Leon Ames

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Leon Ames was born Harry Wycoff in Portland, Indiana, to Cora Alice (DeMoss) and Charles Elmer Wycoff. He had always wanted to be an actor and he did it the hard way, serving a long apprenticeship in touring amateur theatre companies — even selling shoes for a while on 42nd Street in the 1920s. It took him until 1933 to make his debut on Broadway. His play at the Morosco Theatre, “It Pays to Sin”, lasted for only three performances after receiving disastrous critical reviews. By then he had already appeared in his first movie, the sombre, expressionistic Murders in the Rue Morgue (1932), an Edgar Allan Poe adaptation, in which Leon played the dependable love interest of heroine Sidney Fox.

For the next three year, he appeared under his birth name (Leon Waycoff) in a variety of B-movies for “Poverty Row” studios like Mayfair, Showmen’s Pictures, World-Wide, Empire and Majestic. His first film as ‘Leon Ames’ was the Shirley Temple vehicle, Stowaway (1932). For the next few years he served yet another apprenticeship, playing a variety of stalwart characters and the occasional bad guy in such cheerful potboilers as the anemic Murder in Greenwich Village (1937), the amusing Mysterious Mr. Moto (1938) and the eminently forgettable Secrets of a Nurse (1938). There were also occasional highlights: he popped up in Ernst Lubitsch’s last film at Paramount, Bluebeard’s Eighth Wife (1938), with Gary Cooper and Myrna Loy, and even starred as the leading man of Cipher Bureau (1938) and Panama Patrol (1939), albeit at Grand National.

Leon’s career improved dramatically after playing Judy Garland’s father Alonzo (along with Mary Astor as the matriarch of the family) in MGM’s classic, Meet Me in St. Louis (1944), directed by Vincente Minnelli. For the first time, Leon’s acting abilities were well employed, especially his ability to deliver dryly humorous one-liners. Signed to a contract at MGM, Leon was now cast in pivotal character roles in more important A-grade output, usually as put-upon, loving fathers: A Date with Judy (1948), Little Women (1949), (where he again teamed up with Mary Astor), By the Light of the Silvery Moon (1953), to name but a few. For something completely different, he also played district attorney Kyle Sackett in the film noir, The Postman Always Rings Twice (1946) and, against type, portrayed Paul Newman’s thoroughly unpleasant father in From the Terrace (1960).

Leon continued in films well until his twilight years and was last seen as Kathleen Turner’s grandfather in Peggy Sue Got Married (1986). On television, he had a popular run starring in Life with Father (1953) and Father of the Bride (1961) (played by Spencer Tracy on the big screen) as well as playing Wilbur Post’s neighbor Gordon Kirkwood in Mister Ed (1958).

Leon had another claim to fame in being one of 19 actors, who — after a clandestine meeting in June 1933 — established the Screen Actor’s Guild. For thirty years (commencing in 1945) he held a senior executive position as recording secretary and served as national president of the organization between 1957 and 1979. He also served on the board of governors of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. The dapper actor and avid unionist died at a Laguna Beach nursing home at the ripe old age of 91 on October 12 1993.


  • Birthname: Harry Leon Wycoff
  • Born: January 20, 1902
  • Born Place: Portland, Indiana, USA
  • Height: 5' 8" (1.73 m)
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