Brian Aherne

William Brian de Lacy Aherne (2 May 1902  10 February 1986) was an English actor of stage, screen, radio and television, who enjoyed a long and varied career in England and America.

Brian Aherne
Aherne in the trailer for I Confess (1953)
William Brian de Lacy Aherne

(1902-05-02)2 May 1902
Died10 February 1986(1986-02-10) (aged 83)
Years active1910–1967
Joan Fontaine
(m. 1939; div. 1945)

Eleanor de Liagre Labrot
(m. 1946; his death 1986)

His first Broadway appearance in The Barretts of Wimpole Street in 1931 teamed him with Katherine Cornell, with whom he would appear in many later productions. In films, he played opposite Madeleine Carroll, Bette Davis, Marlene Dietrich, Rita Hayworth and Carole Lombard, and was Oscar-nominated for his role as Emperor Maxmilian in Juarez (1939). On TV he appeared in Wagon Train and Rawhide.


Early life

He was born in King's Norton, Worcestershire, the second and younger son of the Birmingham architect William de Lacy Aherne and his wife Louise (née Thomas). His elder brother Pat Aherne was also an actor.

Educated in Edgbaston, Birmingham, he 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.[1]

English stage career

He first appeared on the stage in Birmingham with the Pilgrim Players (which subsequently developed into the Birmingham Repertory Theatre), on 5 April 1910, in Fifinella; and made his first appearance on the London stage at the Garrick Theatre, 26 December 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 Liverpool's Green Room Club, he obtained an engagement under Robert Courtneidge, and appeared at London's Savoy Theatre, opening on 26 December 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).[2]

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 1924–25.

English films

Aherne's first screen appearance was in the crime film The Eleventh Commandment in 1924. He made several appearances in productions at Cricklewood Studios by Stoll Pictures, then the largest British film company, including two directed by Sinclair Hill, The Squire of Long Hadley (1925) and A Woman Redeemed (1927).[3] He was also in King of the Castle (1925), and the comedy Safety First (1926).

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.[4][5]

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.

His final silents were two films Shooting Stars and Underground by the rising director Anthony Asquith. Aherne made his talkie debut in The W Plan (1930) directed by Victor Saville. He appeared opposite Madeleine Carroll in Madame Guillotine (1931).

U.S. career

Aherne made his first appearance on the New York City stage at the Empire Theatre on 9 February 1931, playing Robert Browning in Rudolph Besier's play The Barretts of Wimpole Street opposite Katharine Cornell. The play was a big success, running for 370 performances. Miss Cornell and Aherne remained lifelong friends and he played in many of her subsequent productions.

Aherne returned to Broadway in 1932 for Lucrece which starred Cornell. It only had a short run. He then went to Hollywood where he made his American film debut in The Song of Songs (1933) with Marlene Dietrich.

He returned to England where he starred in the film of Basil Dean's The Constant Nymph (1933).

In 1934 he was reunited with Cornell on Broadway in Romeo and Juliet, playing Mercutio; Cornell was Juliet and Basil Rathbone was Romeo. In only ran 77 performances.

Aherne went to Hollywood where he supported Ann Harding in RKO's The Fountain (1934).

Aherne went to MGM where he co-starred with Helen Hayes in What Every Woman Knows (1934). He stayed at that studio to support Joan Crawford in I Live My Life (1935), which was a big hit. In 1935 Aherne and Cornell revived The Barretts of Wimpole Street on Broadway for 24 performances.[6]

At RKO Aherne was in Sylvia Scarlett (1935) with Katharine Hepburn and Cary Grant, a notorious flop. Aherne went back to Broadway for Cornell's production of Saint Joan (1936), co-starring Maurice Evans. He returned to Hollywood for Beloved Enemy (1936) with Merle Oberon at Goldwyn Productions.[7]

In 1937 he was Iago on Broadway to Walter Huston's Othello.[8]

Aherne was top billed in The Great Garrick (1937), directed by James Whale at Warners. He supported Constance Bennett in Merrily We Live (1938) for Hal Roach Studios. He was Oscar-nominated for his role as Emperor Maxmilian in Juarez (1939).[9]

Hal Roach gave Aherne the star role in Captain Fury (1939), as a bushranger in colonial Australia. He supported Carole Lombard in Vigil in the Night (1940) at RKO then was reunited with Madeleine Carroll in My Son, My Son! (1940) for Edward Small.


Aherne was billed over Rita Hayworth in The Lady in Question (1940) at Columbia. He made Hired Wife (1940) at Universal with Rosalind Russell; for that studio he did The Man Who Lost Himself (1941) with Kay Francis.

MGM put Aherne in support of Jeanette MacDonald for Smilin' Through (1941). He supported Claudette Colbert in Skylark (1941) at Paramount and Rosalind Russell in My Sister Eileen (1942) at Columbia. He stayed at that studio to support Loretta Young in A Night to Remember (1942) and was one of many stars in Forever and a Day (1943).

At Columbia, Aherne supported Merle Oberon in First Comes Courage (1943) and Rosalind Russell in The Beautiful Cheat (1943).

In 1943 he quit films to become a flight instructor for the air force in Arizona.[10] In November 1943 it was reported Columbia paid him $144,958 for the year, making him the second highest paid person at Columbia, after Harry Cohn.[11]

He fell ill with influenza while touring army camps in 1944.[12]


In 1945 he and Cornell returned to Broadway in a revival of The Barretts of Wimpole Street.[13] He stayed in New York to appear in The French Touch (1945–46) directed by René Clair.

Aherne returned to movies with RKO's The Locket (1946), billed after Laraine Day. He was top billed in Smart Woman (1948), co-starring producer Constance Bennett. He did Drums Along the Amazon (1948) for Republic.

Aherne was in a Broadway revival of She Stoops to Conquer (1949–50).


Aherne made his television debut with "Dear Brutus" for The Ford Theatre Hour (1950), which he had performed on stage in Boston.[14] He followed it with "The Magnificent Gesture" for Armstrong Circle Theatre (1950), "A Well-Remembered Voice" for Lux Video Theatre, "The Old Flame" for The Billy Rose Show (1951), "The Buccaneer" for Pulitzer Prize Playhouse (1951), and Betty Crocker Star Matinee (1952).

He and Cornell were reunited on stage in The Constant Wife (1951–52) then Aherne returned to Hollywood. He had support roles in I Confess (1953) directed by Alfred Hitchcock and Titanic (1953) (as Captain E.J. Smith).

Aherne did Escapade (1953) on Broadway and "Two for Tea" for Lux Video Theatre and "Element of Risk" and "Breakdown" for Robert Montgomery Presents (1953).

20th Century Fox asked Aherne back to Hollywood to play King Arthur in Prince Valiant (1954) and to play a support part in A Bullet Is Waiting (1954).

He did Quadrille (1954–55) on Broadway with the Lunts then "Now in Rehearsal" for The Eddie Cantor Comedy Theater (1955). Aherne did "The Martyr" for General Electric Theater (1955), "Reunion in Vienna" for Producers' Showcase (1955), and "The Round Dozen" and "Appearances and Reality" for The Star and the Story (1955).

Aherne went to MGM for The Swan (1956). On TV he did "One Minute from Broadway" for Sneak Preview (1956), "Night Shriek" for Climax! (1956), "The Sacred Trust" and "The Lamp of Father Cataldo" for Crossroads (1956), "The Transfer" for The Errol Flynn Theatre (1956), "Safe Enough" for Studio 57 (1957), "Story Without a Moral" for Goodyear Theatre (1959).

In 1957 he went on a national tour of My Fair Lady playing Professor Henry Higgins.

In 1970, he appeared as a mystery guest on What's My Line.

Final years

Aherne was invited back to 20th Century Fox for a sizeable supporting role in the big budget The Best of Everything (1959). Aherne's final Broadway appearance was in Dear Liar (1960) with Cornell, where he played George Bernard Shaw ("with great vivacity" according to The New York Times[15]) opposite Cornell's Mrs Patrick Campbell. He was in "The Trouble with Templeton" for The Twilight Zone (1960) and the film Susan Slade (1961). He did "The Bruce Saybrook Story" on Wagon Train (1961), and "The Gentleman's Gentleman" on Rawhide (1961). He also appeared as guest host on the TV panel show The Name's the Same.

Aherne's final film roles included Lancelot and Guinevere (1963) as King Arthur, The Waltz King (1964) for Disney (as Johann Strauss I), and The Cavern (1964).

He settled in Switzerland. He appeared in a play in England and agreed to return to Hollywood to play Rosalind Russell's love interest in Rosie! (1967).[16]

Radio career

Aherne co-starred in the Florence Nightingale episode of Theatre Guild on the Air 13 April 1952.[17] In 1945, he played sleuth Simon Templar in the mystery series, The Saint.

Personal life and death

Between 1939 and 1945, Aherne was married to actress Joan Fontaine, which ended in divorce.[18] He married Eleanor de Liagre Labrot in 1946, and their union lasted until his death.

Aherne published his autobiography A Proper Job in 1969, as well as A Dreadful Man (1979), a biography of his close friend George Sanders.

Aherne was a pilot and charter member of the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association.[19]

Aherne died of heart failure in Venice, Florida, USA at the age of 83. He was honoured with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 1772 Vine Street.[20][21][22]


Year Title Role Notes
1924 The Eleventh Commandment Norman Barchester
1925 The Squire of Long Hadley Jim Luttrell
King of the Castle Colin O'Farrell
1926 Safety First Hippocrates Rayne
1927 A Woman Redeemed Geoffrey Maynefleet
1928 Shooting Stars Julian Gordon
Underground Bill
1930 The W Plan Colonel Duncan Grant
1931 Madame Guillotine Louis Dubois
1933 The Song of Songs Richard Waldow
The Constant Nymph Lewis Dodd
1934 The Fountain Lewis Allison
What Every Woman Knows John Shand
1935 I Live My Life Terence "Terry" O'Neill
Sylvia Scarlett Michael Fane
1936 Beloved Enemy Dennis Riordan
1937 The Great Garrick David Garrick
1938 Merrily We Live E. Wade Rawlins
1939 Juarez Maximilian I of Mexico nominated for Best Actor in a Supporting Role
Captain Fury Captain Michael Fury
1940 Vigil in the Night Dr. Robert S. Prescott
My Son, My Son! William Essex
The Lady in Question Andre Morestan
Hired Wife Stephen Dexter
1941 The Man Who Lost Himself John Evans / Malcolm Scott
Smilin' Through Sir John Carteret
Skylark Jim Blake
1942 My Sister Eileen Robert Baker
A Night To Remember Jeff Troy
1943 Forever and a Day Jim Trimble
First Comes Courage Captain Allan Lowell
What a Woman! Henry Pepper
1946 The Locket Dr. Harry Blair
1948 Smart Woman Robert Larrimore
Angel on the Amazon Anthony Ridgeway Alternative titles: Drums Along the Amazon
The Jungle Wilderness
1953 I Confess Chief Prosecutor Willy Robertson
Titanic Captain Edward John Smith
1954 Prince Valiant King Arthur
A Bullet Is Waiting David Canham
1956 The Swan Father Carl Hyacinth
1959 The Best of Everything Fred Shalimar
1961 Susan Slade Stanton Corbett
1963 Lancelot and Guinevere King Arthur Alternative title: Sword of Lancelot
1964 The Cavern Gen. Braithwaite
1967 Rosie! Oliver Stevenson (final film role)
Year Title Role Notes
1950 Armstrong Circle Theatre
1950–1953 Robert Montgomery Presents Phillip Armstrong 3 episodes
1951 Pulitzer Prize Playhouse 1 episode
1951–1953 Lux Video Theatre Mr. Don/Reggie 2 episodes
1955 General Electric Theater Colonel Tafferty 1 episode
Producers' Showcase Rudolf Maximilian 1 episode
1955–1956 Crossroads Father Cataldo 3 episodes
1956 Climax! David 1 episode
Cavalcade of America John Kirk 1 episode
1959 Goodyear Theatre James Rupert/James Spencer 1 episode
1960 The Twilight Zone Booth Templeton 1 episode
1961 Rawhide Woolsey 1 episode
1961 Wagon Train Lord Bruce Saybrook 1 episode
1963 The Wonderful World of Disney Johann Strauss Sr. 2 episodes

Awards and nominations

Year Award Category Nominated work Result
1940 12th Academy Awards Best Supporting Actor Juarez Nominated


  1. The Hollywood Walk of Fame : Brian Aherne biography
  2. "Personality Actor". Voice. 17 (25). Tasmania, Australia. 17 June 1944. p. 4. Retrieved 16 November 2017 via National Library of Australia.
  3. "BRIAN AHERNE'S SUCCESS IN "UNDERGROUND"". Werribee Shire Banner (1386). Victoria, Australia. 25 September 1930. p. 6. Retrieved 16 November 2017 via National Library of Australia.
  4. "THE STORY Of BRIAN AHERNE". The Australian Women's Weekly. IV (32). 9 January 1937. p. 6 (Movie World). Retrieved 16 November 2017 via National Library of Australia.
  5. "PORTRAIT of an ACTOR". The Australian Women's Weekly. 8 (9). 3 August 1940. p. 24 (The Movie World). Retrieved 16 November 2017 via National Library of Australia.
  6. Brian aherne and HIS FILMS. (1936, Jun 27). Picture show, 35, 20. Retrieved from
  7. Brian Aherne faithful to footlights. (1936, Oct 16). Los Angeles Times (1923Current File) Retrieved from
  8. By, B. A. (1937, Jan 07). THE PLAY. The New York Times (1923Current File) Retrieved from
  9. "NEWS of the TALKIES". The Chronicle. LXXXII (4, 676). Adelaide. 3 August 1939. p. 51. Retrieved 16 November 2017 via National Library of Australia.
  10. Brian aherne to teach flying. (1943, Jun 18). The New York Times (1923Current File) Retrieved from
  11. BRIAN AHERNE GETS $144,958 FOR FILM WORK. (1943, Nov 05). Los Angeles Times (1923Current File) Retrieved from
  12. Brian aherne is better. (1944, Jan 02). The New York Times (1923Current File) Retrieved from
  13. Katharine Cornell and Brian Aherne to star in revival of 'The Barretts' here in April. (1945, Feb 26). The New York Times (1923Current File) Retrieved from
  14. Brian Aherne to appear in 'Dear Brutus'. (1950, Aug 10). The Christian Science Monitor (1908-Current File) Retrieved from
  15. By, B. A. (1960, Mar 18). Katharine Cornell and Brian Aherne star. The New York Times (1923Current File) Retrieved from
  16. Norma, L. B. (1967, Oct 15). 'Rosie' lures Aherne from semi-retirement. Chicago Tribune (1963-Current File) Retrieved from
  17. Kirby, Walter (13 April 1952). "Better Radio Programs for the Week". The Decatur Daily Review. p. 48. Retrieved 11 May 2015 via
  18. Joan Fontaine awarded divorce from Brian Aherne. (1944, Jun 03). Los Angeles Times (1923Current File) Retrieved from
  19. "A Plane-Crazy America". AOPA Pilot: 79. May 2014.
  20. "Hollywood Walk of Fame database". Archived from the original on 25 January 2013.
  21. "Brian Aherne, 83, An Actor For 75 Years". Sun-Sentinel. 11 February 1986. Retrieved 15 October 2011{{inconsistent citations}}
  22. Obituary Variety, 12 February 1986.


  • Parker, John, editor, Who's Who in the Theatre, 10th edition revised, London, 1947, p. 200-1.
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