Richard Quine: Show Biz and Shot Guns

The interesting career of actor/writer/ director Richard Quine (1920-1989) contains many phases and is a bridge between old school show biz and the modern era.

First he was a child performer in vaudeville, radio, and legit theatre. Among his early radio work was the part of Dick in Nancy and Dick and the Spirit of ’76, which ran on KFAC Los Angeles fro 1929 through 1931.

From adolescence through young adulthood Quine acted in films, radio, and on Broadway. Early movies included Counsellor-at-Law (1933) with John Barrymore, the 1934 version of Jane Eyre, the classic musical Dames (1934), and Dinky (1935) with Jackie Cooper. Radio work included appearances on Dr. Christian (1938-39) and Lux Radio Theatre (1939). Then came valuable experience on Broadway in Very Warm for May (1939-1940) and My Sister Eileen (1940-43), where he got to work with George S. Kaufman. He reprised his role in the latter play in the 1942 screen version, and later directed his own musical version in 1955. Other movies of the ’40s included Babes on Broadway (1941), For Me and My Gal (1942) and Words and Music (1948).

By the end of the ’40s, Quine grew frustrated with his career of bit parts and B movies and decided to break into directing. In 1948 he co-directed the boxing picture Leather Gloves with William Asher (later best known for producing and directing Bewitched starring his wife Elizabeth Montgomery). Quine then directed a few comedy shorts at Columbia, including A Slip and a Miss (1950) and Woo-Woo Blues (1951) with Hugh Herbert, Foy Meets Girl (1950) with Eddie Foy Jr., and The Awful Sleuth (1951) with Bert Wheeler. This makes him one of the last comedy auteurs to come out of the old school classic comedy factory.

Next came a period of musicals, comedies and noirs, many of them co-written with Blake Edwards, with stars like Jack Lemmon, Kim Novak, Mickey Rooney, Judy Holiday, Tony Curtis, et al. His best remembered work extends from the mid ’50s through the late ’60s, stuff like The Solid Gold Cadillac (1956); Operation Mad Ball (1957); Bell Book and Candle (1958); The World of Suzie Wong (1960); Paris When it Sizzles (1964); Sex and the Single Girl (1964); How to Murder Your Wife (1965); Oh Dad Poor Dad Mama’s Hung You in the Closet and I’m Feeling So Sad (1967); A Talent for Loving (1969), and The Moonshine War (1970).

By the late ’60s, Quine’s brand of wacky light comedy seemed to have gone out of vogue and he appears to have made an effort to reposition himself. Synanon (1965), an addiction drama, seems an effort to replicate the success of Edwards’ smash Days of Wine and Roses (1962). This was followed by the all-star melodrama Hotel (1967). From 1972 through 1975, he directed numerous editions of the NBC Mystery Movie series, including episodes of Columbo, Hec Ramsey, and McCoy. In 1973 he directed a TV pilot for a sitcom based on Mike Nichols’ recent hit Catch-22 starring a young Richard Dreyfuss, an obvious attempt to replicate the success of M*A*S*H. It wasn’t picked up. He also directed a 1974 thriller called W starring Twiggy, whose “moment” had been several years earlier. By the late 70s, Quine’s credits are an episode of Project UFO, and the distinctly down-market Peter Sellers comedies The Prisoner of Zenda (1979) and The Fiendish Plot of Dr. Fu Manchu (1980), although Sellers fired him from the latter project before it was completed.

Quine lived another ten years, and then shockingly ended it all with a shotgun blast to the head. Some sources say he was despondent over ill health; others that he was depressed about the low state of his career. Interestingly, this wasn’t the first incident of tragic gun violence in his life. In 1945 his first wife, actress Susan Peters was accidentally shot during a hunting trip, leaving her permanently paralyzed from the waist down. Peters continued to act in a wheelchair for a few years after this. Quine divorced her in 1948. She starved herself to death four years later at the age of 31. Quine was also married to Barbara Bushman (granddaughter of Francis X. Bushman), Fran Jeffries, and Diana Balfour, and reportedly dated Kim Novak, Judy Holiday, and Natalie Wood.

To learn more about vaudeville, where Richard Quine got his start, please see No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, and for more on classic comedy please read Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube.