Classic Movie Travels: Percy Helton
Percy Helton was a beloved character actor during the Golden Age of Hollywood, in addition to performing on stage and television. He was born Percy Alfred Helton on January 31, 1894, in Manhattan, New York. His father was Alfred “Alf” Helton, who worked as a stage actor, and young Helton followed suit by the age of two. Helton worked alongside his father for many years in vaudeville and eventually made his Broadway debut, going on to work in stock theater and additional Broadway shows as the years went on.
During World War I, Helton joined the U.S. Army and was deployed to Europe as part of the American Expeditionary Forces. He ultimately received the Distinguished Service Cross for his time with the 77th Infantry Division.
In 1931, Helton married actress Edna Eustace. They remained together until his passing. The Heltons had no children.
After the war, Helton returned to acting and also sang professionally. After executing one particular role that required him to scream throughout the majority of the play day after day, Helton’s vocal cords were permanently damaged. His voice would be breathy and hoarse for the rest of his life and altered his career. While he remained an actor, he was predominantly a character actor. Most of his roles were in films noir and television programs. Some of his film roles include Miracle on 34th Street (1947) (as a drunken department store Santa Claus), Criss Cross (1949), The Set-Up (1949), Wicked Woman (1953), Kiss Me Deadly (1955), and Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969). His television credits include The Beverly Hillbillies, Petticoat Junction, Perry Mason, and Green Acres, to name a few.
Helton passed away on September 11, 1971 at the Hollywood Presbyterian Medical Center at the age of 77. His ashes were interred at Pierce Brothers Westwood Village Memorial Park in Los Angeles, California.
Today, there are some buildings of relevance to Helton that stand.
In 1910, Helton lived at 206 109th St., Manhattan, New York. The building stands today.
In 1920, Helton resided at 444 Central Park West, Manhattan, New York. This is the location today:
In 1942, Helton and Edna resided at 37 W. 46th St., New York, New York, which remains today.
The Hollywood Presbyterian Medical Center stands at 1300 N. Vermont Ave., Los Angeles, California.
Helton is best celebrated through enjoying his many film and television performances.
–Annette Bochenek for Classic Movie Hub
Annette Bochenek pens our monthly Classic Movie Travels column. You can read all of Annette’s Classic Movie Travel articles here.
Annette Bochenek of Chicago, Illinois, is a PhD student at Dominican University and an independent scholar of Hollywood’s Golden Age. She manages the Hometowns to Hollywood blog, in which she writes about her trips exploring the legacies and hometowns of Golden Age stars. Annette also hosts the “Hometowns to Hollywood” film series throughout the Chicago area. She has been featured on Turner Classic Movies and is the president of TCM Backlot’s Chicago chapter. In addition to writing for Classic Movie Hub, she also writes for Silent Film Quarterly, Nostalgia Digest, and Chicago Art Deco SocietyMagazine.