Open main menu

William Felix Knight (stage name: Felix Knight, November 1, 1908 – June 18, 1998), was an American tenor, actor, and vocal teacher, best known for his role as Tom-Tom in the 1934 Laurel and Hardy holiday musical film Babes in Toyland.[2][3]

Felix Knight
Felix Knight.png
Born
William Felix Knight

November 1, 1908
DiedJune 18, 1998 (aged 89)
The Bronx, New York City, US
NationalityAmerican
OccupationActor, tenor, vocal teacher
Years active1929–1998
Known forTom-Tom in Babes in Toyland
Height5'8"[1]
Spouse(s)Alice Moore (1935–1939, divorced)
Ethel Blume (1940–1998, his death)
Children1

Early lifeEdit

William Felix Knight was born in Macon, Georgia, the son of a cotton farmer who died in a hunting accident when Knight was five. Seven years later, he moved with his family to Pensacola, Florida, where he began to play the guitar. By his mid-teens, Knight was singing at dances and nightspots. By 1925, he was featured on a local radio station, and a movie company manager on location at the time to make a feature film urged Knight to travel to and try his luck in California.

Beginning of fame (1929–1934)Edit

Knight found a vocal teacher in California, but was unable to earn a movie contract. To compensate, Knight did local singing jobs and church work, eventually gaining financial support from the Harkness Scholarship Foundation to aid in paying for his vocal lessons. By 1929, Knight was singing in a Santa Barbara, California Columbia network (later CBS) station, and additionally, had a national show, WCC Presents Felix Knight. Knight entered the Arwater Kent Foundation Scholarship Auditions of the Air, and made it to Manhattan prior to placing second in the judging.

Upon returning to California, Knight sang at the Hollywood Bowl in the Giuseppe Verdi opera La traviata alongside Lily Pons, and then traveled to San Francisco, California, where he did Hector Berlioz's La damnation de Faust with the city's opera company. Once he returned to Hollywood, he continued voice studying and radio work, including the CBS program Shell Mountain House with Raymond Paige and his Orchestra. Knight finally made his screen debut in 1934 in RKO Pictures Down to Their Last Yacht as a South Seas native who sings "Malakamokolu."[4] Following this was the role of a gypsy in the Charles BoyerLoretta Young picture Caravan, starring Boyer.

Peak of fame (1934–1937)Edit

 
Knight in his most famous role as Tom-Tom in Babes in Toyland

Knight's biggest and best-known role was as the love interest of Little Bo Peep, Tom-Tom, the Piper's Son, in the 1934 Laurel and Hardy musical film Babes in Toyland, based on the famed 1903 operetta by Victor Herbert. Not only did Knight play the romantic lead, but he also performed several musical numbers, including "A Castle in Spain." Despite being placed under a contract with MGM, Knight did no films directly for the studio. Rather, he was loaned out for other assignments, such as attending Warner Bros. for two musical shorts: Springtime in Holland (1935) and Carnival Day (1936). In the former, he was cast as a Dutch milk seller, and sang the numbers "The Girl on the Little Blue Plate" and "Beside the Zuider Zee",[5] while he played a jockey who romances a flower girl (Joan Barclay), and sang the numbers "The Rose in Her Hair"[6] and "Steppin' Along." MGM released his next feature, The Bohemian Girl, but similar to Babes in Toyland, it was made by producer Hal Roach independently, and reunited Laurel and Hardy with Knight; the feature also gave Knight a small role—a gypsy singer who performs a number from the Michael William BalfeAlfred Bunn opera of 1843.[7] A test Knight had done for Roach ended up in Pick a Star, an MGM musical comedy film that also featured Laurel and Hardy in a non-speaking guest bit; Knight was briefly seen as a nightclub singer. Even though he studied acting with Irving Pichel, no further film opportunities came to Knight, other than a potential film series in Australia that in time, failed to materialize.

Life in New York and later life (1937–1960s)Edit

Knight moved to New York City in 1937. There, he made radio recordings for Thesaurus Transcriptions with Nathaniel Shilkret and his Orchestra, and a year later, he recorded nine songs for Victor Records with Leo Reisman's orchestra. He also started to perform on network radio again, first with the Schaefer All-Star Parade on NBC, which ran from 1938 to 1940, as well as the NBC Blue Network's Music Appreciation Hour in 1938, and the RCA Magic Key [The Magic Key] during the 1938–39 season. Knight also had a weekly program on the radio station WEAF (later known as WNBC (AM)) every Thursday. In 1938, he was one of the finalists on NBC's Metropolitan Opera Auditions of the Air, losing to John Carter by a single vote. In 1939, he made his concert recital debut at The Town Hall, singing selections from Johannes Brahms, Francesco Cavalli, Alessandro Stradella, and Richard Strauss. Knight made his Broadway debut in October 1940 as the featured singer in It Happens on Ice, and in 1942, he sang the role of Camile de Jolidon in Franz Lehár's The Merry Widow at Carnegie Hall. In his final Broadway role, he played Almaviva in Once Over Lightly in 1942 with Igor Gorin and Grace Panvini; the production was based on Gioachino Rossini's The Barber of Seville.

In 1940, Knight again recorded for Victor Records, and continued to be heard on radio in musical programs such as The Ford Sunday Evening Hour, and Music Hall of the Air (Radio City Music Hall), and the game program So You Think You Know Music. Knight also served in World War II, and was present at Guadalcanal.[8]

1946 was an eventful, but prosperous year for Knight. Not only did he continue to be very active in radio, but he also signed with Decca Records and became a member of the Metropolitan Opera. While at Decca, he recorded operettas and popular songs, and was a vocalist with the Guy Lombardo and Russ Morgan orchestras. For his debut at the Met, Knight sang the role of Count Almaviva in Il barbiere di Siviglia, the same role he did in the English-language version of the opera Once Over Lightly four years prior. He remained at the Met until 1950, but also continued to appear on radio in series including The Pet Milk Show and The American Album of Familiar Music.

 
A 1947 promotional photo of Knight (left) as Belmonte and Eleanor Steber (right) as Constanze in Die Entführung aus dem Serail

Knight had his own television series, Felix Knight Sings, in the early 1950s, airing every Tuesday and Thursday afternoon. His other television work included appearances on NBC Television Concert Hall in 1948, singing Rodolfo's aria from La bohème on Your Show of Shows in April 1950, and performing Christmas hymns on a holiday edition of Juvenile Jury in December 1951. During this time, Knight also created more records for RCA Victor including the tenor roles in excerpts from Victor Herbert operettas with soprano Doretta Morrow.

After leaving the Met, Knight appeared for two months at the Capitol Theatre, then spent the next several years giving concerts (appearing with the Philadelphia Orchestra and the Detroit Symphony Orchestra, among others), performing in summer stock, and working supper- and nightclubs. In 1960, he and Mimi Benzell did an album from the musicals Can-Can and Kiss Me, Kate for Design Records. On television, Knight was an occasional guest on late-night talk programs such as The Jack Paar Show in September 1961.

Toward the end of the 1960s, Knight had grown fatigued of constant traveling and launched yet another music career, this time, as a vocal teacher. His students included both Broadway and opera singers, and he continued to teach for the remainder of his life. Knight was a member of the Founding Tent of the Sons of the Desert, the Laurel and Hardy international society, and he attended several of their conventions.

Personal lifeEdit

Marriage and childrenEdit

While on the set of Babes in Toyland, Knight fell in love with fellow co-star Alice Moore, who played the Queen of Hearts. They eloped to Yuma, Arizona and married there on October 17, 1935. They divorced on March 14, 1939.[9]

In 1940, Knight married Ethel Blume, a radio actress who appeared in audio series including The Adventures of Helen, The Aldrich Family, Easy Aces, John's Other Wife, and Joyce Jordan, M.D. The two had one child, William Felix Knight II, who at one point would star in an episode of Juvenile Jury in 1954.[10]

DeathEdit

Knight died on June 18, 1998 at Calvary Hospital in the Bronx, New York City, and was survived by his wife and son. He is buried in the Woodlawn Cemetery in the Bronx.[11] Not long before his death, Knight told writer Laura Wagner (Classic Images, June 1998): "I did my best, I tried to be a nice guy. I helped people whenever I could, and I never complained. ... For a country boy from a cotton patch in Macon, Georgia—I think I did pretty good."

His wife, Ethel Blume, died in Brookline, Massachusetts on January 16, 2014, two days after her 95th birthday.

FilmographyEdit

FilmEdit

Year Title Role Notes
1934 Caravan Gypsy Singer Uncredited, Also appeared in the French-language version
Down to Their Last Yacht Island Singer Uncredited, Screen debut, sang "Malakamokolu"
Caravan Chanteur Uncredited
Babes in Toyland Tom-Tom Best-known role, first collaboration with Laurel and Hardy and Hal Roach
1935 Springtime in Holland Dutch milk seller Short, sang "The Girl on the Little Blue Plate" and "By the Zuider Zee"
1936 Carnival Day Bobby Short, sang "The Rose in Her Hair" and "Steppin' Along"
The Bohemian Girl Gypsy Singer Second collaboration with Laurel and Hardy and Hal Roach, sang "Then You'll Remember Me"
1937 Pick a Star Nightclub Singer Uncredited, Third collaboration with Laurel and Hardy
(final film role)
1937 Musical Movieland Young Dutchman Short, Uncredited, (archived footage)

TelevisionEdit

Year Title Role Notes
1929 WCC Presents Felix Knight Himself National show
1948 NBC Television Concert Hall Himself Multiple appearances
1950s Felix Knight Sings Host Own television series, aired on Tuesday and Thursday afternoons
1950 Your Show of Shows Himself – Guest Vocalist Aired in April, sang Rodolfo's aria from La bohème
1951 Cavalcade of Stars Himself – Guest Vocalist Season 2 episode 45, aired July 13
Juvenile Jury Himself – Guest Vocalist Aired in December, special holiday edition, performed Christmas hymns
1961 The Jack Paar Show Himself Aired in September
1962 The Tonight Show Himself Aired August 16
1985 Due Teste Senza Cervello Himself [12] Documentary by it:Giancarlo Governi, English translation: "Two Minds Without a Single Thought", featured in portion showing the New York Founding Tent of Sons of the Desert meeting from November 1, 1984 (Knight's 76th birthday)
1986 The Laurel and Hardy Show Singer Archived footage
1987 The Revenge of the Sons of the Desert Himself Video documentary short

StageEdit

Year Title Role[13] Notes
1940–1941 It Happens on Ice Featured singer Broadway debut, 279 performances
1942 The Merry Widow Camile de Jolidon 39 performances at Carnegie Hall
Once Over Lightly Almaviva Last Broadway role, six performances with Igor Gorin and Grace Pavini, based on The Barber of Seville
1946 Il barbiere di Siviglia Count Almaviva Met debut, two performances: November 30 and December 27
Lakmé Gérald Two performances: January 18 and May 1, latter performance in Dallas, Texas
1947 The Warrior Philistine Lord Two performances: January 11 and January 31
Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg Zorn In English, performance on February 26
Die Entführung aus dem Serail Belmonte In English, performance on March 3
Parsifal First Knight Performance on March 13
Die Zauberflöte Priest Three performances: November 14, December 3, and December 20
Lucia di Lammermoor Arturo Two performances: December 16 and December 29
Il barbiere di Siviglia Count Almaviva Performance on December 21
1948 Il barbiere di Siviglia Count Almaviva Six performances: January 7, January 20 (at the American Academy of Music in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania), January 29, February 16, February 28, and December 28
Lucia di Lammermoor Arturo Three performances: January 17, February 21, March 21, the latter at the Boston Opera House
Die Zauberflöte Priest Three performances: January 22, February 9, and March 24
Gala Performance Almaviva in The Barber of Seville: Act II Met Concert at the Metropolitan Opera House
Parsifal First Knight Two performances: March 10 and March 26
1949 Lucia di Lammermoor Arturo Four performances: January 1, February 22, February 25, and December 27
Il barbiere di Siviglia Count Almaviva Five performances: March 11, April 2 (at the Boston Opera House), April 9 (at the Public Auditorium in Cleveland, Ohio), April 30 (at the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles), and May 14 (at the Northrup Auditorium in Minneapolis, Minnesota)
1950 Lucia di Lammermoor Arturo Last performance at the Met

RadioEdit

Year Title Role Notes
1938 Gems From Gershwin Performer Originally broadcast July 10 as a memorial honoring George Gershwin on the eve of the first anniversary of his death, also included Jane Froman, Sonny Schuyler, and the Victor Salon Group, conducted by Nathaniel Shilkret, broadcast was medley of Gershwin tunes from Porgy and Bess
1945 The Andre Kostelanetz Show Performer Originally broadcast May 21, also included Eleanor Steber, conducted by Noël Coward, sang "Someday I'll Find You" alongside Steber
1990 The Nutty Nut News Network Himself [14] Audio interview with Knight recorded at the Sons 7th International Convention in Clearwater, Florida

SoundtrackEdit

Year Title Role Notes
1934 Babes in Toyland Performer (uncredited) "Never Mind, Bo Peep", "Castle In Spain", "Go To Sleep"
1935 Springtime in Holland Performer (uncredited) "Beside the Zuider Zee"; short
1936 Carnival Day Performer (uncredited) "The Rose in Her Hair"; short
The Bohemian Girl Performer (uncredited) "Then You'll Remember Me"
1937 Pick a Star Performer (uncredited) "I've Got It Bad"
1938 Love Walked In Performer Recorded on February 11 by Leo Reisman, released on Victor 27626 and included in the 78rpm album "Leo Reisman Rhythms"
Spring Is Here Performer Recorded on May 5 by Leo Reisman, released on Victor 25842 and included in the 78rpm album "Spring Is Here"
1942 The Merry Widow Camile de Jolidon Alongside Kitty Carlisle, Wilbur Evans, and Lisette Verea, released February 1, 2011
1944 Musical Movieland Performer (uncredited) "Beside the Zuider Zee"; short
1945 The Red Mill Performer Through Decca Records, performed alongside Eileen Farrell, and Wilbur Evans, with a chorus and orchestra conducted by Jay Blackton
1946 A Little Bit of Heaven – A collection of Irish songs sung and played in waltz time Performer Through Decca Records, music played by Russ Morgan and his orchestra, with a mixed chorus directed by Jeffry Alexander
1949 The Desert Song Performer Alongside Kitty Carlisle and Wilbur Evans
1953 Mademoiselle Modiste / Naughty Marietta Performer Alongside Doretta Morrow
1955 Vintage Vocal Jazz / Swing Nº 61 – EPs Collectors, "Giannina Mia" Performer "A Dream" and "Giannina Mía"
1960 Can-Can / Kiss Me, Kate Performer Alongside Mimi Benzell

ReferencesEdit

  1. ^ Felix Knight. (2015). Lordheath.com. Retrieved 4 November 2016, from http://www.lordheath.com/menu1_422.html.
  2. ^ Parish, James Robert., and Michael R. Pitts. Hollywood Songsters: Singers Who Act and Actors Who Sing: A Biographical Dictionary. New York: Routledge, 2003. Google Books. Google.com. Retrieved 22 Apr. 2016 from https://books.google.com/books?id=p3HWDtBhLykC&pg=PA341&lpg=PA341&dq=Hollywood+Songsters:+Garland+to+O'Connor&source=bl&ots=3kGlM2Z4CQ&sig=CR-l2PP08bCVPoWqbz5FIO3SVjw&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwiFobjL4qLMAhUKRSYKHT82DkIQ6AEIJjAC#v=onepage&q=Hollywood%20Songsters%3A%20Garland%20to%20O'Connor&f=false.
  3. ^ "Felix Knight." IMDb. IMDb.com, n.d. Retrieved 22 Apr. 2016 from https://www.imdb.com/name/nm0460901/.
  4. ^ Lieurance, Charles. "Felix Knight Croons "Malakamokalu" in DOWN TO THEIR LAST YACHT (1934)." YouTube. YouTube, 15 Feb. 2014. Retrieved 22 Apr. 2016 from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=StghZ_6R5UE.
  5. ^ Lombardo, Andrea. "Felix Knight – Beside the Zuider Zee The Girl on the Little Blue Plate." YouTube. YouTube, 07 Nov. 2011. Retrieved 22 Apr. 2016 from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mNZb7bQuu3E.
  6. ^ Lombardo, Andrea. "Felix Knight – Rose in Her Hair." YouTube. YouTube, 29 June 2011. Retrieved 22 Apr. 2016 from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aDES2nI7IuQ.
  7. ^ varadero1839. "When Other Lips – Felix Knight – The Bohemian Girl – Laurel, Hardy." YouTube. YouTube, 13 Jan. 2011. Retrieved 22 Apr. 2016 from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xyb3MKqfzSg.
  8. ^ Felix Knight. (2015). Lordheath.com. Retrieved 4 November 2016, from http://www.lordheath.com/menu1_422.html.
  9. ^ Felix Knight. (2015). Lordheath.com. Retrieved 4 November 2016, from http://www.lordheath.com/menu1_422.html.
  10. ^ tvdays. "JUVENILE JURY with JACK BARRY 1954– CLASSIC TV SHOWS & COMMERCIALS on DVD at TVDAYS.com." YouTube. YouTube, 31 Oct. 2007. Retrieved 22 Apr. 2016 from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rjkz78PEhmg.
  11. ^ Felix Knight (1908–1998) – Find A Grave Memorial. (2009). Findagrave.com. Retrieved 6 Oct. 2016, from https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/11683769
  12. ^ Gemma, Benedetto. "Laurel and Hardy: 'Two Minds without a single Thought': Sons of the Desert NY Tent meeting from 1984". YouTube. YouTube, 3 Nov. 2009. Retrieved 6 Oct. 2016 from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JbhQpj9mPTc.
  13. ^ Felix Knight, Internet Broadway Database, accessed April 23, 2016
  14. ^ MacGillivray, Scott. "A Nutty Nut Network News Exclusive: Felix Knight Interview 1990". (1990). Nuttynutnewsnetwork.co.uk. Retrieved 6 Oct. 2016, from http://nuttynutnewsnetwork.co.uk/felixknight.html.

External linksEdit