The following is my entry in the 4th annual What a Character! Blogathon, being hosted Nov. 21-23, 2015 by the blogs Once Upon a Screen, Outspoken & Freckled, and Paula’s Cinema Club. Click on the above banner, and read bloggers’ tributes to a wide range of character actors throughout the history of movies!
This is all of the obituary that The New York Times could see fit to give a performer who appeared in 207 movies and TV episodes and four Broadway productions. “Ned Glass, an actor”? That’s kind of like saying, “Charlie Chaplin, a comedian”!
Glass falls squarely into the category of “I’ve seen that face a million times, but I couldn’t tell you his name.” He must have laughed all the way to the bank, as he made a 50-year career out of playing such anonymous shnooks.
Born Nusyn Glass in Poland to a Jewish family, he emigrated early to America, grew up in New York City, and began his show business career in vaudeville. He acted and directed on Broadway until 1936, when he started his film career as an M-G-M contract player.
Famous actors flitted about Glass’ orbit. Producer-actor John Houseman helped him get early film roles. Glass was also a neighbor-friend of The Three Stooges’ Moe Howard, and he appeared in several Stooges shorts. This led to an “urban myth” that Howard pulled strings to get Glass into the Stooges’ films; in reality, Howard had minimal input into his movies’ casting. Glass made several screen appearance alongside his neighbor nevertheless.
Glass was also a favorite of Stooges directors Jules White and Del Lord. Buster Keaton buffs can easily spot Glass in Keaton’s 1939 Columbia short subjects A Pest from the West and (shown below) Mooching Through Georgia.
It would take an entire blog to cover all of Glass’ movie appearances. You might remember him as Doc in West Side Story (1961), “Doc Schindler from Chicago” in Billy Wilder’s The Fortune Cookie (1966), and alongside Cary Grant in North by Northwest (1959) and Charade (1963), among countless other movie roles.
Glass also made many TV appearances. He was a regular on “Julia” (1968-1971, starring Diahann Carroll as a widowed nurse) and the short-lived sitcom “Bridget Loves Bernie” (1972-73, about families colliding when an Irish-Catholic girl marries a Jewish guy). Fans of “The Honeymooners” will remember him from the episode “Pal o’ Mine” as Ed Norton doppelganger Teddy Oberman, whom Ralph Kramden (Jackie Gleason) briefly befriends after he has a spat with Norton. (The episode is embedded at the end of this blog entry. Also, click here for a pictorial of some of Glass’ most notable movie and TV appearances.)
For an actor so prominent in movies and on TV, little about Glass’ private life is documented. Apparently, he was briefly blacklisted in the 1950’s, during which time he found work as a carpenter. Glass was married to actress Kitty McHugh, making him brother-in-law to character actor Frank McHugh and bit player Matt McHugh. Kitty McHugh committed suicide in September, 1954, and Glass later married actress Jean (also known as Jhean) Burton. That marriage ended in divorce.
With so little information about his personal life, Glass’ film and TV roles are nearly all we have to go on in order to “know” the man. As noted in the entry on him in Wikipedia, “Short and bald, with a slight hunch to his shoulders, Glass was immediately recognizable by his distinct appearance, his nasal voice, and his pronounced New York City accent.” Judging from his considerable (and mostly memorable) body of work, Glass was content to let his work speak for itself.
(Below is the “Honeymooners” episode where Glass made his guest appearance; he first arrives on the scene at the 17:40 mark.)