Jack Oakie

For Jack Okey, American art director, and academy award nominee, see Jack Okey.
Jack Oakie
Born Lewis Delaney Offield
(1903-11-12)November 12, 1903
Sedalia, Missouri, U.S.
Died January 23, 1978(1978-01-23) (aged 74)
Los Angeles, California, U.S.
Resting place Forest Lawn Memorial Park, Glendale
Occupation Actor
Years active 19231971
Spouse(s) Victoria Horne (1950–1978)
Venita Varden (1936–1945)

Jack Oakie (November 12, 1903 January 23, 1978) was an American actor, starring mostly in films, but also working on stage, radio and television. He is best remembered for portraying Napaloni in Chaplin's The Great Dictator (1940), receiving a nomination for the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor.

Early life

Jack Oakie was born as Lewis Delaney Offield in Sedalia, Missouri at 522 w 7th Street. His father was a grain dealer and his mother a psychology teacher.[1] When he was five years old the Offield family moved to Muskogee, Oklahoma, the source of his "Oakie" nickname.[1] His adopted first name, Jack, was the name of the first character he played on stage. Young Lewis/Jack grew up mostly in Oklahoma but also lived for periods of time with his grandmother in Kansas City, Missouri. While there he attended Woodland Elementary and made spending money as a paperboy for The Kansas City Star. He recalled years later that he made especially good money selling "extras" in November, 1916 during the reelection of President Woodrow Wilson.[1]

Early career

Oakie worked as a runner on Wall Street, New York City, and narrowly escaped being killed in the Wall Street bombing of September 16, 1920. While in New York, he also started appearing in amateur theatre as a mimic and a comedian, finally making his professional debut on Broadway in 1923 as a chorus boy in a production of Little Nellie Kelly by George M. Cohan.

Oakie worked in various musicals and comedies on Broadway from 1923 to 1927, when he moved to Hollywood to work in movies at the end of the silent film era. Oakie appeared in five silent films during 1927 and 1928. As the age of the "talkies" began, he signed with Paramount Pictures, making his first talking film, The Dummy, in 1929.

Film career

When his contract with Paramount ended in 1934, Oakie decided to freelance. He was remarkably successful, appearing in 87 films, most made in the 1930s and 1940s. In the film Too Much Harmony (1933), the part of Oakie's on-screen mother was played by his real mother Mary Evelyn Offield. During the 1930s he was known as "The World's Oldest Freshman", as a result of appearing in numerous films with a collegiate theme. He was also known for refusing to wear screen make-up of any kind, and the frequent use of double-take in his comedy. Oakie was quoted[2] as saying of his studio career:

The pictures I made were called the bread and butter pictures of the studio. They cost nothing and made millions, and supported the prestige productions that cost millions and made nothing.

Oakie is probably most notable for his portrayal of Benzino Napaloni, the boisterous dictator of Bacteria, in Charlie Chaplin's The Great Dictator (1940), for which he received an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor. This role was a broad parody of the fascist then-dictator of Italy, Benito Mussolini.

With Tina Louise in The New Breed TV series, 1961.

Television and radio

Not being limited by a film studio contract, Oakie branched into radio and had his own radio show between 1936 and 1938.

Late in his career he appeared in various episodes of a number of television shows, including The Real McCoys (1963, three times as Uncle Rightly), Breaking Point (Episode #22 A Child of the Center Ring,1964), Daniel Boone (1966), and Bonanza (1966).

Personal life

Oakie was married twice. His first marriage to Venita Varden in 1936 ended in 1938 when Venita got an interlocutory decree of divorce. They reconciled, but finally divorced in 1944. (She died in 1948 in the crash of United Airlines Flight 624 at Mount Carmel, Pennsylvania).

Oakie's second marriage was to actress Victoria Horne in 1950, with whom he lived at "Oakridge" until his death in 1978.

Jack Oakie died on January 23, 1978, in Los Angeles, California at the age of 74 from an aortic aneurysm. His remains were interred at Forest Lawn Memorial Park, Glendale (top of the hill, Whispering Pines section), in Los Angeles County.

Oakridge estate

Jack and Victoria Oakie lived their entire married life at "Oakridge", their 11-acre (45,000 m2) estate at 18650 Devonshire Street (just west of Reseda Boulevard) in Northridge, a suburb of Los Angeles in the San Fernando Valley. They acquired the former "Marwyck" estate of actress Barbara Stanwyck in 1950. Stanwyck commissioned the original residence designed by Paul Williams. Oakie planted a citrus orchard and bred Afghan Hounds, at one time having up to 100 dogs on the property.

Victoria Oakie continued to live there after her husband's death and bequeathed the estate to the University of Southern California, which sold it to developers. After two failed attempts to develop the property, Oakridge was acquired by the City of Los Angeles in December, 2009.[3] Oakridge is considered to be one of the last remnants of the large Northridge equestrian estates, famed for former thoroughbred breeding. The city plans to use the property as a park and community event center. The Paul Williams house and the grounds are Los Angeles Historic-Cultural Monument #484.[4][5][6]


In 1981, the "Jack Oakie Lecture on Comedy in Film" was established as an annual event of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. At the inaugural presentation, Oakie was described as "a master of comic timing and a beloved figure in the industry."[7]

Jack Oakie's star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame is at 6752 Hollywood Boulevard, and his hand and footprints can be found at Grauman's Chinese Theater in Hollywood.

A small display celebrating the comedy and fame of Jack Oakie is at Motion Picture & Television Country House and Hospital in Woodland Hills, California. There is a plaque in the ground in front of the home where he was born in Sedalia, Missouri.

Jack Oakie is mentioned in the Coen Brothers film Barton Fink, which is set in Hollywood during the 1940s.


Year Film Role Notes
1923 His Children's Children Minor Role Uncredited
Big Brother Bit Part Uncredited
1924 His Darker Self Minor Role Uncredited
Classmates Bit Part Uncredited
1928 Finders Keepers B.B.Brown
Road House Sam
The Fleet's In Searchlight Doyle
Someone to Love Michael Casey
1929 Sin Town "Chicken" O'Toole
The Dummy Dopey Hart
Chinatown Nights The Reporter
The Wild Party Al
Close Harmony Ben Barney
The Man I Love Lew Layton
Street Girl Joe Spring (USA title: Barber John's Boy)
Hard to Get Marty Martin
Fast Company Elmer Kane
Sweetie Tap-Tap Thompson
Hit the Deck Bilge
1930 The Social Lion Marco Perkins
The Sap from Syracuse Littleton Looney (aka The Sap from Abroad from Abroad)
Let's Go Native Voltaire McGinnis
Paramount on Parade Himself (as one of the MC's of the film)
Galas de la Paramount Comedy Episode
Sea Legs Searchlight Doyle
1931 The Gang Buster "Cyclone" Case
June Moon Frederick Martin Stevens
Dude Ranch Jennifer
Touchdown Babe Barton (UK title: Playing the Game)
1932 Dancers in the Dark Duke Taylor
Sky Bride Alec Dugan
Make Me a Star Himself Uncredited
Million Dollar Legs Migg Tweeny
Once in a Lifetime George Lewis
Madison Square Garden Eddie Burke
If I Had a Million Pvt. Mulligan
Uptown New York Eddie Doyle
1933 From Hell to Heaven Charlie Bayne
Sailor Be Good Kelsey Jones
The Eagle and the Hawk Mike Richards
College Humor Barney Shirrel
Too Much Harmony Benny Day
Sitting Pretty Chick Parker
Alice in Wonderland Tweedledum
1934 Looking for Trouble Casey
Murder at the Vanities Jack Ellery
Shoot the Works Nicky Nelson (UK title: Thank Your Stars)
College Rhythm Francis J. Finnegan
1935 The Call of the Wild Shorty Hoolihan
The Big Broadcast of 1936 Spud Miller
1936 King of Burlesque Joe Cooney
Collegiate (UK title: Charm School) Jerry Craig
Colleen Joe Cork
Florida Special Bangs Carter
The Texas Rangers Henry B. "Wahoo" Jones
That Girl from Paris Whammo Lonsdale
1937 Champagne Waltz Happy Gallagher
Super-Sleuth Willard "Bill" Martin
The Toast of New York Luke
Fight for Your Lady Ham Hamilton
Hitting a New High Corny Davis
1938 Radio City Revels Harry Miller
The Affairs of Annabel Lanny Morgan
Annabel Takes a Tour Lanny Morgan (aka Annabel Takes a Trip)
Thanks for Everything Bates
1940 Young People Joe Ballantine
The Great Dictator Benzino Napaloni Nominated — Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor
Tin Pan Alley Harry Calhoun
Little Men Willie the Fox
1941 The Great American Broadcast Chuck Hadley
Navy Blues Cake O'Hara
Rise and Shine Boley Bolenciecwcz
1942 Song of the Islands Rusty Smith
Iceland Slip Riggs (UK title: Katina)
1943 Something to Shout About Larry Martin
Hello Frisco, Hello Dan Daley
Wintertime Skip Hutton
1944 It Happened Tomorrow Uncle Oscar Smith aka Gigolini
The Merry Monahans Pete Monahan
Sweet and Low-Down Popsy
Bowery to Broadway Michael O'Rourke
1945 That's the Spirit Steve "Slim" Gogarty
On Stage Everybody Michael Sullivan
1946 She Wrote the Book Jerry Marlowe
1948 Northwest Stampede Mike Kirby (Clem)
When My Baby Smiles at Me Bozo Evans
1949 Thieves' Highway Slob
1950 Last of the Buccaneers Sgt. Dominick
1951 Tomahawk Sol Beckworth (UK title: Battle of Powder River)
1956 Around the World in 80 Days Captain of the 'SS Henrietta'
1959 The Wonderful Country Travis Hyte
1960 The Rat Race Mac, Owner of Macs Bar
1961 Lover Come Back J. Paxton Miller



  1. 1 2 3 Christensen, Lawrence O.; Foley, William E.; Kremer, Gary R. (1999). Dictionary of Missouri Biography. Columbia, Missouri: University of Missouri Press. p. 578.
  2. Jack Oakie biography at the Internet Movie Database website. Accessed June 16, 2007.
  3. Northridge West Neighborhood Council Bulletin, June 19, 2010
  4. Book description for Jack Oakie's Oakridge at Amazon.com. Accessed June 16, 2007.
  5. "City of Los Angeles Acquires Historic Oakridge Estate" (PDF). City of Los Angeles, Department of City Planning, Office of Historic Resources. July 2010. p. 5. Retrieved November 6, 2010.
  6. "Historic-Cultural Monument (HCM) List" (PDF). City of Los Angeles, Department of City Planning, Office of Historic Resources. August 9, 2010. Retrieved November 6, 2010.
  7. "The Jack Oakie Lecture on Comedy in Film" at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences website. Accessed June 16, 2007.
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