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Clifton Webb Poster

Biography

Jump to: Overview (4) | Mini Bio (1) | Trade Mark (1) | Trivia (21)

Overview (4)

Date of Birth 19 November 1889Indianapolis, Indiana, USA
Date of Death 13 October 1966Beverly Hills, Los Angeles, California, USA  (heart attack)
Birth NameWebb Parmalee Hollenbeck
Height 5' 11" (1.8 m)

Mini Bio (1)

Already trained in dance and theater, he quit school at age 13 to study music and painting. By 19 he was a professional ballroom dancer in New York, and by his mid-twenties he was performing in musicals, dramas on Broadway and in London, and in silent movies. His first real success in film came in middle age as the classy villain Waldo Lydecker in Laura (1944), followed by the part of Elliott Templeton in The Razor's Edge (1946) - both of which won him Oscar nominations. His priggish Mr. Belvedere in a series of films was supposedly not far removed from his fastidious, finicky, fussy, abrasive and condescending real-life persona. He was inseparable from his overbearing mother Maybelle, with whom he lived until her death at 91, six years before his own death. The recent success of Titanic (1997) created brief interest due his having appeared with Barbara Stanwyck in the 1953 version of the story. He is interred at Abbey of the Psalms, Hollywood Memorial Cemetery (now known as Hollywood Forever).

- IMDb Mini Biography By: Ed Stephan <stephan@cc.wwu.edu>

Trade Mark (1)

Suave, dandy villains

Trivia (21)

Created the role of Charles Condomine in Noel Coward's Blithe Spirit on the London and New York stages.
Acknowledged as the inspiration for Mr. Peabody on "Bullwinkle Show, The" (1961)
Appeared on the New York stage in 1925 in a dance act with Mary Hay.
Interred at Hollywood Memorial Cemetery (now called Hollywood Forever), Hollywood, California, USA, in the Abbey of the Psalms.
Introduced Irving Berlin's classic song Easter Parade on the Broadway stage.
The part that got away: Ayn Rand wanted him to play suave villain Ellsworth Toohey in the 1949 adaptation of The Fountainhead (1949) and indeed it would have been superb casting which might have significantly improved the flawed film, but studio chiefs vetoed this idea.
Webb's career ascent on Broadway paralleled Libby Holman, with whom he co-starred in successful Broadway shows in 1929-1930. He tended to dance while she sang. The two (actually three, if you count Webb's mother) became lifelong friends and would re-team for the troubled 1938 production of Cole Porter's You Never Know, which folded after only 73 performances.
Was a close personal friend of co-star (in The Little Show, Three's a Crowd, and You Never Know) Libby Holman. Webb (with his mother) would accompany Holman on frequent vacations and would remain friends from 1929 until the mid-1940s.
In 1892, his formidable mother, Mabelle (1869-1960), moved to New York with her beloved "little Webb," as she called him for the remainder of her life. She dismissed questions about his father, Jacob Grant Hollenbeck, a railroad ticket clerk, by saying, "We never speak of him. He didn't care for the theater." Webb and Maybelle lived together until her death at age 91. When Clifton's obsessive grieving for his mother continued on for well over a year, close friend Noel Coward, keeping their lengthy friendship in mind, is said to have remarked with a bit of exasperation, "It must be difficult to be orphaned at seventy." Webb never recovered from his mother's death. He made one film, then spent the remainder of his life in ill health and seclusion.
Studied painting with the renowned Robert Henri and voice with the equally famous Victor Maurel
In 1925 Clifton appeared on stage in a dance act with vaudeville star and silent film actress Mary Hay. Later that year, when she and her husband, film star Richard Barthelmess, decided to produce and star in their own film vehicle New Toys (1925), they chose Webb to be second lead. The movie proved to be financially successful, but nineteen more years would pass before Webb appeared in another feature film.
His elegant taste kept him on Hollywood's best-dressed lists for decades. His scrupulously-private gay life remained free of scandal.
There followed an interlude in Hollywood in the early 1930s when Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer put Webb on a salary of $3,000 a week. While socially it turned out to be a pleasant experience, professionally it was a disaster. For eighteen months, he swam, attended gala parties, met all the important people, but never once appeared in a motion picture. He referred to Hollywood as "a land of endowed vacations."
Featured in "Bad Boys: The Actors of Film Noir" by Karen Burroughs Hannsberry (McFarland, 2003).
Webb never married or had children.
Webb debuted on Broadway at age 20 in 1913 in an operetta about Napoleon'c court entitled "The Purple Road.".
After Fred Astaire's success at RKO, MGM believed it could make a dancing star out of Webb. The studio gave him an 18-month contract at $3000@week to do a musical entitled "Elegance" based on the life of famous ballroom dancer Maurice and his partner Florence Walton. Joan Crawford was initially excited to play Walton but lost interest when she realized that Webb had the better part and she had trouble keeping up with him during the rehearsals. Although the picture was ultimately scrapped, Webb was paid all of his money. Beyond a make-up test of the actor, no other film was shot on the production.
Irving Berlin's "EASTER PARADE." Having met with only mild success in 1917 when Berlin had first tried out the melody using the different lyric and title "Smile And Show Your Dimple," Berlin recycled the tune for his 1932 musical "As Thousands Cheer" (30 September 1932 - 08 September 1934) but this time as "Her Easter Bonnet." And who was it who sang that tune on stage...and also recorded the song with the popular Leo Reisman band? None other than future motion picture star Clifton Webb. In the 1920s and 1930s, Clifton Webb had been caught up in the ballroom dancing craze. He sang with the Boston Opera, then moving to New York City's Broadway musical stage.
Clifton Webb appeared as "Charles" in the Noël Coward play "Blithe Spirit", first in London, followed by appearing in the role of 'Charles' on Broadway from 05 November 1941 through 05 June 1943. In 1946, from 29 October 1946 through 15 March 1947, Clifton performed the role 'Garry Essendine' in Noël Coward's Broadway play "Present Laughter". Clifton Webb established both a professional and life-time friendship with Noël Coward. Clifton Webb's Beverly Hills - Bel Aire residence was Noël Coward's Hollywood base when ever Noël landed on the West Coast to conduct business meetings, social excursions and engagements. Clifton Webb's Mercury convertible was Noël's get-away automobile to tool around the Los Angeles landscape's winding trails. On Sunday 20 May 1955, Noël Coward and pianist-orchestrator Peter Matz arrived at Webb's house from New York City. What followed at Clifton Webb's residence in Beverly Hills, the next ten days, was that Matz and Coward worked on Noël's Las Vegas Desert Inn Casino concert-act material all day every day. Departing Wednesday 1 June for the Desert Inn Hotel, Noël and Peter conducting the casino's house band opened on that Friday night, 3 June, performing two shows nightly through the month till their last night on Monday, the 4th of July. The Las Vegas Casino concert engagement was Noël's cabaret introduction to the American public.
Arriving on Sunday 16 December 1955, Noël Coward celebrated his fifty-sixth birthday in Hollywood, at Clifton Webb's house. Noël would begin rehearsing his second CBS "Ford Star Jubilee" ninety minute television production of his play "Blithe Spirit". Using Clifton Webb's residence as both a social and business operations base, Noël used Clifton's living room as a rehearsal space, directing and blocking his cast in Webb's living room until the stage sets, on stage 43 at CBS Television City, were built, set-up and decorated. A successful first cast reading of the play on Sunday 18 December at the Humphrey Bogarts' residence pleased Noël, noting that Betty Bacall (age 31), playing the deceased ghost first wife Elvira opposite Noël's role as the husband Charles, "was word perfect considering she was shooting a film". Claudette Colbert (age 52) played Charles second wife Ruth. Noël commented neither woman was easy to work with; Colbert was 'extremely tiresome', and Bacall was 'no comedienne'. Colbert complained that 'Noël was unremittingly difficult'. When she apologized for fluffing her lines - "I knew them backwards last night", Noël retorted, "Yes, and that's the way you're saying them this morning". Colbert had always regretted the fact that the distance between her nape and shoulders was short: "The thing Noël said that hurt me most - but funny it was - he said 'If she had a neck, I'd wring it'". Preparations followed the usual precise requirements: Coward demanded a month of rehearsals on a fully furnished set (in the poltergeist scenes of the play, even the furniture had to be rehearsed), and all but essential personnel were barred ('That's so the men spending their money won't bother their ulcers', Noël told a journalist). He also requested a studio audience for an early rehearsal so that he could judge their reactions. These were unprecedented demands for a medium used to casual drama production methods. But just as camera rehearsals began, an abscess was discovered on Coward's sciatic nerve in his right leg. A doctor sent for, 'and injected the damn thing eight times with the thickest needle I have ever seen'. Numbed with Novocaine, Coward continued, although he seemed bad-tempered for much of the rehearsals. But the ninety-minute show was - 'played without nerves and on nerves...the result was that the performance went like a bomb'. The studio invited audience was described as 'very hep' by the New York Herald-Tribune, who likened it to 'a smart Broadway opening with a terribly fashionable cast, in front of an upper-drawer audience.'.
Otto Preminger (age 38), seeing Clifton Webb perform the role of 'Charles' in Los Angeles' Biltmore Theatre with the New York National touring stage production "Blithe Spirit" recast Clifton Webb as 'Waldo Lydecker', already cast with Laird Cregar in the 20th Century Fox 1944 film "Laura". Darryl F. Zanuck (age 41), the head of 20th Century Fox Film Corporation, was opposed to casting Clifton Webb because he thought Webb was a poofter, but producer/director Otto Preminger prevailed after taking over directing the film. Fox boss Darryl F. Zanuck wanted Jennifer Jones (age 24) for the role of 'Laura', Laird Cregar (age 30) for the role of 'Waldo Lydecker', and John Hodiak (age 29) for the role of 'Mark McPherson'. But Otto Preminger insisted on casting Gene Tierney (age 23) for the role of 'Laura', Clifton Webb (age 54) for the role of 'Waldo Lydecker', and Dana Andrews (age 34) for the role of 'Mark McPherson'. Vincent Price (age 32) and Judith Anderson (age 46) had already been cast. Laird Cregar, coincidentally died 09 December 1944 at age 31. Making his first screen appearance since 1925, Clifton Webb was nominated for an Oscar for his 'Waldo Lydecker' role in the film "Laura".

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