Arthur Housman

born: 10 October 1889
New York City, New York,
United States of America
died: 08 April 1942
Los Angeles, California,
United States of America
(pulmonary tuberculosis, age 52)

Hilarious American comic actor who, more than often, portrayed a drunk. Unfortunately for him, his real-life was mirrored by the problems he displayed on screen.

About one-third of the time in records and newspaper accounts, his name is spelt with an "E" [HousEman]. Strangely, in the 1880 Census, Arthur's Dad, "Abrams", uses an "E" while his Dad's widowed Mom has no "E" in the same record. The family (with "Arthur" and no "E") can be found at various addresses in NYC in 1905, 1910, 1915, 1920 and 1925. His first listing as an "actor" is 1915 and he is always living with his parents and "single". In 1930 he "turns up" in Los Angeles with his wife, Florence, and her daughter, also Florence, from her first marriage.
Randy Skretvedt offers Stan Laurel's and Hal Roach's opinions on Arthur's real life drinking. Stan thought he was a gin drinker and at times had to lift him up and carry him. Roach said he never saw the man "sober" but couldn't be sure if he was really drunk or acting to impress him to get movie parts. Neither mention smelling alcohol. Randy doesn't mention Arthur and Stan socializing; they worked together on 5 Roach films totaling about 100 days of filming over a 7 year period from 1932-1939. In all of 1939, Arthur worked only 20 days (1940 Census).
Between 1929 and 1940, four newspaper blurbs mentioning his off-camera drinking show up. During "Prohibition" in 1929 he's arrested at a wild party (with illegal booze) with a boxer and movie people. Ten years later he is arrested for drunkeness and sentenced to 119 days in jail (with no elaboration in the news blurb). In 1938 and 1940 he is interviewed: one author says that actually he "doesn't drink" and the other says he is a "teetotaler".
Arthur's Death Certificate has a couple curious facts. He was treated by doctors in the hospital for less than a month before he succumbed with no mention of prior treatment. Probably he and his wife kept his disease a secret. Stan (and Roach) wouldn't know that Arthur needed help getting up because Arthur was afflicted with TB in the lungs and colon. The Judge who sentenced him to 119 days in jail (3 years before he died) didn't know it either. His jail time could be the reason he worked only 20 days in 1939.
Tuberculosis is contagious but needs long periods of close contact such as a family living together in the same house for a long period. It's a bacterial disease. In World War I, Arthur served as a fireman in the US Navy Reserve. Arthur died in 1942 and ironically, the cure (streptomycin) was "discovered" in 1943! In the 1940 Census Arthur's wife (nee "Florence Nightingale Banta" 1893-1971) lists herself as a "Registered Nurse working for a private family on her own account for $0".
Most Death Certificates (such as Arthur's) have a block marked "Duration" for the coroner to state the length of time the deceased had "whatever" was the cause of death. Usually there is a number "with years", "with months", "with days" or even "with hours". In Arthur's case the MD wrote in just "YEARS"! So we don't know exactly when Arthur contracted tuberculosis.
Real name: Abram Houseman
Height: 5'10½"
Films listed on this page: complete Hal Roach filmography;
plus 1 film with Laurel & Hardy;
plus 1 film with Babe Hardy;
plus 1 film with Charley Chase.


The drunk

Wreckety Wrecks
The drunk

Babes In The Goods

A Duke For A Day

Benny, From Panama
Drunken, irate husband

Something Simple
Housman, drunk conventionaire

Done In Oil

The Live Ghost
Drunken sailor

The Chases Of Pimple Street
Mr. Housman

Treasure Blues

The Fixer Uppers

Sing Sister Sing

Our Relations

The Simp And The Sophomores
Tom Haze

The Grand Hooter
Lodge Brother

The Flying Deuces
Drunk legionnaire

(click any image to enlarge)

(click any image to enlarge)

Acknowledgements: (1880 C NYC: Dad Abrams HousEman) 1910 C NYC: Housman) (1915 C NYC: Arthur Housman: actor) (1925 C NYC: Arthur Housman: actor w Mom) (1930 C LA: Arthur Housman w wife Florence) (1940 C LA: Arthur Housman: wf Florence "Registered Nurse") 1889 (Oct 10 NYC Birth Cert: Abram HousEman: Mom Maria Spence: Dad Abram HousEman) (1917 Jun 5 NYC: WWI Draft) (1919 MP Studio Dir: ht 5'10 1/2": r 395-197th St. Bronx, NYC)
"Tarrytown NY News" 1929 Sep 09 p.01 LA: Arthur "Houseman" arrested wild party w booze, boxer, & movie people)
"Buffalo NY News" 1939 Aug 14 p.06 LA: Arthur "Houseman" drunk arrest: sentenced to 119 days jail)
"Dansville NY Breeze" 1938 Dec 06 p. x LA : Arthur Housman: "teetotaler")
"Buffalo NY Express" 1940 Dec 01 p.04 LA: Arthur Housman: "non-drinker") (1942 Apr 8 LA:pulmonary/colon TB DC: Mom Mary Spence: Dad Abraham)
Laurel OR Hardy by Rob Stone (book)
Laurel & Hardy: The Magic Behind The Movies by Randy Skretvedt (book)
Jim Jarvis (bio notes, research, birth and death certificates)

This page was last updated on: 03 November 2023