John Justin

John Justin (24 November 1917 – 29 November 2002) was a British stage and film actor.[1]

John Justin
pictured in 1940
John Justinian de Ledesma

(1917-11-24)24 November 1917
Died29 November 2002(2002-11-29) (aged 85)
Years active1940-1983
Pola Nirenska
(m. 1935; div. 1949)

Barbara Murray
(m. 1952; div. 1964)

Alison McMurdo
(m. 1979)

Early life

John Justinian de Ledesma was born in Knightsbridge, London, England, the son of a well-off Argentine rancher.[2] Though he grew up on his father's ranch, he was educated at Bryanston School in Bryanston, Dorset.[3] He developed an interest in flying and became a qualified pilot at the age of 12, though he was not allowed to fly solo at the time because of his age.

Acting career

He became interested in acting at a young age. By the age of 16, he had joined the Plymouth Repertory. In 1937, he briefly trained with the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, but did not like it and soon joined the repertory company of John Gielgud.[3] Among the plays he appeared in was Dear Octopus.[2]

The Thief of Bagdad

In 1938, he auditioned for and won the role for which he is perhaps best remembered, Ahmad in the 1940 version of The Thief of Bagdad, opposite Sabu. To do so he had to sign a seven-year contract with Alexander Korda.

Second World War

The Second World War broke out during the film's production. After completing the picture, Justin joined the Royal Air Force, serving as a test pilot and flying instructor.[3][4] He was injured in a crash.[2]

He was given leave to work on two films, The Gentle Sex (1943) with Leslie Howard, and Journey Together (1944), an RAF feature film with a cast led by Richard Attenborough, Jack Watling and David Tomlinson; with a special appearance by the American film star, Edward G. Robinson. Silent film star Bessie Love also appeared in the cast.


With the war's end, Justin returned to acting. In 1948, he did a stint at the Shakespeare Memorial Theatre, Stratford-on-Avon, appearing in King John, The Merchant Of Venice, The Winter's Tale, Othello, Hamlet, and Troilus and Cressida. He also made the film Call of the Blood (1948).

In 1949, he appeared on stage in Peter Pan and was in Antigone on the BBC. Justin was in Return To Tyassi (1950) on the West End and appeared in The Angel with the Trumpet (1950).

Justin appeared in the film The Sound Barrier (1952) and played the lead in Hot Ice (1952). After appearing in Uncle Vanya (1952) on stage, he focused on film work.

He was in The Village (1953), a Swiss film; Melba (1953), a biopic; King of the Khyber Rifles (1954), a Hollywood film with Tyrone Power for 20th Century Fox; Seagulls Over Sorrento (1954) with Gene Kelly; The Teckman Mystery (1954) with Margaret Leighton; The Man Who Loved Redheads (1955) with Moira Shearer.

Fox called him back for Untamed (1955) and Warwick Films used him in Safari (1956) with Victor Mature. Justin had a good role in Fox's Island in the Sun (1957), romancing Dorothy Dandridge.

In 1957, he appeared on stage in Dinner With The Family. In 1959 he joined the Old Vic where his plays included The Double Dealer, As You Like It, and The Importance Of Being Earnest.

He made his Broadway debut in 1960 in the play Little Moon of Alban and was in The Spider's Web (1960). He was later in stage productions of Much Ado About Nothing (1963), Death of a Salesman (1965), and As You Like It (1965).

Between 1963 and 1970, he made no film appearances. In 1968, he played Thorin Oakenshield in the BBC Radio adaptation of The Hobbit.[5]

Later career

On stage he was in Lulu (1971), toured South Africa in Who Killed Santa Claus? (1971), was in Old Fruit (1974), A Man And His Wife (1974)

Later films included Ken Russell's Savage Messiah (1972), Lisztomania (1975) and Valentino (1977).

In 1979, he played the ghoulish lover in the BBC's dramatisation of Le Fanu's Strange Incident in the Life of Schalcken the Painter, one of its Christmas ghost stories.

His love was for the stage.[2] He called his film career "a mistake".[3]

Personal life

Justin was married three times, first to dancer and choreographer Pola Nirenska. His second marriage, to actress Barbara Murray, lasted from 1952 to 1964; they had three daughters. From 1970 to his death in 2002, he was married to Alison McMurdo.[2]

Complete filmography


  1. "John Justin". BFI.
  2. "John Justin". The Telegraph. 6 December 2002.
  3. Shorter, Eric (6 December 2002). "John Justin obituary". The Guardian ( London. Retrieved 1 May 2008.
  4. Bruce Eder. "John Justin Biography". Allmovie. Retrieved 1 May 2008.
  5. "The Hobbit Full Cast Radio Drama". Internet Archive. Retrieved 18 June 2015.
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