James Finlayson

Born August 27, 1887 Falkirk, Scotland
Died October 9, 1953 Los Angeles, California

{mosimage}FALKIRK District has produced a crop of top talent over the years to entertain us. But local funny-man James Finlayson was a real star among stars and destined to make people laugh across the world.

This short, balding Scot was one of the original Keystone Cops, who worked with Hollywood legends Charlie Chaplin, Laurel and Hardy and was a friend of prolific film maker Mack Sennet.

Born in Larbert in 1887, Finlayson turned his back on the chance of working alongside his father in an iron foundry, and was training for a career in business when he was introduced to John Clyde, a noted Scottish actor of the time.

{mosimage}This meeting fuelled Finlayson's interest in the stage, and he abandoned his studies at Edinburgh University to `tread the boards', appearing in music halls and theatres around Britain.

He topped the bill and starred in plays written by Alec Lauder, brother of the legendary Sir Harry. But his big break came in 1912 when he was offered the starring role in `Bunty Pulls The Strings', a Graham Moffat stage production for Broadway. Finlayson was an instant hit as `Bunty' in a smash that played for 18 months. It was a role that was to establish him as one of America's "most wanted" actors.

{mosimage}He and Lauder then later toured the theatres across America with a hilarious sketch, `The Concealed Bed'.

It was when they reached Hollywood in 1916 that Finlayson decided to quit the show and try his luck in films.

Some bit parts in movies by Thomas Ince and the L- KO studio were to follow, but, Finlayson's career took another major leap forward in 1920 when he signed a three-year contract with the Sennet group, appearing as one of the zany Keystone Cops or opposite `cross-eyed' Ben Turpin in other Sennet comedies.

He followed that with a four-year deal at Hal Roach's Culver City Studios. Roach starred him in many two-reelers, hoping that he had another Turpin on his hands. Finlayson was certainly very capable, and very funny, but as a solo name never quite caught on with the movie public.

His co-stars were often Stan Laurel or Oliver Hardy, and as the three got to know each other a screen magic developed. When Stan and Ollie started making their `Laurel and Hardy' classics, Finlayson was their choice to play their comic foil.

Stan Laurel often admitted that the raised eyebrows and deadly squint of "Jimmy" Finlayson helped establish the success of the films as much as he or Hardy ever did.

Thanks to his excellent agent Arthur Landau, the man who groomed Jean Harlow for stardom, Finlayson was rarely out of work. When his contract with Roach expired, he freelanced and appeared in dozens of features for other studios. He even travelled back to the UK to make several films in England.
WHILE it is accurate to describe James Finlayson as a Larbert man, exactly where in the village he was born is unclear.

{mosimage}He remains, however, a genuine "Millennium Great', fondly remembered by film fans at home and abroad. He even has his own web site in the United States.

Falkirk Local History Society also consider him worthy of mention on their list of great entertainers from the last 100 years, rightly pointing out that the success Laurel & Hardy enjoyed was due in great part due to him.

A few years ago, around the time of Finlayson's centenary, there was a proposal to mark his birthplace with a commemorative plaque. The project, unfortunately, came to nothing at that
time, but with the millennium approaching, the society is seriously considering reviving it. What it has to know, however, is where this comic genius was born.

{mosimage}Anyone who might be able to shed some light on this poser, and help bring the chances of a plaque being erected a step closer, should contact Falkirk History Society's vice chairman John Walker on (01324) 623492.

JAMES Finlayson was known to his friends simply as "Jimmy". After his death  however, his army of fans who loved his movies nicknamed him `Fin'.

Copies of 31 Laurel and Hardy films Finlayson appeared in are still available today, but his scenes in two others, `Hats Off' and `Any Old Port', were cut from the final version.

In addition, he made 19 films with Stan Laurel and numerous others written or directed by the man himself before he teamed up with Ollie Hardy.

While under contract to Hal Roach studios, Finlayson made his `Our Gang' shorts and featured with Ollie Hardy in one of them and Stan Laurel in another.  `Mush and Milk' is probably his best know 'Our Gang' film, where the character-Spanky McFarland continually frustrates him.

Finlayson also appeared numerous times with another famous comic, Charley Chase. Curiously, he did not always have his moustache when he co-starred with this American great - even though he always sported one in other films he made around the same time.

This suggests to some that Finlayson's trademark "teastrainer" was not actually real!

What is real is his filmography which spans 32 years and covers 191 titles.

{mosimage}Off screen, the successful Scot was often as dour and eccentric as he was on it, and his company was enjoyed socially by many influential stars of the time. During -his last years in America he worked in television, but illness forced him to retire many years before his death in 1953.

ON the Friday morning of October 9. 1953, English actress Stephanie Insall wondered why her regular breakfast companion of the last 20 years was late.

James "Jimmy" Finlayson, her dour Scots friend, from Larbert, was usually punctual in arriving for his morning visit. But since she knew he had recently been unwell, a worried Miss Insall left her home on Franklin Avenue in No4lywood and drove to his house in nearby North Beachwood Drive. When she arrived. she found Finlayson dead.

The obituaries in the local papers were, unfortunately, brief in their resume of the life of an actor who had given pleasure to so many people.

Typical was the Hollywood Reporter. It reported. "Funeral services will be held today for Jimmy Finlayson (86), one of the original Keystone Kops, at 3 p.m. at Pierce Bros., Hollywood. The actor, who was also heavy in two reelers, died in his sleep at his Hollywood home'

Interestingly, the emphasis in most of the tributes was on Finlayson's appearances in Mack Sennett films as opposed to his more numerous. and probably more memorable, roles as a star in films produced by Hal Roach at his Culver City studios. Mourners at his service included fellow Keystone Kops Hank Mann, Billy Bevan, Snub Pollard and Tom Kennedy. Mack Sennett himself was also there.


Further Perils of Laurel and Hardy
(1967) (archive footage)
Laurel and Hardy's Laughing 20's
(1965) (archive footage)
MGM's Big Parade of Comedy
(1964) (as Jimmy Finlayson)
... aka Big Parade of Comedy, The (1964)
When Comedy Was King
(1960) (archive footage)
Royal Wedding
(1951) (uncredited) .... Cabby
... aka Wedding Bells (1951) (UK)
Down Memory Lane
(1949) (archive footage)
Grand Canyon Trail
(1948) .... Sheriff
Julia Misbehaves
(1948) .... Bill Collector
Perils of Pauline, The
(1947) .... Comic Chef
Thunder in the Valley
(1947) .... Court Judge
... aka Bob, Son of Battle (1947) (UK)
She-Wolf of London
(1946) (uncredited) .... Constable With Hobbs and Latham
... aka Curse of the Allenbys, The (1946)
To Be or Not to Be
(1942) (uncredited) .... Farmer
New Wine (1941)
... aka Great Awakening, The (1941)
... aka Melody Master, The (1941)
Nice Girl?
(1941) (uncredited)
Foreign Correspondent
(1940) (uncredited) .... Bit Part
Saps at Sea
(1940) .... Dr. Finlayson
Chump at Oxford, A
(1940) .... Baldy Vandevere
Flying Deuces, The
(1939) (uncredited) .... Jailer
... aka Flying Aces (1939)
Hollywood Cavalcade
(1939) .... Keystone Cop
(1939) .... Mr. Jones
Great Victor Herbert, The
(1939) .... Lamp Lighter
(1938) .... Man at Golf Course
(1938) .... Man on stairs
False Roomers
(1938) .... Uncle Jim
(1937) .... Footman
Toast of New York, The
(1937) (uncredited) .... Inventor
Pick a Star
(1937) .... Laurel's Director
... aka Movie Struck (1937)
Way Out West
(1937) .... Mickey Finn
All Over Town
(1937) .... MacDougal
Wise Girl
(1937) .... Jailer
Our Relations
(1936) .... Finn, the Chief Engineer
Bohemian Girl, The
(1936) .... Captain Finn
Life Hesitates at 40
Bonnie Scotland
(1935) .... Sergeant Major
Thicker Than Water
(1935) .... Auction Manager
Handle with Care
(1935) .... Jimmy
Manhattan Monkey Business
Big Business
(1934) .... P.C.
Father and Son
(1934) .... Bildad
Nine Forty-Five
(1934) .... P.C. Doyle
Oh No Doctor!
(1934) .... Axminster
Trouble in Store
(1934) .... The Watchman
What Happened to Harkness?
(1934) .... Police Constable Gallun
Mush and Milk
(1933) .... Banker
Devil's Brother, The
(1933) .... Lord Rocburg
... aka Bogus Bandits (1933)
... aka Fra Diavolo (1933)
... aka Virtuous Tramps, The (1933)
His Silent Racket
(1933) .... James Finlayson
Me and My Pal
(1933) .... Peter Cucumber
Nature in the Wrong
(1933) (voice) .... Voice of lion
... aka Tarzan in the Wrong (1933) (USA)
Dick Turpin
(1933) .... Jeremy
Druggist's Dilemma, The
(1933) .... Andrew Finch
Jitters the Butler
(1933) .... Phineas P. McPhinn
Strictly in Confidence
Pack Up Your Troubles
(1932) .... General
Chimp, The
(1932) .... Ringmaster
Stout Hearts and Willing Hands
Thunder Below
(1932) .... Scotty
Hasty Marriage, The
One Good Turn
(1931) .... A Community Player
Pardon Us
(1931) .... Schoolteacher
... aka Gaol Birds (1931)
... aka Jailbirds (1931)
One of the Smiths
Our Wife
(1931) .... Father of the bride
(1931) .... Criado
Chickens Come Home
(1931) .... Butler
Another Fine Mess
(1930) .... Cln Wilburforce Buckshot
Feet First
(1930) .... Painter
Dawn Patrol, The
(1930) .... Field Sergeant
... aka Flight Commander (1930)
Young Eagles
(1930) .... Scotty
Night Owls
(1930) .... Meadows
Chercheuses d'or
Dollar Dizzy
For the Defense
(1930) .... Parrott
Príncipe del dólar, El
Hoose-Gow, The
(1929) .... Prison inspector
Hard to Get
(1929) (as Jimmy Finlayson) .... Pa Martin
Men O'War
(1929) .... Soda jerk
Two Weeks Off
(1929) .... Pa Weaver
Big Business
(1929) .... Homeowner
(1929) .... Store keeper
... aka Criminals at Large (1929)
Wall Street
(1929) (as Jimmy Finalyson) .... Andy
Show Girl
(1928) .... Mr. Dugan
Lady Be Good
(1928) .... Trelawney West
Ladies' Night in a Turkish Bath
(1928) .... Pa Slocum
Bachelor's Paradise
(1928) (Pat Malone)
Do Detectives Think?
(1927) .... Judge
Hats Off
Call of the Cuckoo
(1927) .... Asylum inmate
Second Hundred Years, The
(1927) .... Warden
Sugar Daddies
(1927) .... Oil tycoon
With Love and Hisses
(1927) .... Superior officer
Love 'Em and Weep
(1927) .... Businessman
No Man's Law
(1927) (Jack Belcher)
... aka No Man's Land (1927)
One Hour Married
Anything Once!
Don't Tell Everything
Flying Elephants
Nickel Hopper, The
(1926) (uncredited) .... Resident of 625 Park St.
Thundering Fleas
Forty-five Minutes from Hollywood
... aka 45 Minutes from Hollywood (1926) (USA: alternative spelling)
Madame Mystery
(1926) .... Struggling author
Raggedy Rose
Wise Guys Prefer Brunettes
(1926) (as Jimmie Finlayson)
Haunted Honeymoon, The
... aka Billy Gets Married (1925)
Caretaker's Daughter, The
(1925) .... The Sleuth
Near Dublin
Short Kilts
Roughest Africa
(1923) .... Lieut. Hans Done (Little Boss)
(1923) .... Guest Appearance
... aka Joligud (1923)
Man About Town, A
Pitfalls of a Big City
Where's My Wandering Boy Tonight?
Crossroads of New York, The
(1922) .... Lawyer
... aka For Love or Money (1922) (USA: preview title)
Home Made Movies
Home Talent
(1921) .... Stranded Actor
Small Town Idol, A
(1921) .... J. Wellington Jones
Love, Honor and Behave
(1920) (as Jim Finlayson)
Married Life
(1920) .... Man Who Made Good
Down on the Farm
(1920/I) .... The Sportive Banker

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