John Qualen (born Johan Mandt Kvalen, December 8, 1899 – September 12, 1987) was a Canadian-American character actor of Norwegian heritage who specialized in Scandinavian roles.

Life and career

Qualen was born in Vancouver, British Columbia, the son of immigrants from Norway; his father was a Lutheran minister and changed the family's original surname, "Kvalen", to "Qualen"[citation needed] – though some sources give Oleson,[1] later Oleson Kvalen[2] as Qualen's earlier surnames. His father's ministering meant many moves and John was 20 when he graduated from Elgin High School in 1920. Though he was awarded a scholarship to Northwestern University after he won an oratory contest he never attended college. In a Milwaukee Journal interview he said he needed to start working and did so with the Chattaqua Circuit. Eventually reaching Broadway, he gained his big break as the Swedish janitor in Elmer Rice's Street Scene. His movie career began when he recreated the role in the film version. This was followed by his appearance in John Ford's Arrowsmith (1931) which began a more than thirty year membership in the director's "stock company", with important supporting roles in The Searchers (1956), Two Rode Together (1961), The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962) and Cheyenne Autumn (1964).

Appearing in well over one hundred films, and acting extensively on television into the 1970s, Qualen performed many of his roles with various accents, usually Scandinavian, often intended for comic effect. Three of his more memorable roles showcase his versatility. Qualen assumed a Midwestern dialect as Muley, who recounts the destruction of his farm by the bank in Ford's The Grapes of Wrath (1940), and as the confused killer Earl Williams in Howard Hawks' classic comedy His Girl Friday (also 1940). As Berger, the jewelry-selling Norwegian resistance member in Michael Curtiz' Casablanca (1942), he essayed a light Scandinavian accent, but put on a thicker Mediterranean accent as the homeward-bound fisherman Locota in William Wellman's The High and the Mighty (1954)

Qualen was treasurer of The Authors Club and historian of The Masquers, Hollywood's social group for actors.

John Qualen was blind in his later years. He died of heart failure in 1987 in Torrance, California, and was interred in the Forest Lawn Memorial Park in Glendale. He was survived by his three daughters.

Complete filmography


  • Cheyenne, episode "Deadline" – Charley Dolan (1957)
  • Alfred Hitchcock Presents, episode "A Bullet for Baldwin" – Benjamin Steep (1956)
  • Maverick, episode "The Lonesome Reunion" – Leland Mills (1958)
  • The Californians episode "J. Jimmerson Jones, Inc." -- J. Jimmerson Jones (1958
  • Mister Ed, episode "Ed's New Shoes" – Axel (the Handyman) (1961)
  • Bonanza, episode "Springtime" – Parley (1961)
  • Maverick, episode "The Golden Fleecing" – Henry Albright (1961)
  • The Andy Griffith Show, episode "The Jinx" – Henry Bennett (1962)
  • Laramie, episode "Shadow of the Past" – Mr. Elbee (1962)
  • The Real McCoys, episode "Cupid Wore a Tail" – Frank (1963)
  • The Real McCoys, episode "The Other Side of the Fence" – Frank (1963)
  • Make Room for Daddy, episodes "Sense of Humor" and "Call Off the Hounds" – Swenson, the Janitor (1964)
  • The Virginian, episode "A Bride for Lars" – Gosta Swenson (1964)
  • The Girl from U.N.C.L.E., episode "The Jewels of Topango Affair" – Dr. Elmer Spritzer (1966)
  • Hazel, episode "A Question of Ethics" – Mr. Johansson (1966)
  • Shane, episode "The Hant" - Old Man (1966)
  • I Spy, episode "Red Sash of Courage" – Hannos (1967)
  • Green Acres, episode "The Ex-Con" - Willy Dunhill (1970)
  • Make Room for Granddaddy, episode "The Arm Wrestle" Folsom (1971)
  • The Partridge Family episode "My Heart Belongs to a Two Car Garage" – The Old Man (1972)
  • The F.B.I., episode "The Detonator" (1973)
  • Movin' On, episode "Life Line" – Liggett (1974) (final television appearance)


  1. ^ Joseph F. Clarke (1977). Pseudonyms. BCA. p. 136. 
  2. ^ Adrian Room (1 July 2010). Dictionary of Pseudonyms: 13,000 Assumed Names and Their Origins (fifth ed.). McFarland. p. 392. ISBN 978-0-7864-5763-2. 

External links