One of the screen’s most versatile, and most interesting actors. From Prince John to Mr. Skeffington, Mr. Jordan to the Devil. Always a fascinating villain, perhaps best known for his charming rogue–Captain Louis Renault.
Latest Activity: May 12, 2016
The actor known for his cultured voice actually began life with a stammer, a thick Cockney accent, and an inability to pronounce his r’s. Taken under the wing of Sir Herbert Beerbohm Tree, he overcame his speech impediments - moving on from call-boy to become stage manager and then actor. He also became a teacher at RADA, remembered fondly by John Gielgud as his favourite mentor. Serving in WWI with the London Scottish regiment, he was gassed at Vimy Ridge – losing the sight in his right eye and, temporarily, his voice. When his voice returned it had the deep raspy quality he became known by – once described as “like honey with some gravel in it”. Standing only 5’6”, and self-conscious of his height in his youthful theatre days, he still achieved critical acclaim in leading roles (including a wide repertoire of Shaw plays).
After a successful theatre career in London and New York, he came to Hollywood when the Depression closed the New York theatres. After his first screen role in The Invisible Man, he returned to the stage briefly for "They Shall Not Die" (based on the Scottsboro Boys Trial) and was asked by Hecht and MacArthur to be the lead in their Crime Without Passion. He had leading roles in films such as The Mystery of Edwin Drood, The Last Outpost (with Cary Grant) and The Clairvoyant (filmed back in England). A contract with Warner Bros. enabled him a wide variety of character roles – from villainous nobleman (in The Adventures of Robin Hood, Anthony Adverse, The Prince and the Pauper, The Sea Hawk), to kindly father figures (White Banners, Saturday's Children, The Four Daughters series), and two Napoleons (Hearts Divided, and as Napoleon III in Juarez). He was Bette Davis’s friend and favourite co-star (and apparently unrequited love), matching her in Now,Voyager and Mr. Skeffington and outdoing her in the wonderfully campy Deception. His villains always had a wry sense of humour – such as the Devil himself in Angel on My Shoulder, and his amoral opportunists in the noirish The Unsuspected and Rope of Sand.
He began his film career playing unscrupulous cads in Crime Without Passion and Stolen Holiday, but was perhaps best known as one of the screen’s most iconic rogues: Captain Louis Renault in Casablanca. He was nominated 4 times for an Oscar as supporting actor but never won – for Joseph Paine in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, Job Skeffington in Mr. Skeffington, Captain Renault in Casablanca, and Alex Sebastian in Notorious. In 1951 he returned to Broadway winning a Tony for the leading role in Darkness at Noon.
He married 6 times and appeared in 57 films, working almost until the time of his death in 1967 at the age of 77. Even at the end of his long career he managed to create such memorable characters as Mr. Dryden in Lawrence of Arabia and King Herod in The Greatest Story Ever Told. He was universally respected by his peers as a consummate professional.
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