Thornton Freeland: From Hope to Hollywood

Thornton Freeland (1898-1987) is a notable director for fans of vaudeville to know about, for he directed many comedies and musicals starring vets of the vaud stage.

A native of Hope, North Dakota, Freeland barnstormed as a stage actor from boyhood, winding up as an errand boy at Vitagraph studios by the mid teens. By 1924, Freeland had worked his way up to assistant director and production assistant on such pictures as On the Stroke of Three (1924), Drusilla with a Million (1925), the 1926 version of The Bat, The Dove (1927), and The Divine Lady (1928). The 1929 sound remake of Three LIve Ghosts was his first picture as director. In 1930, he married the actress June Clyde.

Freeland’s Hollywood films of the early ’30s included Whoopee! (1930) with Eddie Cantor, Be Yourself (1930) with Fanny Brice, Six Cylinder Love (1931) with Spencer Tracy and Edward Everett Horton, The Secret Witness (1931) with Zasu Pitts, Buster Collier, and Una Merkel, Love Affair (1932) with Dorothy Mackaill and a young Humphrey Bogart, two Loretta Young pictures They Call it Sin and Working Wives (both 1932), Flying Down to Rio (1933) with Fred and Ginger and Dolores Del Rio, The Unexpected Father (1932) with Slim Summerville and Zasu Pitts, and George White’s Scandals (1934).

The 1935 version of Brewster’s Millions inaugurates his British period, some of the notable products of which were Accused and Amateur Gentlemen, both with Douglas Fairbanks Jr in 1936, Skylarks (1936) with Nervo and Knox, Jericho (1937) with Paul Robeson, Hold My Hand (1937) with Stanley Lupino, Over the Moon (1939) with Rex Harrison and Merle Oberon, and The Gang’s All Here (1939) with Jack Buchanan.

The advent of World War Two forced Freeland back to America, where he made just two pictures in 1941: Marry the Boss’s Daughter, and Too Many Blondes (the latter with Rudy Vallee). He made no films at all during the American phase of WWII. When the shooting was over, he returned to London, where he directed three more movies: Meet Me at Dawn (1947), Brass Monkey (1948), and Dear Mr. Prohack (1949), the latter with Glynis Johns, Dirk Bogarde, and Cecil Parker. By the time of his death nearly four decades later he had retired to Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

For more on show biz history, please see No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous and for more on silent and early film please read Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube.