Bryant Haliday: Man of the Cinema

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“I’d walk miles for the hubble, bubble and toil of a good horror movie, or to watch Vincent Price stirring cauldrons of horror, or to observe a well-fanged Christopher Lee on the prowl for blood. I love to see black horses and coaches galloping through the night and all that traditional stuff. The more traditional it is, the better I like it.”  — Bryant Haliday

Today is birthday of actor, producer and film distributor and exhibitor Bryant Haliday (1928-1996). I became aware of this interesting and significant personage in a backwards fashion. He plays the evil ventriloquist in the 1964 low-budget horror film Devil Doll (1964). With his piercing eyes, distinguished mien, and classical diction, Haliday makes a big impression. It was from asking the question “Who is that guy?” that I learned that Haliday’s reach was vastly broader than the handful of horror films he’d appeared in only as a lark.

Raised and educated at a Benedictine Monastary in Rhode Island, he enrolled at Harvard in his late teens and gravitated towards theatre instead. He was one of the founding members of the Brattle Theatre Company, based on the model of the Old Vic and located in historic Brattle Hall in Cambridge. Haliday acted in and produced 50 classical productions over the next few years. In 1948 he bought the building, which had been built by Reverend Samuel Longfellow, the poet’s brother in the late 19th century. Haliday was only 20 years old at this stage; one can only conclude that he enjoyed the advantages of wealth.

In 1952, the Brattle stopped doing theatre and began to focus exclusively on screening films. And history will show that this was Haliday’s greatest contribution to American culture. With Cyrus Harvey, Jr. he co-founded Janus Films, which distributed foreign and art films to the U.S. market. Haliday and Harvey screened these films at the Brattle in Cambridge and the 55th Street Playhouse in New York through the mid-60s, fostering the cults of Bergman, Fellini, Kurasawa, Antonioni etc which were to have such a huge impact on film-makers and audiences of the late 1950s and 1960s. All of the Beats, and film artists like Woody Allen, Paul Mazursky, and Robert Altman cut their teeth on these films, as has every generation since.

At the same time, Haliday dabbled in film acting, appearing in two French movies in the early 60s, and then four British horror films produced by Richard Gordon: Devil Doll (1964), Curse of Simba (1964), The Projected Man (1966) and Tower of Evil a.k.a. Horror on Snape Island (1971). After this, Haliday (who’d sold Janus and his theatres in the mid ’60s) moved to France, where he continued to act in theatre and television from time to time. He died in Paris at the age of 68.

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