Arthur Treacher was the complete cinema butler, a cantankerous, bored presence in many Hollywood films in the '30s and '40s and later Merv Griffin's television sidekick.
Treacher's emergence as Hollywood's butler was actually the result of an accident — and his unusual 6-foot 4-inch height.
After a stage debut in his native Brighton, England, in 1919, he played nothing but singing comedy leads in legitimate theater. He came to the United States in 1926 and was playing the same kind of part in his first motion picture when he whacked his head on a microphone boom.
"It knocked me silly," he recalled, "and I simply couldn't remember my lines. They fired me. Gave me some money and the 'Don't call us, we'll call you' routine. Oddly enough, they did call me. They offered me another role in the same picture — as a butler. So I took the job, worked for 28 days, and, well, that was more or less that. You could say I became a movie butler because I was simply too confoundedly tall to be a gentleman!"
Actually, he would never have become an actor at all, had the wishes of his family been consulted. Treacher was the scion of a line of barristers and brewers — no actors dangling from the family tree at all.
He worked for his father's law firm and then served as a captain in the Queens Westminster Rifles during World War I. At war's end, he tried to humor his family by returning to the law, "but it was no go," he said.
He failed his examinations because of a tendency to appear with roving theatrical troupes instead of studying, and finally announced that he was through with law.
His parents refused assistance — or blessing — but Treacher stuck to his resolve and within a few months was a chorus boy, appearing at the Brighton Hippodrome for a weekly stipend of seven pounds.
A year or so later, he was playing leads and second leads with such luminaries of the era as Clifton Webb and Georgia O'Ramey. In 1926, he came to New York to appear in the Shuberts' hit "The Great Temptation."
He came to Hollywood in 1933, but almost a year passed before the incident with the microphone boom turned him into the Perfect Gentleman's Gentleman — and made his career.
His films included "David Copperfield," "Star Spangled Rhythm," "Amazing Mrs. Holliday," "National Velvet" and "That Midnight Kiss."
A biography released by a Hollywood studio said Treacher left his long career in the movies because he wanted to get back to his first love, the stage. To which Treacher once said, "Bosh."
"I didn't quit the moves. They quit me. Or rather, I pulled out just before they quit me. When butlers went out of style, so did Pip (a nickname he was given by his mother)."
Treacher was married in 1940 to actress Virginia Taylor.
He is perhaps best remembered as the announcer and sometimes sparring partner for talk show host Merv Griffin. He left Griffin's show in 1970, making his retirement announcement during the taping of a show on which he celebrated his 76th birthday and 51st year in show business. In later years, his name was associated with a chain of fish and chips restaurants on the East Coast.