Just Another Face
in the Crowd?
When you begin to look for John George, you'll discover that this diminuitive
hunchbacked actor is easily identifiable in films from all genres and alongside many of
the biggest stars in the industry including Lon Chaney, Conrad Veidt, Lionel and John
Barrymore, James Cagney, Laurel and Hardy, Marlene Dietrich, Bob Hope, and John Wayne.
Compiling a list of John George sightings has become something of a quest, one we wish
that you will join to build up a bigger picture of this small man.
What background information we have managed to unearth is limited, but we do know that
he was born on the 21st January 1898 in Syria as Tufei Fatella. According to Liam
O'Leary's exhaustive research into the life of director Rex Ingram, John George left his
native country in 1911 and arrived in the United States by "devious means" to
search for his mother and sisters who had settled somewhere in Nashville, Tennessee.
Eventually his search for work led him to Hollywood where he began to frequent the
numerous casting bureaus.
John George's first
assignment was for Rex Ingram in Black Orchids
(1916), a lively melodrama filled with gothic trappings that include a castle, a dungeon,
poison, duels and the occult. George was cast as Ali Bara, a role he would repeat for
Ingram as Achmet in the director's remake Trifling
Women (1922). Ingram eventually earned himself a reputation for the bizarre and
frequently cast dwarves and hunchbacks in his films. John George would work for Ingram in
a further six films: The Reward of the Faithless
(1917), a grotesque drama titled The Conquering
Power (1921) with Rudolph Valentino and Alice Terry, THE PRISONER OF ZENDA (1922) as
"The Lizard", WHERE THE PAVEMENT ENDS (1923) as "Napuka Joe",
SCARAMOUCHE (1923) as Polichinelle a strolling player, and finally in MARE NOSTRUM
(1925-26) filmed for Ingram's own studios in the South of France.
Reknowned director Michael Powell began his career as an apprentice for Rex Ingram in
Nice. Powell recalls in his autobiography "A Life in the Movies" that "[John
George] had been a permanent member of Rex's troupe for some years. He was a well known
Hollywood character and a good actor...he had a beautiful face and fine eyes".
Despite George's long association with Ingram, Liam O'Leary remarks that the director
became so annoyed with George's obsession with gambling on the set of MARE NOSTRUM that he
paid the fare to send George back to America.
John George had worked with Lon Chaney on PAY ME in 1917 and again worked
with him in a role as a bar patron and gang member named Humpy in OUTSIDE THE LAW (1920),
a role he repeated in a remake ten years later for another director with a penchant for
the grotesque, Tod Browning.
At MGM. in 1926, John George featured as "Yakmo" for director Tod Browning with
Chaney once again in THE ROAD TO MANDALAY as a servant to Singapore Joe's daughter, (Lois
Moran). However, it was in his next role for Tod
Browning that provided him with some notiriety. In The Unknown George was cast as "Cojo",
sidekick to Alonzo the Armless, ( Lon Chaney),
who pretends to have no arms in his carnival act in order to evade the law. Cojo's first
appearance is dressed in a Devil outfit handing sharp knives to Alonzo in a scene with a
young Joan Crawford who was then taking her first tentative steps on the screen as
Estrellita being defrocked by Alonzo who uses only the dexterity of his feet and a gun.
George later appeared in an unbilled cameo role for the glamourised Lon Chaney biopic The
Man of a Thousand Faces (1957) starring James Cagney, as one of the extras in the
bullpen scene who have gathered to see if they fit the requirements for roles on offer by
the studios. This seems to be John George's last known screen appearance.
Afficionados of the horror
genre might be able to identify John George alongside Boris
Karloff as a sideshow mesmerist's assistant in The
Bells (1926); in The Man Who Laughs (1928)
for Paul Leni as the coachman who escorts
Gwymplaine, marvellously portrayed by Conrad Veidt, from the carnival to the boudoir of
the seductive Duchess Josiana, ( Olga Baclanova).
In addition, a brief shot of him appears in Dracula
(1931) as one of Abraham Van Helsing's assistants and is on screen long enough to utter
the ominous name of "Nos...feratu!". In fact, John George is the only
cast member to appear in both the Spanish and English version of DRACULA. He pops up again
as one of Dr. Moreau's hideously mutilated "manimals" in Paramount's
extraordinary Island of Lost Souls (1932); as a
barely noticable cultist in Edgar G. Ulmer's The
Black Cat (1934); as a sideshow member named Abdullah in Dante's Inferno (1935); and in James Whale's The Bride of Frankenstein (1935) as one of the villagers who converge
on the burgomeister's house to report a sighting of the monster.
In Columbia's The Black Room (1935) George is
afforded a sentence of dialogue as a barman who is collecting the empty glasses from the
establishment's customers and as a gypsy in the opening scene of Tod
Browning's Mark of the Vampire (1935). He
appears again as a villager in Tower of London
(1939) and later in his career as one of Dr. Aranya's, (Jackie Coogan), minions in the
awful, but entertaining Mesa of Lost Women
(1949) beside another diminuitive actor named Angelo Rossitto.
It remains a wonder that John
George is not to be found amongst the caravans and canvas of Tod Browning's Freaks
(1932) after appearing in six of the director's films. Perhaps his photograph can be found
amongst the many rejected applications submitted to MGM at the time which are now housed
in The Margaret Herrick Library at The American Motion Picture Arts and Sciences,
(A.M.P.A.S) in Beverly Hills.
Appearances continue to be found in such films as DON JUAN (1926); the Ronald Coleman
vehicles THE UNHOLY GARDEN (1931) and THE MAN WHO BROKE THE BANK AT MONTE CARLO (1935) in
which he appears as a "lucky dwarf"! Another entry to the ongoing list is
Laurel and Hardy's magnificent Babes In Toyland
(1934) with George as the evil Silas Barnaby's accomplice. There is also the Technicolor
GARDEN OF ALLAH (1935), Charlie Chan in Egypt
(1935), THE JUNGLE PRINCESS (1936), SECRETS OF SCOTLAND YARD (1944) and The Picture of Dorian Gray (1945). The list seems
to go on and on until his death from emphysema on August 25th. 1968 in Los Angeles at the
ripe age of 70. He is buried at the Hollywood Forever Cemetery in Hollywood, California.
To date this is all our research and keen eyes have uncovered together with a few
unconfirmed sightings that may be attributed to another completely dissimilar actor named
John George and have been listed by other researchers in the confusion.
You'll rarely find our diminutive John George amongst the screen credits, but we assure
you that he is very likely to appear when you least expect him to!
Thanks to Al Westerfield who spotted John George in the opening scene of Ronald Coleman's
version of IF I WERE KING, the king's guard is marching through the town when a spy comes
up and whispers in the captain Henry Wilcoxin's ear. It is John George - no billing.
Al has found John again this time in GARDEN OF ALLAH. When
Shildkraut takes Dietrich to a club and after the principal dancer finishes; John George
appears with a plate of refreshments for the dancer. He's on screen about 2 seconds.
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