Jimmy the Gent,” “The St. Louis Kid,” and “The Irish in Us”) and Humphrey Bogart, with a long run of seven pictures between 1932 and 1940, one of the most memorable being 1937's “Dead End,” where Jenkins played gangster Bogart’s sidekick.
(For the record, the other films are “Three on a Match,” “Marked Woman,” “The Amazing Dr. Clitterhouse,” “Swing Your Lady,” “Racket Busters,” and “Brother Orchid.”)
Jenkins played a character who was worldly-wise, who knew how to hustle a quick buck, who delivered side-of-the-mouth wisecracks with deceptive ease – and was good-looking enough to win the second- or third-billed girl. He was at his best in movies like “Three Men on a Horse,” (1936), based on a hit George Abbott play. It was a film without above-the-title stars, and there’s a sense of merry abandon as Mervyn LeRoy (with whom Jenkins worked often) keeps the cast in some semblance of order.
Frank McHugh plays Erwin, a writer of greeting-card poetry who dopes out the horses as a hobby. He always gets them right, but never bets. One day a domestic squabble sends him into a bar, where genial Edgar Kennedy suggests some libations (a role he would repeat in Preston Sturges’s “The Sin of Harold Diddlebock,” an otherwise middling Harold Lloyd vehicle).
Erwin’s secret is discovered by a trio of gamblers sporting superb New York accents: Jenkins, Sam Levene, and (brother-of-Lorenz) Teddy Hart, who has the finest line in the piece: “Ain’t green a restful color!”
But Jenkins manages to soothe both the excitable Levene and the drunk and remorseful McHugh, even telephoning an angry Guy Kibbee, Erwin’s boss, to make excuses for his employee’s absence. Jenkins never changes expression as Kibbee hollers threats and imprecations into his ear, then hangs up and calmly tells the hapless McHugh, “He says it’s hunky-dory wit’ him, Oiwin. In fact, he says to take care o’ yerself. An’ if you didn’t feel like comin’ in for a coupla days, that’d be jake, too.”
|As Charlie in "Three Men on a Horse"|
Spencer Tracy grabbed the attention of Hollywood while in a 1930 Broadway hit titled “The Last Mile.” Jenkins replaced Tracy for three weeks and won similar notice, embarking on a film career of over a hundred roles, including notable appearances in “Three on a Match” (1932) with Bogart, Bette Davis, and Joan Blondell; 1932's “I Am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang,” which saved the Warner Bros. studio from bankruptcy; “42nd Street” (1933), which invented the Hollywood musical.
In 1933, he became the seventh member of the Screen Actors Guild, a controversial organization at its founding.
Jenkins was menacing but sensible in “Dead End” (1937), in which tough guy Bogart won’t listen to his advice, and Jenkins philosophizes with, “Maybe I’m wrong. We all make mistakes, boss. That’s why they put rubber on the end of pencils.” In George Marshall’s “Destry Rides Again” (1939), he’s one of the gang supporting evil Brian Donlevy amidst a star cast that includes Marlene Dietrich, Mischa Auer, Charles Winninger, and Billy Gilbert. And James Stewart.
|With Bogart in "Dead End"|
Jenkins easily transitioned into television in the 1950s, racking up appearances on such programs as “Hey, Jeannie!,” “Playhouse 90,” “The Ernie Kovacs Show,” “The Red Skelton Hour,” “Wagon Train,” “Ben Casey,” “I Love Lucy,” and “The Man from U.N.C.L.E.” And he was the voice of Officer Dibble on the cartoon series “Top Cat.”
But it’s that string of pictures from the 1930s on into the ’40s that made him a recognizable star – one of the many whose name you might not know right off the bat, but whose presence assures you that you’re going to enjoy this movie.