Gage Ellis Clarke (March 3, 1900 – October 23, 1964) was an American stage, television, and film character actor. The first half of his career was dedicated to the theatre, predominantly to Broadway productions, while television and film roles dominated his work during the latter half of his career. Among his memorable television roles is his portrayal of the fastidious school official “Mr. Bascomb” during the 1952-1953 broadcast season of the sitcom Mister Peepers starring Wally Cox. Clarke also performed in many other television series produced between 1949 and the early 1960s as well as in more than a dozen Hollywood features. He was sometimes credited as Gage Clark.
Born in Vassar, Michigan in 1900, Gage was the only child of Metta L. (née Gage) and George D. Clarke, who worked as a bookkeeper and later as a bank cashier in the town of Vassar. Gage in September 1918 registered with the United States military draft in his hometown, but World War I ended before he could enter service. Two years later, in January 1920, the federal census shows that Gage was not employed and was still living with his parents in Vassar; but by 1929 he had relocated to New York City, where he was performing in major Broadway productions. The quality of the plays in which Clarke was cast suggests that he had gained at least some practical experience as an actor, if not formal instruction in drama, in the years prior to his move to New York.
In November and December 1929, Clarke portrayed the character Geoffry in the Broadway production of A Ledge presented at the Assembly Theatre. He then had parts in the 1931 plays The Venetian Glass Nephew and Devil in the Mind. The next year he had a significant role in The Inside Story, directed by A. H. Van Buren at the National Theatre, and in 1933-1934 he played Buck Buckner in Jezebel starring Miriam Hopkins at the Ethel Barrymore Theatre. In his review of Jezebel at the time, Abel Green of the widely read trade paper Variety is critical of the play’s script, but he commends the cast’s performances and includes Clarke among the production’s “outstanders”. Clarke for the remainder of the 1930s continued to act in a variety of other Broadway productions such as Lost Horizons, Parnell, Many Mansions, The Monocled Man, Tomorrow’s a Holiday, Escape This Night, Summer Night, Great Lady, and I Know What I Like. In the 1937 play Many Mansions—described as a “dignified invective against the church”—Clarke again received very favorable reviews for his central role as Reverend Roger Crandall.
When the United States entered World War II, Clarke was 41 years old, still eligible for induction into military service. He therefore joined the U.S. Army in 1942 and served in the Transportation Corps as a private in Company B of the 487th Port Battalion, which was initially deployed to Europe to supply troops for the allied invasion of France in 1944. After the war he resumed his acting career, although in the late 1940s he began to focus increasingly on obtaining roles in the new, rapidly expanding medium of commercial television. Yet, Clarke continued to return periodically to the stage. In 1950 and 1951, for example, he performed again on Broadway in the role of Dr. Gagnon in The Happy Time at the Plymouth Theatre. In its review of that play’s opening night, Variety yet again highlights his performance, reporting that “Gage Clarke is expertly comic as a querulous, disheveled sawbones”.
Clarke’s earliest credited television roles date from 1949, when he performed in the sitcom The Hartmans, in the pilot episode “Goodbye New York” for the anthology series Suspense, and in six installments of Kraft Television Theatre. Over the next 15 years he was cast as a supporting player in dozens of other series and often multiple times on episodes of some of the most popular television shows of the 1950s and early 1960s. A few of those series are Mister Peepers, Lux Video Theatre, Maverick, The Real McCoys, The Twilight Zone, Alfred Hitchcock Presents, Perry Mason, and the long-running western Gunsmoke. One of his most prominent roles was in the comedic episode of Maverick titled “Greenbacks Unlimited,” in which he shares extremely extensive screen time with James Garner. On Gunsmoke he performed as various characters in 12 episodes between 1956 and 1963, although most often in the roles of Dodge City’s hotel clerk Mr. Dobie and the town’s bank manager Mr. Botkin. By the end of 1963, Clarke began to curtail his work as his health declined. His final television performance is on another Western series, Destry, in the 1964 episode “The Last Girl from Gemmorah”, which aired on ABC seven months before Clarke’s death.
Clarke’s work in films began relatively late in his acting career, so his credits on the “big screen” are not as extensive as those for his performances in the theatre or on television. His first notable film roles are 1956 releases, both psychological thrillers: Nightmare in which he plays the villain and The Bad Seed in which he portrays Reginald Tasker, a mystery writer and amateur criminologist. In his final film, The Monkey’s Uncle, he portrays another school official, a college president. That Walt Disney production was released nationally in August 1965, 10 months after Clarke’s death.
Personal life and death
Clarke never married. On October 23, 1964, he died of lung cancer at the Motion Picture Country Hospital in Woodland Hills, California at the age of 64. His obituaries report that he had “no immediate survivors”. His gravesite is at the same cemetery where his parents are buried, at Riverside Cemetery in Vassar, Michigan.
|1956||Nightmare||Louis Belnap / Harry Britton|
|1956||The Bad Seed||“Reggie” Tasker|
|1957||Fury at Showdown||Chad Deasy|
|1957||The Invisible Boy||Dr. Bannerman|
|1958||The Brothers Karamazov||Defense counsel|
|1958||The Return of Dracula||Reverend Doctor Whitfield|
|1958||I Want to Live!||Attorney Richard G. Tibrow|
|1960||Pollyanna||Mr. Cory Murg|
|1960||Midnight Lace||Salesman in gun shop||Uncredited|
|1961||The Great Impostor||Mr. Warren||Uncredited|
|1961||The Absent Minded Professor||Reverend Bosworth|
|1965||The Monkey’s Uncle||College president||(final film role, released posthumously, 18/8/’65).|