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James Finlayson unfoozled
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Universally known as the most private of all movie stars, James Finlayson is hard to unravel. It's known that he was born in Larbert, Scotland in August 1887.
His family owned a small engineering works and foundry in Pretoria St. and his first occupation is given as "tinsmith" in several authorities, though none explains what a tinsmith is or does. But his inheritance was assured.
Intent on self-improvement, "Jimmy" enrolled at Edinburgh University (George Watson College) where he met John Clyde, an aspiring actor. Clyde was associated with the Lauder family which included Alec, a poet and playwright (and of course Harry). Their machinations secured Finlayson some small parts at the Theatre Royal in Edinburgh and in 1910 he appeared in a production of Jeannie Deans, effectively his 'big break'.
Chaplin and Stan Laurel had taken the route to the USA in 1910, and a year later James Finlayson and  Alec Lauder took the same decision, along with Jimmy's brother Robert.
Around the same time, Scottish playwright Graham Moffat (only one "t") wrote Bunty Pulls the Strings, which was such a hit that it transferred not only to London but also to New York.
Finlayson played the part of Bunty's father in New York, and he and Alec Lauder collaborated on a number of theatrical ventures including a vaudeville sketch The Concealed Bed.
In common with so many others of distinctive appearance, Jimmy was signed by Mack Sennett, first as one of the Keystone Kops.
He graduated to the Roach studios, where owner Hal was looking for a star to rival Sennett's Ben Turpin, and comparisons are often made between the two performers. Of course he became a stalwart of the Laurel and Hardy movies, both silent and sound.
[Image: fin4.jpg]
There is no other information regarding his family other than that he married Emily Gilbert in the USA and became an American citizen a year later.
Despite being one of his trademarks, the big black moustache was a fake, and Jimmy was clean-shaven. He evaded all attempts to penetrate his private life but some home movies in Stan Laurel's family includes footage of what is claimed to be Jimmy rowing around in a canoe, but even this is disputed. It's known that - like Babe Hardy - Jimmy was a keen Freemason.
Jimmy died in 1953, at the age of 66. The creator of The Simpsons Matt Groening, makes no secret that Homer's "Dohhh" expression of despair comes straight from Jimmy's box of theatrical devices to create an original and unique screen character. The character is voiced by Dan Castellaneta. Visually in the same series, the gardener Willie is also based on Jimmy.
Of course he also played Judge Foozle in the 1927 Laurel and Hardy silent Do Detectives Think?, but any similarity with the current character of the same name is entirely intentional.
 
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