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Jack Oakie was born Lewis Delaney Offield in Sedalie, Missouri. He grew up in Muskegee, Oklahoma, thus acquiring the nickname “Oakie”.
Oakie initially worked as a runner on Wall Street then began appearing in amateur theatre and comedy. He made his professional debut on Broadway in 1923 in George M. Cohan’s production of “Little Nelly Kelly”.
From 1923 – 1927, he worked in various musicals and comedies before moving to Hollywood at the end of the silent film era. He appeared in five silent films between 1927 and 1928. As the age of the “talkies” began, he signed with Paramount Pictures and in 1929 made his first talking film, “The Dummy”.
The Paramount contract ended in 1934 and Oakie decided to freelance. He appeared in 87 films during the 1930’s and 1940’s. Oakie is most noted for his portrayal of Benzino Napaloni, the boisterous dictator of Bacteria, in Charlie Chaplan’s production of “The Great Dictator” (1940). He received an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor.
Unrestrained by a film studio contract, Oakie branched into radio having his own show from 1936 – 1938. Late in his career he appeared in various episodes of television shows: The Real McCoys (1957), Daniel Boone (1966), and Bonanza (1966).
Oakie married twice divorcing his first wife, Venita Varden, in 1944. Jack’s second marriage was to actress Victoria Horne in 1950 with whom he lived at “Oakridge” until his death in 1978. Their entire married life was spent at the 10-acre property in Northridge, designed by Paul R. Williams for actress Barbara Stanwyck. Oakie planted a citrus orchard and bred Afghan Hounds at one time having up to 100 hounds on the property.
In 1981, the “Jack Oakie Lecture on Comedy in Film” was established as an annual event of Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Science. At the inaugural presentation, Oakie was described as “a master of comic timing and a beloved figure in the industry”.
Some of the films in which Jack Oakie appeared: “Road House”, “Sitting Pretty”, “Call of the Wild”, “The Big Broadcast of 1936”, “The Great Dictator”, “Tin Pan Alley”, “Around the World in 80 Days”, and “Lover Come Back”.
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