Gerald Du Maurier: The Original Captain Hook

From the standpoint of memory Sir Gerald du Maurier (1873-1934) has the mild misfortune of being a middle link in a chain that connects two behemoths. But if he is less remembered, it is purely because his art was the most ephemeral. In his own day, he was easily as widely known as his now better remembered father and daughter, perhaps more so. His father was George du Maurier, Punch cartoonist and author of the novels Peter Ibbetson (1891) and Trilby (1894), both of which were widely adapted for stage and screen, the latter best known under the title Svengali, one of the greatest popular successes of all time. Sir Gerald’s daughter Daphne du Maurier (1907-1989) was also a hugely successful novelist, several of whose works became popular films: Alfred Hitchcock filmed Jamaica Inn, Rebecca and The Birds; there were also major films of My Cousin Rachel, The Scapegoat and Don’t Look Now.

As for Gerald? He was merely one of those most popular stage actors his day — a big wheel at the time, but as I say, the theatre is ephemeral. Among other early stage work, du Maurier had appeared in the blockbuster stage adaptation of his father’s Trilby starring Herbert Beerbohm Tree in 1895.

But du Maurier’s chief fame rests on the star roles he played in the works of family friend J.M. Barrie. He was the original George Darling and Captain Hook in the premiere production of Peter Pan in 1904. (The boys in the play were based on du Maurier’s nephews). du Maurier also played Ernest in the original production of The Admirable Crichton (1902) opposite H.B. Irving (son of Sir Henry) and Muriel Beaumont. He married Beaumont that same year. A less remembered Barrie work in which du Maurier starred was Dear Brutus (1917).

From 1910 to 1925 he co-managed Wyndham’s Theatre, where he starred in a popular succession of plays. He also appeared in four silent films: Masks and Faces (1917), Everybody’s Business (1917), Justice (1917), and Unmarried (1920). In 1922 he was knighted.

He got endorsement deals (du Maurier cigarettes were named after him). In 1923, he co-wrote a play called The Dancers with Viola Tree (Sir Herbert’s daughter), under the joint pen name “Hubert Parsons”. It starred a young Tallulah Bankhead in her first important role. In 1925 The Dancers became a Hollywood film starring George O’Brien, Alma Rubens, and Madge Bellamy. It was remade as a talkie five years later.

du Maurier spent his last years acting for the screen in the British films Escape! (1930), Lord Camber’s Ladies (1932), I was a Spy (1933), The Scotland Yard Mystery (1934), The Rise of Catherine the Great (1934) and Power (1934). Soon after his death, Daphne published a biography, Gerald: A Portrait (1934), one of her first popular books.

du Maurier had two other children besides Daphne. Angela du Maurier (1904-2002) wrote a dozen novels and two memoirs. A third daughter, Jeanne du Maurier (1911-1996) was a painter.