Old Hollywood – Social History – Episcopal priest and actor appeared in 40 plus movies…

Old Hollywood – Social History – Episcopal priest and actor appeared in 40 plus movies…

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In “It Happened One Night,” Neal Dodd is just being himself as he prepares to officiate at Claudette Colbert’s garden wedding – even though Colbert jilts her fiance at the altar to run away with Clark Gable. Dodd was play-acting in the 1934 film, as he did in hundreds of movies, although he really was a man of the cloth. The movie industry called on him regularly when it needed someone to play a minister or priest. He also served as a technical adviser on religious material.

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Dodd appeared in “Christmas Holiday” in 1944 with Deanna Durbin, left, and Gene Kelly.

Neal Isaac Dodd, known as “the padre of Hollywood,” was born in Fort Madison. Little is known about his early years until he enrolled at the Art Institute of Chicago and then switched gears to take up the ministry. In 1907, he graduated from Nashotah House, an Episcopal seminary in Nashotah, Wis., and was ordained in the Diocese of Milwaukee.

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It Happened One Night – priest turned actor – performing wedding ceremony.

By 1908 he was serving in San Francisco. After settling in Los Angeles in about 1917, Dodd saw the need for an Anglo-Catholic mission to serve those working in the growing movie industry.

He opened St. Mary of the Angels Anglican (Episcopal) Church with a Christmas Eve Mass in 1918 in temporary quarters.

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Saint Mary of the Angels… 

Many of Hollywood’s original stars became members of the new parish, including Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks Sr. Father Dodd married the couple in a ceremony in 1920. Later, the couple offered their home, the famous Pickfair, for a lavish fund-raiser. A $50,000 anonymous donation, believed to have come from Pickford, gave Dodd more than enough money to start building his church. The Spanish-mission-style structure, completed in 1930, was declared a historic building in 1970. Today it attracts worshippers and tourists.

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Episcopal priest officiated in many films – from “Father of the Bride” to “Philadelphia Story” to “Stella Dallas”!  We must remember the majority of US Presidents were Episcopalian. At one time, Episcopalians dominated the Senate, Congress and the Supreme Court.  

In 1920, the same year he began appearing on film, Dodd became the founding secretary of the Motion Picture Relief Fund. Dodd was the first clergyman to become a member of the Screen Actors Guild. One of Dodd’s first movie credits was “The Only Woman,” in 1924. He also appeared in “Four Wives,” with Iowa’s Lane sisters (1939); “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington” (1939) as the Senate chaplain; and, his last role, a priest in “Here Comes the Groom” (1951).

On film, it is said, he officiated at 300 weddings, donating all his acting fees to charity. Father Dodd retired in 1961 after 43 years as rector of the church. Dodd had a daughter with his first wife, Lila, who died in 1949. His second wife, Martha, outlived him. His ashes are interred at his St. Mary’s Church in Los Angeles.

He appeared in the following films:

Here Comes the Groom
Priest (uncredited)
1950 Louisa
Minister (uncredited)
1948 Sorry, Wrong Number
Minister (uncredited)
1947 The Secret Life of Walter Mitty
Minister (uncredited)
1947 Born to Kill
Clergyman (uncredited)
1946 The Killers
Minister (uncredited)
1946 The Stranger
Minister (uncredited)
1945 Scarlet Street
Priest (uncredited)
1945 The Strange Affair of Uncle Harry
Minister (uncredited)
1945 You Came Along
Minister (uncredited)
1944 Marriage Is a Private Affair
Minister (as Rev. Neal Dodd)
1944 Christmas Holiday
Minister (uncredited)
1943 Is Everybody Happy?
Justice of the Peace (uncredited)
1942 They All Kissed the Bride
Minister (uncredited)
1941 Steel Against the Sky
Justice of the Peace (uncredited)
1941 Unfinished Business
Minister (uncredited)
1940 Santa Fe Trail
Preacher at Wedding (uncredited)
1939 Four Wives
Minister at Wedding (uncredited)
1939 Mr. Smith Goes to Washington
Senate Chaplain (uncredited)
1939 Three Smart Girls Grow Up
Minister (uncredited)
1939 Fisherman’s Wharf
Preacher (uncredited)
1938 Youth Takes a Fling
Minister (uncredited)
1937 Manhattan Merry-Go-Round
Minister (uncredited)
1937 The Man Who Cried Wolf
Priest (uncredited)
1937 Draegerman Courage
Priest (uncredited)
1937 She’s Dangerous
Chaplain (uncredited)
1936 The Unguarded Hour
Assistant Minister (uncredited)
1936 Lady of Secrets
Minister (uncredited)
1936 The Lady Consents
The Minister (uncredited)
1935 Ladies Crave Excitement
Minister (uncredited)
1935 Hold ‘Em Yale (uncredited)
1935 Living on Velvet
Minister (uncredited)
1934 Strange Wives
Minister
1934 You Belong to Me
Minister at Funeral (as Reverend Neal Dodd)
1934 Gambling Lady
Minister (voice, uncredited)
1934 It Happened One Night
Minister at Wedding (uncredited)
1933 The Right to Romance
Minister at Wedding (uncredited)
1933 Lilly Turner
Minister at Wedding (uncredited)
1933 Employees’ Entrance
Minister at Wedding (uncredited)
1932 The Painted Woman
Reverend (uncredited)
1932 Merrily We Go to Hell
Minister (uncredited)
1932 Week-End Marriage
Wedding Minister (uncredited)
1930 Brothers
Minister (uncredited)
1930 Extravagance
The Minister (uncredited)
1930 The Divorcee
Hospital Minister (uncredited)
1930 Such Men Are Dangerous
Wedding Celebrant (uncredited)
1926 Lost at Sea
Reverend Atkinson (as Rev. Neal Dodd)
1925 Paint and Powder
Rev. Dr. Dodd (uncredited)
1924 The Only Woman
Minister (as Rev. Neal Dodd)

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About Michael L. Grace

During the mid-80s, Michael Grace worked as a writer on the TV Hit Series THE LOVE BOAT. He wrote many of the two hour special featuring great stars of the past, including Lana Turner, Claire Trevor, Anne Baxter, Ethel Merman, Alexis Smith, etc. The public’s access to these stars, in familiar dramas and comedies, made them want to go on a cruise. They could see the stars in an ordinary world as “regular” people. The phenomenally successful series was responsible for creating the cruise industry as we know it today. By the time he was writing for Love Boat, the great steamship companies and their liners were flying hand me down foreign flags, painted like old whores, scrapped or doing three day cruises to the Bahamas. He had sailed on over thirty ships and liners with his parents, aunt and grandmother in late 50s to early 70s. The very successful CRUISING THE PAST website has been an outgrowth of Michael’s strong interest in cruise and social history. Drawing on his own knowledge and a vast maritime and social history collection, he is able to produce a very successful website. Michael is part of the award winning team that created the internationally performed award winning musical SNOOPY, based on PEANUTS by Charles M. Schultz. He has written for television and films. Read more by going to "About" (on the above dashboard) and clicking "Editor"…