Monday, July 20, 2015

A Fine Character Reference

 Character actors from the classic movie age are some of the most beloved stars of the era. In my newest book, The Name Below The Title, Volume 2: 20 MORE Classic Movie Character Actors From Hollywood's Golden Age, I celebrate the lives and contributions of even more fabulous personalities, some of my personal favorites, some whom are loved by a vast majority. Below I've posted an excerpt from the chapter on superb player, Elsa Lanchester. Enjoy and if you'd like to check out the rest of the book and the other 19 wonderful character actors, check out the book on Amazon.

In 1924 Lanchester and her partner, Harold Scott, opened a nightclub on Charlotte Street called the Cave of Harmony, a haven for London Bohemia.  Although the main focus was midnight performances of one-act plays and cabaret songs, Lanchester also included revivals of aged Victorian ballads and bawdy Cockney songs, including odd ditties such as “Rat Catcher’s Daughter.”  The Cave of Harmony became a popular haunt for toney artists and intellectuals, including writers H. G. Wells, Aldous Huxley, Evelyn Waugh, and future film director James Whale, who would play an important part in Elsa’s life during the next decade.  Her work at the Cave of Harmony was a labor of love, reaping little in financial gain and she participated in stage work elsewhere while continuing her tenure at her own establishment.

 In 1927, the colorful actress made her professional film debut in a supporting role in One of the Best, a silent costume drama produced by prestigious Gainsborough Pictures (Her first actual film appearance was in an amateur motion picture by her friend and author Evelyn Waugh called The Scarlet Woman: An Ecclesiastical Melodrama in 1925). Yet, even more memorable for her personally, if not professionally, was her participation, that same year, in a play by Arnold Bennett called Mr. Prohack, in which she was cast opposite a young character actor named Charles Laughton. The two actors reportedly were paid the same salaries, though Laughton played the title role and Elsa was cast in the smaller part of his secretary. They acted together in a set of short films the following year and in February 1929 were married. They continued to act together on occasion including in Payment Deferred on the London stage in May 1931, then traveling to the United States to debut the show on Broadway in September, where it ran for 70 performances in the autumn of ‘31. Laughton was cast in the movie version, released in 1932, though Lanchester was not.

 It was during this period that Laughton confessed to his wife of his homosexual tendencies. In her 1983 autobiography, Elsa Lanchester, Herself, she recounted the night he disclosed his secret. The actor arrived home late one evening in 1931 with Jeffrey Dell, who was adapting Payment Deferred for the stage, a policeman and a boy who apparently wanted money from Laughton, all in tow. According to Lanchester:

   “I was in bed when Charles came upstairs. ‘Something awful has happened,’ he said to me. ‘I have something to confess.’ He said that he had picked up the boy, and it wasn’t the first time he had done it; that he was homosexual partly, and he cried. I said, ‘It’s perfectly all right, it doesn’t matter. I understand it. Don’t worry about it.’ That’s why he cried. When I told him it didn’t matter. […]

 Later on, I would ask Charles what really happened, and once he told me that he had had a fellow on our sofa. The only thing I said was, “Fine, okay, but get rid of the sofa.” We did. We sold it.”

 When Laughton appeared in court concerning the incident, the judge called the money given to the boy “misguided generosity,” and a tiny paragraph at the bottom of a local newspaper read: “Actor warned about misguided generosity.” Only the boy’s name was listed.

 Lanchester is just one of the great character stars featured in the fun and informative book. If you love classic Hollywood, as I do, I hope you will give it a read. Check it out at the link below!


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