The ultimate milquetoast and ineffectual boss in comedy outings, meek character actor Ernest Truex was a small (5'3"), adenoidal, very well-dressed fellow, a popular avuncular type in later years who enjoyed a seven-decade-long career. He was born September 19, 1889, in Kansas City, Missouri, the son of a physician. Raised in Rich Hill, Missouri, he was actually trained in acting by one of his father's actor/patients (in exchange for mounting medical bills). An acting prodigy, Truex performed Shakespeare as a small child and was at one time dubbed "The Youngest Hamlet" by promoters (the five-year-old actually played the "ghost" of Hamlet). Upon his parents' separation when Ernest was nine, he and his mother toured the West in a show billed as "The Child Entertainers," in which the young talent recited everything from "Othello" to "Romeo and Juliet." Making appearances in stock and vaudeville, he took his first Broadway bow as a teenager with "Wildfire" starring Lillian Russell in 1908, and continued in the same vein with "Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm" (1910) and "Very Good Eddie" (1915), which also featured his first wife, actress Julia Mills. In 1913, he appeared on Broadway with Mary Pickford in the popular play "A Good Little Devil."
That same year Truex made his film debut with Pickford in Caprice (1913), then appeared with her in the film version of A Good Little Devil (1914). With his film career now off and running, he found a fairly comfortable niche for himself as mild-mannered, mischievous heroes in comedy capers. He played the title role in Artie, the Millionaire Kid (1916), as well as the protagonist in Come on In (1918) and Good-Bye, Bill (1918), not to mention a number of humorous shorts. His last silent film, Six Cylinder Love (1923) as Gilbert Sterling, came from an earlier Broadway success.
Truex continued to rack up a strong body of stage work in the late 1920s and early 1930s. His first wife had died around this time and he married stage actress Mary Jane Barrett, appearing with her in New York in such plays as "The Third Little Show" (1931), "The Hook-Up (1935), and "Fredericka" (1937). In 1934 Truex directed, co-produced, and starred in the play "Sing and Whistle" which co-starred Sylvia Field. She would later become his third wife upon his divorce from Ms. Barrett, and came into her own in later years as the kindly Mrs. Wilson on the Dennis the Menace (1959) sitcom.
With his first wife Julia Mills he had two children, Philip and James. With his second wife Mary Jane Barrett he had one child, Barry Truex. All three of his sons went into acting for the first decade of their adult lives. Philip and James Truex were mainly theatre actors but Barry Truex also had substantial roles in movies. Barry Truex's best known role was as the young Benny Goodman in The Benny Goodman Story (1956)
A much sought-after character lead and farceur after the arrival of sound, Truex appeared in a host of standout roles in such comedies as Get That Venus (1933), Whistling in the Dark (1933) (another stage success), Everybody Dance (1936), a British musical comedy that co-starred Cicely Courtneidge, and Mama Runs Wild (1937). Forever the henpecked husband or exasperated executive, he was an avid scene stealer in The Adventures of Marco Polo (1938), Bachelor Mother (1939), the classic His Girl Friday (1940), Lillian Russell (1940) and Christmas in July (1940). Broadway triumphs kept rolling in as well with "Best Sellers," "George Washington Slept Here" and "Androcles and the Lion."
The quality of his films fell off in the postwar years and he started scouting out TV projects. He appeared as a regular on the Mister Peepers (1952) series, as a grandfather in Jamie (1953), a boss in The Ann Sothern Show (1958), and as "Pop" in the December Bride (1954) spin-off Pete and Gladys (1960). Truex died on June 27, 1973, in Fallbrook, California, of a heart attack at age 83.