How Reginald Owen Got Scrooged

Having had numerous occasions to mention British-American actor Reginald Owen (1887-1972) on this site, we thought that more than ample time had elapsed to make it requisite for us to sketch his character.

Today, Owen is best known for having the thankless task of replacing Lionel Barrymore as Scrooge in the 1938 Hollywood version of A Christmas Carol, and for preceding Alastair Sim in the part. But he has nearly 150 screen credits total, in scores of well known films you may not immediately connect him with. Owen got his training at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art when it was run by Sir Herbert Beerbohm Tree. His first screen appearance was a silent version of Henry VIII (1911), playing Cromwell to Tree’s Henry. After about 20 years in British theatre, Owen moved to New York, where he was a fixture on Broadway between 1924 and 1932, appearing in a dozen shows, including revivals of Little Eyold, The Importance of Being Earnest (as Algy), and a musical adaptation of The Three Musketeers produced by Ziegfeld (he played Richelieu).

Meanwhile Owen had also begun acting in American films. He’s notable for being one of a scant handful who have played both Sherlock Holmes and Watson in major film productions: Watson in the 1932 Sherlock Holmes with Clive Brook and Holmes in A Study in Scarlet (1933). Naturally Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce took over the two roles in 1939. Owen was very much in demand throughout the ’30s and ’40s for costumed period pieces including Voltaire (1933), Queen Christina (1933), Of Human Bondage (1934), The Good Fairy (1934), Call of the Wild (1935), Anna Karenina (1935), A Tale of Two Cities (1935), Rose-Marie (1936), The Great Ziegfeld (1936), Madame X (1937), Kidnapped (1938), the Jack Benny version of Charley’s Aunt (1941), Woman of the Year (1942), Mrs. Miniver (1942), Captain Kidd (1945), Cluny Brown (1946), Monsieur Beaucaire (1946) Green Dolphin Street (1947), The Pirate (1948), and The Three Muskeeters (1948).

From 1950 through 1952 Owen returned to Broadway to appear in the hit Affairs of State with Celeste Holm. In the ’50s and ’60s TV made up an increasing proportion of his workload, alothough you could still see him on big screens in such things as the Disney films Mary Poppins (1964) and Bedknobs and Broomsticks (1971). The Beatles stayed at his home during their 1964 visit to America! A 1972 episode of McCloud was his last TV guest shot. He then returned to Broadway for several months to appear in the 1972 revival of A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum with Phil Silvers. He died later that year while working on his memoirs at his Idaho home.

“Spirit? Are these the shadows of the things that WILL be? Or are they shadows of the things that MAY be only?”