About William Brian de Lacy Aherne
British stage and screen actor Brian Aherne found success in Hollywood by establishing himself as a gentlemanly Britisher who was willing to defend his honor (or someone else's) with his fists if needs be. Although he made over 30 films, many of his roles were secondary, though he played the title role in 1937's The Great Garrick and was starred in a brace of Hal Roach productions in 1938 and 1939. Aherne received an Oscar nomination for his sensitive performance of the doomed Emperor Maximillian in Juarez (1939).
He was born William Brian de Lacy Aherne in King's Norton, Worcestershire, the son of William de Lacy Aherne by his spouse Louise née Thomas. Educated at Edgbaston, Birmingham, he had also carried out some early stage training at Italia Conti Academy in London and had some child roles before completing his education at Malvern College. He first appeared on the stage in Birmingham with the Pilgrim Players (which subsequently developed into the Birmingham Repertory Theatre), on April 5, 1910, in Fifinella; and made his first appearance on the London stage at the Garrick Theatre, December 26, 1913, in Where the Rainbow Ends, a fairy play by Clifford Mills and John Ramsey, with music by Roger Quilter, which ran at various theatres for over 25 years.
He then studied with a view to becoming an architect, but, having had considerable amateur experience in Birmingham, and with the Liverpool Green Room Club, he obtained an engagement under Robert Courtneidge, and appeared at London's Savoy Theatre, opening on December 26, 1923, as Jack O'Hara in a revival of Paddy the Next Best Thing, the play by W. Gayer-Mackay and Robert Ord (from the novel). He then toured with Violet Vanbrugh as Hugo in The Flame, and appeared at the London Playhouse in May 1924 as Langford in Leon Gordon's White Cargo, in which he played all through 1924-5. In 1926 he accompanied Dion Boucicault Jr. to Australia, where he appeared in several plays by J. M. Barrie: as Valentine Brown in the comedy Quality Street, John Shand in the comedy What Every Woman Knows, Crichton in The Admirable Crichton, Simon and Harry in Mary Rose; and Willocks in Aren't We All? another comedy by Frederick Lonsdale.
Aherne reappeared in London at the Strand in March 1927 again as Langford in White Cargo and continued on the London stage in a succession of plays until late 1930 when he went to America, making his first appearance on the New York stage at the Empire Theatre in New York on February 9, 1931, playing Robert Browning in Rudolph Besier's play The Barretts of Wimpole Street opposite Katharine Cornell. Cornell and Aherne remained lifelong friends and he played in many of her subsequent productions. He was back in London in 1934 but returned that year to New York, where he appeared in December at the Martin Beck Theatre as Mercutio in Romeo and Juliet, with Katharine Cornell. He continued his stage appearances during his film career, which he commenced in 1924 in silent film.
Aherne made his talkie debut in Madame Guillotine (1931). After a few more British talkies he moved on to lead roles in Hollywood, where he made over thirty films, including I Live My Life (1935), the multi-Oscar nominated brilliant ditzy comedy Merrily We Live (1938), Oscar-nominated for his role as Emperor Maxmilian in Juarez (1939), Vigil in the Night (1940), Titanic (1953), and The Best of Everything (1959). In 1945, he played sleuth Simon Templar in the radio mystery series, The Saint. He also appeared in many TV theatrical series, including G E Theatre, The Twilight Zone, and Rawhide. He also appeared as guest host on the TV panel show The Name's the Same.
Aherne published his autobiography A Proper Job in 1969, as well as A Dreadful Man (1979), a biography of his friend George Sanders.
Between 1939 and 1945, Aherne was married to actress Joan Fontaine, which ended in divorce. He then married Eleanor de Liagre Labrot. He was the brother of actor Patrick Aherne.
Aherne died of heart failure in Venice, Florida at the age of 83.
Brian Aherne was honored with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 1772 Vine Street.