Denholm Elliott

Denholm Mitchell Elliott, CBE (31 May 1922 – 6 October 1992) was an English actor, with more than 120 film and television credits.[1] Some of his well-known roles include the abortionist in Alfie (1966), Marcus Brody in Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981) and Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989), Coleman in Trading Places (1983), and Mr. Emerson in A Room with a View (1985).

Denholm Elliott

CBE
Photo © Clare Park, 1985
Born
Denholm Mitchell Elliott

(1922-05-31)31 May 1922
Ealing, Middlesex, England
Died6 October 1992(1992-10-06) (aged 70)
NationalityBritish
EducationMalvern College
Alma materRoyal Academy of Dramatic Art
OccupationActor
Years active1949–1992
Spouse(s)
Virginia McKenna
(m. 1954; div. 1957)

Susan Robinson (m. 1962)
Children2

Elliott earned critical acclaim in his later career. He was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for his performance in A Room with a View and won the BAFTA Award for Best Actor in a Supporting Role in three consecutive years in the 1980s, becoming the only actor ever to have achieved this. The American film critic Roger Ebert described him as "the most dependable of all British character actors."[2] The New York Times called him "a star among supporting players" and "an accomplished scene-stealer".[3]

Early life

Elliott was born in London, the son of Nina (née Mitchell) and Myles Layman Farr Elliott.[4] Myles was a barrister who had read law and Arabic at Cambridge before fighting with the Glosters at Gallipoli and in Mesopotamia. In 1930 Myles Elliott was appointed solicitor-general to the Mandatory Government in Palestine. Three years later, following a series of controversial government prosecutions, he was assassinated outside the King David Hotel and buried in the Protestant Cemetery on Mount Zion.[5] Elliott's elder brother Neil was land agent to Lady Anne Cavendish-Bentinck.

Elliott attended Malvern College and trained at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art in London. He was asked to leave the academy after one term. As Elliott later recalled, "They wrote to my mother and said, 'Much as we like the little fellow, he's wasting your money and our time. Take him away!'"[6]

In the Second World War, he joined the Royal Air Force, training as a wireless operator/air gunner and serving with No. 76 Squadron RAF under the command of Leonard Cheshire.[7] On the night of 23/24 September 1942, his Handley Page Halifax DT508[8] bomber took part in an air raid on the U-boat pens at Flensburg, Germany. The aircraft was hit by flak and subsequently ditched in the North Sea near Sylt, Germany. Only Elliott and two crewmen survived, and he spent the rest of the war in a prisoner of war camp in Silesia. While imprisoned, he became involved in amateur dramatics.[9]

Career

After making his film debut in Dear Mr. Prohack (1949), he went on to play a wide range of parts, often ineffectual and occasionally seedy characters, such as the drunken journalist Bayliss in Defence of the Realm, the criminal abortionist in Alfie, and the washed-up film director in The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz. Elliott and Natasha Parry played the main roles in the 1955 television play The Apollo of Bellac.[10] He took over for an ill Michael Aldridge for one season of The Man in Room 17 (1966)

Elliott made many television appearances, which included plays by Dennis Potter such as Follow the Yellow Brick Road (1972), Brimstone and Treacle, (1976) and Blade on the Feather (1980). He starred in the BBC's adaptation of Charles Dickens's short story The Signalman (1976).

In the 1980s he won three consecutive British Academy of Film and Television Arts (BAFTA) awards—Best Supporting Actor for Trading Places as Dan Aykroyd's kindly butler, A Private Function, and Defence of the Realm—as well as an Academy Award nomination for A Room with a View. He also became familiar to a wider audience as the well-meaning but addlepated Dr. Marcus Brody in Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981) and Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. A photograph of his character appears in Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, and a reference is made to Brody's death. Also, a statue was dedicated to Marcus outside Marshall College, the school where Indy teaches. In 1988 Elliott was the Russian mole Povin, around whom the entire plot revolves, in the television miniseries Codename: Kyril.

Having filmed Michael Winner's The Wicked Lady (1983), Elliott was quoted in a BBC Radio interview as saying that Marc Sinden and he "are the only two British actors I am aware of who have ever worked with Winner more than once, and it certainly wasn't for love. But curiously, I never, ever saw any of the same crew twice." (Elliott in You Must Be Joking! (1965) and The Wicked Lady and Sinden in The Wicked Lady and Decadence). Elliott had worked with Sinden's father, Sir Donald Sinden, in the film The Cruel Sea (1953).[11] He co-starred with Katharine Hepburn and Harold Gould in the television film Mrs. Delafield Wants to Marry (1986) and with Nicole Kidman in Bangkok Hilton (1989).

In 1988 Elliott was appointed a commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) for his services to acting. His career included many stage performances, including with the Royal Shakespeare Company, and a well-acclaimed turn as the twin brothers in Jean Anouilh's Ring Round the Moon. His scene-stealing abilities led Gabriel Byrne, his co-star in Defence of the Realm, to say: "Never act with children, dogs, or Denholm Elliott."[12]

Despite being described by British Film Institute's Screenonline as an actor of "versatile understanding and immaculate technique,"[1] Elliott described himself as an instinctive actor and was a critic of Stanislavski's system of acting, saying, "I mistrust and am rather bored with actors who are of the Stanislavski school who think about detail."[13]

Personal life

Secretly bisexual,[14] Elliott was married twice: first to actress Virginia McKenna for a few months in 1954, and later, in an open marriage, to American actress Susan Robinson (7 March 1942 – 12 April 2007), with whom he had two children, Mark and Jennifer, the latter of whom died by suicide in 2003.[14]

Death

Elliott was diagnosed with HIV in 1987[14] and died of AIDS-related tuberculosis at his home in Santa Eulària des Riu on Ibiza, Spain, on 6 October 1992 at the age of 70. Tributes were paid by actors Sir Donald Sinden and Sir Peter Ustinov, playwright Dennis Potter, and former wife Virginia McKenna. Sinden said, "He was one of the finest screen actors and a very special actor at that. He was one of the last stars who was a real gentleman. It is a very sad loss." Ustinov said, "He was a wonderful actor and a very good friend on the occasions that life brought us together." Potter commented: "He was a complicated, sensitive, and slightly disturbing actor. Not only was he a very accomplished actor, he was a dry, witty, and slightly menacing individual. As a man, I always found him very open, very straightforward and very much to the point." McKenna added: "It is absolutely dreadful, but the person I am thinking of at the moment more than anybody is his wife. It must be terrible for her."[15] Ismail Merchant described Elliott as "an all-giving person, full of life ... He had an affection and feeling for other actors, which is very unusual in our business."[16]

His widow set up a charity, the Denholm Elliott Project, and collaborated on his biography.[17] She worked closely with the UK Coalition of People Living with HIV and AIDS. Susan Robinson Elliott died on 12 April 2007, aged 65, in a fire in her flat in London.[14]

Filmography

Film

YearTitleRoleNotesRef.
1949Dear Mr. ProhackOswald Morfrey

The Ringer 1952

1952 The Sound BarrierChristopher RidgefieldReleased as Breaking the Sound Barrier in USA[12]
The Holly and the IvyMichael Gregory
1953 The Cruel SeaMorell[12]
The Heart of the MatterWilson[12]
1954 Lease of LifeMartin Blake[12]
They Who DareSgt. Corcoran[15]
1955 The Man Who Loved RedheadsDenis[12]
The Night My Number Came UpMackenzie
1956Pacific DestinyArthur Grimble[12]
1960Scent of MysteryOliver Larker
1963Station Six-SaharaMacey
1964Nothing But the BestCharlie Prince[12]
1965King RatLarkin[12]
1966AlfieThe Abortionist[12]
1967Maroc 7Inspector Barrada
1968 The Night They Raided Minsky'sVance Fowler[12]
The Sea GullDorn, a doctor[12]
1970 Too Late the HeroCaptain Hornsby[14]
The Rise and Rise of Michael RimmerPeter Niss
1971 PercyEmmanuel Whitbread
The House That Dripped BloodCharles Hillyer(segment 1 "Method for Murder")
Quest for LoveTom Lewis
1972Madame SinMalcolm De Vere
1973 The Vault of HorrorDiltant(segment 5 "Drawn and Quartered")
A Doll's HouseKrogstad[12]
1974The Apprenticeship of Duddy KravitzFriar[12]
1975Russian RouletteCommander Petapiece
1976 Robin and MarianWill Scarlet
To the Devil a DaughterHenry Beddows
1977A Bridge Too FarR.A.F. Met. Officer
1978 The Hound of the BaskervillesStapleton
Watership DownCowslipVoice
The Boys From BrazilSidney Beynon
Sweeney 2Detective Chief Superintendent Jupp
1979 Zulu DawnColonel Pulleine
Saint JackWilliam Leigh
1980 Bad TimingStefan Vognic
Rising DampCharles Seymour
Sunday LoversParker(segment "An Englishman's Home")
1981Raiders of the Lost ArkDr. Marcus Brody[12]
1983Trading PlacesColemanwon BAFTA Award for Best Actor in a Supporting Role
1984 The Razor's EdgeElliott Templeton[18]
A Private FunctionDr Charles Swabywon BAFTA Award for Best Actor in a Supporting Role[15]
1985A Room with a ViewMr Emerson[12]
1986 Defence of the RealmVernon Baylisswon BAFTA Award for Best Actor in a Supporting Role[15]
The Whoopee BoysCol. Phelps
1987 SeptemberHoward
MauriceDr. Barry
1988Stealing HeavenFulbert
1989Indiana Jones and the Last CrusadeDr. Marcus Brody[12]
1991 Toy SoldiersHeadmaster
ScorchersHowler
1992Noises OffSelsdon Mowbray(final film role)[12]

Television

Year Title Role Notes
1958-59 Alfred Hitchcock Presents John Manbridge/Jack Lyons 2 episodes
1966 The Man in Room 17 Defraits 13 episodes
Mystery and Imagination Roderick Usher episode "The Fall of the House of Usher"
1968 Mystery and Imagination Count Dracula episode "Dracula"
1972 The Persuaders! Roland Episode: A Death in the Family
Follow the Yellow Brick Road Jack Black Television play
1976 Brimstone and Treacle Mr. Tom Bates Television play
Clayhanger Tertius Ingpen 9 episodes
The Signalman The Signalman Television play
1977 Ripping Yarns Mr Gregory Episode: Across The Andes by Frog
1980 Hammer House of Horror Norman Shenley Episode: 'Rude Awakening'
1980 Blade on the Feather Jack Hill TV film
1982 Marco Polo Niccolo Polo 8 episodes
1983 The Hound of the Baskervilles Dr. Mortimer TV film
1984 Camille Count de Noilly TV film
1985 Bleak House John Jarndyce 7 episodes
1986 Mrs. Delafield Wants to Marry George Parker TV film
1987 Hotel du Lac Phillip Neville TV film
Scoop Mr. Salter TV film
A Child's Christmas in Wales Old Geraint TV film
The Happy Valley Sir Henry 'Jock' Delves Broughton TV film
1988 Codename: Kyril Povin 4 episodes
The Bourne Identity Dr Geoffrey Washburn TV mini-series
Noble House Alastair Struan 4 episodes
1989 Bangkok Hilton Hal Stanton 3 episodes
1990 A Green Journey James TV film
1991 A Murder of Quality George Smiley TV film
One Against the Wind Father LeBlanc TV film
The Black Candle William Filmore TV film

See also

References

  1. "British Film Institute Biography". Retrieved 24 September 2007.
  2. Roger Ebert (2008). Roger Ebert's Four Star Reviews 1967-2007. Andrews McMeel Publishing. p. 655. ISBN 978-0740771798.
  3. Lambert, Bruce (7 October 1992). "Denholm Elliott, Actor, 70, Dies; A Star Among Supporting Players". The New York Times. New York. Retrieved 11 February 2017.
  4. "The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography". 2004. doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/51023. Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  5. "Obituary Neil Elliott". Daily Telegraph. 14 April 2003. Retrieved 5 September 2016.
  6. BBC Radio. Desert Island Discs, 14 September 1974.
  7. "Encyclopædia Britannica". Retrieved 24 September 2007.
  8. Record for Halifax DT508, LostAircraft.com
  9. Falconer, Jonathon (1998). The Bomber Command Handbook 1939–1945. Stroud: Sutton Publishing. ISBN 978-0-7509-1819-0.
  10. "Giraudoux Play On Television 'The Apollo Of Bellac'", The Times, 13 August 1955.
  11. Woods, Judith (8 February 2011). "Michael Winner: 'The Life I've Lived, the Girls I've Had... Ht's Been Incredible'". The Daily Telegraph.
  12. "Obituary: Denholm Elliott". The Independent. 7 October 1992.
  13. Oliver, Myrna (7 October 1992). "Denholm Elliott; Veteran Character Actor". articles.latimes.com. Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 22 July 2014.
  14. "Susan Robinson Elliott obituary". The Daily Telegraph. 24 April 2007.
  15. "Denholm Elliott dies from AIDS-related TB, aged 70". The Independent. 7 October 1992.
  16. "Oscar nominee Elliott dies of AIDS problems". Variety. 7 October 1992.
  17. Elliott, Susan; Turner, Barry (1994). Denholm Elliott: Quest for Love.
  18. Brian McFarlane (16 May 2016). The Encyclopedia of British Film (4th ed.). Oxford University Press. p. 228. ISBN 9781526111975. Retrieved 12 March 2017.
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