Charles Middleton (actor)

Charles Middleton
Born (1874-10-03)October 3, 1874
Elizabethtown, Kentucky, U.S.
Died April 22, 1949(1949-04-22) (aged 74)
Los Angeles, California, U.S.
Occupation Film, stage actor
Years active 1920-1949
Spouse(s) Leora Spellman

Charles B. Middleton (October 3, 1874 – April 22, 1949) was an American stage and film actor. During a film career that began at age 46 and lasted almost 30 years, Charles Middleton appeared in nearly two hundred films as well as numerous plays.[1] He is perhaps best remembered for his role as the villainous emperor Ming the Merciless in the three Flash Gordon series made between 1936 and 1940.


Carmen D'Antonio and Charles Middleton as Ming the Merciless in Flash Gordon Conquers the Universe

Born in Elizabethtown, Kentucky, Charles Middleton worked in a traveling circus, in vaudeville, and acted in live theatre before he turned to motion pictures in 1920.

Middleton's career as a character actor came into full flower with the advent of sound movies. His ominous baritone voice was perfect for villainous roles, and he became an excellent foil for comedy stars Harold Lloyd, Eddie Cantor, Wheeler & Woolsey, and Laurel and Hardy.

He was then cast in Warner Bros.' 1931 film Safe in Hell (directed by William Wellman), and in Warners' 1932 hit The Strange Love of Molly Louvain opposite Ann Dvorak and Richard Cromwell. In Pack Up Your Troubles, he was the villainous welfare association officer, the foil of Laurel & Hardy. Middleton also appeared as "the district attorney" in Cecil B. DeMille's 1933 film This Day and Age. He appeared opposite The Marx Brothers in Duck Soup (also 1933), as the stern prosecutor of Freedonia. He also played Sheriff Ike Vallon, the official who tries to arrest Julie La Verne (Helen Morgan) and her husband for being illegally married, in Universal Pictures' classic 1936 screen version of the musical Show Boat.

Middleton's granite-hard features resembled those of Abraham Lincoln. He played Lincoln in a public-service short subject, The Road Is Open Again, appeared in a rare comic role as an actor exasperated at being typecast as Lincoln in the 1937 comedy Stand-In, and played Lincoln's father in the film version of Robert E. Sherwood's Abe Lincoln in Illinois (1940).

Middleton was also featured in many serial adventures from 1935 to 1947. He is most famous for his villainous role as Ming the Merciless, the evil adversary of Buster Crabbe in the three Flash Gordon serials: Flash Gordon (1936), Flash Gordon's Trip to Mars (1938), and 1940's Flash Gordon Conquers the Universe. The first Flash Gordon serial has the honor of having been selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry. Middleton was also featured in such serials as Dick Tracy Returns, where he played evil mastermind Pa Stark, Daredevils of the Red Circle, and Jack Armstrong.[2] Also played Buck Peters in the 1935 movie Hopalong Cassidy Enters which was the first entry in the long-running series.

Charles Middleton died of a heart attack in Los Angeles and was interred in the Hollywood Forever Cemetery in Hollywood, California next to his wife of many years, stage and film actress Leora Spellman.

Selected filmography


  1. Kinnard, Roy; Crnkovich, Tony; Vitone, R.J. (2008). The Flash Gordon Serials, 1936 - 1940: A Heavily Illustrated Guide (Reprint of the illustrated casebound ed.). Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland. p. 14. ISBN 978-0-7864-3470-1. Retrieved 16 October 2014.
  2. Cline, William C. (2000). Serials-ly Speaking : Essays on Cliffhangers. Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland. pp. 127–128. ISBN 0-7864-0918-5. Retrieved 16 October 2014.

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