Though we know him as the big, bad Jim Taylor from Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, the actor Edward Arnold was actually well-known for his ability to play the ambitious, overpowering “bad guys” on screen. Born in New York to German immigrant parents, Arnold was actually orphaned at age 11. By 12, he started his career on stage and then became an extra in western films for Essnay Studio.
Though Arnold originally wanted to be the slender leading man on the big screen, he found his niche in character parts, commenting “The bigger I got, the better character roles I received!” After many years on Broadway, his talking picture debut was as Jake Dillion (a gangster) in the 1933 film Whistling in the Dark, a character he originated in the Broadway play the film was based on. He continued to play many supporting villains until his big role as James Buchanan Brady, the real life entrepreneur, in the 1935 biographical film Diamond Jim, which also starred Jean Arthur as his romantic interest. In fact, Arthur and Arnold were frequent collaborators, appearing in several films together, including the 1937 film Easy Living, where Arnold plays a rich, greedy banker and Arthur stars as his mistaken mistress.
Arnold and Arthur from the film Easy Living (1937)
Though Taylor appeared in over 150 films in his acting career, there are a few notable films that established his role in Hollywood as the powerful tycoon:
- Come and Get It (1936) where Arnold plays a ruthless man who rises from lowly lumberjack to head of the logging industry.
- Sutter’s Gold (1936) a biographical film where he played John Sutter, a man who held a prominent role in the start of the California Gold Rush.
- Toast of New York (1937) where he partners with Cary Grant as a towering stockbroker whose greed goes beyond control. Fun fact: Arnold was billed above Grant in this film.
- You Can’t Take it With You (1938). Another Capra film starring James Stewart, Arthur and Arnold as a successful banker who aims for complete control and monopoly. Arnold also held a role in the Capra film Meet John Doe.
- Devil and Daniel Webster (1941) where the actor portrays Daniel Webster, a widely love senator who champions for the little guy. However, will Webster sell his soul to the devil to become President?
Additionally, Arnold was the first actor to portray Nero Wolfe, a large commanding “armchair detective” in the 1936 film Meet Nero Wolfe. Towards the end of his career, Arnold focused more on radio, playing the chief part of the President in the ABC radio program Mr. President (1947-1953), a weekly show that told an incident in the life of a President, only revealing who it was at the end of the show.
Though he passed away in 1956, Edward Arnold truly made his memorable mark as the greedy, controlling tycoon in cinematic history, giving new meaning to the phrase “It’s good to be bad.”