TCM Summer Under the Stars: Day Four — S.Z. “Cuddles” Sakall

S.Z. Sakall was unforgettable.

S.Z. Sakall, the featured player for Day Four of TCM’s Summer Under the Stars, is making his first-ever appearance in this annual celebration. Known for his amiable demeanor, his smiling eyes, and a lovable presence that led to his nickname “Cuddles,” Sakall was never a star, but he certainly offered up an unforgettable screen presence.

In the Beginning:

Sakall was born to Jewish parents on February 2, 1883, in Budapest, Hungary. His birth name was Gerö Jenö (or, as one source states, Gäartner Sándor, or perhaps Jacob Gerö, which is the name on his Declaration of Intention for U.S. citizenship). He was attracted to show business from an early age; as a youngster, he wrote sketches for vaudeville shows, and began acting at the age of 18.

In the 1910s and 1920s, he became a star of stage and screen in Hungary under the name Szöke Szakáll, which means “blond beard,” a reflection of the facial hair that the actor grew in order to appear older than he was. He later performed in Vienna and Berlin, finding success in the type of movies known as “Wiener Film,” which were romantic comedies that contained elements of drama. For a while during this period, he also ran his own production company.

Pre-Cuddles.

With the rise of the Nazis, the actor returned to Hungary, and in 1940, he emigrated to California with his second wife (his first wife died after the couple had been married for just two years). Later that year, he was seen in his first Hollywood, It’s a Date, starring Deanna Durbin, and he was in his first hit in 1941, Ball of Fire, with Barbara Stanwyck and Gary Cooper.

Other stuff:

  • Sakall’s best-known role is probably Carl, the headwaiter in Casablanca (1942). He initially did not want the part.
  • A number of actors – including James Cagney and Alan Hale – reportedly did not like working with Sakall due to his penchant for scene stealing.
  • All three of Sakall’s sisters, his niece, and his wife’s brother and sister were murdered by the Nazis.
  • Sakall was first credited as S.Z. “Cuddles” Sakall in the 1945 film San Antonio. It’s said that Warner Bros. studio head Jack Warner gave him the nickname and insisted on it being in his credits. Sakall reportedly did not like the moniker.

    Scene Stealer Extraordinaire.

  • In 1954, Sakall published a memoir entitled The Story of Cuddles: My Life Under the Emperor Francis Joseph, Adolph Hitler and the Warner Brothers.

My SUTS Pick:

Sakall is definitely not one of my favorite performers – not because I dislike him (I actually think he’s adorable), but simply because I haven’t seen him in very many films – only three, to be exact. Casablanca isn’t airing, and I saw Cynthia (1947) only once, so long ago that I don’t even remember Sakall being in it.

Celebrate Christmas in August with Christmas in Connecticut!

My pick, then, is Christmas in Connecticut (1945), which stars Barbara Stanwyck as Elizabeth Lane, a famous food writer who doesn’t know a thing about cooking and is roped into providing a traditional Christmas dinner for her boss and a war hero. Sakall is Felix Bassenak, who actually provides the recipes that Elizabeth provides in her column. And, as noted by Cagney and Alan Hale, he steals every scene he’s in. Tune in and see for yourself!

And join me tomorrow for Day Five of Summer Under the Stars!

~ by shadowsandsatin on August 3, 2020.

7 Responses to “TCM Summer Under the Stars: Day Four — S.Z. “Cuddles” Sakall”

  1. I was hoping for TCM to include the Randolph Scott western Sugarfoot, 1951 wherein “Cuddles” portrays Don Miguel. Honestly, it is very interesting to see him as that character.

    • I’m always on the lookout for recommendations for westerns, Paddy. (Plus I’m a total Randolph Scott fan now. Who would have thought?) I’m going to add Sugarfoot to my watchlist. Thanks!

  2. Totally lovable! Catch The Devil and Miss Jones if you can.
    Forever remembered in Casablanca.
    So very sorry to hear what happened to his family.

  3. I would love to get my hands on a copy of his memoirs. It’s currently unavailable at the Canadian Amazon. 😦

  4. […] Day 4: S.Z. “Cuddles” Sakall […]

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