The Jack Oakie and Victoria Horne Oakie Foundation
Rubicon Theatre Company’s 2022 Summer Education Program is generously supported by a grant in memory and in honor of Jack Oakie and Victoria Horne Oakie, two legendary actors from stage, radio, television and film.
Each year The Jack Oakie and Victoria Horne Oakie Foundation furthers the study of the fine art of comedy at performing arts programs and educational initiatives at theatres, colleges and universities, and research centers through the nation. The UCLA School of Theater, Film and Television and has established a collection of Jack Oakie and Victoria Horne-Oakie films on DVD for study. USC also has strong ties to the foundation through the School of Cinematic Arts.
About Jack Oakie
Jack Oakie was born Lewis Delaney Offield in Sedalia, Missouri on November 12, 1903. His father was a grain dealer and his mother was a psychologist. His first name came from his first stage role, and his last name came from Oklahoma, where he spent much of his youth.
Jack was a runner on Wall Street and narrowly survived the Wall Street bombing in 1920, although he became partially deaf (a fact he was able to keep hidden from producers for years because of his ability to read lips and his perfect pitch). In succeeding years, he worked in the New York theatre, making his Broadway debut in Little Nellie Kelly by George M. Cohan. He continued to perform in stage musicals and comedies until 1927, when he moved to Hollywood.
With the advent of “talkies,” Jack signed with Paramount Pictures, making his debut in “The Dummy” in 1929 and appearing in 10 more films that same year. He appeared as a comic character actor in more than 80 films in the 1930s and ‘40s, ranging from big-budget comedies and musicals to “B” Westerns to football flicks. Jack was called the King of Slapstick, and America’s Joyboy, and those who new him considered him a happy-go-lucky person who always made those around him smile and laugh.
Film historians credit him for creating the “double take,” the “triple take,” and the “double take with a fade.” Jackie Gleason said he learned everything he knew from Oakie.
Jack received an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actor for his role as Napaloni in “The Great Dictator” in 1940. He didn’t win, but he was awarded an honorary Oscar bent over in laughter. (The statue was made by the designer of the original Oscar statue.)
In addition to his work on film, Jack branched into radio and had his own radio show between 1936 and 1938. He also worked extensively in television, guest-starring in numerous television shows, including “The Real McCoys,” “Breaking Point,” “Daniel Boone” and “Bonanza.”
Jack died in 1978 and is buried at Forest Lawn Memorial Park.
About Victoria Horne Oakie
Victoria Horne (Victoria Hornstein) was the second of four children born to Romanian immigrants in New York City on November 1, 1911 (a date that gave her great delight because it was five 1’s together – 11-1-11. She grew up in the New Jersey countryside where she became a good swimmer and learned to ride horseback. When she later moved to Manhattan, a favorite pastime was riding in Central Park.
Vickie, as she was called, graduated from the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in New York and spent a season at Stratford-On-Avon in England. Upon her return to New York City, she appeared in a number of stage productions, including Leslie Howard’s Hamlet.
Not long after her arrival in Los Angeles in 1943, Vickie’s Life with Father co-stars Louis Calhern and Dorothy Gish introduced her to Jack Oakie at The Players Restaurant in Hollywood. She later said, “I stopped breathing when I met him, and I haven’t started breathing since! He was a wonderful man to live with, and a wonderful husband!”
Vickie’s career spanned stage, radio, television and film, and she appeared in 49 films during the 1940s and 1950s, including “Blue Skies,” “The Ghost and Mrs. Muir,” “The Strange Love of Martha Ivers,” and “Abbott and Costello Meet the Killer Boris Karloff,” The Three Stooge short “Cuckoo on a Choo Choo,” and “Secret Agent X-9.” Vickie is perhaps best remembered for her role as Jimmy Stewart’s lovelorn niece Myrtle Mae Simmons in the 1950 film adaptation of “Harvey.”
Victoria and Jack married in 1950, and she retired from acting in 1952. The two spent their married life at Oakridge, their 11-acre estate in Northridge (now designated a L.A. Historic-Cultural Monument), where Victoria tended the fruit trees, raised horses and hosted Sunday gatherings and film screenings.
Vickie was a shrewd financial manager, and when Jack passed away in 1978, she created the foundation to make certain that Jack’s memory would live on through America’s younger generation of aspiring comic actors, filmmakers and artists. Until her own death in 2003 at the age of 91, her singular goal was to help future generations of funnymen (and women) realize their dreams.
She arranged the posthumous publication of her late husband’s book, Jack Oakie’s Double Takes and also published a number of other books about him.
The Oakie Legacy
In 1981, the “Jack Oakie Lecture on Comedy in Film” was established as an annual event of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. At the inaugural presentation, Oakie was described as “a master of comic timing and a beloved figure in the industry.”
Jack Oakie has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame and his hand and footprints can be found at Grauman’s Chinese Theater in Hollywood.
A small display celebrating the comedy and fame of Jack Oakie is at Motion Picture & Television Country House and Hospital in Woodland Hills, California. There is a plaque in the ground in front of the home where he was born in Sedalia, Missouri.
Jack Oakie is mentioned in the Coen Brothers film Barton Fink as the favorite actor of Charlie, a character played by John Goodman.
The work of The Jack Oakie and Victoria Horne Oakie Foundation continues under the direction of the trustees. Rubicon is grateful to David Sonne (who has quite a sense of humor himself) and his fellow trustees for their support of the summer youth programs.
When asked about the secret to Jack Oakie’s success, David quotes from Victoria’s 1997 book “When the Line Is Straight: Jack Oakie’’ Comedy and Motion Pictures.”
Jack Oakie’s Rule for Comedy:
“When the situation is funny or when the line is funny, play it straight.”
When the situation is straight or when the line is straight, then you add the comedy.”