Classic Movie Travels: Donald Meek
A beloved character actor, Thomas Donald Meek was born in Glasgow, Scotland, on July 14, 1878, to Matthew and Annie Meek. Meek was one of four children, with two older sisters named Annie and Maggie as well as a younger brother named Marcus. His family moved to Canada and, later, the United States, eventually settling in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
In Pennsylvania, Meek worked selling dry goods but was also eager to perform on the stage. At the age of eight and long before his family’s move, Meek expressed an interest in acting, first performing publicly in a comic pantomime.
Next, Meek joined an acrobatic team called “The Marvells,” touring throughout the U.S. but leaving the troupe after sustaining many fractures after a fall. Following six months of recovery, he fought during the Spanish-American War in Cuba. There he was wounded in battle and also lost his hair after falling ill with yellow fever. When World War I came about, he enlisted again. Meek served as part of the Canadian Highlanders as a corporal.
Acting would lead Meek to tour the world. He toured several countries as part of a stage version of Little Lord Fauntleroy and lost his Scottish accent during his wartime travels. After his first few Broadway roles, Meek would find consistency in taking on comedic roles.
Meek would marry Isabella “Belle” Walkin in Boston in 1909, and the couple would relocate to Hollywood. The couple would remain together until Meek’s passing.
As movies grew in popularity, so did Meek’s interest in them. Though he worked at various studios, he took on scores of roles with rapidity and quickly became a highly sought character actor. Among his screen appearances were The Adventures of Tom Sawyer (1938), You Can’t Take It With You (1938), Stagecoach (1939), State Fair (1945), and dozens more. In total, Meek would execute over 120 roles in film.
Though Meek wished to retire one day and grow hybrid roses, he was not able to realize this dream. He passed away from leukemia on November 18, 1946. At the time of his passing, he was working on Magic Town (1947). Meek was 68 years old.
Today, some of Meek’s residences remain.
In 1910, Meek and his wife lived at 105 Clarendon St. in Boston, Massachusetts, though the home no longer stands.
By the 1930s, they were living in California. In 1936, they lived at 11200 Sunset Blvd. in Los Angeles, California, but this home no longer remains. Their 1940s home at 1977 Mandeville Canyon Rd., however, does stand. The home housed Meek, his wife, and their cook, Edna Leslie. This is the home today:
Their home at 1500 Beverwil Dr. also stands today and is pictured here:
Meek was posthumously awarded a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. His star is located on the East side of Vine Street’s 1700 block in Los Angeles.
Though few tributes to Meek exist, his face continues to be a familiar one to classic film fans.
–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.