Charles Winninger was an American stage and film actor, most often cast in comedies or musicals, but equally at home in drama.
He began as a vaudeville actor. His most famous stage role was as Cap’n Andy Hawks in the original production of the Jerome Kern – Oscar Hammerstein II musical classic Show Boat in 1927, a role that he reprised ? to great acclaim ? in the 1932 stage revival and the 1936 film version of the show. He became so identified with the role, and with his “persona” as a riverboat captain, that he played several variations of the role, notably on the radio program Maxwell House Show Boat, which was clearly inspired by, but not actually based on, the Broadway musical.
After the 1936 “Show Boat”, Winninger largely abandoned the stage and stayed on in Hollywood, becoming one of its most beloved and most often seen character actors. He appeared in such classics as the 1937 Nothing Sacred, the 1939 Destry Rides Again, as Deanna Durbin’s father in the film Three Smart Girls, and as Abel Frake in the 1945 Rodgers and Hammerstein film musical State Fair. He played the protective Irish Grandfather in MGM’s film version of George M. Cohan’s Little Nellie Kelly, and the father of a budding show-girl in Ziegfeld Girl, both starring Judy Garland. In all of these films, Winninger was the very image of the kindly, lovable, chubby, grandfatherly figure, but in “Show Boat”, especially, he showed that he could play a dramatic, emotional scene as well as any serious dramatic actor. He returned to Broadway only once more – for the 1951 revival of Kern and Hammerstein’s Music in the Air.
Winninger had the lead role in only one film, 1953’s The Sun Shines Bright, John Ford’s remake of his own Judge Priest. Winninger played the role that Will Rogers had undertaken in 1934.