#EARNEST
Irving Ernest Bacon

January 22, 2018

Written by Christel Gollnick with contributions from Megan Wyeth

CHARACTER TRAIT: Earnest

DEFINITION: Serious in intention, purpose, or effort; an earnest worker.

A St. Joseph native, Irving Ernest Bacon spent his life living out his middle name (although spelled differently) as an endearing and enduring American character actor. His willingness to work as Hollywood’s “every man” made him one of the most earnest men in the history of cinema.

Bacon, born on September 6, 1893 in St. Joseph, Missouri, was so favored by producers some cinematic historians affectionately refer to him as “That Guy” since he was in thousands of scenes – credited and uncredited – throughout his career.

From the age of 16 when his father passed away after having moved the family to California, Bacon took on the real-life role of being the breadwinner. One of his early jobs, in addition to acting in silent comedy shorts starting in 1913, was working as a Carburetor and Magneto Machinist for the San Diego Battery and Ignition Company according to his 1917 WWI draft Registration Card. After serving in the U.S. Army Air Corps in World War I and attaining the rank of Sergeant First Class, Bacon acted on stage for several years before getting seriously into films at Keystone Studios Hollywood in 1920.

Over the years he appeared in approximately 500 films. Talk about an earnest actor! His six foot tall and slender build, blue eyes and full head of light brown hair gave him the look needed for many roles. However, most historians agree that it was his talent for making animated facial expressions and the slightest of physical movements at just the right time that made him so popular on screen.

His Midwestern roots surfaced in hundreds of characters he played. Bacon made the most out of any role he was given. He made his parts memorable even though he was rarely, if ever, in lead roles. It seems he understood that movies, like any other business, require an amazing team of talent beyond the headliners and was an excellent team member.

Three of his pictures won Academy Awards for Best Picture: “It Happened One Night” (1934), “You Can’t Take It With You” (1938) and “Gone With The Wind” (1939). Other feature titles include “Blondie,” “A Star is Born,” “Moonrise,” “Holiday Inn,” “Million Dollar Legs,” “Mr. Deeds Goes to Town,” “San Francisco,” “Shadow of a Doubt,” “Spellbound,” “The Grapes of Wrath,” “Merry-Go-Round,” “The Glenn Miller Story” and many more.

Bacon also worked steadily in dozens of television shows later in his career, most notably “Wagon Train,” “Riverboat,” “The Donna Reed Show,” “Leave it to Beaver,” “Real McCoys,” “The Dick Van Dyke Show,” “The George Burns and Gracie Allen Show,” and “I Love Lucy” to name a few.

Bacon died in Hollywood, California at the age of 71 on February 5, 1965. He is buried at Fort Rosecrans National Cemetery in San Diego, California. While we don’t know how often he made it back to visit St. Joseph, it seems poetically full-circle that the name of his resting grounds is shared with the prominent Rosecrans Air National Guard Base right here in his place of birth, St. Joseph, Missouri.

Photo Credits:

Paramount Studios, https://www.rottentomatoes.com/celebrity/irving_bacon

http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0045784/

Fandom, http://lucilleball.wikia.com/wiki/File:The_Marriage_License.jpg (In I Love Lucy as a marriage license proprietor)

http://www.ijpc.org/page/frank_capra_materials.htm

New Bulletin reporter Beany making lame excuses in Meet John Doe (Frank Capra Productions, 1941).

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