Dover native was actor, director and playwright

Dover native was actor, director and playwright

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While there are many people associated with movies and theater in the 20th century who may still be recognizable to the general public, few had the notable acting, directing and theater credits of Elliott Nugent, who was born in Dover on Sept. 20, 1896.

His father, J.C. Nugent, also was a popular actor and playwright during the early silent film era of the 1910s to the 1940s and on the vaudeville circuits that toured across the U.S. It was on tour that J.C. and Elliott Nugent joined wife/mother Grace Fertig to perform on stage.

J.C. Nugent, born April 6, 1868, in Niles, Ohio, and Elliott Nugent appeared on Broadway about the same time — the former appearing in the comedic play he wrote called “Kempy” and the latter appearing in a minor role that led to his 1925 film debut in “Headlines.”

J.C. Nugent then began to act in character roles beginning in 1929 with his portrayal of the dad in the 1929 film, “Wise Girls,” the adaptation of “Kempy” and ending with his most famous role as Mr. Blodgett in 1937s “A Star is Born,” a David O. Selznick-directed film starring Janet Gaynor and Frederic March. Elliott Nugent played the character Kempy for his father in “Wise Girls.”

In 1921 Elliott Nugent married Norma Lee, and the couple would remain married for 59 years.

Elliott Nugent attended the Ohio State University with friend, journalist and fellow playwright James Thurber. Together, the two wrote the Broadway play titled “The Male Animal,” which starred Elliott Nugent and Gene Tierney.

A 1942 film adaptation of the play starred a young Henry Fonda, who ended his film career in the 1980s starring in “On Golden Pond” with Katherine Hepburn and Olivia de Havilland.

It was Elliott Nugent’s directorial work that probably is recognized by most 20th-century film buffs. In 1932 he made his directorial debut in “The Mouthpiece,” a crime drama starring Warren William and produced/distributed by Warner Brothers.

This work was followed by several films where Elliott Nugent had both directorial and acting responsibilities. However, it was the 1938 film, “Give Me a Sailor,” starring Bob Hope, Martha Raye, Betty Grable and Jack Whiting, that established Elliott Nugent as a high-profile director to moviegoers nationally and internationally.

The success of the comedy led to Elliott Nugent directing Bob Hope in a series of other films including 1939 “Never Say Die,” another Bob Hope/Martha Raye comedy released in 1939, comedy/horror film “The Cat and the Canary” in 1939 with Bob Hope and Paulette Goddard, and “Nothing but the Truth,” also starring Bob Hope and Paulette Goddard and released in 1941.

World War II musicals and other theatrical films also became part of Elliott Nugent’s directorial repertoire.

The film, “Stage Door Canteen,” featured a cavalcade of musical numbers to entertain war-weary moviegoers in 1943. The 1944 musical film, “Up in Arms,” starred Danny Kaye and singer Dinah Shore, who hosted “The Chevy Show” on NBC TV in the 1950s and also hosted her own syndicated TV talk shows from the 1970s to the early 1990s.

The 1947 film, “My Favorite Brunette,” a comedy and film noir parody starring Bob Hope and Dorothy Lamour, was the last Hope film Elliott Nugent would direct.

Other notable Elliott Nugent-directed films of this era are “The Great Gatsby,” a 1949 adaptation of the 1925 book written by F. Scott Fitzgerald; "Mr. Belvedere Goes to College," also released in 1949; and “My Outlaw Brother,” a 1951 western starring Mickey Rooney, Robert Preston, Robert Stack and Wanda Hendrix.

Alan Bunce, who starred in the 1950s TV comedy “Ethel and Albert,” was married to Elliott Nugent’s sister Ruth. Elliott Nugent died in New York City on Aug. 9, 1980, at age 83.