The Basics on Basil Sydney

Contemporary lovers of classic cinema have likely seen Basil Sydney (1894-1968) in supporting roles in any number of films: Caesar and Cleopatra (1945), Olivier’s Hamlet (1948), Disney’s Treasure Island (1950), Ivanhoe (1952), Salome (1953), Around the World in 80 Days (1956), John Paul Jones (1959), The Devil’s Disciple (1959) and The Hands of Orlac (1960), among them.

The son of a London stage manager, Sydney had first gone on the stage as a teenager in 1909. Following World War One service, he appeared opposite Doris Keane in Avery Hopwood’s Roxana in 1919. That same year he married his co-star, some 13 years his senior. Since 1913, Keane had been associated with a play called Romance. Sydney now joined her as the male lead in this as well, appearing in London and Broadway productions as well as a 1920 film. In 1922 he starred in one more silent picture, Red Hot Romance (1922) by John Emerson and Anita Loos. For the next dozen years Sydney was primarily a Broadway star, appearing in the American debut of R.U.R. (1922); as well as Romeo and Juliet (1922) with Ethel Barrymore (1922); The Devil’s Disciple (1923); She Stoops to Conquer (1924) with Helen Hayes, Pauline Lord, Selena Royle, and Francis Wilson; the title role in Horace Liveright’s production of Hamlet (1925) with Helen Chandler as Ophelia; King Henry IV, Part One (1926) with Otis Skinner; The Taming of the Shrew (1926); and Becky Sharp (1929), among other things. Sydney and Keane were divorced in 1925.

In 1932, Sydney returned to London to start appearing in talkies. Early ones included The Riverside Murder with Alastair Sim, and Transatlantic Tunnel with Richard Dix, both in 1935. A Story of David (1961) with Jeff Chandler, was his last movie credit, but he continued acting in British television through 1964.