Charles B. Middleton (October 3, 1874 – April 22, 1949) was an American stage and film actor. During a film career that began at age 46 and lasted almost 30 years, Charles Middleton appeared in nearly 200 films as well as numerous plays. He is perhaps best remembered for his role as the villainous emperor Ming the Merciless in the three Flash Gordon serials made between 1936 and 1940.
Born in Elizabethtown, Kentucky, Charles Middleton worked in a traveling circus, in vaudeville, and acted in live theatre before he turned to motion pictures in 1920.
Middleton's career as a character actor came into full flower with the advent of sound movies. His ominous baritone voice proved ideal for villainous roles, and he became an excellent foil for comedy stars Harold Lloyd, Eddie Cantor, Wheeler & Woolsey, and Laurel and Hardy.
He was then cast in Warner Bros.' 1931 film Safe in Hell (directed by William Wellman), and in Warners' 1932 hit The Strange Love of Molly Louvain opposite Ann Dvorak and Richard Cromwell. In Pack Up Your Troubles, he portrays a villainous welfare association officer, the foil of Laurel & Hardy. He is also the district attorney in Cecil B. DeMille's 1933 film This Day and Age; and he appears opposite The Marx Brothers in Duck Soup (also 1933), performing as the stern prosecutor of Freedonia. In Universal Pictures' classic 1936 screen version of the musical Show Boat, he is Sheriff Ike Vallon, the official who tries to arrest Julie La Verne (Helen Morgan) and her husband for being illegally married.
Since Middleton's facial features generally resembled those of Abraham Lincoln, he was cast to portray Lincoln in the 1933 public-service short The Road Is Open Again. Four years later, in an uncredited role in the comedy Stand-In, he appears as an actor dressed as Lincoln who complains of being typecast as the former president. Middleton's association with Lincoln did not end there, although in the 1940 feature film Abe Lincoln in Illinois, he performs not as Abe but as Thomas, Lincoln's father.
Middleton also has prominent roles in many serials from 1935 to 1947. He is especially well known for his characterization of Ming the Merciless, the evil adversary of the heroic outer-space adventurer Flash Gordon. He appears as Ming in three related serials from the cited period: Flash Gordon (1936), Flash Gordon's Trip to Mars (1938), and Flash Gordon Conquers the Universe (1940). Some of the other serials in which Middleton can be seen include Dick Tracy Returns, Daredevils of the Red Circle, and Jack Armstrong. He also portrays the ranch foreman Buck Peters in the 1935 movie Hopalong Cassidy Enters, which is the first entry in that long-running Western series.
Middleton died of a heart attack in Los Angeles just two months after the 1949 release of The Last Bandit, the last film in which he appeared. His grave site is located in Hollywood Forever Cemetery and is situated next to the grave of his wife of many years, stage and film actress Leora Spellman.