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Checker Cabs in Movies & TV Shows

Article Copyright 2016 - Checker Car Club of America

Photos Copyright of Their Respective Movie Studios

PART 1: Model H to the Superba

On November 19, 1922 a Checker Model H taxi made its debut in a short black & white silent movie called "Out Of Place." It was most likely the very first film in which a Checker (or was it a Mogul or Yellow Cab?) played a part.

"Out Of Place" - Starring Al St. John, Norma Conterno and Hilliard Karr - 1922

Since then, nearly every Checker model taxi or car has appeared in over 1,000 movies and/or TV shows.

Editor's Note: Since this article was first published, the true make and model of the car above has been questioned. Indeed, it is more likely that this car is a Yellow Cab given the shape of the radiator grille. So, it's entirely possible that the first movie with a Checker is "Black Oxen" or "Three Ages" from 1923. This brings out an important point about IMCDB. The identification of cars is done by people like you and me, meaning that it is very much open to error. We hope that if you find errors in the listings, you will bring it to our attention via the Checker World Facebook page or by sending a note via the Checker World contact form.

According to the Internet Movie Cars Database (IMCDB), the use of Checkers in movies and TV is as follows:

As the list makes it clear, nearly every Checker model produced has made its way into a movie, TV show or both. It should be noted that those 811 taxicabs listed are primarily model A-11s.

It is common practice in IMCDB to give one to five stars to every vehicle indicating its level of use in the film or TV show. For example, The Checker Model H in "Out of Place" got two stars, while the Checker in the 1976 movie "Taxi Driver" got four. In other words, the A-11 Checker in the latter movie got a lot more exposure than the Model H in "Out of Place."

Using the IMCDB data, together with additional information from the Internet Movie Database (IMDb), we compiled a "Checkers in Movies and TV" spreadsheet. More specifically, we created two spreadsheets; one for Early Model Checkers (H to Superba) and another for Late Model Checkers (Marathon to A12). Both are available on the Checker World web site.

The Early Model Checkers spreadsheet looks like this:

Movies/Shows Listed in Alpha Order Within a Decade

Note that for our purposes, we have simplified the Checker usage ratings to X (Low), XX (Medium) and XXX (High).

In the 1920's there were no less than 7 movies starring a Model H Checker with the loveable duo Laurel and Hardy. It is likely that some of the cars were actually Model H2 Checkers. Four of the 7 movies gave the cars a fair amount of screen time.

Harold Llyod, the amazing comedian and stunt man, appeared with a Checker Model F in the 1926 film "For Heaven's Sake." A more notable comedy from 1928 shows cab driver Harold giving Babe Routh a harrowing ride in a taxi to Yankee Stadium. In this case, the taxi is a Model T Ford. But, the fast-paced street scenes show many Checker taxis. Many parts of "Speedy" can be found on YouTube including the Babe Ruth segment.

Other notables who shared screen time with Checkers in the 1920's include Buster Keaton and Clara Bow.

In the 1930's the complement of Checkers to be found in movies expanded to include models G, K, M and T in addition to the various H models. Of the 25 movies that featured Checkers, four deserve special mention: 1. "A Shriek in the Night" with Ginger Rogers (Checker Model K); 2. "Hands Across the Table" with Carol Lombard and Fred McMurray (Checker Model G); 3. "Night Key" with Boris Karloff (Checker Model Y); and 4. "The Saint in New York" with Louis Hayward (Checker Model M). It is this last movie that has the most scenes with the Checker.

1931 Checker Model M - Street Scene - "The Saint in New York" - 1938

1931 Checker Model M - Close Up - "The Saint in New York" - 1938

Special mention must be made of the movie "Swing Time" with Fred Astair and Ginger Rogers since it has scenes with three different Checkers: K, M and T. The 1937 movie "Und du Mein Schatz Faehrst Mit" (i.e. And you, my dear, travels with me) also shows two Checker models (T and Y) in the same scene in front of the Music Box theater in New York. It is fair to guess that this German movie does not come with English subtitles.

The 1940's and the war years saw a more eclectic mix of movies being made. The mix of Checkers also changed a bit and included the introduction of the Model A in nine different films. It got the greatest exposure in the 1942 Johnny Weissmuller film "Tarzan's New York Adventure." As always, Jane was played by Maureen O'Sullivan.

1939 Checker Model A - "Tarzan's NY Adventure" - 1942

1939 Checker Model A - "Tarzan's NY Adventure" - 1942

A year before, in 1941, a Checker Model C taxi made a brief appearance in arguably the most famous film of all time "Citizen Kane." There is some debate whether this car is a Checker Model H, Model C or a Yellow Cab.

While only taking a cameo role, a Checker Model A also appears in the 1948 movie "The Naked City." The film won 2 Oscars that year.

The 1950's were not as prolific for films with Checkers but reflected one of the most significant model changes by that company. Of the 15 films that year, three featured the new Checker A-8; 1. "A Face in the Crowd" (1957) with Andy Griffith and Patricia Neal; 2. "North by Northwest" (1959) with Cary Grant and Eva Marie Saint; and 3. "Pillow Talk" (1959) with Rock Hudson, Doris Day and Tony Randall. "North by Northwest" got 3 Oscar Nominations and "Pillow Talk" won an Oscar.

"Some Like It Hot" (1959) with Marilyn Monroe, Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon also got an Oscar that year. The Checker Model M was easily upstaged by some steam blown by a train engine in the direction of Marilyn Monroe. A delicious scene if there ever was one.

A nice surprise is the appearance of Checker A-2 cabs in 3 different Finnish movies in 1952, 1957 and 1959. Checker trivia buffs will know that this would not have happened without the ill fated sale of 500 used Chicago cabs in 1951 to the Professional Taxi and Truck Driver's Association of Finland. The taxis were to replace a fleet of pre-war American made taxis and also used during the 1952 winter Olympics. These cars never lived up to expectations and set the driver owners back by $300,000 USD.

1948 Checker Model A-2 - "Pekka ja Pätkä Sammakkomiehinä" - 1957

1948 Checker Model A-2 - "Pekka ja Pätkä Sammakkomiehinä" - 1957

1948 Checker Model A-2 - "Pekka ja Pätkä Sammakkomiehinä" - 1957

From 1960 to today, the number of older model Checkers in movies and TV shows dropped significantly. However, a 1933 Checker Model T appeared as late as 1999 in the made for TV movie "Annie" and in episode 11.10 of the 2001 TV series "Car Crazy."

Except for the 1962 film "Bon Voyage!" with Fred McMurray and Jane Wyman, which gave exposure to an A-9, all of the films gave short shrift to Checkers. Never the less, these movies included models H, G, T and A. Five of the films made use of Checker Superbas.

Two films deserve special mention; 1. "Zelig" (1983) featuring a Model G; and 2. "Radio Days" (1987) with a Model A. Both films are by Woody Allen. Both received Oscar nominations.

1960 Checker Superba - "No Place to HIde" with Sylvester Stallone (1970)

Of course, Checkers continued to be used in both movies and TV shows and featured later model cars such as the Aerobus, Marathon and A-11. These will be covered in Part 2 of this article.



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