Monday, October 7, 2013

Character actress HELEN BROWN and TAILSPIN TOMMY IN THE GREAT AIR MYSTERY (Universal, 1935)

If mothers were superfluous in B Westerns - and as anyone with even a modicum of interest in the subject will know they certainly were few and far between - these caring souls were even more so in cliffhanger serials. What, indeed, could such a character accomplish in a genre that hinged entirely on action for the sake of action? Obviously, the target audience for this type of entertainment were small fry and the eternally young-at-heart who would not stand for watching the hero or heroine's dear old ma being tied to a buzz saw, now would they? Yet in the early years of talkie serials where producers often looked to popular pulp fiction yarns or radio series, they did turn up occasionally. The best example is perhaps former silent screen star Clara Kimball Young in Bela Lugosi's The Return of Chandu (1934), a chapterplay unusually heavy in female pulchritude of all ages. But there were a few others.

Helen Brown turned up as the eponymous hero's mother in Tailspin Tommy in the Great Air Mystery (1935), but disappears after the first chapter's introductory sequence. Not before, however, serving Tommy and his sidekick Skeeter a plate of homemade fried chicken. Despite the brief screen time, she actually managed to achieve screen billing. As did Fritzi Brunette, also taking part in the chicken dinner (Mrs. Tompkins calls her Martha and I believe she is supposed to be Tommy's aunt). Poor Fritzi, though. A veteran screen performer who had starred in pre-world war I melodramas, she was filmed from behind only. Miss Brunette died in Hollywood at the age of 58 in 1943.

Hailing from Washington state, Heken Brown was a busy character/bit player in Hollywood whose screen and television career lasted from 1935 until shortly before her death from cancer at the age of 78 in 1994. Her final credited appearance came in an episode of the hit series "ER."

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