What a Character! Blogathon–Allen Jenkins

Allen Jenkins has one of those mugs and voices that is instantly recognizable the second he’s on screen and opens his mouth. He’s never the lead, or even the major second lead, but he’s always there to provide ample support. My first introduction to Allen Jenkins was in his numerous appearances on I Love Lucy, often as a police officer. His most memorable appearance was in a late second season episode, “Ricky and Fred Are TV Fans.” In this episode, Lucy and Ethel are upset about becoming boxing widows when Ricky and Fred settle in for the evening to watch “the big fight.” It is established that Ricky and Fred have spent a lot of evenings watching boxing on television and their wives are fed up with being ignored night after night. Lucy and Ethel decide to go down to the corner drug store and call Ricky on the phone. Lucy will disguise herself as one of her friends and ask Ricky to call Lucy to the phone, which should clue him in that Lucy and Ethel are gone. The plan doesn’t work however, as Ricky just answers the phone, calls Lucy to the phone, sets the receiver down, then returns to watching the fight. The entire crowd in the drug store is caught up in the fight, including Officer Jenkins (Allen Jenkins). Lucy unable to get the drugstore clerk’s attention (because he’s watching the fight on television), decides to make change for herself. The bell on the cash register gets Officer Jenkins’ attention and he accuses Lucy of trying to rob the drug store. Lucy and Ethel get away.

Officer Jenkins (Allen Jenkins) hauls in “Sticky Fingers Sal,” aka Lucy and “Pick Pocket Pearl” aka Ethel and presents them to his boss, Officer Nelson (Frank Nelson) in I Love Lucy, “Ricky and Fred Are TV Fans.”

Later, Lucy and Ethel return to the Ricardos’ apartment only to see the phone still off the hook and Ricky and Fred still watching the fight–they didn’t even notice the women’s disappearance. Insulted, Lucy decides to climb up onto the roof to cut the electricity to the Ricardos’ apartment. It seems a little drastic, and she has no fear about being electrocuted, but that’s how Lucy works, she doesn’t screw around. Anyway, while Lucy and Ethel discuss which cord is running to the Ricardos’ apartment, Officer Jenkins finds them and brings them down to the precinct. Now at the police station, Officer Jenkins tells his superior, Officer Nelson (Frank Nelson), that he’s finally tracked down the infamous female robbers, “Pickpocket Pearl” and “Sticky Fingers Sal.” The women are identified based on their hair color. ‘Pearl’ is a blonde and ‘Sticky Fingers’ is a brunette, who must have dyed her hair red, deduces Officer Nelson.

LUCY: Dyed your hair. A lot you know. My hair is naturally red. Isn’t it Ethel?
ETHEL: Look Lucy, let’s not add perjury to our other charges.
LUCY: Well I might have expected something like that from you. Pick. Pocket. Pearl.

Lucille Ball as “Lucy Ricardo” and Vivian Vance as “Ethel Mertz” in “Ricky and Fred Are TV Fans” in I Love Lucy. Originally aired June 22, 1953.

Allen Jenkins went all the way back to 1939 with Lucille Ball when he appeared with her in the RKO film, Five Came Back. In the film, nine passengers board a flight from Los Angeles to Panama City. During the flight, the plane flies directly into an intense nighttime storm, which ends with the plane crashing into a rainforest. The passengers and crew survive. Eventually the plane is repaired, but can now only support the weight of five passengers. The passengers and crew must decide which five people will get to return home. Lucy plays Peggy Nolan, a woman with a shady past and Allen plays Pete, a gunman who is tasked with escorting the son of a gangster back home.

Lucille Ball and Allen Jenkins in 1939’s Five Came Back

Eight years prior to Five Came Back, Allen had made his film debut in the 1931 short film, Straight and Narrow playing what else? An ex-convict. Allen played many unsavory characters throughout his career. He also appeared in many memorable pre-code films such as: Three on a Match (1932), Employees’ Entrance (1933), 42nd Street (1933), Blondie Johnson (1933), and Jimmy the Gent (1934). During the production code era, he played opposite big Warner Brothers stars like Errol Flynn (The Perfect Specimen (1937), Footsteps in the Dark (1941), and Dive Bomber (1941)) and Humphrey Bogart (Marked Woman (1938), Dead End (1937), and The Amazing Dr. Clitterhouse (1938) ).

Jenkins was born on April 9, 1900 in Staten Island, New York. Despite often being cast as the dimwitted thug or comic relief, Jenkins actually had a long pedigree when it came to show business training. His family earned their living in show business and he later trained at the reputable American Academy of Dramatic Arts. In the 1920s, Jenkins was working steadily on Broadway, even replacing Spencer Tracy in the play, “The Last Mile.” Jenkins’ turn in Tracy’s role is what led to Darryl F. Zanuck discovering him and bringing him out to Hollywood to work for Paramount Pictures. His first major role was reprising his Broadway role of “Frankie Wells” in the 1932 film adaptation of Blessed Event, starring Lee Tracy. This role led to Jenkins receiving steady work, often in gangster films throughout the 1930s and 1940s.

Allen Jenkins played Errol Flynn’s chauffer and cohort in Footsteps in the Dark (1941).

In Ball of Fire, Jenkins has a memorable role as the garbage man who rattles off one slang word after another, much to the bewilderment of the professors who are trying to write a comprehensive encyclopedia on American slang. He would later reprise his role in the film’s 1948 remake, A Song is Born.

GARBAGE MAN: I could use a bundle of scratch right now on account of I met me a mouse last week.
PROFESSOR ODDLY: Mouse?
GARBAGE MAN: What a pair of gams. A little in, a little out, and a little more out.
PROFESSOR BERTRAM POTTS: I am still completely mystified.
GARBAGE MAN: Well, with this dish on me hands and them giving away 25 smackaroos on that quizzola.
PROFESSOR BERTRAM POTTS: Smackaroos?
PROFESSOR ODDLY: Smackaroos? What are smackaroos?
GARBAGE MAN: A smackaroo is a…
PROFESSOR BERTRAM POTTS: No such word exists.
GARBAGE MAN: Oh, it don’t, huh? A smackaroo is a dollar, pal.
PROFESSOR BERTRAM POTTS: Well, the accepted vulgarism for a dollar is a buck.
GARBAGE MAN: The accepted vulgarism for a smackaroo is a dollar. That goes for a banger, a fish, a buck, or a rug.
PROFESSOR BERTRAM POTTS: Well, what about the mouse?
GARBAGE MAN: The mouse is a dish. That’s what I need the moolah for.
PROFESSOR ODDLY: Moolah?
GARBAGE MAN: Yeah. The dough. We’ll be stepping. Me and the smooch, I mean the dish. I mean the mouse. You know, hit the jiggles for a little drum boogie.

Allen Jenkins as “Garbage Man,” Richard Hadyn as “Professor Oddly” and Gary Cooper as “Professor Bertram Potts” in “Ball of Fire” (1941).
Pictured from left: Frank McHugh and Allen Jenkins. Jenkins was part of the “Irish Mafia” with James Cagney, Pat O’Brien, and McHugh.

One of Jenkins’ last film roles was as the elevator operator who takes pity on the perpetually hungover Thelma Ritter in Pillow Talk (1959). Later, he moved to television, where he often played cops, or characters in blue-collared jobs. Aside from I Love Lucy, Jenkins also appeared in Adam 12, Bewitched, Batman, and The Man From U.N.C.L.E. He also made frequent appearances on Red Skelton’s show, The Red Skelton Hour, and also had a role in the 1950s sitcom, Hey Jeannie! (1956-1957). He is also remembered for voicing Officer Dribble on the cartoon series, Top Cat (1961-1962).

Allen Jenkins passed away on July 20, 1974 from lung cancer at the age of 74.

HUNK: Maybe I’m wrong. We all make mistakes, boss. That’s why they put the rubber on the ends of pencils.

Allen Jenkins as “Hunk” to Humphrey Bogart in Dead End, 1937.
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7 thoughts on “What a Character! Blogathon–Allen Jenkins

  1. I am quite an Allen Jenkins fan, but I never knew much about him. I enjoyed finding out that he attended the American Academy of Dramatic Arts (who would’ve thought?), and that he was Officer Dribble on Top Cat. And I not only didn’t know that he reprised his Ball of Fire role in another movie — I didn’t even know that there was a remake! Good stuff, Kayla — I really enjoyed your write-up on this great choice!

    Like

  2. Pingback: 11th Annual What A Character: Evening Edition – Paula's Cinema Club

  3. mercurie80

    Oh, I love Allen Jenkins so much. He always added to anything he was in. I am not sure where I first encountered him, but I have to think it was as Officer Dibble on the animated show Top Cat. He is so hilarious as the garbage man in Ball of Fire!

    Like

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