About Ronald Charles Colman
Hollywood film actor Ronald Colman's screen image embodied the archetypal English gentleman. His elegant accent and polished demeanour gave voice to characters who were sophisticated yet graciously heroic, which contrasted with the rugged, action-oriented screen images of American-bred leading men.
He was born on February 9, 1891 in Richmond, Surrey, England, the second son and fourth child of Charles Colman and his wife Marjory Read Fraser. His siblings included Eric, Edith, and Marjorie. He was educated at boarding school in Littlehampton, where he discovered he enjoyed acting. He intended to study engineering at The University of Cambridge, but his father's sudden death from pneumonia in 1907 made this financially impossible.
Colman became a well-known amateur actor, and was a member of the West Middlesex Dramatic Society in 1908-9. He made his first appearance on the professional stage in 1914.
After working as a clerk at the British Steamship Company in the City of London, he joined the London Scottish Regiment in 1909 and was among the first of Territorial Army to fight in World War I. During the war, he served with fellow actors Claude Rains, Herbert Marshall, Cedric Hardwicke and Basil Rathbone. On 31 October 1914 at the Battle of Messines Colman was seriously wounded by shrapnel in his leg, which gave him a limp that he would attempt to hide throughout the rest of his acting career. He was invalided from the service in 1916.
He had sufficiently recovered to appear at the London Coliseum on 19 June 1916, as Rahmat Sheikh in The Maharani of Arakan, with Lena Ashwell; at the Playhouse in December that year as Stephen Weatherbee in Charles Goddard & Paul Dickey's play The Misleading Lady; at the Court Theatre in March 1917 he played Webber in Partnership and at that theatre the following year appeared in Eugene Brieux's play, adapted from the French, Damaged Goods; at the Ambassador Theatre in February 1918 he played George Lubin in The Little Brother, and during 1918 toured as David Goldsmith in The Bubble.
In 1920, Colman went to America and toured with Robert Warwick in The Dauntless Three, and subsequently toured with Fay Bainter in East is West; at the Booth Theatre, New York, in January 1921 he played the Temple Priest in William Archer's play The Green Goddess, with George Arliss; at the 39th Street Theatre in August 1921 he appeared as Charles in The Nightcap; and in September 1922 he made a great success as Alain Sergyll at the Empire Theatre, New York in the hit play La Tendressse.
Ronald Colman had first appeared in films in England in 1917 and 1919 under Cecil Hepworth, and subsequently with the old Broadwest Film Company in The Snow of the Desert. While appearing on stage in New York in La Tendress, Director Henry King saw him, and engaged him as the leading man in the 1923 film, The White Sister, opposite Lillian Gish, and was an immediate success. Thereafter Colman virtually abandoned the stage for film. He became a very popular silent film star in both romantic and adventure films, among them The Dark Angel (1925), Stella Dallas (1926), Beau Geste (1927), and The Winning of Barbara Worth (1926). His dark hair and eyes and his athletic and riding ability (he did most of his own stunts until late in his career) led reviewers to describe him as a "Valentino type". He was often cast in similar, exotic roles. Towards the end of the silents era, Colman was teamed with Hungarian actress Vilma Bánky under Samuel Goldwyn and the two were a popular movie team rivalling Greta Garbo and John Gilbert.
Although he was a huge success in silent films, he was unable to capitalize on one of his chief assets until the advent of the talking picture, "his beautifully modulated and cultured voice", also described as "a bewitching, finely-modulated, resonant voice". His first major talkie success was in 1930, when he was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actor for two roles — Condemned and Bulldog Drummond. He thereafter appeared in a number of notable films including Raffles, The Masquerader, Clive of India, A Tale of Two Cities in 1935, Under Two Flags, The Prisoner of Zenda and Lost Horizon in 1937, If I Were King in 1938, and The Talk of the Town in 1941. He won the Best Actor Oscar in 1948 for A Double Life. At the time of his death, Colman was contracted by MGM for the lead role in Village of the Damned. However, Colman died and the film became a British production starring George Sanders, who had married Colman's widow, Benita Hume.
RADIO AND TELEVISION
Beginning in 1945, Colman made many guest appearances on The Jack Benny Program on radio, alongside his second wife, stage and screen actress Benita Hume. Their comedy work as Benny's next-door neighbors led to their own radio comedy The Halls of Ivy from 1950 to 1952, created by Fibber McGee & Molly mastermind Don Quinn, on which the Colmans played the literate, charming president of a middle American college and his former-actress wife. On the 27 September 1950 installment, the audience was treated to a surprise---Colman himself had written the script, poking a little fun at himself at the finish when he himself gave the episode's credits.
The Halls of Ivy moved to television from 1954 to 1955.
Ronald Colman died on 19 May 1958, aged 67, from a lung infection in Santa Barbara, California and was interred in the Santa Barbara Cemetery. He had a daughter, Juliet, by his second wife.
AWARDS AND HONORS
He was nominated for four Academy awards: Bulldog Drummond and Condemned (both in 1930); Random Harvest (1942); and A Double Life (1947), for which he won the Academy Award for his role of "Anthony John," an actor playing "Othello" who comes to identify with the character. He also won the Golden Globe award for Best Actor in 1947 for his role in A Double Life. In 2002, Colman's Oscar statuette was sold at auction by Christie's for US$174,500.
Colman has two stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, one for motion pictures at 6801 Hollywood Blvd. and one for television at 1625 Vine Street.
Ronald Colman's Timeline
February 9, 1891
Richmond, Surrey, England
May 19, 1958
Santa Barbara, CA, USA