Jimmy The Raven

Jun 19, 2023 0 comments

One of the most prolific actors of Hollywood has over six hundred acting credits to his name, but you haven’t even heard of him. Yet, if you are fan of old black & white movies from the 1950s, especially those by Frank Capra, you must have surely seen him on screen. He is Jimmy the raven.

Jimmy belonged to Hollywood animal trainer Curly Twiford, who reportedly found the baby raven, starving in an abandoned nest in the Mojave Desert in 1934. He adopted the young bird and named him Jimmy. Twiford trained Jimmy to do an assortment of tricks which would make him useful in movies. Ravens are smart creatures, and it didn’t take Twiford to teach the bird how to type and open letters, put coins in piggy banks, light cigarettes, and so on. He could even ride a custom-built miniature motorcycle.

Jimmy pecking at a typewriter. Credit: Los Angeles Public Library Photo Collection

Jimmy could understand several hundred English words. It took Jimmy a week to learn a new useful word, two weeks if it had two syllables. Twiford said that Jimmy could perform any task possible for an 8-year-old child.

Jimmy’s first movie was director Frank Capra’s You Can't Take It with You in 1938, where Jimmy plays a pet of Martin Vanderhof's eccentric family. Capra took such a liking to the bird that Jimmy ended up appearing on every subsequent movie that the director made. Jimmy’s most pivotal role would be in Capra’s It's a Wonderful Life (1946), where he played Uncle Billy's pet raven. Jimmy also had a fairly visible role in Arsenic and Old Lace (1944), where he was the raven who frequented the graveyard.

Jimmy appeared in more than just Frank Capra’s movies. He appeared in the The Bride Came C.O.D. (1941) in which he played the crow of Pop Tolliver, and was also seen in The Wizard of Oz (1939).  Jimmy also appeared in Moon Over Miami (1941), Son of Dracula (1943), The Enchanted Forest (1945), and many other films. Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Jimmy’s studio, had him insured for $10,000. At one point, Jimmy had 21 stand-ins, who would fill in for him when the scene did not require any tricks or movement.

Jimmy appeared last in the movie 3 Ring Circus in 1954. Two years later, Twiford died, and after nobody knowns what happened to Jimmy.

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