Ronald Colman: Badly in Need of an “E”

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Today is the birthday of Ronald Colman (1891-1958). This English stage actor began acting with amateur companies at age 17; by 1914 he was a professional  (though he had never trained). Service in World War One sidelined his career for a couple of years, then a war wound allowed him to return to acting in 1916. It was in 1921 that he came to America to appear on Broadway and in Hollywood films.

Strange to think of him ever being a star of silents, so much do we associate him with that distinctive sing-song voice, which inspired a million imitations (including, I have always thought Toucan Sam). But he was already a star in the 20s, appearing in such films as Romola (1924), the original Stella Dallas (1925), Lady Windermere’s Fan (1925), and the original Beau Geste (1926), among many others. Here he is in a scene from The Winning of Barbara Worth (1926):

In the talking era, his unique vocal delivery sealed the deal, and he played Bulldog Drummond in the popular series of films, and starred in such classics as A Tale of Two Cities (1935), Lost Horizon (1937), The Prisoner of Zenda (1937), and The Talk of the Town (1942). Here he is Bulldog Drummond Strikes Back (1934):

Hilariously, he became a kind of semi-regular on Jack Benny’s radio program, the gag being that Colman was Benny’s long-suffering next door neighbor. This actually led to Colman having his own short-lived radio show.

His last film is a new “guilty favorite” of mine, Irwin Allen’s peculiar Story of Mankind (1957). For more on that film go here.

For more on early film history see my new book Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube, just released by Bear Manor Media, also available from amazon.com etc etc etc. For more on show biz historyconsult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold.

 

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