December 26, 1892 – Stage and screen comic actor and caricaturist Don Barclay
Don Barclay is now a mostly forgotten minor figure, but Hollywood’s top stars were among his closest friends.
Originally from Ashland, Oregon, Barclay’s first known credits seem to be from 1913. He drew cartoons for a St. Louise newspaper and appeared in a vaudeville show at the Princess Theatre.
Two years later, he shows up in silent film shorts directed by Mack Sennett. Most performers of that era went from stage work in the East Coast, and then on to Los Angeles, but it seems that after Barclay’s first few films, he goes straight from there to Broadway. He was featured in the Ziegfeld Follies in both the 1916 and 1917 editions. Then it was back to Hollywood, where he starred in a Essanay (1918) and Check Your Hat, Sir?, All Stuck Up, Daring and Dynamite (all in 1919)
In the early 1920s, Barclay was the boyfriend and vaudeville partner of Cary Grant, then known by his birth name, Archie Leach. The more experienced comedian, Barclay helped Archie Leach learn his stuff. Barclay and Leach developed a two-man comedy show together in New York. They remained lifelong best friends, even after Grant moved on to Randolph Scott. Poor Barclay, this is one of the things he is best known for today, Just a footnote in the life of Cary Grant.
In 1922, Barclay enjoyed a good run on Broadway for the decade, in the shows Go-Go (1923), The Greenwich Village Follies of 1924, Oh! Oh! Nurse (1925), Merry-Go-Round (1927), Nina Rosa (1931) and Americana (1932).
He returned to Hollywood in 1933, appearing in comedy shorts for Hal Roach, some he even starred in. He made nearly a dozen comedies for Roach that year. After this, he was a bit player and voice-over actor in films, able to make a small living for nearly four decades. He is especially noted for his work in Walt Disney films, and you can see or hear him in Cinderella (1950), Alice In Wonderland (1951), Peter Pan (1953), 101 Dalmatians (1961), Mary Poppins (1964), and Bedknobs And Broomsticks (1971). Barclay portrayed hundreds of roles for Disney who considered Barclay a good luck charm.
He also had small roles in The Oklahoma Kid (1939), Honky Tonk (1941), Blondie’s Blessed Event (1942), Mexican Spitfire Sees A Ghost (1942), Mexican Spitfire’s Elephant (1942), Frankenstein Meets The Wolfman (1943), Shine On, Harvest Moon (1944), and My Darling Clementine (1946), classics all. The Mexican Spitfire flicks star Lupe Vélez. Mexican Spitfire Sees A Ghost is notorious as the film at the top half of a double bill, in which the film at the bottom of the bill was Orson Welles‘ The Magnificent Ambersons, also produced by RKO Pictures. His character in Mexican Spitfire films is “Fingers O’Toole”.
Here is the interesting part, Barclay was also an artist, and was known for drawing caricatures of his celebrity friends, including Bob Hope, Jimmy Durante, Lou Costello, Frank Sinatra and Joan Crawford.
During World War II, he traveled around the globe with the USO, doing a one man show and drawing caricatures of the troops.
Like all good gay men of a certain age, Barclay spent his final years in Palm Springs, where he drew caricatures of patrons at his local bar.
His paintings and caricatures of celebrities could be found in waterholes worldwide and they are now archived in the Library of Congress. They often were painted or drawn on the studio lots when he was working with the other actors.
Diane Keaton purchased a clown painting by Barclay which led to her collecting clown paintings and publishing her book Clown Paintings (2002).
Barclay’s large paintings are rare and collectible, while high profile auction houses increasingly feature his smaller works. It is estimated he had drawn over 10,000 caricatures of servicemen.
Barclay left this world in 1975, at 82 years old, at home in Palm Springs. He was a what they used to call a “confirmed bachelor”.