Henry Daniell: Lizard of Villainy

As the awful schoolmaster Brocklehurst in “Jane Eyre”

Today is the birthday of one of Hollywood’s greatest screen villains, the ice-cold, lizard-like Henry Daniell (1894-1963). Daniell was an English stage actor who’d been on the boards since 1913 and continued to act in live theatre in London, New York and regionally until the end of his career. He went into movies in 1929 and began to hit his stride in the late thirties, playing heartless aristocrats in historical costume dramas like Camille (1936), Marie Antoinette (1938) and The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex (1939). He was the Goebbels caricature in Charlie Chaplin’s The Great Dictator in 1940. That same year he was the villain in the swashbuckler The Sea Hawk, dueling with Errol Flynn in what many consider the greatest sword fight on film. He appeared in several of the Basil RathboneNigel Bruce Sherlock Holmes films, even getting to play Moriarity in The Woman in Green (1945). He was the cruel schoolmaster Brocklehurst in Jane Eyre (1944). In The Body Snatcher (1945) he played an unprincipled doctor who hires Boris Karloff to bring him fresh corpses to experiment on, aided by Bela Lugosi. His stage and screen credits continued to proliferate over the decades, although as time wore on there was less demand for the traditional melodrama villain. His last couple of roles were bit parts, in Mutiny on the Bounty (1962) and My Fair Lady (1964). His face and voice are unmistakable in the latter film, though he is uncredited and just has a couple of lines. His last day on earth was a shooting day for My Fair Lady. 

To learn more about 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. And don’t miss my new book: Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube, just released by Bear Manor Mediaalso available from amazon.com etc etc etc

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