Black and white photo of Charles Laughton, 1934
Charles Laughton was born on Scarborough, Yorkshire on July 1, 1899. He was the son of Yorkshire hotel keepers, namely Eliza and Robert Laughton. In his childhood, Laughton was sent to a local boys’ school, Scarborough School. However, after a short period of studying in Scarborough, Laughton was then sent to Stonyhurst College. At the age of sixteen, Laughton started working in their family business after graduating from Stonyhurst. Aside from managing their business, Laughton also became a student of the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts, the U.K, in 1925.
During his years in the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts (RADA), Claude Rains, a film and stage actor, became one of his mentors. In April 1926, Laughton made his debut at the Barnes Theatre. He played the role of a servant named ‘Osip,’ in a satirical-comedy play, ‘The Government Inspector.’ Furthermore, Laughton also starred in two of Chekov’s play called ‘The Three Sisters’ and ‘The Cherry Orchard,’ both in 1928. Some of the plays he also starred in 1928 were: The Silver Tassie, Mr. Prohack, and Mr. Pickwick. In the following years of 1930 to 1931, Laughton appeared in many successful plays, including The Tempest, Measure for Measure, and a French play, Le Médecin malgré lui (A Doctor In Spite of Himself).
Apart from stage acting, Laughton also pursued his film career in 1928. He had his first small roles on three silent comedies (Daydreams, Blue Bottles, and The Tonic) starring Elsa Lancaster. In 1930, Laughton also starred on ‘The Comets,’ with Elsa Lancaster. It was a British variety act where Lancaster and Laughton sang a duet of The Ballad of Frankie and Johnnie. His film career was slowly progressing as he starred in more films in 1930. Laughton played the role of Captain Job in the crime film ‘Wolves,’ opposite Dorothy Gish, an American actress. In 1931, he starred in the movie ‘Down River,’ with Jane Baxter, a British actress.
After Laughton’s successful films, he was offered his first Hollywood film, “The Dark Old House.” It was a comedy-horror film where he played the role of Sir William Porterhouse, along with Boris Karloff, an English actor. Laughton continued to star in 1932 films, including Devil and the Deep, Sign of the Cross, Payment Deferred, and Island of Lost Souls. In 1933, Laughton starred in the movie ‘The Private Life of Henry VIII,’ directed by Alexander Korda. In this film, Laughton played the role of Henry VIII, where he won an Academy Award for Best Actor.
Life as a Star
After his successful film career, Laughton left the stage acting. He returned to Hollywood for his film with Carole Lombard, “White Woman” in 1933. Subsequently, he was then offered a starring role in the movie, ‘The Barretts of Wimpole Street,” directed by Sidney Franklin in 1934. Laughton played the role of Edward Barrett, the father of Norma Shearer’s character, Elizabeth. Moreover, in 1935, Laughton continued to play a role in films, including Les Misérables, and Ruggles of Red Gap. Although, the most famous role in his 1935 films was in “Mutiny on the Bounty,” co-starring Clark Gable. In this drama film, Laughton played as William Bligh and was nominated for an Academy Awards for Best Actor.
When Laughton went back to the U.K, he starred in a British biographical film, “Rembrandt,” directed by Alexander Korda in 1936. He also starred in three films (Vessel of Wrath, St. Martin’s Lane, Jamaica Inn) under a German Producer, Erich Pommer, in 1938-39. These three films were produced under the film company founded by Pommer, Mayflower Pictures.However, these films were not commercially successful. To save the company from bankruptcy, an American film production named RKO Pictures, offered Laughton the role of Quasimodo. In 1939, Laughton starred as Quasimodo in the film Hunchback of Notre Dame, co-starring Maureen O’Hara.
In 1940 to the year 1943, Laughton starred in the following films under the RKO Pictures: They Knew What They Wanted, The Turtles of Tahiti, and Forever in a Day. The critics deemed these films produced under RKO as some of Laughton’s poor quality work.
In the following years, Laughton starred in ‘The Suspect,’ directed by Robert Siodmak in 1944. Later in the same year, he starred in a fantasy-comedy film, ‘The Canterville Ghost.’ In 1945 onwards, Laughton continued to star in various films, including Captain Kidd (1945), Because of Him (1946), Paradine Case (1947), The Big Clock (1948), and the Bribe (1949). Also, in 1949, Laughton starred in ‘The Man on the Eiffel Tower,’ directed by Burgess Meredith. It was Laughton’s first color film in Paris, where he portrayed Inspector Maigret, a French police detective. Laughton also portrayed a role in the movie, ‘Salome,’ directed by William Dieterle. Laughton played the role Herod Antipas, a ruler of Galilee, in this Biblical film in 1953. When Laughton returned to Britain, he starred in ‘Witness for the Prosecution,’ together with Elsa Lancaster. Laughton was once again nominated for Academy Award for Best Actor in his role in this film.
Last Films and Death
In Laughton’s remaining years, he starred as a British admiral in the 1960 film, Under Ten Flags. During the same year, Laughton also worked with an English actor, Laurence Olivier in ‘Spartacus.’ Laughton’s last film was in 1962. It was an American political drama, ‘Advise and Consent’ directed by Otto Preminger. Laughton played the role of a Southern US Senator named Seabright Cooley. This film received a favorable review of Laughton’s portrayal as a senator.
On December 15, 1962, Charles Laughton died from kidney cancer. His body was buried in Forest Lawn Memorial Park, California.
Here are some of Charles Laughton’s films:
Down River (1931)
Payment Deffered (1932)
Island of Lost Souls (1932)
If I had a Million (1932)
The Old Dark House (1932)
The Sign of the Cross (1932)
White Woman (1933)
The Private Life of Henry VIII (1933)
The Barretts of Wimpole Street (1934)
Mutiny on the Bounty (1935)
Ruggles of Red Gap (1935)
Les Misérables (1935)
Vessel of Wrath (1938)
Sidewalks of London (1938)
Jamaica Inn (1939)
The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1939)
Stand By for Action (1942)
The Man from Down Under (1943)
This Land is Mine (1943)
The Canterville Ghost (1944)
Captain Kidd (1945)
Because of Him (1946)
The Paradine Case (1947)
The Big Clock (1948)
The Bribe (1949)
The Suspect (1953)
Young Bess (1953)
Hobson’s Choice (1954)
The Night of the Hunter (1955)
Witness for the Prosecution (1957)
Advise and Co0nsent (1962)