Stanley Holloway: A Little Bit of Luck

A tip of the cap today to the great British star Stanley Holloway (1890-1982), who left us 40 years ago this year. Americans know him best from his role as Eliza Doolittle’s cockney father in the original Broadway stage production and film of My Fair Lady and accompanying publicity (1956-64). But his career lasted around 70 years — 30 years before MFL in the Mother Country. Yanks are forgivably apt to mix him up with Sterling Holloway, but he was a very different personality, and inarguably just as significant, perhaps more so.

Holloway’s Christian name was in honor of the famous African explorer (“Dr. Livingstone, I presume?”). He became a performer in the 19-teens, in music hall, panto, West End musicals, and a now defunct variety form known as Pierrot Shows or concert parties. Loved for his humorous monologues and songs, he also quickly became popular on records and on radio. The P.G. WodehouseGuy Bolton musical Kissing Time (1919) put him over on the legit stage. He began appearing in pictures with Ealing Studios in 1934.

Films he appeared in included Major Barbara (1941), Caesar and Cleopatra (1945), Nicholas Nickleby (1947), Olivier’s Hamlet (1948), The Winslow Boy (1948), The Lavender Hill Mob (1951), The Beggar’s Opera (1953), My Fair Lady (1964), Ten Little Indians (1966), Mrs. Brown, You’ve Got a Lovely Daughter (1968–yes the one with Herman’s Hermit’s!), The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes (1970), and Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1973). Around the time of the My Fair Lady roll-out Hollywood did a lot of television like The Ed Sullivan Show, The Maurice Chevalier Show (produced by Max Liebman), The Tonight Show with Jack Paar, Sunday Night at the London Palladium, The Red Skelton Hour, and The Dean Martin Show. His last screen credit was a 1975 remake of Journey Into Fear with Sam Waterston, Zero Mostel, Yvette Mimieux, Vincent Price, Donald Pleasence, Shelley Winters, and Ian McShane.

For more on show biz history please see No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous.