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John Cromwell Poster

Biography

Jump to: Overview (4)  | Mini Bio (1)  | Spouse (4)  | Trivia (10)  | Personal Quotes (5)

Overview (4)

Born in Toledo, Ohio, USA
Died in Santa Barbara, California, USA  (pulmonary embolism)
Birth NameElwood Dager Cromwell
Height 6' 2½" (1.89 m)

Mini Bio (1)

Actor / director John Cromwell was born December 23, 1887, in Toledo, OH. He made his Broadway debut on October 14, 1912, in Marian De Forest's adaptation of Louisa May Alcott's "Little Women" at the Playhouse Theatre. The show was a hit, running for a total of 184 performances. Cromwell appeared in another 38 plays on Broadway between February 24, 1914--when he appeared in Frank Craven's "Too Many Cooks" at the 39th Street Theatre (a hit show he co-directed with Craven that ran for a total of 223 performances)--and October 31, 1971, when he closed with "Solitaire/Double Solitaire" at the John Golden Theatre after 36 performances. In addition to "Cooks", Cromwell directed or staged 11 plays and produced seven plays on Broadway. Among the highlights of his Broadway acting career were his multiple appearances as a Shavian actor. He was "Charles Lomax" in the original Broadway production of George Bernard Shaw's "Major Barbara" in 1915 (Guthrie McClintic, who married Katharine Cornell in 1921 and became a notable Broadway director, played a butler) and as "Capt. Kearney" in the revival of "Captain Brassbound's Conversion" the following year (McClintic played "Marzo"). He also appeared as "Brother Martin Ladvenu" in Katharine Cornell's 1936 "Saint Joan", directed by McClintic, and played "Freddy Eynsford Hill" in Cedric Hardwicke's 1945 revival of "Pygmalion", starring Gertrude Lawrence as "Eliza Doolittle" and Raymond Massey as "Henry Higgins".

As for William Shakespeare, he played "Paris" to Katharine Cornell's "Juliet" and Maurice Evans' "Romeo" in McClntic's "Rome and Juliet" in 1935, and appeared as "Rosenkrantz" in McClintic's 1936 Broadway staging of "Hamlet", with John Gielgud in the title role, Lillian Gish as "Ophelia" and Judith Anderson as "Gertrude". He also appeared as "Lennox" in the 1948 revival of Shakespeare's "Scottish Play", with Michael Redgrave as "Macbeth" and Flora Robson as "Lady Macbeth" (young actors also featured in the play who went on to renown were Julie Harris, Martin Balsam and Beatrice Straight). Cromwell won a Tony Award as Best Featured Actor in a Play in 1952 for "Point of No Return", in which he supported Henry Fonda, and appeared as the father, "Linus Larabee Sr.", in "Sabrina Fair" the next year.

With the advent of sound pictures, Cromwell went "Hollywood" in 1929, appearing in The Dummy (1929) in support of Ruth Chatterton and Fredric March. He also co-directed two talkies with A. Edward Sutherland that year, Close Harmony (1929) and The Dance of Life (1929) (he had a bit part as a doorman in the latter). After learning the craft of directing, he directed The Mighty (1929) with George Bancroft, in which he made innovative use of sound. He also directed Jackie Coogan in Tom Sawyer (1930) the next year. He made his name with Ann Vickers (1933) in 1933 and Of Human Bondage (1934) in 1934, two films he shot for RKO based on novels by the preeminent writers Sinclair Lewis and W. Somerset Maugham. Both movies ran into censorship trouble. Lewis' "Ann Vickers" featured Irene Dunne as a reformer and birth control advocate who has a torrid extramarital affair. The novel had been condemned by the Catholic Church, and the proposed movie adaptation proved controversial. The Studio Relations Committee, headed by James Wingate (whose deputy was future Production Code Administration head Joseph Breen, a Roman Catholic intellectual) condemned the script as "vulgarly offensive" before production began. The SRC, which oversaw the Motion Picture Producers and Distributors Association's Production Code, refused to approve the script without major modifications, but RKO production chief Merian C. Cooper balked over its excessive demands. Though studio head B.B. Kahane protested the SRC's actions to MPPDA President Will Hays, the studio agreed to make "Ann Vickers" an unmarried woman at the time of her affair, thus eliminating adultery as an issue, and the film received a Seal of Approval. The battle over "Ann Vickers" was one of the reasons the more powerful PCA was created in 1934 to take the place of the SRC.

Joseph Breen, now head of the PCA, warned that the script for W. Somerset Maugham's "Of Human Bondage" was "highly offensive" because the prostitute "Mildred", whom the protagonist, medical student "Philip Carey", falls in love with, comes down with syphilis. Breen demanded that Mildred be turned into less of a tramp, that she be afflicted with tuberculosis rather than syphilis and that she be married to Carey's friend whom she cheats on him with. RKO gave in on every point, as the PCA, unlike the SRC, had the ability to levy a $25,000 fine for violations of the Production Code. Despite the changes, chapters of the Catholic Church's Legion Of Deceny condemned the film in Chicago, Detroit, Omaha and Pittsburgh. Despite a picket line manned by local priests in Chicago, Cromwell's film broke all records at the Hippodrome Theater when it played there in August 1934. Five hundred people had to be turned away opening night. It seemed that wherever the Legion of Decency had condemned the film, it played to capacity crowds. In 1935 Breen ruled that "Of Human Bondage" would have to be changed if RKO wished to re-release it.

Other major films Cromwell directed include Little Lord Fauntleroy (1936), The Prisoner of Zenda (1937), Algiers (1938), Abe Lincoln in Illinois (1940), Since You Went Away (1944) and Anna and the King of Siam (1946). In 1951 he directed The Racket (1951) starring Robert Mitchum, Lizabeth Scott, and Robert Ryan; he had appeared in the original staging of the Broadway play by Bartlett Cormack on which the movie was based back in 1927.

Busy on Broadway in the 1950s, it was seven years before he directed another film, The Goddess (1958), with a screenplay by Paddy Chayefsky and starring Kim Stanley. He directed two more minor films before calling it quits as a movie director in 1961. As a director, Cromwell eschewed flashy camera work, as he felt it detracted from both the story and the actors' performances. Late in his life director Robert Altman cast Cromwell as an actor in two of his films, 3 Women (1977) and A Wedding (1978).

John Cromwell died on September 26, 1979, in Santa Barbara, CA.

- IMDb Mini Biography By: Jon C. Hopwood (qv's & corrections by A. Nonymous)

Spouse (4)

Ruth Nelson (30 August 1947 - 26 September 1979) ( his death)
Kay Johnson (7 October 1928 - 29 July 1946) ( divorced) ( 2 children)
Marie Goff (3 August 1919 - 23 December 1921) ( divorced)
Alice Lindahl (? - 21 October 1918) ( her death)

Trivia (10)

Father of James Cromwell.
President of the Screen Directors Guild from 1944-46.
From 1951-58 he was blacklisted in Hollywood during the Joseph McCarthy "Red Scare" period.
Biography in: John Wakeman, editor. "World Film Directors, Volume One, 1890-1945". Pages 155-159. New York: The H.W. Wilson Company, 1987.
In 1945 he hosted the Academy Awards alongside Bob Hope.
Has directed ten actors to Oscar nominations: Bette Davis, Charles Boyer, Gene Lockhart, Raymond Massey, Monty Woolley, Claudette Colbert, Jennifer Jones, Gale Sondergaard, Eleanor Parker and Hope Emerson. None of them won. Davis' was a write-in nomination.
Often appeared on screen in uncredited cameos in films which he directed.
Robert Altman's A Wedding (1978) was shot during the summer of 1977 principally on the Armour estate in Lake Bluff, IL. Every shooting day Cromwell and Ruth Nelson could be seen, in costume, in a small first-floor room set aside for them. Sometimes, they could be seen talking, but most often they each were absorbed reading books.
Ex-father-in-law of Julie Cobb.
Holds the director record at New York City's Radio City Music Hall with 18 films totaling 36 weeks. Runner-up Vincente Minnelli had 17 films but they totaled 85 weeks.

Personal Quotes (5)

[on Hedy Lamarr] She was a nice girl, or she was then. Hedy didn't make trouble, didn't have an ego problem. The problem was that she couldn't act.
[on Jean Arthur] A difficult person out in the street, so they say--I never knew her--but everyone who went to the movies liked her, and that's unusual. Every movie star is disliked by some people--Clark Gable, Joan Crawford, Marlene Dietrich certainly, even Greta Garbo, Ronald Colman--but everyone liked Jean Arthur.
[on Gary Cooper] Gary Cooper never understood a thing about real acting but had the most marvelous presence.
[on Irene Dunne] Underrated on every count.
[on Lana Turner] Probably the very worst actress that ever made it to the top.

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