His extravagant, bravura style of acting, which made his portrayals of Nero, Henry VIII and Captain Bligh so memorable, was perfectly suited for Charles Laughton's two famous horror roles--that of the evil, whip-cracking Dr. Moreau in Island of Lost Souls (Erle C. Kenton, 1932) and the pathetic Quasimodo in The Hunchback of Notre Dame (William Dieterle, 1939).
He was born in Scarborough, England, in 1889, served in the army during the First World War, then worked in the family hotel until he was twenty-six. During this time he took part in amateur theatricals before persuading his father to provide him with a 3 pound-a-week allowance to enable him to study at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts in London. After leaving the RADA he obtained various small stage roles and succeeded in getting the title role in Arnold Bennett's Mr. Prohack in 1927. It was then that he met actress Elsa Lanchester and they married in 1929.
His first film experience was in 1928 when Elsa was filming three short plays that H.G. Wells had written for her, and Laughton took part in them for fun. His first feature film appearance was a small one in Britain's last major silent film--Piccadilly. A successful play called Payment Deferred led to the Laughtons doing a tour of the USA and while there he bagan to receive film offers. His first Hollywood film was James Whale's The Old Dark House (1932). Other early films include The Island of Lost Souls and Sign of the Cross (1932). His wife, Elsa, also entered the horror hall of fame when, in 1935, she appeared in The Bride of Frankenstein as both Mary Shelley and the female monster created as a mate for Boris Karloff's creature.
Laughton's portrayal of Quasimodo in The Hunchback of Notre Dame was as memorable as Lon Chaney's original. In 1951 he appeared in his last horror film, The Strange Door (Joseph Pevney), and in 1954 he directed Night of the Hunter, an excellent film noir about two children pursued through a dream-like landscape by the man who has murdered their mother, which was spoilt only by its overly sentimental ending. Laughton's last film role was in Advise and Consent (Otto Preminger) in 1962. He died of cancer that same year.
--JOHN BROSNAN, from
The Horror People.
A selection of Charles Laughton films.
Find Charles Laughton on eBay.com
A selection of Charles Laughton in books.
A History of Horror
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