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Serials Ly Speaking Essays On Cliffhangers

Charles B. Middleton (October 3, 1874 – April 22, 1949) was an American stage and film actor. During a film career that began at age 46 and lasted almost 30 years, Charles Middleton appeared in nearly 200 films as well as numerous plays.[1] He is perhaps best remembered for his role as the villainous emperor Ming the Merciless in the three Flash Gordon serials made between 1936 and 1940.


Born in Elizabethtown, Kentucky, Charles Middleton worked in a traveling circus, in vaudeville, and acted in live theatre before he turned to motion pictures in 1920.[2]

Middleton's career as a character actor came into full flower with the advent of sound movies. His ominous baritone voice proved ideal for villainous roles, and he became an excellent foil for comedy stars Harold Lloyd, Eddie Cantor, Wheeler & Woolsey, and Laurel and Hardy.

He was then cast in Warner Bros.' 1931 film Safe in Hell (directed by William Wellman), and in Warners' 1932 hit The Strange Love of Molly Louvain opposite Ann Dvorak and Richard Cromwell. In Pack Up Your Troubles, he portrays a villainous welfare association officer, the foil of Laurel & Hardy. He is also the district attorney in Cecil B. DeMille's 1933 film This Day and Age; and he appears opposite The Marx Brothers in Duck Soup (also 1933), performing as the stern prosecutor of Freedonia. In Universal Pictures' classic 1936 screen version of the musical Show Boat, he is Sheriff Ike Vallon, the official who tries to arrest Julie La Verne (Helen Morgan) and her husband for being illegally married.

Since Middleton's facial features generally resembled those of Abraham Lincoln, he was cast to portray Lincoln in the 1933 public-service shortThe Road Is Open Again.[3] Four years later, in an uncredited role in the comedy Stand-In, he appears as an actor dressed as Lincoln who complains of being typecast as the former president.[4] Middleton's association with Lincoln did not end there, although in the 1940 feature film Abe Lincoln in Illinois, he performs not as Abe but as Thomas, Lincoln's father.

Middleton also has prominent roles in many serials from 1935 to 1947. He is especially well known for his characterization of Ming the Merciless, the evil adversary of the heroic outer-space adventurer Flash Gordon. He appears as Ming in three related serials from the cited period: Flash Gordon (1936), Flash Gordon's Trip to Mars (1938), and Flash Gordon Conquers the Universe (1940). Some of the other serials in which Middleton can be seen include Dick Tracy Returns, Daredevils of the Red Circle, and Jack Armstrong.[5] He also portrays the ranch foreman Buck Peters in the 1935 movie Hopalong Cassidy Enters, which is the first entry in that long-running Western series.[6]

Middleton died of a heart attack in Los Angeles just two months after the 1949 release of The Last Bandit, ironically the last film in which he appeared.[6] His gravesite is located in Hollywood Forever Cemetery and is situated next to the grave of his wife of many years, stage and film actress Leora Spellman.[2]

Selected filmography[edit]


External links[edit]

  1. ^Kinnard, Roy; Crnkovich, Tony; Vitone, R.J. (2008). The Flash Gordon Serials, 1936 - 1940: A Heavily Illustrated Guide (Reprint of the illustrated casebound ed.). Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland. p. 14. ISBN 978-0-7864-3470-1. Retrieved 16 October 2014. 
  2. ^ abEllenberger, Allan R. (2001). Celebrities in Los Angeles Cemeteries: A Directory. McFarland. p. 140. ISBN 9780786409839. Retrieved 15 April 2017. 
  3. ^The Road is Open Again, PublicResourceOrg, digital copy of 1933 public-service short, YouTube, subsidiary of Alphabet Inc., Mountain View, California; retrieved October 25, 2017.
  4. ^Stand-In (1937),(TCM), Turner Broadcasting System, a subsidiary of Time Warner, New York, N.Y.; retrieved October 25, 2017.
  5. ^Cline, William C. (2000). Serials-ly Speaking : Essays on Cliffhangers. Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland. pp. 127–128. ISBN 0-7864-0918-5. Retrieved 16 October 2014. 
  6. ^ ab"Charles Middleton", Internet Movie Database (IMDb), subsidiary of, Seattle, Washington; retrieved October 25, 2017.

James Craven (born October 2, 1892 – June 29, 1955) was an American actor. He played a wide variety of roles and has a minimum of 98 film and television credits including the TV show The Adventures of Kit Carson, as well as the classic motion picture, Johnny Belinda, and the popular movie serials, The Green Archer, Captain Midnight and King of the Rocket Men. In his book, Serials-ly Speaking: Essays on Cliffhangers author William C. Cline described Craven's screen presence and characterisations in this fashion: "Suave, sophisticated and crafty, James Craven worked both sides of the street in cliffhangers. As a distinguished looking man -- supposedly a gentleman -- he gained the confidence of the good guys while working against them at every turn...Starting with The Green Archer for Columbia Pictures in 1940, Craven schemed his way through seven serials including, White Eagle (1941), Captain Midnight (1942) at Columbia, The Purple Monster Strikes (1945), Federal Agents vs. Underworld Inc. (1948), King of the Rocket Men (1949), and Flying Disc Man from Mars(1950) at Republic Pictures."

Craven's films include Tumbledown Ranch in Arizona (1941), Little Joe, the Wrangler (1941), Today I Hang 1942), Days of Buffalo Bill (1946), Murder in the Music Hall (1946), Million Dollar Weekend (1948), Wells Fargo Gunmaster (1951), and East of Sumatra (1953)

Further reading

External links