James Finlayson (actor)

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James Finlayson
Silent film actor James Finlayson (SAYRE 772).jpg
Finlayson in 1923
James Henderson Finlayson

(1887-08-27)27 August 1887
Died9 October 1953(1953-10-09) (aged 66)
Los Angeles, California, US
Years active1910–1951
Emily Cora Gilbert
(m. 1919)

James Henderson Finlayson (27 August 1887 – 9 October 1953) was a Scottish actor who worked in both silent and sound comedies. Bald, with a fake moustache, [1] Finlayson had many trademark comic mannerisms and is known for his squinting, outraged, "double take and fade away" head reaction, and characteristic expression "d'ooooooh", and as the best remembered comic foil of Laurel and Hardy.


Finlayson was known by a variety of nicknames. According to Laurel and Hardy scholar Randy Skretvedt, he "called himself Jimmy, was known around the lot as Jim and is usually referred to today as 'Fin'" [2] – as a truncated version of his surname, as author John McCabe presented it in his 1961 book biography Mr. Laurel & Mr. Hardy .

Early life and stage career

Born in Larbert, Stirlingshire, Scotland to Alexander and Isabella (née Henderson) Finlayson, [3] James worked as a tinsmith before pursuing an acting career. [4] As part of John Clyde's company, he played the part of Jamie Ratcliffe in Jeanie Deans at the Theatre Royal in Edinburgh in 1910. [5]

The next year (1911) with both parents deceased, he emigrated (at age 24) to the United States, along with his brother, Robert. [6] [7] In May 1912 in New York City, he played the role of a detective disguised as a teuchter (person originating from the Scottish West Highlands or Western Isles) in the stage production The Great Game at Daly's Theatre: [8] [9] "James Finlayson had an excellent opportunity, which he did not miss, for developing two characters in his one role – the simple, naive Scotsman and the artful, determined detective. The remarkable thing is that he managed to do them both at the same time." [10] [11]

He later won the role of Rab Biggar in the Broadway production of Bunty Pulls the Strings by Graham Moffat, [10] and dropped out of a national tour in 1916 to pursue a career in Hollywood.

Film still from Down on the Farm (1920) Down on the Farm (1920) - 2.jpg
Film still from Down on the Farm (1920)


Arriving in Los Angeles in 1916, he initially found film work at L-KO and Thomas H. Ince's studio. [10] In October 1919, he signed a contract with the Mack Sennett Comedies Corporation. [12] He appeared in numerous Sennett-produced comedies, including with the Keystone Kops. [13] [14]

The promotional newspaper article for the 1920 premiere of Sennett's Down on the Farm refers to Finlayson as "legitimate and screen player of international celebrity" and of his performance says: "The villian[ sic ] in the case – a sort of cross between a Turkish Don Juan and a 'loan shark' – is played with rare power and comic results of seriousness by James Finlayson". [15]

Finlayson sent to Scotland for his close friend Andy Clyde, urging him to come to America and join Finlayson at the Sennett studio. Clyde arrived in 1922 and became a fixture at Sennett, as a versatile character actor. Finlayson himself, however, did not establish himself as star material and left Sennett's employ later that year.

Hal Roach Studios

Finlayson was hired almost immediately by Sennett's rival, Hal Roach, who gave him supporting roles in his studio's Snub Pollard and Stan Laurel comedies. With Roach's biggest short-subject star Harold Lloyd moving on to features, Roach tried to start new series with Charley Chase (successfully) and James Finlayson (unsuccessfully). The next step came in 1927 when Roach's All-Star Comedy series gave Finlayson equal billing with up-and-coming co-stars Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy, comedian Edna Marion, and others; [16] some studio publicity even referred to Finlayson, Hardy, and Laurel as a "famous comedy trio." [17] But Roach staff producer and future Academy Award director Leo McCarey recognized the great potential of a Laurel-and-Hardy pairing and began developing their characters and expanding their roles. [18] By the autumn of 1928, Laurel and Hardy had their own starring series while the All-Star Comedy series soldiered on with other comedians. [1] Nonetheless, Finlayson was still "considered by many to be an indispensable part of the Laurel & Hardy team." [19]

Altogether, Finlayson played roles in 33 Laurel and Hardy films, usually as a villain or an antagonist, in such films Big Business (1929) and Way Out West (1937). Beside that, he starred alongside Stan Laurel in 19 films and opposite Oliver Hardy in five films before Laurel and Hardy were teamed together; he appeared in dozens of Roach Studio films, with Charley Chase, Glenn Tryon, Snub Pollard, and Ben Turpin, and in several Our Gang shorts, including Mush and Milk , in which he and Spanky McFarland match wits in a comically adversarial phone conversation.

Finlayson later played uncredited bit parts in films such as Foreign Correspondent (1940), To Be or Not to Be (1942), and Royal Wedding (1951). He was often called upon for silent-comedy reunions like Hollywood Cavalcade (1939) and The Perils of Pauline (1947).

Personal life and death

He married Emily Cora Gilbert, an American citizen from Iowa, in 1919 [20] and became a US citizen in 1942. [21]

English actress Stephanie Insall and Finlayson regularly took breakfast together. However, on the morning of 9 October 1953, Finlayson did not turn up at the usual time. Knowing that he had been ill from flu recently, Insall went to his home where she discovered his body. Finlayson had died of a heart attack. He was 66 years old. [22]


One of Finlayson's trademarks was a drawn out "dohhhhhhh!" Finlayson had used the term as a minced oath to stand in for the word "Damn!" A half-century later, it inspired Dan Castellaneta, the voice actor of Homer Simpson. During the voice recording session for a Tracey Ullman Show short, Castellaneta was required to utter what was written in the script as an "annoyed grunt". He rendered it as a drawn out "dohhhhhhh". Matt Groening felt that it would better suit the timing of animation if it were spoken faster. Castellaneta then shortened it to a quickly uttered "D'oh!" [23]


James (as "Jimmy Finlayson") is incorporated into the Catchphases 1 section of the Comedy Carpet mosaic beside Blackpool Tower along with a "D'OH!" embossed star. [24]

A plaque by the Scottish Film Council honouring James was displayed in Bo'ness Library as part of the HippFest 2019 silent film festival. [25]


James Finlayson is one of the many entertainers portrayed by the English actor Timothy Spall in the 2018 film Stanley: a Man of Variety. [26] [27]

In the 2018 Laurel and Hardy biopic Stan & Ollie , Finlayson is portrayed on the set of Way Out West by Scottish actor Keith MacPherson.

Sons of the Desert Tent

An international "tent" (chapter) of the Sons of the Desert fraternity was formed in Glasgow in 2019 by and for relatives of James Finlayson. It was named Our Relations after the Laurel and Hardy film. [28] [29]


1920 Down on the Farm The Sportive Banker with Mortgageproduced by Mack Sennett
Married LifeMan Who Made Good
Love, Honor and Behave Artist
1921 A Small Town Idol J. Wellington Jones Mack Sennett Comedies; with Ben Turpin
Home TalentStranded Actor
1922 The Crossroads of New York Lawyer
1923 The Noon Whistle O'Hallahan, the foremanShort, Hal Roach Studios; with Stan Laurel
White Wings Dental patientShort, Hal Roach Studios; with Stan Laurel
Pick and Shovel The foremanShort, Hal Roach Studios; with Stan Laurel
Oranges and Lemons WorkerShort, Uncredited, Hal Roach Studios; with Stan Laurel
Hollywood Himself Paramount Pictures
A Man About Town Humko, store detectiveShort, Hal Roach Studios; with Stan Laurel
Roughest Africa Lt. Hans Downe (Little Boss)Short, Hal Roach Studios; with Stan Laurel
Frozen Hearts General SappovitchShort, Hal Roach Studios; with Stan Laurel
The Whole Truth Defense lawyerShort, Hal Roach Studios; with Stan Laurel
The Soilers SmacknamaraShort, Hal Roach Studios; with Stan Laurel
Scorching Sands JamesShort, Hal Roach Studios; with Stan Laurel
Mother's Joy Baron ButtontopShort, Hal Roach Studios; with Stan Laurel
1924 Smithy SergeantShort, Hal Roach Studios; with Stan Laurel
Postage Due Postal inspectorShort, Hal Roach Studios; with Stan Laurel
Zeb vs. Paprika TrainerShort, Hal Roach Studios; with Stan Laurel
Brothers Under the Chin Short, Hal Roach Studios; with Stan Laurel
Wide Open Spaces Jack McQueenShort, Hal Roach Studios; with Stan Laurel
Rupert of Hee Haw Rupert of Hee HawShort, Hal Roach Studios; with Stan Laurel
Our CongressmanDinner Party GuestShort, Uncredited, Hal Roach Studios
Short Kilts McGregor's sonShort, Hal Roach Studios; with Stan Laurel
Near Dublin Brick merchantShort, Hal Roach Studios; with Stan Laurel
1925The Haunted HoneymoonShort, Hal Roach Studios
Innocent HusbandsThe Desk ClerkShort, Hal Roach Studios; with Charley Chase
Welcome Home Minor Role
Yes, Yes, NanetteHillory, the new husbandShort, Hal Roach Studios; with Oliver Hardy
1926 Madame Mystery Struggling authorShort, Hal Roach Studios; with Theda Bara
Dizzy DaddiesJonathan HaigShort, Hal Roach Studios
Wife Tamers WaiterShort, Hal Roach Studios. with Lionel Barrymore and Gertrude Astor
Ukulele SheiksShort, Hal Roach Studios; with Glenn Tryon and Vivien Oakland
Thundering Fleas Justice of the PeaceShort, Hal Roach Studios; with Oliver Hardy and Charley Chase
Raggedy Rose Simpson SniffleHal Roach Studios; with Mabel Normand
1927 Seeing the World James Finlayson, teacherShort, Hal Roach Studios; Our Gang series
One Hour Married Short, Hal Roach Studios; with Mabel Normand
The Honorable Mr. Buggs Short, Hal Roach Studios; with Oliver Hardy
The Second Hundred Years Gov. Browne Van DykeShort, Hal Roach Studios; with Laurel and Hardy
No Man's Law Jack Belcher Hal Roach Studios; with Oliver Hardy
Love 'em and Weep Titus TilburyShort, Hal Roach Studios; with Laurel and Hardy
With Love and HissesCaptain BustleShort, Hal Roach Studios; with Laurel and Hardy
Do Detectives Think? Judge FoozleShort, Hal Roach Studios; with Laurel and Hardy
1928 Bachelor's Paradise Pat Malone Tiffany Pictures
Ladies' Night in a Turkish Bath Pa Slocum First National Pictures
Lady Be Good Trelawney West First National Pictures
Show Girl Mr. Dugan First National Pictures
1929 Liberty Store KeeperShort, Hal Roach Studios; with Laurel and Hardy
Big Business HomeownerShort, Hal Roach Studios; with Laurel and Hardy
Two Weeks Off Pa Weaver
Hard to Get Pa Martin First National Pictures
Wall StreetAndy
1930 Night Owls Meadows, the butlerShort, Hal Roach Studios; with Laurel and Hardy
Young Eagles Scotty
The Dawn Patrol Field Sergeant
For the Defense Parrott
El príncipe del dólar
Chercheuses d'or
Feet First PainterUncredited
Another Fine Mess Colonel BuckshotShort, Uncredited, Hal Roach Studios; with Laurel and Hardy
1931 Chickens Come Home ButlerShort, Uncredited, Hal Roach Studios; with Laurel and Hardy
Our Wife Father of DulceShort, Uncredited, Hal Roach Studios; with Laurel and Hardy
Pardon Us TeacherHal Roach Studios; with Laurel and Hardy
One Good Turn A Community PlayerShort, Hal Roach Studios; with Laurel and Hardy
Hasty Marriage Kitty's FatherShort, Hal Roach Studios; with Charley Chase
1932 Thunder Below Scotty
Pack Up Your Troubles The GeneralHal Roach Studios; with Laurel and Hardy
Zwei Ritter ohne Furcht und Tadel1 Short
1933 Me and My Pal Peter CucumberShort, Hal Roach Studios; with Laurel and Hardy
His Silent RacketHimselfShort, Hal Roach Studios; with Charley Chase
Fra Diavolo Lord RocbergHal Roach Studios; with Laurel and Hardy
Mush and Milk Mr. Brown, the bankerShort, Hal Roach Studios; with Our Gang
1934 Trouble in Store The Watchman (leading role)(U.K Comedy Short), Warner Brothers
The Girl in Possession Minor RoleUncredited
Oh No Doctor! Axminster
Dick Turpin Jeremy
Nine Forty-Five Police Constable Doyle
What Happened to Harkness? Police Constable Gallun
Father and Son Bildad
Big Business Police Constable
1935 Thicker Than Water Mr. FinlaysonShort, Hal Roach Studios; with Laurel and Hardy
Handle with Care Jimmy
Who's Your Father Uncredited
Bonnie Scotland Sergeant Major FinlaysonHal Roach Studios; with Laurel and Hardy
Manhattan Monkey BusinessJoyce's FatherShort, Hal Roach Studios; with Charley Chase
Life Hesitates at 40Dr. FinlaysonShort, Hal Roach Studios; with Charley Chase
1936 The Bohemian Girl Finn, Captain of the GuardHal Roach Studios; with Laurel and Hardy
Our Relations Finn, Chief EngineerHal Roach Studios; with Laurel and Hardy
1937 Way Out West Mickey FinnHal Roach Studios; with Laurel and Hardy
Pick a Star Director Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer
The Toast of New York Trick-Hat InventorUncredited
All Over Town MacDougal
This Way Please PolicemanUncredited
Angel Barker's Second ButlerUncredited
Wise Girl JailerUncredited, RKO Radio
1938 Block-Heads Finn - Man on StairsHal Roach Studios; with Laurel and Hardy
Carefree Man on golf courseUncredited, RKO Pictures; with Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers
1939 Hollywood Cavalcade Himself 20th Century Fox
The Flying Deuces JailerRKO Pictures; with Laurel and Hardy
Raffles Hansom Cab DriverUncredited, United Artists
The Great Victor Herbert Lamplighter
A Chump at Oxford Baldy VandevereHal Roach Studios; with Laurel and Hardy
1940 Saps at Sea Dr J.H. FinlaysonHal Roach Studios; with Laurel and Hardy
Foreign Correspondent Dutch PeasantUncredited, United Artists
1941 Nice Girl? Loafer at Train StationUncredited
One Night in Lisbon Air Raid WardenUncredited
New WineMinor RoleUncredited
1942 To Be or Not to Be Scottish FarmerUncredited, United Artists
Yanks Ahoy Cook FlynnUncredited
1946 Two Sisters from Boston Street CleanerUncredited
She-Wolf of London Constable With Hobbs and LathamUncredited
Till the Clouds Roll By Candy VendorUncredited
1947 Thunder in the Valley Court JudgeUncredited
The Perils of Pauline Comic Chef Paramount Pictures
1948 Julia Misbehaves Bill CollectorUncredited, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer
Grand Canyon Trail Sheriff
Hills of Home Minor RoleUncredited
1949 Challenge to Lassie Newspaper ReporterUncredited, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer
1951 Here Comes the Groom Drunken Sailor / Wedding GuestUncredited, Paramount Pictures
Royal Wedding CabbyUncredited, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer

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  2. Skretvedt, p. 77
  3. Scotland Statutory Registers: Births in the Parish of Larbert in the County of Stirling, 1887 – page 51, Item #151
  4. 1901 Census of the Household of Alexander FINLAYSON in the Hamlet of North Broomage, Parish of Larbert, Stirlingshire, Scotland; ScotlandsPeople (Census 1901 485/0A 001/00 043)
  5. The Scotsman ; 3 May 1910; ProQuest Historical Newspapers: The Scotsman (1817–1950); p. 5
  6. Ship manifest for the California, sailing from Glasgow, arrived New York on 5 June 1911; page 766; line: 3
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