Alan Mowbray: Professionally “British”

A tribute today to character actor Alan Mowbray (Alfred Ernest Allen, 1896-1969). Like Arthur Treacher, Reginald Gardiner and others, Mowbray was one of Hollywood’s “go to” Englishmen for several decades. With his dark brow, expansive forehead, and aquiline nose, he always reminds me of Henry Danielle, although much, much funnier.

Interestingly, Mowbray scarcely acted in his native England at all. A native Londoner, he attained manhood just as World War One was starting. He served with distinction for the duration of the war. In 1922 he acted on the West End for just one year. He then moved to New York where he acted with stock companies including the Theatre Guild throughout the balance of the ’20s. On Broadway he appeared in Sport of KIngs (1926) and These Modern Women (1928). Remarkably, in 1929 he wrote, directed and starred in the comedy Dinner is Served, though it quickly closed. This was followed by The Amorous Antic (1929), in which he shared the stage with Frank Morgan.

Mowbray’s first of nearly 200 screen credits was in the 1931 Frank Fay comedy God’s Gift to Women. Other classic comedies and musicals he appeared in include The Phantom President (1932) with George M. Cohan, Roman Scandals (1933) with Eddie Cantor, Rose Marie (1936), My Man Godfrey (1936), On the Avenue (1937), Topper (1937), Hollywood Hotel (1937), the all-star melodrama parody The Villain Still Pursued Her (1940), The Boys from Syracuse (1940), Yokel Boy (1942), Panama Hattie (1942) and Merton of the Movies (1947) with Red Skelton, Earl Carroll Vanities (1945),  Abbott and Costello Meet the Killer Boris Karloff (1949), Ma and Pa Kettle at Home (1954) and The King and I (1956).

Some might remember Mobray best as the Sherlock Holmes who preceded Basil Rathbone, playing the great sleuth in the 1932 Sherlock Holmes and A Study in Scarlet (1933). Other miscellaneous screen classics include Becky Sharp (1935), Mary of Scotland (1936), That Hamilton Woman (1941), the John Ford westernsMy Darling Clementine(1946) and Wagon Master (1950), Hitchcock’s remake of The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956), and Mike Todd’s Around the World in 80 Days (1956).

Not atypically in the 1950s television began to make up an increasing proportion of Mowbray’s employment and he even starred in his own series, Colonel Humphrey Flack (1953-54 and 58-59), on the Dumont Network, and Dante (1960-61). In 1963, he returned to Broadway one last time in the comedy Enter Laughing. His last credit was a 1969 episode of The Flying Nun. 

For more on classic film comedy, please read Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube.

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