The notable life of Fuller Mellish, Jr.
by Michael Perlman
Sep 12, 2018 | 2043 views | 0 0 comments | 88 88 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Fuller Mellish, Jr as McKenna & Demaris Dore as Daisy in Present Arms (1928, Courtesy of NYPL).
Fuller Mellish, Jr as McKenna & Demaris Dore as Daisy in Present Arms (1928, Courtesy of NYPL).
To mark the 100th anniversary of the end of WWI, last week’s column paid tribute to Clarence O. Collins, a young soldier from Forest Hills who died in the war. Harold Irving Fuller Mellish, Jr. was another local man who served in The Great War. He resided at The Gladstone at 108-02 72nd Avenue, but passed away in 1930 at the age of 31.

Both of these Forest Hills residents will be a part of the “Spirits Alive” event hosted by Friends of Maple Grove on September 29 from 2 to 5 p.m. at Maple Grove Cemetery.

“He was an actor of the Broadway stage and early films, was cited for bravery, survived the war, and started a successful career in acting, but sadly died of a cerebral hemorrhage,” said Friends of Maple Grove president Carl Ballenas, who is also a local historian, author, and teacher.

The WWI heroes and other buried in the cemetery will be dramatized by a cast in period clothing and props.

“Our motto is ‘where history comes alive,’ and we strive to create programs, events, and concerts that honor the memory of the 88,000-plus individuals found at Maple Grove,” said Ballenas.

Mellish was a native of London who debuted on stage in “The Dancers” in 1923. He would appear in numerous other stage productions, as well as play a vaudeville hoofer villain named Hitch Nelson in the 1929 musical talkie, “Applause,” which was filmed at Paramount’s Astoria Studios.

It was designated one of the 10 best films of 1929 by The National Board of Review, and was significant for being one of the era’s few films that broke free of bulky sound technology equipment.

He also appeared in the 1930 drama “Sarah and Son,” portrayed the role of a racketeer and bootlegger in “The River Inn,” and was a hard-boiled managing editor in the stage adaptation of “The Front Page,” one of his most famous appearances.

“My family moved to America when I was young, and when I went to school, I studied architecture,” reads Mellish's script from Spirits Alive. “But I did have a yearning for the stage and to become an actor, but my father frowned upon that idea and urged me to enter the business profession.

“When WWI broke out, I served overseas and earned a citation for bravery,” it continues. “I carried a message to the battalion command post, a distance of more than a mile, through an enemy barrage and heavy gas concentrations.”

Mellish was a member of one of England’s earliest theatrical families, with his paternal grandma Rose LeClercq regarded as a leading British comedic actress of the day. He was the godchild of notable actor Sir Henry Irving, who performed with his father, Fuller Mellish, Sr., also a noted Shakespearean actor.

His sister, Vera Fuller Mellish, had roles in the 1915 film “The Bondwoman” and the 1917 film “The Beautiful Adventure.” Her Broadway appearances included “A Little Journey” in 1918 and “The Solid Gold Cadillac” in 1953.

“It is fortunate that Fuller Mellish, Jr. of the Gladstone Apartments is not economical,” read the Daily Star in 1930. “Otherwise the residents of Forest Hills would be treated very often to the spectacle of a personage in scant derby, scant suit, bright-hued shoes and floriated bow-tie pursuing with snappy demeanor his way along the streets of the community.” Mellish married Olive Reeves-Smith on June 18, 1927.

“Our courtship was called a fire-escape romance!” reads his script. “She was performing at the Vanderbilt Theatre and I was at the Cort Theatre. The theaters adjoin, and during waits between performances and rehearsals, we would sit and chat from the adjoining fire-escapes.”

Mellish's funeral took place at Fox Funeral Home, once situated at 108-14 Continental Avenue. He was taken on a caisson that was drawn by six horses from the Jamaica Artillery Corps to Maple Grove.

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