded enough so that in The Green Cockatoo, he gets some memorable lines as a wry-toned butler named Provero, whose name becomes a comical issue. Atkinson also wrote screenplays and scripts for various British films in the 1930's, in genres ranging from light comedy to thrillers. Toward the end of his career, he also worked extensively in British television, on series such as Z-Cars and The Saint, and in 1963, the year of his death -- at age 69 -- he was in three television episodes as well as chalking up an uncredit appearance in Murder At the Gallop. In more recent years, thanks to the activity of various researches and scholars, and revivals of Fox's pre-Code features, especially Sailor's Luck, Atkinson has been mentioned in articles and books dealing with gay images and personae in Hollywood films. ~ Bruce Eder, Rovi

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