Fred “Snowflake” Toones (January 5, 1906 – February 13, 1962) was an African-American film actor comedian of the early sound era.
Because of the sheer number of movies he appeared in, Toones is one of the most prolific character faces in B-Westerns and cliffhangers. He appeared in over 200 films between 1928 and 1951; and between 1936 and 1947, Toones worked under contract for Republic Pictures, appearing in about 40 of its films.
His standard characterization was that of a middle-aged “colored” man with a high-pitched voice and childlike demeanor. Like ‘Curly’ Howard and Tommy ‘Tiny’ Lister, who followed the tradition of using an antonymous nickname as both their professional name and character name, “Snowflake” was the distinct stage name Toones was best known by, and he used this name as his credit as early as his third film, 1931’s Shanghaied Love. Likewise, in Shanghaied Love and over 35 other films, “Snowflake” was also Toones’ character name.
Toones acted in films such as Mississippi (1935), Hawk of the Wilderness (1938) and Daredevils of the Red Circle (1939) with Bruce Bennett and in many “B” westerns such as The Lawless Nineties (1936) with John Wayne. He also appeared in dozens of two-reelers such as Columbia’s Woman Haters (1934) with the Three Stooges, and had a bit role in Laurel and Hardy’s classic feature Way Out West (1937). Toones is also a familiar face in four Preston Sturges comedies: 20th century (1934), Remember the Night (1940), Christmas in July (1940) and The Palm Beach Story (1942).
Toones first appeared as a porter in 1932 in The Hurricane Express, and was usually typecast as a porter – appearing in over 50 films in such a role. He also played a variety of other service-oriented or domestic worker roles such as stable grooms, janitors, elevator operators, valets, cooks, bellhops, doormen, butlers, and bartenders. Like Robert Dudley, Anna May Wong, Franklin Pangborn, Ramón Novarro, Nat Pendleton and others, Toones is a prime example of racial and social stereotyping in the Hollywood film industry.
Toones played a bootblack or shoeshine man in at least six of his movies, and in film director William Witney’s autobiography, Witney reveals that in addition to playing bit parts, Toones actually ran the shoeshine stand at Republic Studios.
His being cast in only comedic bit parts and small non-supporting roles meant that his efforts were more often than not uncredited (of 210 films where he made an appearance, he was credited in 73 of them), as was the norm for bit players in Hollywood at the time. For example, Robert Dudley (who appeared in two movies with Toones: The Palm Beach Story and Mr. Smith Goes to Washington) made 93 films between 1930 and 1951 – many times playing a millionaire, doctor, judge, scientist, minister or lawman – but was credited in only eight of them. In contrast, character actor Stepin Fetchit made only 53 films (one-quarter as many as Toones) playing the same kind of parts as Toones, but received credit in nearly every one of them.
Toones died on February 13, 1962 in Los Angeles, California.