by Nicole Wolverton
“Rushmore continues” to be one of my all-time favorite films, mostly because—like all Wes Anderson films—it is filled with true characters. One character stands out to me: Mr. Littlejeans, the school janitor. When I think of the movie, I think of him laughing like crazy and reciting the memorable line, “Best play ever, man!”
Kumar Pallana is the actor who played Mr. Littlejeans. It wasn’t his first role, but it was among them: “Rushmore” came out in 1998, but his first film role was in 1996, in “Bottle Rocket.” Pallana was 78 at the time. We have Wes Anderson and Owen Wilson to thank for bringing him to the big screen—the two routinely hung out in a Dallas, Texas coffee shop owned by Pallana’s son and talked Pallana into taking a role in “Bottle Rocket.” Anderson once said of him:
“He had a certain wise serenity and tremendous charisma. But he was also inclined to do rope tricks and laugh wildly, hysterically, at extreme length. And like everybody else, we just loved him instantly. We had never met anyone even remotely like him in any respect.”
Pallana appeared in many Wes Anderson films, along with two dozen other movies, working until his death last year at the age of 94.
Despite beginning a film career late in life, Pallana has been in show business in one way or another for much of his life. Born in 1918 in Indore, India, he dreamed of being an entertainer. In high school, his father’s car dealership and his family’s house were confiscated by the British after his brother was jailed for fighting against colonial occupation. He left for Bombay with the intention of breaking into Bollywood but was turned away. He went next to Calcutta, where he trained as an acrobat and toured the country before leaving for Africa in the 1930s to perform there with his newly-released brother. He even had some success in television in the 1940s in the U.S.: known as Kumar of India with an act that included plate juggling, balancing, and snakes, he appeared on “The Ed Sullivan Show,” “Captain Kangaroo,” “The Mickey Mouse Club” and “The Pinky Lee Show.”
During this time he married, but his wife asked him to put down roots. This led to the family settling in Dallas, where Pallana opened a yoga studio in the mid-1960s. It was downstairs from the yoga studio that his son, after graduating from college, opened the coffee shop where Anderson and Wilson first met Pallana.
We won’t be treated to the sound of Pallana’s maniacal laughter in new films, but Mr. Littlejeans lives forever.
Homepage image courtesy Huffington Post