Sunday, April 13, 2008

Gene Roth

The first time I saw Gene Roth was in The Three Stooges comedy shorts. He was very memorable in 1949's "Dunked in the Deep", as a foreign spy named 'Mr. Bortch'. The story: 'Bortch' and the Stooges are stowaways on an ocean freighter, and during the course of the journey, the Stooges discover that 'Bortch' has hidden some stolen microfilms inside of watermelons that they helped him carry on board. The hilarity ensues when they try to get the films, and lead 'Bortch' on a chase during which his famous oft-repeated line is "Give me dat fill-um!".

After noticing him in this and a few other Stooges comedies, I recognized him in several old features that were shown on tv on such shows as "Million Dollar Movie" and "The Late Show".

While living in Los Angeles in 1974-1976, I talked by phone several times to another Stooges supporting player, Emil Sitka (more about him in a later posting). Mr. Sitka told me he heard that Gene Roth was working on Saturday evenings at a liquor store on Hollywood Boulevard. He also told me that Roth's real name was Stutenroth.

I took it upon myself to look in the phone directory for a listing for Mr. Roth, under both names, and found one, as 'E.O. Stutenroth', phone number but no address. I called, and sure enough it was Gene Roth the actor. He didn't have time to talk on the phone, but invited me to visit him at the liquor store the next Saturday night. This was in the summer of 1975.

I don't remember the name of the store, but it was connected to a drugstore, with an inside passage between the two so customers could walk from one to the other without going outside. I went there shortly after 6:00pm and Mr. Roth was behind the counter, totaling and packaging a sale for a customer. When he was done, I introduced myself, and we had a most enjoyable conversation about his days in the movies and tv. We were occasionally interrupted by somebody buying a bottle of something or other, but he'd immediately resume talking when the sale was completed.

He gave me this photo, which was a 'contemporary' shot, not vintage which I would have preferred. I also brought along a book, The Versatiles: A Study of Supporting Character Actors and Actresses in the American Motion Picture, 1930-1955 (by Alfred E. Twomey and Arthur F. McClure), which included an entry and a scene photo. Mr. Roth signed the page, shown below.

He was retired, more or less, from acting, but still liked to show his resume. He gave me a multi-page listing of all his appearances, something like 300 or so. It was the only copy he had, so I offered to make some copies for him at my workplace during the week and return it the following Saturday night. He reluctantly agreed, probably thinking he'd never see me again.

I made one copy for myself, and about 6 for him, and gave them to him, with the original, the next weekend. He was so pleased about it, he pointed to the the nut concession (a large glass counter which contained compartments with various nuts - peanuts, cashews, pistachios, almonds, Spanish peanuts, as well as a few others). He asked which did I like, and I was about to say "cashews", because I really do like them but rarely bought them because they're expensive. As I was about to say "cashews", he instead told me, "I'll give you a bag of the Spanish peanuts, they're great and my favorite". They were also the cheapest nuts. So I walked out with about 2 pounds of Spanish peanuts, and a load of stories from his memories of people he worked with.

One year later, in July 1976, Emil Sitka called me with the sad news of Mr. Roth's death. He'd been crossing a street not far from his residence, and was struck and killed by a hit and run driver.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Do you know if they ever caught the driver that killed him? I just watched him in the 1954 version of Casino Royale across from Barry Nelson.