Pendleton in a 1930s publicity still.
It was not a huge leap from wrestling before crowds to performing in theater and portraying a wrestler in the Broadway play Naughty Cinderella offered him theatrical experience.
A 1939 column in America’s Greatest Comic Weekly noted, “Several times Nat Pendleton played in the first act of a Broadway show, then rushed to Madison Square Garden, where he defeated an opponent in a wrestling match, and then returned to the theatre and played in the third act of the play!”
Whether true or not, Pendleton went to Hollywood in the 1920s, where he pursued a career as a character actor, playing secondary roles such as gangsters and cops with tough-sounding names like Spike Mulligan and Mug Malone. “He often played the heavies, which befits someone of his size and strength,” Steinman said.
In the zany Marx Brothers classic Horse Feathers (1932), the brawny Pendleton portrayed a ringer playing college football. His best-known roles include those of a police detective in The Thin Man (1934) and a circus strongman in The Great Ziegfeld (1936).
Later, Pendleton acted with Abbott and Costello in Buck Privates Come Home (1947) and with Bela Lugosi in Scared to Death (1947). According to the Internet Movie Database, Pendleton had one last credit as an actor in 1956, an appearance on the TV series Schlitz Playhouse of Stars.
Pendleton died in San Diego in 1967 at age 72. In 2006, he was inducted into the inaugural class of the Columbia University Athletics Hall of Fame.
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