Life in The Riviera: Actor Charles Ruggles Lived on Amalfi in the 1930s

Lilyan Tashman with Ruggle
Photo courtesy of IMDb

By MICHAEL OLDHAM | Contributing Writer

Charles Ruggles was a lovable and witty character actor. His decades-long Hollywood career began to take off in the Great Depression era of the 1930s.

The actor lived in Pacific Palisades at one time or another, with one source tying him to an Amalfi Drive address, beginning in the same decade.

If you are of a certain age, you may not know the name Charles Ruggles, but you more than likely would recognize his classic, screen-ready face from Hollywood’s Golden Age of film productions.

Ruggles stood out to movie goers who watched the all-star comedy of 1932 “If I Had a Million.” In the film, Ruggles played Henry Peabody, a harried, mistreated man who finally goes into a frenzy in a china shop.

Born in Los Angeles in 1886, Ruggles, also known as Charlie Ruggles, was memorably paired with another popular character actress of the 1930s, Mary Boland. Ruggles and Boland starred in a series of comedies such as “If I Had a Million,” “Six of a Kind” and “Ruggles of Red Gap.”

With Mary Boland in “Mama Loves Papa” (1933)
Photo courtesy of IMDb

Ruggles quickly developed on screen into someone with the look and persona of a favorite uncle, with his distinctive mannerisms and often face of befuddlement when things seemed to be all too much for him.

Ruggles knew his place in the acting world: “If anyone cast me for a villain, I’d love it. But I just wouldn’t know what to do about it.”

Always nattily dressed, the nice-looking Ruggles was usually outfitted in a suit and tie or bow-tie. He sported a finely trimmed mustache that perfectly matched his combed back head of startling white, parted hair.

Ruggles had piercing blue eyes that, when they came on screen, always immediately caught the attention of the movie audience.

Ruggles once said, “It was my mastery of the sputter system of dialogue which was my chief asset as an actor.”

Ruggles’ acting began on the stage. In 1905, before he was 20 years of age, he played in a stock production of “Nathan Hale.” By 1914, the then-budding actor was in the Broadway play called “Help Wanted.”

“I’ll always be grateful for my grounding in theater,” Ruggles once said. “The stage was my first and only love.”

Also in 1914, Ruggles married actress and singer Adele Rowland, a marriage that only lasted a couple of years.

It is difficult to track down Ruggles’ residential history in the Palisades: A few independent sources point to Ruggles having lived in the Palisades.

Photo courtesy of Wikipedia

If one goes by The Movieland Directory, Ruggles lived on Amalfi Drive as early as the 1930s. The section of homes along Amalfi where Ruggles once lived is a quiet street of trees.

Ruggles’ home was located between Will Rogers State Historic Park and The Riviera Country Club.

The actor, no doubt, would have had a dog (or two or three) around his home; Ruggles was a dog lover. In fact, the actor turned his affection for canines into a business. He operated a successful kennel outfit starting in the 1930s.

But if one is looking for the actor’s home that was located in the Riviera neighborhood of the Palisades, they can stop looking: The Amalfi house where the five-foot, six-inch Ruggles hung his hats and smoked his signature pipes no longer stands.

The property lot of the house, along the 1100 block of Amalfi, has had two homes built on it since Ruggles’ time. The house standing on the property now was built in 2014. Prior to that, a 1949-built traditional home stood on the property.

This all means that the house Ruggles apparently lived in—at least for some amount of time in 1930s—was demolished during or before 1949. By 1949, Ruggles had completed more than half of his Hollywood filmography, which would total nearly 100 feature films.

Ruggles once quipped about his future plans: “Forest Lawn, I guess. After you’ve played everything I have, there ain’t no more.”

But up and until death came calling, Ruggles remained active in acting.

If you grew up in the 1960s, you would recall Ruggles’ recognizable face in film and television show appearances. Ruggles played the part of Charles McKendrick in the 1961 classic film, starring Haley Mills among others, in “The Parent Trap.”

Ruggles is remembered for many TV guest appearances in such shows as “The Andy Griffith Show” and “The Munsters.”

Ruggles died at the age of 84 at nearby Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica on December 23, 1970. He was survived by his second wife Marian La Barba, who he married in 1942.

Michael Oldham is the author of the novel “The Valentino Formula” and can be reached at hollywoodlandings@sbcglobal.net.