The Surprising Richard Cromwell

The life and career of moderately well-known Hollywood actor Richard Cromwell (Leroy Melvin Radabough, 1910-60) proves to be unexpectedly interesting. Cromwell was the son of the man who invented the chair swing ride, still enjoyed at carnivals, county fairs, and amusement parks to this day:

I damn near died on one of these contraptions one time! A topic for another day.

Cromwell went on to attend what is now CalArts. A fellow student was future costume designer Edith Head. When still quite a young man, he started a shop in Hollywood where he offered interior design services, and sold decorative items for the home. He also took commissions for portraits that took the form of oil paintings and original masks. It was through this work, and by word of mouth, that he became friendly with such Hollywood stars as Marie Dressler, Joan Crawford, Tallulah Bankhead, Ann Sothern, and Greta Garbo. Here is a mask he made of Crawford:

On a whim he took a job as an walk-on in the Paul Whiteman film King of Jazz (1930). On another whim he joined the cattle call for the Richard Barthelmess part in the 1930 remake of Tol’able David. To his, and everyone else’s surprise, he got the part. It was as this stage that he took the professional name Richard Cromwell, presumably borrowed from the ill-fate Lord Protector, Tumbledown Dick. Untrained and inexperienced, the movie star Cromwell benefitted from exceptionally good looks. He went on to star in over three dozen films over the next decade, and was also in demand as a print ad model.

Some notable early Cromwell films included Emma (1932) with Dressler and Myrna LoyThe Age of Consent (1932) with Arline Judge, directed by Gregory La CavaHoop-La (1933) with Clara BowThis Day and Age (1933) directed by Cecil B. De Mille; Carolina (1934) an adaptation of Paul Green’s The House of ConnellyLife Begins at 40 (1935) with Will Rogers; and Poppy (1936) with W.C. Fields.  In 1936, he took a break from Hollywood to do the Broadway play So Proudly We Hail with Eddie Bracken and Edward Andrews. The military theme continued with the film The Road Back (1937), James Whale’s sequel to All Quiet on the Western Front. From 1938 through 1942, he starred in the radio soap opera Those We Love, with Robert Cummings and Gale Gordon. Some of his later films include Jezebel (1938) with Bette DavisYoung Mr. Lincoln (1939) with Henry Fonda; the all-star melodrama parody The Villain Still Pursued Her (1940); and Baby Face Morgan (1942) with Robert Armstrong.

At this stage Cromwell did his bit for World War Two, serving three years in the Coast Guard. When he returned to Hollywood in 1945, he married 19 year old Angela Lansbury. Apparently a Lavender Marriage (Cromwell was one of George Cukor’s social set), the liaison only lasted nine months. During their short time together, the pair socialized frequently with Mr. and Mrs. Zachary Scott.

After the war, Cromwell made only one more film, Bungalow 13 (1948) with Tom Conway and Margaret Hamilton. He then returned to making art. Though he eventually reformed, years of hard drinking killed him in 1960 at the age of 50.