Thursday, 25 August 2016

Brooklyn's Star, Marvin Kaplan

Is Marvin Kaplan funny?

The answer to the question can be found in Adam’s Rib (1949), where Kaplan plays a court reporter reading back testimony without any regards to emphasis or punctuation. The part couldn’t have been played any better.

The answer can also be found in the broad antics of It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World (1963) as he and the wonderful Arnold Stang fail to spare their gas station from the rampaging Jonathan Winters.

And the answer can be found in several other places, especially if you’re a fan of Marvin Kaplan.

Animation historian Jerry Beck has passed along word that Mr. Kaplan has passed away. He was 89.

Early in his long career in Hollywood, back home he was the local boy who made good. In the Brooklyn papers, ads for his movie appearances never failed to mention his hometown. The Daily Eagle even profiled him not once but twice in less than three weeks.

Here are the stories, the first (unbylined) from April 2, 1950 and the second from April 19th. The pictures came from the Eagle as well; note the young Nancy Walker at the far right of the last photo (which, unfortunately, has a photo from the other side of the paper bleeding through).
New Brooklyn Comedy Find In ‘Reformer and Redhead’
Marvin Kaplan, less than two years ago, was studying education at Brooklyn College while teaching on the side at Midwood High School, which is directly across the street from the college.
Today, he is being acclaimed a new comedy "find" by Hollywood.
After small roles in "Adam's Rib"and "Key to the City" he was cast by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer in an important role with June Allyson and Dick Powell in "The Reformer and the Redhead," scheduled to open at the Capitol on April 8.
Before this new romantic comedy was previewed on the West Coast the name Marvin Kaplan was familiar to his landlady, his agent and a few personal friends, but nobody else in Hollywood knew of his existence. After the showing he was a celebrity.
That's what is known as overnight fame in the film colony.
More than 90 percent of the cards turned in by the preview audience commented on the young actor and expressed a desire to see him in more films, Hollywood is seeing to it that they will.
Actually, Kaplan never had any intention of becoming an actor when he went West. After graduation from Brooklyn College he decided to work for his master's degree at the University of Southern California. He was studying the drama with the intention of becoming a playwright.
Through friends at the university he became interested in the Circle Theater, an experimental group which puts on plays at a small actors' laboratory in Hollywood. He took a small role in a performance of Moliere's "The Doctor In Spite of Himself."
'Found' by K. Hepburn
If it hadn't been that Katharine Hepburn chanced to visit the theater one night, he might never have gotten into pictures. Miss Hepburn, impressed with his comedy style, suggested him to M-G-M for a role in “Adam's Rib.” The other two film assignments followed in short order.
Kaplan is continuing with his studies at U. S. C. and intends to let nothing interfere with his ambition to write plays. A short, stocky, studious looking young man who wears horn-rimmed spectacles, he looks more like the common conception of a playwright rather than an actor.
But Hollywood knows from experience that looks can be deceiving. Film executives recognize him as an actor with a unique comedy style.
Kaplan was born in Brooklyn, where his father, Dr. I.E. Kaplan has been a prominent physician for a number of years. He attended Public School 16, Junior High School 15 and was graduated from Eastern District High School in 1943.
He made his first appearance as an actor when at Brooklyn College. The play was Shakespeare's "Taming of the Shrew" and Kaplan portrayed the rear end of—the horse.
As anyone can see, his career has progressed considerably since then.

You’ve seen ''The Reformer and the Redhead" at the Capitol Theater. You haven’t? Well! Have you got a treat coming up! Anyhow, if you've seen it you already know what a hit that young Brooklyn fellow, Marvin Kaplan is making in it, and if you haven’t, you might as well be tipped off now that it would be a good idea to catch this newest Brooklyn comedian as soon as you can.
Marvin, now 23, is the son of Dr. and Mrs. Isidor E. Kaplan of 537 Bedford Ave. He’s at home for a short rest, following some minor surgery at Wickersham Hospital. Marvin was surprised when Sammy Kaye (So You Want to Lead a Band) and Nancy Walker, headliners in the Capitol stage show playing with 'The Reformer,' came to visit him at the hospital, bearing forsythia and a scroll, making him a member of the F.F.B. (First Families of Brooklyn). This is not the first time Marvin has been pleasantly surprised.
“I was surprised when I got a part in ‘Adam’s Rib.’ (His first picture). I wasn’t even looking for a role in the movies,” he remarked.
Studying Playwriting
He was, in fact, minding his own business, finished up his credits for a Master’s Degree in playwriting at the University of California, and working with a little theater group for the experience, because how can you write plays if you’ve never got the feel of being behind the footlights? His little group had been playing Moliere for 12 weeks, and he had a dumb role, that of Lucas in “The Doctor in Spite of Himself.”
“One night we had about 10 people in the house, things weren't going so good, everybody was kind of down. That was the night Katharine Hepburn dropped in. “After the show she talked to all of us. She asked my name and where I came from and said she liked my performance. I thought that was nice of her, but that was all. Next day I got a call from M-G-M.
“‘Your agent, Katharine Hepburn, thinks you ought to have a part in “Adam's Rib,” ’ they told me. (Miss Hepburn and Spencer Tracy starred in this comedy, which made the rounds several months ago).
Marvin got the job, playing the court stenographer in the picture, and, now being a film actor willy-nilly, got himself an agent and began accepting roles. He played a small part in “Francis,” among others. His current part in “The Reformer and the Redhead” is his biggest role to date. He plays an assistant in a law office, who gets $25 a week and is always asking for a raise.
“They asked me if $25 was a reasonable figure for a clerk,” said Marvin. “I said it was. After all, when I worked as law clerk for my sister’s firm, I didn’t get anything.”
Marvin’s sister, the former Eleanor Kaplan, had her own law office before she married Abraham Pecker, Brooklyn businessman. Rene, another sister, is still in school.
Brooklyn College Graduate
People keep asking Marvin if he's acting when he's playing comedy, or just being natural. He says he's just being natural, but it’s natural for an actor to act, off stage and on.
He is looking forward to having to learn a lot of things he has passed up so far.
“You have to know how to do everything in the movies,” he explained. “They asked me if I ever rode a horse. I told them yes, for about 20 minutes in a Brooklyn riding academy.”
He is a graduate of Brooklyn College and of Eastern District High School. His mother has a drawer-full of medals and awards he won in his school days.
His movie career notwithstanding, Marvin still thinks of himself as a playwright. The screen career pleases him, but he admits to being baffled by it. “Why, I never even had a screen test,” he said. “Probably I wouldn’t pass it.”


  1. RIP..Long Live CHooch and the other characters Marvin brought to life. Now both Marvins of classic voices, Kaplan and Miller (since 1984-85,) are gone.SC

  2. Interesting, that Kaplan appeared in that Loew's ad with Audrey Totter (though they were in different movies); as mentioned in your post on the Yowp blog, Kaplan was in "Meet Millie," which began on radio with Totter in the title role (by the time it got to TV, she was replaced by Elena Verdugo).

  3. Was Marvin Kaplan related to Benny Baker?