Born Feb 10, 1906, Erik Rhodes – the Great Dialectician!
Erik Rhodes is one of my all-time favorite Character Actors, yet oddly enough, I haven’t seen him in all that many movies. It just so happens though, that in the few movies I’ve seen him in, he’s unforgettable – a real scene stealer! I ‘stumbled upon’ Rhodes simply because I’m a huge Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers fan, and he ‘just happens to be’ in two of their movies, The Gay Divorcee and Top Hat — playing the well-meaning ‘professional’ co-respondent Rodolfo Tonetti and the wonderfully sincere dress-designer Alberto Beddini, respectively.
Upon seeing Rhodes in those two Astaire/Rogers movies, I immediately thought to myself ‘what a fabulous Italian actor!’ Little did I know at that time that Rhodes was NOT Italian; in fact he was born and raised in good old Oklahoma, USA!
Rhodes was born in El Reno, Oklahoma Territory in 1906. He graduated from the University of Oklahoma, won a scholarship to study acting in New York, and landed his first Broadway role, although a mere eight lines, in A Most Immoral Lady (1928). Rhodes, an accomplished baritone, was then cast in a few Broadway musicals: The Little Show (1929), Hey Nonny Nonny! (1932), and — Gay Divorce (1932) starring Fred Astaire. His memorable performance as the high-spirited Italian, Rodolfo Tonetti, impressed RKO Execs and he was cast in the 1934 film, The Gay Divorcee, starring Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers.
(Note: sorry, although the below quotes are from their respective movies, they do not necessary reflect the images surrounding them)
Erik Rhodes as Rodolfo Tonetti in The Gay Divorcee (director Mark Sandrich, 1934):
“Chance is the foolish name for fate.”
“Rodolfo Tonetti at your service.”
“You’re wife is save with Tonetti. He prefers spaghetti!”
“Bene, whichever way the wind she is blowing, that is the way I sail.”
“Oh scusi, scusi. I’m also very good at parties.”
Erik Rhodes as Alberto Beddini in Top Hat (director Mark Sandrich, 1935):
“Who is sending you this horse’s shoe?”
“I promised my dresses that I would take them to Venice and that you would be in them!”
“Never again will I allow WOMEN to wear my dresses!”
“Oh Cara Mia, you make a big mistake — I am no man, I am Bedinni!”
“Poverina, Beddinni does not like to see you so sad.”
“For the woman, the kiss. For the man, the sword!”
Although most fans (me included) probably remember Erik Rhodes best as those passionate Italians — Tonetti and Beddini — he was expert in dialects and accents overall, and could convincingly play non-Italian roles as well. As a matter of fact, I could hardly believe my ears when I first heard him speak ‘straight English’ as David Scott-Frensham in Mysterious Mr. Moto (1938) and as Max Corday in Charlie Chan in Paris (1935).
Erik Rhodes as Max Corday in Charlie Chan in Paris (director Lewis Seiler, 1935)
Rhodes continued to act on Screen, TV and Broadway through the late 60s (with an additional isolated TV appearance in 1976, The Adams Chronicles). Most notably however, he appeared in some solid Broadway runs during the 50s and 60s: Can-Can, A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum and Barefoot in the Park.
–Annmarie Gatti for Classic Movie Hub
Note: this was a partial reprint of a longer article covering Erik Rhodes and Alan Hale from the 2012 What a Character Blogathon