Saturday, May 12, 2012

Zasu Pitts

Zasu Pitts was teamed with Thelma Todd by Hal Roach in an attempt to come up with a distaff version of   the team of Laurel and Hardy.

ZaSu Pitts
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
ZaSu Pitts

Pitts in trailer for the film Tish (1942)
BornJanuary 3, 1894(1894-01-03)
Parsons, Kansas
DiedJune 7, 1963(1963-06-07) (aged 69)
Hollywood, Los Angeles, California
Years active1917-1963
SpouseTom Gallery
(m.1920-1933; divorced)
John E. Woodall
(m.1933-1963; her death)
ZaSu Pitts (play /ˈsz ˈpɪts/;[1] January 3, 1894 – June 7, 1963)[2] was an American actress who starred in many silent dramas and comedies, transitioning to comedy sound films.


 Early life

ZaSu Pitts was born in Parsons, Kansas, to Rulandus and Nellie (née Shay) Pitts; she was the third of four children. Her father, who had lost a leg while serving in the 76th New York Infantry Regiment in the Civil War, had settled the family in Kansas by the time ZaSu was born.[3]
The names of her father's sisters, Eliza and Susan, became the basis for ZaSu's unique first name, which has been (incorrectly) spelled as Zazu Pitts in many film credits and articles. Though the name is commonly mispronounced /ˈzæz/ ZAZ-oo or /ˈzs/ ZAY-soo, or /ˈzz/ ZAY-zoo, in her 1963 book Candy Hits (p. 15),[citation needed] Pitts herself gives the correct pronunciation as "Say Zoo" (/ˈsz/), recounting that Mary Pickford predicted, "[M]any will mispronounce it," and adding, "How right [she] was."
In 1903, when she was nine years old, the family moved to Santa Cruz, California, seeking a warmer climate and better job opportunities. Her childhood home at 208 Lincoln Street still stands. She attended Santa Cruz High School, where she participated in school theatricals.[4]


Pitts made her stage debut in 1914–15 doing school and local community theater in Santa Cruz, California. Going to Los Angeles in 1916 she spent many months imploring studio casting offices for work as a film extra. Finally she was discovered for substantive roles in films by pioneer screenwriter Frances Marion. Marion cast Pitts as an orphaned slavey (child of work) in the silent film, The Little Princess (1917), starring Mary Pickford.
Years later, Pitts became a leading lady in Erich von Stroheim's epic masterpiece, Greed (1924); based on this performance, von Stroheim labeled Pitts "the greatest dramatic actress". Von Stroheim also featured her in his films Sins of the Fathers (1928), The Wedding March (1928), War Nurse (1930) and Walking Down Broadway, which was re-edited by Alfred L. Werker and released as Hello, Sister! (1933). She earned praise in all those films.

Circa 1920
Pitts grew in popularity following a series of Universal one-reeler comedies and earned her first feature-length lead in King Vidor's Better Times (1919). The following year she met and married actor Tom Gallery. The couple paired in several films, including Bright Eyes (1921), Heart of Twenty (1920), Patsy (1921) and A Daughter of Luxury (1922). Their daughter, Ann, was born in 1922.
In 1924, the actress, now a reputable comedy farceuse, was given the greatest tragic role of her career in Erich von Stroheim's epic classic, Greed (1924), a twelve-hour-plus picture, edited to under four hours. The surprise casting initially shocked Hollywood, but showed that Pitts could draw tears with her doleful demeanor as well as laughs. The movie has gained respect over time, having failed initially at the box office due to its extensive cutting.
Pitts enjoyed her greatest fame in the 1930s, often starring in B movies and comedy shorts, teamed with Thelma Todd. She also played secondary parts in many films. Her stock persona (a fretful, flustered, worrisome spinster) made her instantly recognizable and was often imitated in cartoons and other films. She starred in a number of Hal Roach shorts and features, and co-starred in a series of feature-length comedies with Slim Summerville.
Switching between comedy shorts and features, by the advent of sound, she was relegated to comedy roles. A bitter disappointment was when she was replaced in the classic war drama All Quiet on the Western Front (1930) by Beryl Mercer after her initial appearance in previews drew unintentional laughs, despite the intensity of her acting. She had viewers rolling in the aisles in The Dummy (1929), Finn and Hattie (1931), The Guardsman (1931), Blondie of the Follies (1932), Sing and Like It (1934) and Ruggles of Red Gap (1935).
In the 1940s, she also found work in vaudeville and on radio, trading quivery banter with Bing Crosby, Al Jolson, and Rudy Vallee, among others. She appeared several times on the earliest Fibber McGee and Molly show, playing a dizzy dame constantly looking for a husband. Her brief stint in the Hildegarde Withers mystery series, replacing Edna May Oliver, was not successful, however. In 1944 Pitts tackled Broadway, making her debut in the mystery, Ramshackle Inn. The play, written expressly for her, fared well, and she took the show on the road in later years. Post-war films continued to give Pitts the chance to play comic snoops and flighty relatives in such fare as Life with Father (1947), but in the 1950s she started focusing on TV.
This culminated in her best known series role, playing second banana to Gale Storm on The Gale Storm Show (1956) (also known as Oh, Susannah), as Elvira Nugent ("Nugie"), the shipboard beautician. Her last role was as a switchboard operator in the Stanley Kramer comedy It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World (1963), and, less than seven months after the filming of the last scene, she became that movie's second cast member to die after filming was completed.

 Last years

Declining health dominated Pitts' later years, particularly after she was diagnosed with cancer in the mid-1950s. However, she continued to work until the very end – making brief appearances in The Thrill of It All (1963) with Doris Day and James Garner, and as a cameo switchboard operator in the sheriff's office in It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World.


She died June 7, 1963, aged 69, in Hollywood and was interred at Holy Cross Cemetery, Culver City.


  • Thomas Sarsfield Gallery (July 23, 1920 – May 2, 1933; divorced); two children: ZaSu Ann Gallery (natural) and Donald Michael "Sonny" Gallery (born as Marvin Carville La Marr), whom they adopted and renamed after the 1926 drug-related death of his mother and Pitts' friend, silent film actress Barbara La Marr.
  • John Edward "Eddie" Woodall (October 8, 1933 – June 7, 1963; her death).


  • Pitts is mentioned in the play and movie version of The Man Who Came to Dinner. The main character, Sheridan Whiteside (Monty Woolley), orders his nurse to "Stop acting like ZaSu Pitts and explain yourself!"
  • In a made-for-TV version of The Man Who Came to Dinner, in which Orson Welles played Whiteside, Pitts was cast as the nurse, Miss Preen, so the remark about "stop acting like ZaSu Pitts" was actually made directly to Pitts herself.

 Partial filmography

Below is a highly incomplete list. Full listings of all films (silent and sound), radio, stage, Broadway, television and vaudeville are indexed in the only authorized, complete biography by Gayle D. Haffner, HANDS With A HEART: The Personal Biography of Actress ZaSu Pitts (Outskirts Press, Inc., 2011)
1917Little Princess, TheThe Little PrincessBecky
1918How Could You Jean?Oscar's Sweetheart
1918Talk of the Town, TheThe Talk of the Town
1919Better TimesNancy Scroggs
1919Other Half, TheThe Other HalfJennie Jones, The Jazz Kid
1919Poor RelationsDaisy Perkins
1920Seeing It ThroughBetty Lawrence
1922Youth to YouthEmily
1923Souls for SaleHerselfCameo role
1923Three Wise FoolsMickey
1923HollywoodHerselfCameo role
1924Daughters of TodayLorena
1924TriumphA Factory Girl
1924Changing HusbandsDelia
1925Great Divide, TheThe Great DividePolly Jordan
1925Pretty LadiesMaggie Keenan
1925Great Love, TheThe Great LoveNancy
1926Monte CarloHope Durant
1926Sunny Side UpEvelyn
1927Casey at the BatCamilleWith Wallace Beery and Ford Sterling
1928Wedding March, TheThe Wedding MarchCecelia Schweisser
1929Locked Door, TheThe Locked DoorTelephone Girl
1929This Thing Called LoveClara Bertrand
1930No, No, NanettePauline Hastings
1930Devil's Holiday, TheThe Devil's HolidayEthel
1930Monte CarloBertha
1931Bad Sister, TheThe Bad SisterMinnie
1931Penrod and SamMrs. BassettAlternative title: The Adventures of Penrod and Sam
1931Guardsman, TheThe GuardsmanLiesl, the Maid
1931On the LooseZasuShort subject
1932Broken LullabyAnna, Holderlin's Maid
1932ShopwornAunt Dot
1932Destry Rides AgainTemperance WorkerAlternative title: Justice Rides Again
With Tom Mix
1932Westward PassageMrs. Truesdale
1932Back StreetMrs. Dole
1932Blondie of the FolliesGertie
1932Crooked Circle, TheThe Crooked CircleNora Rafferty
1933They Just Had to Get MarriedMolly Hull
1933Hello, Sister!Millie
1933Meet the BaronZasu
1933Mr. SkitchMaddie Skitch
1934DamesMatilda Ounce Hemingway
1934Mrs. Wiggs of the Cabbage PatchMiss Hazy
1934Gay Bride, TheThe Gay BrideMirabelle
1935Ruggles of Red GapPrunella JudsonWith Charles Laughton and Charles Ruggles
1935Going Highbrow
1936Thirteen Hours by AirMiss Harkins
1936The Plot ThickensHildegarde Withers
1937Forty Naughty GirlsHildegarde Withers
1939Lady's from Kentucky, TheThe Lady's from KentuckyDulcey LeeWith George Raft and Ellen Drew
1939Eternally YoursMrs. Bingham
1940It All Came TrueMiss Flint
1940No, No NanettePauline Hastings
1941Niagara FallsEmmy Sawyer
1942Bashful Bachelor, TheThe Bashful BachelorGeraldine
1942So's Your Aunt EmmaAunt EmmaAlternative title: Meet the Mob
1943Let's Face It!Cornelia Figeson
1946Breakfast in HollywoodElvira Spriggens
1947Life with FatherCousin Cora CartwrightWith William Powell and Irene Dunne
1950FrancisNurse Valerie HumpertWith Donald O'Connor and Patricia Medina
1952Denver and Rio GrandeJane DwyerWith Edmond O'Brien and Sterling Holloway
1954Francis Joins the WACSLt. Valerie HumpertWith Donald O'Connor, Julie Adams, and Mamie Van Doren
1957This Could Be the NightMrs. Katie SheaWith Jean Simmons and Tony Franciosa
1961Teenage Millionaire, TheThe Teenage MillionaireAunt Theodora
1963Thrill of It All, TheThe Thrill of It AllOliviaWith Doris Day and James Garner
1963It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad WorldGertie–Switchboard OperatorWith Spencer Tracy
1954Best of Broadway, TheThe Best of BroadwayMiss PreenEpisode: "The Man Who Came to Dinner"
1955Screen Directors PlayhouseSelmaEpisode: "The Silent Partner"
195620th Century Fox Hour, TheThe 20th Century Fox HourMiss AppletonEpisode: "Mr. Belvedere"
Gale Storm Show, TheThe Gale Storm ShowElvira Nugent91 episodes
1957Private SecretaryAunt MarthaEpisode: "Not Quite Paradise"
1960Dennis O'Keefe Show, TheThe Dennis O'Keefe ShowLoretta KimballEpisode: "Dimples"
1961Guestward, Ho!Episode: "Lonesome's Gal"
1961Perry MasonDaphne WhilomEpisode: "The Case of the Absent Artist"
1963Burke's LawMrs. BowieEpisode: "Who Killed Holly Howard?"

 See also


  1. ^ Candy Hits by ZaSu Pitts; Duell, Sloan and Pearce; 1963; p. 15
  2. ^ Concerning Pitts' year of birth, about which the actress often dissembled, some sources cite 1894 (IMDB: Zasu Pitts, Find-a-Grave, Golden Silents, Who2, and InfoPlease), while other sources cite 1898 (Halliwell's Filmgoer's Companion, 12th edition, HarperCollins, 1997, ISBN 0-00-255798-3 and TCM:Biography) or even 1900 (Allmovie:Overview and New York Times obituary (June 8, 1963))
  3. ^ "Rulandus Pitts biography on 76th NY Regiment site". Retrieved June 7, 2010.
  4. ^ a b Barbara Giffen. "ZaSu Pitts: Actress 1898–1963". Santa Cruz Public Library. Retrieved June 7, 2010.

 External links

A glamour shot from early in her career.

Zasu Pitts with Mary Pickford at the dawn of her career.

GREED, dramatic picture directed by Erich Von Stroheim.

In GREED, the characters in the story are obsessed with money, which ends in tragedy for all.

The sound era saw Zasu Pitts' screen work largely limited to comedy roles.

Neilan,  Thelma Todd, Guinn "Big Boy" Williams, Zasu Pitts


Thelma Todd and Zasu Pitts between shots

This I suppose is what was called "Lake Laurel and Hardy".

with W. C. Fields.


Donald O'Connor, Zasu Pitts

Donald O'Connor, Zasu Pitts

With Gale Storm

Kellogg's Corn Flakes Commercial
In which Superman saves breakfast by bringing her more corn flakes.

Book by Zasu Pitts

Zasu Pitts shows us how her mother derived her name from the names "Eliza" and "Susan".

Watch this on youtube to hear the correct pronunciation of her name:


Zasu Pitts at the Reynolds Brothers site:

Zasu Pitts at Golden Silents:

Zasu Pitts site on tumbler:

Candy Hits By Zasu Pitts ( recipes ):

Zasu Pitts and Gale Storm on television:

Gale Storm Fan Site:

"Our Club" ( Silent movie actresses club, Zasu Pitts was a member ):

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