Allen Jenkins: What a Character!

When I think of character actors, Allen Jenkins is always the first person that comes to mind. With over 150 credits to his name in the worlds of film and television, Jenkins is a favorite of mine thanks to his many “sidekick” roles from the ’30s and ’40s.

(Image via Cinema Passion)

(Image via Cinema Passion)

Today we’ll be taking a look at some of those roles for the wonderful, fourth annual What a Character! blogathon, but first… who was Allen Jenkins, the person?

The answer to that question is kind of unclear. Allen Jenkins was born in Staten Island, New York. Different sources report his birth name as either Alfred McGonegal or David Allen Curtis Jenkins. He apparently came from a family of performers, though information about his parents is difficult to track down. No biography was ever written of the man, and even TCM’s database has little information about him!

What is certain is that Jenkins studied at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts and got his start on the stage in the ’20s before being recruited to make the big move to Hollywood.

Marking his arrival in the “City of Angels,” Allen’s first roles were small ones in pre-codes like The Girl Habit (1931), Three on a Match (1933), I Am a Fugitive from the Chain Gang (1932) and Employee’s Entrance (1933). These weren’t necessarily “blink and you’ll miss ‘im” roles, but they were very minor parts, never drawing much attention away from the films’ lead players. Chain Gang, for instance, belongs so much to Paul Muni that I completely forgot Jenkins was in it!

Though he was never destined to become a box office draw or a suave leading man, Jenkins did see his roles grow over time. By 1934, he was recognizable to audiences as a frequently-used supporting player. He began having his name listed among the top supports in posters and ads for films like Twenty Million Sweethearts and Happiness Ahead.

He starred in a little bit of everything — musicals, romances, and of course the gangster flicks that he’s perhaps best remembered for by today’s film fans. (“Comic gangster” parts, as The New York Times described them.) The Gay Falcon (1941) had him starring alongside a very charming George Sanders, George as the title-character sleuth and Jenkins as his accident-prone right-hand man — one of my favorite recent mystery-comedy discoveries.

Jenkins in Three Men on a Horse (Image via Words and Music)

Jenkins in Three Men on a Horse (Image via Words and Music)

By the late 1930s and through the 1940s Jenkins would really perfect his shtick as the lovable sidekick in many a crime flick, though he continued to take work in other dramas and lighter films as well. The 1945 Deanna Durbin mystery-comedy vehicle Lady on a Train had Jenkins appearing as an author’s chauffer rather than a gangster. In 1938’s Racket Buster, he actually plays a trucker who resists working with Humphrey Bogart’s leading-role gangster. In 1952’s Chained for Life, he even starred as the manager of vaudeville-performing conjoined twins!

Jenkins’ film career slowed in the early 1950s, but he would appear in nine more films before his death in 1974, including Pillow Talk, starring Doris Day and Rock Hudson; a policeman role in It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World, one of my long-time favorites from childhood; and The Front Page, his final film. He also did plenty of work in television during the later decades of his career, making appearances in Bewitched, The Man from U.N.C.L.E., and even I Love Lucy.

His career was one of surprising variety, given the fact that his “comic gangster” persona has outlasted and overshadowed the wider scope of his talent. But the more we explore his filmography, the more we learn — Allen Jenkins was one heck of a solid supporting actor, whether clumsily assisting a sleuth, playing right-hand man to a crime boss, or swindling his way through the stage circuit as a crooked producer. What a character!

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Visit  host blogs Once Upon a Screen, Outspoken & Freckled, and Paula’s Cinema Club for more celebration of classic Hollywood’s fantastic character actors!

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15 thoughts on “Allen Jenkins: What a Character!

  1. CineMaven says:

    Officer Dibble?!!! Awmigawd, Gary went waaaaay back. ( I loved “Top Cat.” ) It wasn’t a 30’s movie without Allen Jenkins’ dese dems and doses in there. I remember him giving Gary Cooper some choice slang words in “Ball of Fire” and being the elevator operator giving the great Thelma Ritter a rough ride in “Pillow Talk.” Nice to see him here!

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    • Lindsey says:

      I love finding little connections like that, people who worked together multiple times, years or sometimes decades apart, but not as a big-name screen team. I agree with you, it always puts a smile on my face!

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  2. Silver Screenings says:

    What a character, is right! This guy could do it all, as you pointed out, and made it look easy, too!

    I’m another one who never remembers his name, but I think I will now, after reading your post. Thanks for sharing all this info with us! :)

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    • Lindsey says:

      I’m so glad my post has brought some awareness to his career! I had one month where it seemed like he was in absolutely everything that I watched — I’ve been a fan ever since, haha. I feel like it always goes that way with character actors. You don’t notice them, until you realize “Hey, that guy looks familiar…” And then you come to appreciate them.

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  3. girlsdofilm says:

    This was a great read and – to echo some of the other commenters – I’m certainly guilty of overlooking Jenkins. Will pay closer attention in future – as he played such a variety of roles there will surely be something I like!

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    • Lindsey says:

      If you like *anything* from the ’30s there’s bound to be at least one Jenkins flick that matches your taste, haha. His roles were small but now that you know his name you’ll see him pop up everywhere. Thanks for reading! :)

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