Percy Kilbride was an actor best known as the character of “Pa Kettle” in the “Ma and Pa Kettle” films. Percy Kilbride was born on July 16, 1888 in San Francisco, California. Kilbride had one sibling, a sister by the name of Maude. Kilbride’s father worked as a mechanic. At eleven years of age, Kilbride worked in a theatre as an usher. Kilbride’s first role on the stage was in a production of “A Tale of Two Cities” in San Francisco. Kilbride continued acting in the theater but his career was put on hold when he was called to serve in World War I.
After serving, Kilbride resumed his career by working for regional stock companies. In 1933, Kilbride made his film debut with the role of “Jakey” in the drama, “White Woman” with Carole Lombard. Three years later, Kilbride appeared in the comedy film, “Soak the Rich” with John Howard. Kilbride starred in small parts on Broadway but eventually left the stage behind in 1942. That same year, Kilbride starred in two films, a comedy entitled “George Washington Slept Here” with Jack Benny and Ann Sheridan and the drama, “Keeper of the Flame” with Spencer Tracey along with Katherine Hepburn.
The next two years brought about “Crazy House”, “The Woman of the Town” with Claire Trevor and Albert Dekker, “Knickerbocker Holiday” with Shelley Winters, “The Adventures of Mark Twain”, “She’s a Soldier Too” with Lloyd Bridges and the film-noir “Guest in the House” with Anne Baxter. In 1945, Kilbride appeared as “Dave Miller” in the musical, “State Fair”. The film won an Academy Award for “Best Music, Original Song”. That same year Kilbride also starred in Otto Preminger’s mystery, “Fallen Angel” with Dana Andrews and Linda Darnell.
In 1947, Kilbride appeared as “Pa Kettle” in the romantic comedy, “The Egg and I”. Marjorie Main starred as “Ma Kettle” and her performance earned her an Academy Award nomination. The plot involved a newly hitched couple who decide to live on a chicken farm. The film was based on a highly successful novel by Betty MacDonald. That same year, Kilbride also starred in the comedy, “Welcome Stranger” with Bing Crosby. In 1948, Kilbride teamed up with Main again in the film, “Feudin’, Fussin’ and A-Fightin'”. The following year, Kilbride reprised his role of “Pa Kettle” in the comedy, “Ma and Pa Kettle”.
The characters were so popular that it spawned six more films with Kilbride including, “Ma and Pa Kettle Back on the Farm” (1951), “Ma and Pa Kettle on Vacation” (1953) and Universal’s final Kettle film for Kilbride, “Ma and Pa Kettle at Waikiki”. Kilbride’s final acting role was in an uncredited appearance in “Son of Flubber” in 1963. On December 11, 1964, Kilbride passed away from injuries due to a road accident. Kilbride and Ralf Belmont who was an actor as well, were crossing the street when they were hit by a car. Kilbride was 76 years old. Percy Kilbride is currently buried at Golden Gate National Cemetery in San Bruno, California.