George Wentzlaff, child actor in 1950s, dies in Camp Meeker at 69
A child actor with a bass voice and a deadpan comedic delivery, George Karl Wentzlaff appeared in 10 films in the 1950s along with stars like Cary Grant, Marilyn Monroe and Shirley MacLaine.
Retiring from show business at age 12, Wentzlaff finished school, served in the Navy during the Vietnam War, moved to Camp Meeker in the late 1970s and retired from the Postal Service a few years ago.
Wentzlaff, a lifelong bachelor and cat lover, died of a heart attack June 13 at his Camp Meeker home. Kevin Braafladt of Santa Rosa, a longtime friend who went to check on Wentzlaff, found him in his bed the following day. He was 69.
Known as Wally to friends in the west county, Wentzlaff was an easygoing man, quirky and caring and “about the nicest guy you could ever know,” Braafladt said. “I think he was genuinely happy with where his life was.”
Wentzlaff was sharing his home with about 25 cats that Braafladt is now tending at the house; he plans to work with Forgotten Felines to find them adoptive homes. “His love was the cats,” Braafladt said. “He’d always talk about them.”
Nicknamed “Foghorn” for his raspy voice as a slender child with dark blond hair and deep blue eyes, Wentzlaff, a Los Angeles native, broke into the entertainment business on Art Linkletter’s family-oriented radio program, “People Are Funny.” Asked his name by Linkletter, the youngster said: “George Wentzlaff, but I’d rather be Casey Jones,” with a delivery that cracked up Linkletter and the audience and led to about 20 subsequent appearances on the show, according to a biography on the IMDb.com website.
Grant, who heard the show and was impressed with Wentzlaff’s unusual voice and comedy instincts, introduced him to director Norman Taurog, leading to the boy’s first role in Grant’s 1952 film “Room for One More.” The successful movie landed Wentzlaff — under the stage name George Winslow — a contract with Warner Bros. that was bought out two years later by Twentieth Century Fox.
He teamed with Grant again in “Monkey Business,” another 1952 film that co-starred Ginger Rogers and Monroe, making her first movie appearance with platinum-blond hair. Next up was “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes” (1953), in which Wentzlaff — playing Henry Spofford III, Monroe’s young admirer — stole scenes from the actress, including his classic line about her possessing a “certain animal magnetism,” according to IMDb.com.
A black-and-white photo from the movie set, published on AurorasGinJoint.com, shows a skinny boy wearing suspenders looking over Monroe’s shoulder. Aurora, a film blogger, calls “Gentlemen” her favorite performance by both Monroe and Wentzlaff.
In the comedy “Mister Scoutmaster” (1953), he traded barbs with Clifton Webb, and in 1955 he had a small role in the musical comedy “Artists and Models,” starring Dean Martin, Jerry Lewis, Dorothy Malone and newcomer MacLaine in what Aurora called Wentzlaff’s “last ‘good’ movie.”
He also appeared in television episodes of “The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet,” “Blondie” and “Dear Phoebe,” but by age 12, Wentzlaff had lost his appeal on camera and his “trademark basso profundo voice,” IMDb said.
Braafladt said that Wentzlaff volunteered at his military antiques store and museum in Petaluma, where he engaged with customers and enjoyed talking with other veterans. Wentzlaff had heart surgery two years ago, but seemed chipper two weeks ago, when Braafladt last saw him. On June 12, Wentzlaff called to say he felt as if he had a cold, and after Wentzlaff didn’t come to the store the next day Braafladt drove to Camp Meeker to check on him June 14.
Wentzlaff had said he had no heirs and the coroner’s office was unable to locate any relatives, Braafladt said.
A memorial service will be held in Petaluma at a date to be determined. Wentzlaff will be buried with military honors at the Sacramento Valley National Cemetery near Dixon in July.
You can reach Staff Writer Guy Kovner at 521-5457 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @guykovner.