Monday 15 October 2012

Richard Dix

A couple of weeks ago, I was in Hollywood, perusing the stars on the Walk of Fame. Imagine my surprise when I found the star of one "Richard Dix" on Vine Street.

Richard Dix (Dick Dix?) is a name that seems to be all kinds of unfortunate. And yet... Richard Dix was not born with this awkward moniker.

He actually selected it himself! Richard Dix was born Ernst Carlton Brimmer in 1893 in St. Paul Minnesota. He did some local acting and some stage acting in New York City. When his father died (around 1921), Ernst/Richard was responsible for supporting his mother and sister. He went to Los Angeles, presumably because he assumed the money was better. He was certainly proven correct when he landed a contract with Paramount Pictures.

In Hollywood, Ernst Brimmer changed his last name to Dix. Wikipedia is unclear about when he altered his first name, so let’s just assume it was at the same time. For reasons unknown to me (although I really wish they weren’t!), Ernst Brimmer decided Richard Dix was a name better suited to Hollywood. I couldn’t agree more. The world always needs more Dicks.

Anyway, Richard was successful as both a silent film and talkie actor, which is actually quite a feat. Many actors found it difficult to transition between mediums, but Richard was up to the challenge. According to his Wikipedia filmography, Richard was in 46 silent films between 1917 and 1929. 46! Unfortunately, only fifteen of those films are still extant, meaning a whopping 31 are now lost. The survival rate for silent films is apparently pretty abysmal. Richard’s most famous silent work was probably in Cecil B. Demille’s The Ten Commandments (1923), although he starred in the awesomely-named Womanhandled (1925), which is (thankfully) still extant.

From 1929 until his retirement in 1947, Richard appeared in 52 talkies. None of them are particularly famous, but the man racked up quite the filmography. He appeared in 98 films in thirty years. Incredible! I’d say the man deserved a star simply for industriousness.

Richard Dix did not long enjoy his retirement. He had a heart attack on 12 September 1949 and died eight days later on 20 September (age 56). He was survived by four children: two daughters and twin sons. Unfortunately one of the sons (Richard Jr.) did not long outlive his father; the younger Richard perished in 1953 (age eighteen) in an accident at a logging camp.

Although Richard Dix is not exactly a household name, he was an accomplished actor. Not just in terms of quantity, but also in terms of quality: he was nominated for an Oscar for his role in Cimarron (1931). He didn’t win, but I’m sure it was an honor to be nominated. Richard tended to play salt-of-the-earth, good-guy roles. His tribute site features a charming collage of Richard as a soldier, Native American, war-time flying ace, baseball player, and cowboy. At one point he also played a ship’s captain.

For more, see: (this website has some really great pictures)

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