“Lady And Gent”

July 28, 2008

When boxer Slag Bailey (George Bancroft) loses the big fight (to a young John Wayne), his weasel of a manager Pin pulls a failed robbery and ends up dead. Slag and his tough-talking singer girlfriend Puff (Wynne Gibson) discover Pin’s secret life: a cottage in the country and a young son.

The boxer gets a job in the steel mill and the dame plays house and before you know it the young orphan has grown up to be Charles Starrett.

In what must have been an inside joke, Slag wants Charley to play football at Dartmouth. Tough Puff wants him to go to State University and that’s where he ends up — where he’s an All American on the football team anyway.

In an entry into his class notes in the late fifties, Charles wrote that he “made more yardage for Paramount than for Dartmouth.” I haven’t seen “Touchdown”, but in this film most of that yardage is stock footage.

Charles plays 19 in the handful of scenes he has. He’s pretty good, bouncing around with youthful energy. In this haircut, and with his then-slender face, he resembles a young Kyle MacLachlan.

In the final scene, a crooked promoter shows up and wants him to be a boxer. He’ll bill Charley as “The College Wonder.” Dad and Charley go a few rounds and Charley figures out he’s not a fighter, but a lover.

“Dad, can’t you fix it to…to adopt me, Dad, I mean, really adopt me so that I’ll be…so that you’ll be my folks on the level!”

In reality, Charles was 28 years old, freshly arrived in Hollywood, had twin 3-year-old sons, and was under contract to Paramount, a studio that believed in him enough to give him the elevated third billing for a picture in which he only appears in the last 15 minutes.

Nice casting on the young Charley, 13-year old Billy Butts, who, interestingly, worked for a while as a young sidekick of 1920’s western stars Fred Thomson and Rex Bell.

Oh, and George Bancroft later appeared with John Wayne in “Stagecoach.”

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