Charles Laughton was an English stage and film actor. Laughton was trained in London at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art and first appeared professionally on the stage in 1926. Since 1927, he was cast in a play with his future wife Elsa Lanchester, with whom he lived and worked until his death.
He played a wide range of classical and modern parts, making an impact on Shakespeare at the Old Vic. His film career took him to Broadway and then Hollywood, but he also collaborated with Alexander Korda on notable British films of the era, including The Private Life of Henry VIII, for which he won the Academy Award for Best Actor for his portrayal of the title character. He portrayed everything from monsters and misfits to kings.
Laughton was born in Scarborough, North Riding of Yorkshire, the son of Eliza (née Conlon; 1869–1953) and Robert Laughton (1869–1924), Yorkshire hotel keepers. A blue plaque marks his birthplace. His mother was a devout Roman Catholic of Irish descent, and she sent him to briefly attend a local boys’ school, Scarborough College, before sending him to Stonyhurst College, the pre-eminent English Jesuit school. Laughton served in World War I, during which he was gassed, serving first with the 2/1st Battalion of the Huntingdonshire Cyclist Battalion, and then with the 7th Battalion of the Northamptonshire Regiment.
Film career in 1933–1943
Then came The Barretts of Wimpole Street (since 1934) as Norma Shearer’s character’s malevolent father (although Laughton was only three years older than Shearer); Les Misérables (since 1935) as Inspector Javert; one of his most famous screen roles in Mutiny on the Bounty (since 1935) as Captain William Bligh, co-starring with Clark Gable as Fletcher Christian; and Ruggles of Red Gap (since 1935) as the very English butler transported to early 1900s America.
Career in Television
Laughton was the fill-in host on 9 September 1956, when Elvis Presley made his first of three appearances on CBS’s The Ed Sullivan Show, which garnered 60.7 million viewers (Ed Sullivan was recuperating from a car accident). That same year, Laughton hosted the first of two programs devoted to classical music entitled “Festival of Music”, and telecast on the NBC television anthology series Producers’ Showcase. One of his last performances was on Checkmate, in which he played a missionary recently returned from China. He threw himself into the role, traveling to China for several months to better understand his character.
In 1927, Laughton began a relationship with Elsa Lanchester, at the time a castmate in a stage play. The two were married in 1929, became US citizens in 1950, and remained together until Laughton’s death. Over the years, they appeared together in several films, including Rembrandt (since 1936), Tales of Manhattan (1942) and The Big Clock (since 1948). Lanchester portrayed Anne of Cleves, Henry VIII’s fourth wife, opposite Laughton in The Private Life of Henry VIII. They both received Academy Award nominations for their performances in Witness for the Prosecution (1957)—Laughton for Best Actor, and Lanchester for Best Supporting Actress—but neither won.
- Full Name: Charles Laughton
- Date of Birth: July 1, 1899
- Birth Place: Scarborough, United Kingdom
- Date of Death: December 15, 1962
- Death Place: Hollywood, Los Angeles, California, United States
- Spouse: Elsa Lanchester (m since 1929–1962)
- Resting place: Forest Lawn Memorial Park, Hollywood Hills
- Education: Scarborough College, Stonyhurst College
- Alma mater: Royal Academy of Dramatic Art
- Occupation: Actor, screenwriter, producer, director
- Years active: since 1926–1962
- Spouse(s): Elsa Lanchester (m since 1929; his death 1962)
- Awards: Academy Award for Best Actor, David di Donatello for Best Foreign Actor, Grammy Award for Best Spoken Word Album
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