The other day, I finally got around to a film I had been wanting to see for a while: George Sidney’s Jupiter’s Darling (1955), starring Howard Keel, George Sanders, Marge and Gower Champion, and Esther Williams in her last role for her home studio of MGM. I won’t go into the movie and what I thought about it (I’d really like to view it a second time before passing judgment), mainly because that’s not what this post is about, much as I admired Esther’s costumes and Howard Keel’s legs. No, the instant the film’s narrative started, I heard a very distinctive voice, one I had heard before but couldn’t place. It came from a character who narrated the first few minutes of the movie, and then recurred randomly throughout as Howard Keel’s character’s historian, a parody of orators such as Plato and Homer. I hurriedly went to Jupiter’s Wikipedia page to look at the cast, and found that the historian was played by Richard Haydn. Now guys, I’m sure at this point that some of you are either a) going “Oh! I love him!”, b) saying “Who?”, or c) asking “Isn’t that Max from Sound of Music?”
Sadly, I was in the second camp. I knew I heard the name before, multiple times in fact. I continued looking on Wikipedia to figure out where else I knew him from, and my god, people. Am I an idiot. Not only was he the dubious and funny Max Detweiler in Sound of Music, but he was also the voice of the freaking Caterpillar from Disney’s animated 1951 version of Alice in Wonderland. (Which, by the way, was the exact voice he employed in Jupiter’s Darling, thus my familiarity with it.)
As if that wasn’t enough, the man also played Professor Oddley in Ball of Fire. Remember that adorable professor who tells Gary Cooper and the other professors about his wonderful marriage to his now-deceased wife, giving Ball of Fire one of its best and most emotional scenes? Yeah, that was Richard Haydn.
Oh, but it doesn’t stop there. Haydn also had a bit part in my favorite Mel Brooks film, Young Frankenstein, playing Herr Falkstein, the man who finds Gene Wilder’s character to tell him that his great grandfather died and he has inherited the Frankenstein estate.
What blows my mind about Haydn is the exact reason why I always failed to recognize him—he looks and sounds different so often! I mean, I thought Professor Oddley was played by a man in his sixties, what with the glasses, the facial hair, and the way he moves his body. Nope, it’s Richard Haydn at age 36. And the historian in Jupiter’s Darling? There is no way that guy is the same as Max Detweiler. He has a shaved head of practically white hair and no facial hair, whereas Max has brown hair and a nice mustache to match. But no, it’s the same person. However, I was smart enough to recognize Mr. Haydn in Please Don’t Eat the Daisies. I knew instantly that I was looking at…Max Detweiler. Yes, I confess, I didn’t know his name and so when he appeared (looking just as he did in Sound of Music), I went “Max!”
So now, I’m basically ashamed of myself. How could I have possibly failed to notice Richard Haydn before? Every time a character actor amuses/impresses me, I make it a point to investigate them further. Somehow, though, he fell through the cracks, and for that, I’m sorry. I will forever kick myself, and no longer will I exclaim “Max!” when I see him pop up on the screen…I’ll say “Caterpillar!”