Friday, November 03, 2006
Famous Film Duos
What? Say that last one again. Lancaster and who?
Yes, Burt Lancaster had a sidekick, too, in many of his films. Didn’t you notice him? Perhaps that’s because he was only about five foot two inches tall and he rarely spoke. His name was Nick Cravat and he worked in numerous films with Burt. But they go further back than that. A lot of people know that Burt was a circus performer as a teenager. He was part of the high bar act of Lang and Cravat. Lang was Lancaster and Cravat was Nick Cravat. Nick adopted Cravat as his stage name from a Richard Dix movie character, Yancey Cravat. His real name was Cuccia.
Nick would later take on a TV role in a cult show, The Twilight Zone. He was the gremlin in a sort of monkey suit in the episode, Nightmare at 20,000 Feet, with William Shatner. That’s the one where Shatner is a passenger on an airliner and believes he sees a gremlin out on the wing while in full flight, sort of a crazy wing walker. Oh, THAT Nick Cravat!
Nick never spoke on camera and, logically, people believed that he was a mute. But that’s not the case. Actually, he had such a thick New York accent that he was better off not speaking on camera. That was certainly the case in his period pieces like, The Crimson Pirate and The Flame and the Arrow. He also played an Indian in the Disney production Davy Crockett at the Alamo. He played Busted Luck and communicated with Davy via sign language.
Although he worked extensively with Burt, Nick made his film debut in a Martin & Lewis movie called “My Friend Irma” in 1949. Later, Burt kept him on his payroll as his personal trainer. Nick died in 1994 but will live on forever in his films and TV appearances, especially as that little gremlin. Remember, at “the signpost up head, your next stop, The Twilight Zone.”
Burt’s successes are part of Hollywood history. He won an Oscar and a Golden Globe for his role in Elmer Gantry. He was among the first major stars to begin independent film production, moving away from the old Hollywood system dominated by large production companies. He wrote, directed and produced as well as acted. And his image was larger than life.
I watched his 1956 film Trapeze recently on Turner Classic Movies. I’ve seen it several times but never fail to be entertained. Could the site of Gina Lollobrigida in tights have anything to do with that? And it was one of the better acting performances for young Tony Curtis.
Burt was in his early forties when he made that film. He was trim and fit, not an ounce of fat on him, and he did most of his own stunts on the trapeze and high ropes. He dominated every scene he was in, except for those shots of Gina.
Lang and Cravat are gone now, but fortunately we can enjoy their work over and over. And there is a lot of it.
Glad to know that there's somebody else with these wonderful memories. "The Crimson Pirate" has always been at the top of my list of favorite films (especially Burt's opening wink at the audience), and his role in "Field of Dreams" left me a blubbering mess. And I instantly recognized Nick Cravat in "The Island of Dr. Moreau" without even needing to check the credits!
Many thanks for your site!
Ted ("Class of 1950")
Pleeeeese help me...
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