Biography

The screen's premier "comic gangster," Allen Jenkins studied at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts and worked several years in regional stock companies and on Broadway before talking pictures created a demand for his talents in Hollywood. One of his first films was Blessed Event (1932), in which Jenkins played the role he'd originated in the stage version. This and most subsequent Allen Jenkins films were made at Warner Bros., where the actor made so many pictures that he was sometimes referred to as "the fifth Warner Brother." As outspoken and pugnacious off screen as on, Jenkins was a member in good standing of Hollywood's "Irish Mafia," a rotating band of Hibernian actors (including James Cagney, Pat O'Brien, Matt McHugh and Jimmy Gleason) who palled around incessantly. Popular but undisciplined and profligate with his money, Jenkins was reduced to "B" films by the 1940s and 1950s, including occasional appearances in RKO's Falcon films and the Bowery Boys epics at Monogram; still, he was as game as ever, and capable of taking any sort of physical punishment meted out to his characters. TV offered several opportunities for Jenkins in the 1950s and 1960s, notably his supporting role on 1956's Hey Jeannie, a sitcom starring Scottish songstress Jeannie Carson, and 30 weeks' worth of voice-over work as Officer Dibble on the 1961 animated series Top Cat. Going the dinner theater and summer stock route in the 1960s, Jenkins was as wiry as ever onstage, but his eyesight had deteriorated to the point that he had to memorize where the furniture was set. Making ends meet between acting jobs, Jenkins took on work as varied as tool-and-die making for Douglas Aircraft and selling cars for a Santa Monica dealer. Asked in 1965 how he felt about "moonlighting", Jenkins (who in his heyday had commanded $4000 per week) growled, "I go where the work is and do what the work is! Moonlighting's a fact. The rest is for the birds." Towards the end of his life, Jenkins was hired for cameo roles by directors who fondly remembered the frail but still feisty actor from his glory days; one of Jenkins' last appearances was as a telegrapher in the final scene of Billy Wilder's The Front Page (1974). ~ Hal Erickson, Rovi