This owl-faced comic actor enjoyed his first featured film role in the RKO production Too Many Girls (1940), in which he reprised the role of “JoJo Jordan” that he had played in the Broadway stage version of that musical. (Into the pantheon of pop-music standards came one that Bracken had introduced in “Too Many Girls”, the melancholy “I Didn’t Know What Time It Was”). But the then 20-year-old Eddie Bracken was by no means new to show business in general or Hollywood in particular. He had played in vaudeville and performed in nightclubs by the time he was 9, and had just later appeared on screen in four of the Hal Roach “Our Gang” comedy two-reeler film shorts. It was on account of his appearances in musicals and comedies as a shy, giggling, clumsy, stammering, sentimental, self-effacing, would-be hero that Bracken achieved popularity, not to say star status, among movie audiences of the 1940s. The director Preston Sturges served up those attributes of Eddie Bracken particularly well in two of Sturges’s more memorable comedies. As “Norval Jones” in The Miracle of Morgan’s Creek (1943) (filmed in 1942; released 1944), Bracken portrays a man whose destiny others have foisted upon him. A certain “Trudy Kockenlocker” (played by Betty Hutton), having attended a party for military servicemen, later finds herself to be pregnant but has no recollection of who the father might be. So she persuades the always-befuddled Norval to take credit for the child and marry her. Somehow, Norval emerges a true hero in the end, but you’ll have to see the film to discover why. As Norval Jones was physically unfit for military service, so also was “Woodrow Lafayette Pershing Truesmith”, with Eddie Bracken in the role, in Preston Sturges’s Hail the Conquering Hero (1944). Solely on the basis of his father’s reputation as a World War I U.S. Marine hero, a group of saloon-hopping World War II-era U.S. Marines, led by a crusty senior-level sergeant (played to a tee by William Demarest), elevate the physical reject Truesmith into a modern, combat-decorated veteran, and then usher him into an election campaign for Truesmith’s hometown mayoralty. The complications, including a love interest (in the person of actress Ella Raines, are by now well under way. As Eddie Bracken’s age increased his popularity — or perhaps that of the genre of film vehicles that was his forte — decreased, and in 1953 he essentially retired from the screen, moving on to pursue theatrical ventures. But he would return to Hollywood eventually, and we have been fortunate to see him in character roles in theatrical and TV films through the 80’s and 90’s.
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