Obituary: Douglas Fowley

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The Independent Online
DOUGLAS FOWLEY had appeared in over 100 films when he was cast in the role for which he is now best remembered, the distraught film director Roscoe Dexter in Singin' in the Rain (1952), complete with riding breeches, visor cap and megaphone, desperately trying to convert a silent screen star into a talking one.

Showing his none too bright leading lady the microphone hidden in a prop bush, he explains that

the sound goes through the cable to the box. A man records it on a big record in wax, but you have to talk into the mike first, in the bush

- only to have the actress constantly move her head from side to side as she speaks so that only the occasional word is caught by the mike. "Well, I can't make love to a bush," she tells him. Dexter then in supplication turns to the camera and utters in desperation one of the classic movie's many lines that have become catch-phrases: "We'll have to think of something else!"

It was particularly astute of the directors Gene Kelly and Stanley Donen to cast Fowley in the role, for the thin-lipped actor was best known for his portrayals of petty hoodlums and gangsters. His was a face familiar to all filmgoers of the Thirties and Forties, his role usually that of a henchman rather than chief villain.

Born Daniel Vincent Fowley in the Bronx, New York, in 1911, he moved to Los Angeles as a young man and studied at Los Angeles City College. After trying several jobs, he decided to become an actor, and made his screen debut as one of Spencer Tracy's gang of bootleggers in The Mad Game (1933). He was featured in two of the best of the Charlie Chan series, Charlie Chan on Broadway (1937, as a night-club owner and prime suspect) and Charlie Chan at Treasure Island (1939), in which as a police reporter he was given a rare romantic involvement.

Occasionally, as when he played Benny Bottle, a prison inmate, in Big Brown Eyes (1936), he was able to display his flair for Runyonesque parody, but generally he was plain mean, such as his cunning rustler in the Errol Flynn western Dodge City (1939) or ruthless gangster in the taut film noir Desperate (1947).

His performance as a cocky foot-soldier who entertains his buddies by constantly clicking his poorly fitted false teeth in William Wellman's fine war film Battleground (1949) heralded the actor's easing into more varied character roles, and after Singin' in the Rain he had an amusing cameo in another musical by the same writers, Betty Comden and Adolph Green, The Band Wagon (1953), in the opening sequence of which he is the eager auctioneer trying to sell the effects of a fading star ("Five dollars . . . one dollar . . . 50 cents . . . anything?").

In the mid-Fifties he became a television favourite in the US as the dangerous Doc Holliday in the hit television series The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp (1955-61) and in 1966-67 played the grizzled and crusty Grandpa Hanks in the rustic comedy series Pistols 'n' Petticoats. Other television credits included Perry Mason, The Streets of San Francisco and The Rockford Files.

In 1960 Fowley directed a feature about voodoo practices in South America, Macumba Love, but it was not a success. His last film as an actor was a Disney comedy, The North Avenue Irregulars (1978, retitled Hill's Angels in Britain), after which he retired to be with his family.

Daniel Vincent (Douglas) Fowley, actor: born New York 30 May 1911; married (five children); died Woodland Hills, California 21 May 1998.