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Elsa Sullivan Lanchester (28 October 1902 – 26 December 1986) was a British actress with a long career in theatre, film and television.[1] Lanchester studied dance as a child and after the First World War began performing in theatre and cabaret, where she established her career over the following decade. She met the actor Charles Laughton in 1927, and they were married two years later. She began playing small roles in British films, including the role of Anne of Cleves with Laughton in The Private Life of Henry VIII
The Private Life of Henry VIII
(1933). His success in American films resulted in the couple moving to Hollywood, where Lanchester played small film roles. Her role as the title character in Bride of Frankenstein
Bride of Frankenstein
(1935) brought her recognition. She played supporting roles through the 1940s and 1950s. She was nominated for the Academy Award
Academy Award
for Best Supporting Actress for Come to the Stable
Come to the Stable
(1949) and Witness for the Prosecution (1957), the last of twelve films in which she appeared with Laughton. Following Laughton's death in 1962, Lanchester resumed her career with appearances in such Disney films as Mary Poppins (1964), That Darn Cat! (1965) and Blackbeard's Ghost
Blackbeard's Ghost
(1968). The horror film Willard (1971) was highly successful, and one of her last roles was in Murder by Death (1976).

Contents

1 Early life 2 Film career 3 Personal life 4 Final years 5 Death 6 Filmography 7 See also 8 References 9 Bibliography 10 External links

Early life[edit] Elsa Sullivan Lanchester was born in Lewisham, London.[2] Her parents, James "Shamus" Sullivan (1872–1945) and Edith "Biddy" Lanchester (1871–1966), were considered Bohemian, and refused to legalise their union in any conventional way to satisfy the era's conservative society. They were both socialists, according to Lanchester's 1970 interview with Dick Cavett. Elsa's older brother, Waldo Sullivan Lanchester, born five years earlier, was a puppeteer, with his own marionette company based in Malvern, Worcestershire
Malvern, Worcestershire
and later in Stratford-upon-Avon.[citation needed] Elsa studied dance in Paris
Paris
under Isadora Duncan, whom she disliked. When the school was discontinued due to the start of the Great War, she returned to the UK. At that point (she was about twelve years of age)[citation needed] she began teaching dance in the Duncan style and gave classes to children in her South London
South London
district, through which she earned some welcome extra income for her household.[citation needed] At about this time, after the First World War, she started the Children's Theatre, and later the Cave of Harmony, a nightclub at which modern plays and cabaret turns were performed. She revived old Victorian songs and ballads, many of which she retained for her performances in another revue entitled Riverside Nights. She became sufficiently famous for Columbia to invite her into the recording studio to make 78 rpm discs of four of the numbers she sang in these revues: "Please Sell No More Drink to My Father" and "He Didn't Oughter" were on one disc (recorded in 1926) and "Don't Tell My Mother I'm Living in Sin" and "The Ladies Bar" were on the other (recorded 1930).[3] Her cabaret and nightclub appearances led to more serious stage work and it was in a play by Arnold Bennett
Arnold Bennett
called Mr Prohack (1927) that Lanchester first met another member of the cast, Charles Laughton. They were married two years later and continued to act together from time to time, both on stage and screen. She played his daughter in the stage play Payment Deferred
Payment Deferred
(1931) though not in the subsequent Hollywood film version. Lanchester and Laughton appeared in the Old Vic season of 1933–34, playing Shakespeare, Chekov and Wilde, and in 1936 she was Peter Pan
Peter Pan
to Laughton's Captain Hook in J. M. Barrie's play at the London Palladium. Their last stage appearance together was in Jane Arden's The Party (1958) at the New Theatre, London.[3] Film career[edit]

With Boris Karloff
Boris Karloff
in Bride of Frankenstein
Bride of Frankenstein
(1935)

Lanchester made her film debut in The Scarlet Woman (1925) and in 1928 appeared in three 'silent shorts' written for her by H. G. Wells
H. G. Wells
and directed by Ivor Montagu (Blue Bottles, Daydreams and The Tonic) in which Laughton made brief appearances. They also appeared together in a 1930 'film revue' entitled Comets, featuring British stage, musical and variety acts, in which they sang in duet 'The Ballad of Frankie and Johnnie.' Lanchester appeared in several other early British talkies, including Potiphar's Wife (1931), a film starring Laurence Olivier. She appeared opposite Laughton again as a highly comical Anne of Cleves in The Private Life of Henry VIII
The Private Life of Henry VIII
(1933). Laughton was by now making films in Hollywood so Lanchester joined him there, making minor appearances in David Copperfield (1935) and Naughty Marietta (1935). These and her appearances in British films helped her gain the title role in Bride of Frankenstein
Bride of Frankenstein
(1935). She and Laughton returned to Britain to appear together again in Rembrandt (1936) and later in Vessel of Wrath (US: The Beachcomber. 1938).[3] They both returned to Hollywood where he made The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1939) although Lanchester didn't appear in another film until Ladies in Retirement
Ladies in Retirement
(1941). She and Laughton played husband and wife (their characters were named Charles and Elsa Smith) in Tales of Manhattan (1942) and they both appeared again in the all-star, mostly British cast of Forever and a Day (1943). She received top billing in Passport to Destiny
Passport to Destiny
(1944) for the only time in her Hollywood career.[4] Lanchester played supporting roles in The Spiral Staircase and The Razor's Edge (both 1946). She appeared as the housekeeper in The Bishop's Wife (1947) with David Niven
David Niven
playing the bishop, Loretta Young his wife, and Cary Grant
Cary Grant
an angel. Lanchester played a comical role as an artist in the thriller, The Big Clock (1948), in which Laughton starred as a megalomaniac press tycoon. She had a part as a painter specialising in nativity scenes in Come to the Stable
Come to the Stable
(1949), for which she was nominated for a Best Supporting Actress Academy Award (1949).[3] During the late 1940s and 1950s she appeared in small but highly varied supporting roles in a number of films while simultaneously appearing on stage at the Turnabout Theatre in Hollywood.[5] Here she performed her solo vaudeville act in conjunction with a marionette show, singing somewhat off-colour songs which she later recorded for a couple of LPs.[6][7] Onscreen, she appeared alongside Danny Kaye
Danny Kaye
in The Inspector General (1949), played a blackmailing landlady in Mystery Street
Mystery Street
(1950), and was Shelley Winters's travelling companion in Frenchie
Frenchie
(1950). More supporting roles followed in the early 1950s, including a 2-minute cameo as the Bearded Lady in 3 Ring Circus
3 Ring Circus
(1954), about to be shaved by Jerry Lewis. She had another substantial and memorable part when she appeared again with her husband in Witness for the Prosecution (1957) a screen version of Agatha Christie's 1953 play for which both received Academy Award nominations – she for the second time as Best Supporting Actress, and Laughton, also for the second time, for Best Actor. Neither won. However, she did win the Golden Globe
Golden Globe
for Best Supporting Actress for the film.

Lanchester and Edward Everett Horton
Edward Everett Horton
as guest stars on Burke's Law, 1964

Lanchester played a witch in Bell, Book and Candle
Bell, Book and Candle
(1958), and appeared in such films as Mary Poppins (1964), That Darn Cat! (1965) and Blackbeard's Ghost
Blackbeard's Ghost
(1968). She appeared on 9 April 1959, on NBC's The Ford Show, Starring Tennessee Ernie Ford. She performed in two episodes of NBC's The Wonderful World of Disney. Additionally, she had memorable guest roles in an episode of I Love Lucy
I Love Lucy
in 1956 and in episodes of NBC's The Eleventh Hour (1964) and The Man From U.N.C.L.E. (1965).[8] In the 1965–66 television season, she was a regular on John Forsythe's sitcom The John Forsythe
John Forsythe
Show on NBC
NBC
in the role of Miss Culver, the principal of a private girls' academy in San Francisco. She continued television work into the early 1970s, appearing as a recurring character in Nanny and the Professor, starring Richard Long and Juliet Mills. Lanchester continued to make occasional film appearances, singing a duet with Elvis Presley
Elvis Presley
in Easy Come, Easy Go (1967) and playing the mother in the original version of Willard (1971), alongside Bruce Davison and Ernest Borgnine, which scored well at the box office. She was Jessica Marbles, a sleuth based on Agatha Christie's Jane Marple, in the 1976 murder mystery spoof, Murder by Death
Murder by Death
and she made her last film in 1980 as Sophie in Die Laughing. She released three LP albums in the 1950s. Two (referred to above) were entitled "Songs for a Shuttered Parlour" and "Songs for a Smoke-Filled Room" and were vaguely lewd and danced around their true purpose, such as the song about her husband's "clock" not working. Laughton provided the spoken introductions to each number and even joined Lanchester in the singing of "She Was Poor But She Was Honest". Her third LP was entitled "Cockney London", a selection of old London songs for which Laughton wrote the sleeve-notes.[citation needed] Personal life[edit]

With Juliet Mills
Juliet Mills
as a guest star on Nanny and the Professor
Nanny and the Professor
(1971)

Lanchester married Charles Laughton
Charles Laughton
in 1929.[9] In 1938, Lanchester published a book about her relationship with Laughton, Charles Laughton
Charles Laughton
and I. In March 1983, Lanchester released an autobiography, entitled Elsa Lanchester
Elsa Lanchester
Herself. In the book she alleges that she and Charles Laughton
Charles Laughton
never had children because Laughton was homosexual.[10] Maureen O'Hara, a friend and co-star of Laughton, denied this was the reason for the couple's childlessness. She claimed Laughton had told her that the reason he and his wife never had children was because of a botched abortion Lanchester had early in her career of performing burlesque. Lanchester admitted in her autobiography that she had two abortions in her youth (one being Laughton's), but it is not clear if the second left her incapable of becoming pregnant again.[11] According to her biographer, Charles Higham, the reason she did not have children was that she did not want any.[12] Lanchester was an atheist.[13] Final years[edit] Not long after the release of her autobiography, Lanchester's health took a turn for the worse. Within 30 months, she suffered two strokes, becoming totally incapacitated and requiring constant care. She was confined to bed. In March 1986, the Motion Picture and Television Fund filed to become conservator of Lanchester and her estate which was valued at $900,000.[14] Death[edit] Elsa Lanchester
Elsa Lanchester
died in Woodland Hills, California
Woodland Hills, California
on 26 December 1986 aged 84, at the Motion Picture Hospital from bronchopneumonia. Her body was cremated on 5 January 1987, at the Chapel of the Pines in Los Angeles and her ashes scattered over the Pacific Ocean.[15] Filmography[edit]

The Scarlet Woman: An Ecclesiastical Melodrama (1925) as Beatrice de Carolle One of the Best (1927) as Kitty The Constant Nymph (1928) as Lady The Tonic (1928) as Elsa Daydreams (1928) as Elsa / Heroine in Dream Sequence Blue Bottles (1928) as Elsa Mr Smith Wakes Up (1929) Comets (1930) as Herself Ashes (1930) as Girl The Love Habit (1931) as Mathilde The Officers' Mess (1931) as Cora Melville The Stronger Sex (1931) as Thompson Potiphar's Wife (1931) as Therese The Private Life of Henry VIII
The Private Life of Henry VIII
(1933) as Anne of Cleves, the Fourth Wife The Private Life of Don Juan (1934) as Maid (uncredited) David Copperfield (1935) as Clickett Naughty Marietta (1935) as Madame d'Annard Bride of Frankenstein
Bride of Frankenstein
(1935) as Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley / The Monster's Mate (as ?) The Ghost Goes West
The Ghost Goes West
(1935) as Miss Shepperton Miss Bracegirdle Does Her Duty (1936: unreleased) as Millicent Bracegirdle Rembrandt (1936) as Hendrickje Stoffels Vessel of Wrath (US: The Beachcomber, 1938) as Martha Jones Ladies in Retirement
Ladies in Retirement
(1941) as Emily Creed Son of Fury: The Story of Benjamin Blake (1942) as Bristol Isabel Tales of Manhattan
Tales of Manhattan
(1942) as Elsa (Mrs Charles) Smith Forever and a Day (1943) as Mamie Thumbs Up (1943) as Emma Finch Lassie Come Home
Lassie Come Home
(1943) as Mrs. Carraclough Passport to Destiny
Passport to Destiny
(1944: also titled Passport to Adventure) as Ella Muggins The Spiral Staircase (1945) as Mrs. Oates The Razor's Edge
The Razor's Edge
(1946) as Miss Keith Northwest Outpost
Northwest Outpost
(1947: also titled End of the Rainbow) as Princess 'Tanya' Tatiana The Bishop's Wife
The Bishop's Wife
(1947) as Matilda The Big Clock (1948) as Louise Patterson The Secret Garden (1949) as Martha Come to the Stable
Come to the Stable
(1949) as Amelia Potts The Inspector General (1949) as Maria Buccaneer's Girl
Buccaneer's Girl
(1949) as Mme. Brizar Mystery Street
Mystery Street
(1950) as Mrs. Smerrling The Petty Girl
The Petty Girl
(UK: Girl of the Year, 1950) as Dr. Crutcher Frenchie
Frenchie
(1950) as Countess Dreamboat (1952) as Dr. Mathilda Coffey Les Misérables (1952) as Madame Magloire Androcles and the Lion (1952) as Megaera The Girls of Pleasure Island
The Girls of Pleasure Island
(1953) as Thelma Hell's Half Acre (1954) as Lida O'Reilly 3 Ring Circus
3 Ring Circus
(1954) as the Bearded Lady The Glass Slipper
The Glass Slipper
(1955) as Widow Sonder I Love Lucy
I Love Lucy
(1956) as Mrs Edna Grundy. "The Hatchett murderer" Witness for the Prosecution (1957) as Miss Plimsoll Bell, Book and Candle
Bell, Book and Candle
(1958) as Aunt Queenie Holroyd Honeymoon Hotel (1964) as Chambermaid Mary Poppins (1964) as Katie Nanna Pajama Party (1964) as Aunt Wendy The Man from U.N.C.L.E.
The Man from U.N.C.L.E.
(TV) (1965) as Dr. Agnes Dabree That Darn Cat! (1965) as Mrs. MacDougall Easy Come, Easy Go (1967) as Madame Neherina Blackbeard's Ghost
Blackbeard's Ghost
(1968) as Emily Stowecroft Rascal (1969) as Mrs. Satterfield Me, Natalie
Me, Natalie
(1969) as Miss Dennison My Dog, the Thief (television) (1969) as Mrs. Formby Willard (1971) as Henrietta Stiles Night Gallery
Night Gallery
episode "Green Fingers" (1972) Here's Lucy
Here's Lucy
episode Lucy Goes to Prison (1973) as Henrietta Stiles Terror in the Wax Museum
Terror in the Wax Museum
(1973) as Julia Hawthorn Arnold (1974) as Hester Murder by Death
Murder by Death
(1976) as Jessica Marbles Die Laughing (1980) as Sophie (final film role)

See also[edit]

Biography portal

References[edit]

^ Obituary Variety, 31 December 1986. ^ GRO Register of Births: MAR 1903 1d 1194 LEWISHAM - Elsa Sullivan Lanchester ^ a b c d Maltin 1994, p. 494. ^ Jewell and Harbin 1982, p. 193. ^ "Elsa's Gazebo", time.com, 24 May 1948. ^ "New Pop Records", time.com, 6 November 1950. ^ Elsa Lanchester
Elsa Lanchester
at AllMusic ^ Favell, Jack. "A Fan Tribute to Elsa Lanchester"[permanent dead link], Turner Classic Movies; retrieved 19 May 2013. ^ GRO Register of Marriages: MAR 1929 1a 986 ST MARTIN - Charles Laughton=Elsa Sullivan or Lanchester ^ Houseman, John. "The Bride of Frankenstein'". The New York Times, 17 April 1983. Retrieved:: 12 August 2007. ^ Lanchester 1983[page needed]. ^ Higham, p. 27 ^ Elsa Lanchester, Charles Laughton
Charles Laughton
and I, (Harcourt, Brace, 1938) ^ Mank 1999, p. 315. ^ Mank 1999, p. 316.

Bibliography[edit]

Callow, Simon. Charles Laughton: A Difficult Actor. Mt Prospect, Illinois: Fromm International, 1987. ISBN 978-0-31224-377-7. Higham, Charles. Charles Laughton: An Intimate Biography New York: Doubleday, 1976. ISBN 978-0-38509-403-0. Jewell, Richard and Vernon Harbin. The RKO Story. New Rochelle, New York: Arlington House, 1982. ISBN 978-0-70641-285-7. Lanchester, Elsa. Charles Laughton
Charles Laughton
and I. San Diego, California: Harcourt, Brace Jovanovich, 1938. ISBN 0-15-164019-X. Lanchester, Elsa. Elsa Lanchester, Myself. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1984. ISBN 978-0-31224-377-7. Maltin, Leonard. "Elsa Lanchester". Leonard Maltin's Movie Encyclopedia. New York: Dutton, 1994. ISBN 0-525-93635-1. Mank, Gregory William. Women in Horror Films, 1930s. Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Company, 1999. ISBN 978-0-78640-553-4. Singer, Kurt. The Charles Laughton
Charles Laughton
Story. London: R. Hale, 1952. Singer, Kurt. The Laughton story; An Intimate Story of Charles Laughton. Philadelphia: Winston, 1954.

External links[edit]

Wikimedia Commons has media related to Elsa Lanchester.

Official website Elsa Lanchester
Elsa Lanchester
on IMDb Elsa Lanchester
Elsa Lanchester
at the TCM Movie Database Elsa Lanchester
Elsa Lanchester
at the Internet Broadway Database
Internet Broadway Database
Elsa Lanchester
Elsa Lanchester
at the British Film Institute's Screenonline Cult Sirens: Elsa Lanchester Elsa Lanchester
Elsa Lanchester
at Find a Grave Elsa Lanchester
Elsa Lanchester
at Virtual History

v t e

Golden Globe
Golden Globe
Award for Best Supporting Actress – Motion Picture

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(1954) Marisa Pavan
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WorldCat Identities VIAF: 34668104 LCCN: n82144403 ISNI: 0000 0001 1470 5480 GND: 134438841 SELIBR: 235412 SUDOC: 059744197 BNF: cb14196166d (data) MusicBrainz: b1fa638a-53be-4c0b-9237-3d87543ae36c BNE: XX1167974 SN

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