John Williams (actor)

John Williams (15 April 1903 – 5 May 1983)[Note 1] was an English stage, film and television actor.[2] He is remembered for his role as Chief Inspector Hubbard in Alfred Hitchcock's Dial M for Murder, as the chauffeur in Billy Wilder's Sabrina (both 1954), and as portraying the second "Mr. French" on TV's Family Affair in its first season (1967).

John Williams
A scene from Alfred Hitchcock's
Dial M for Murder (1954). L-R: Ray Milland, Robert Cummings and John Williams.
Born(1903-04-15)15 April 1903
Died5 May 1983(1983-05-05) (aged 80)
Years active1924–79
Height6 ft 2 in (1.88 m)
Spouse(s)Helen Williams
(m. 19??; his death 1983)

Life and work

Born in Chalfont St Giles in Buckinghamshire, England, in 1903, Williams was educated at Lancing College. He began his acting career on the English stage in 1916, appearing in J. M. Barrie's Peter Pan, Frances Nordstrom's The Ruined Lady, and Frederick Lonsdale's The Fake.[3]

In 1924 Williams moved to New York, where he was cast in a series of successful Broadway productions.[3] He would appear in over 30 Broadway plays over the next four decades, performing on stage with performers such as Claudette Colbert in Clifford Grey's A Kiss in the Taxi in 1925, Helen Hayes in J. M. Barrie's Alice Sit-by-the-Fire and Gertrude Lawrence in George Bernard Shaw's Pygmalion in 1946.[3] In 1953, Williams won a Tony Award for Actor, Supporting or Featured (Dramatic) for his role as Chief Inspector Hubbard in Frederick Knott's Dial M for Murder on Broadway. Soon afterwards, when Alfred Hitchcock adapted the play to a film version released in 1954, he cast Williams in the same role.

Williams first appearance in a Hollywood film was a minor role in director Mack Sennett's short The Chumps (1930), ultimately appearing in more than 40 films. Two other examples are Hitchcock's The Paradine Case (1947) starring Gregory Peck, in which Williams portrays a barrister, and To Catch a Thief (1955) with Cary Grant and Grace Kelly, in which his character is an insurance company representative.

Williams made more than 40 guest appearances on television shows as well. He played in several episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents including "The Long Shot" (1955), "Back for Christmas" (1956),[4] "Whodunit" (1956), "Wet Saturday" (1956), "The Rose Garden" (1956), the three-part episode "I Killed the Count" (1957), "The Three Dreams of Mr. Findlater" (1957), and "Banquo’s Chair" (1959). Three of these episodes, "Back for Christmas", "Wet Saturday", and "Banquo’s Chair", were directed by Hitchcock himself.

Williams played William Shakespeare in The Twilight Zone episode "The Bard" (1963) and guest-starred on the sitcom My Three Sons (also 1963), portraying a stuffy, very precise English butler; and in that role he was clean shaven, not sporting his customary mustache.[5] Later, he was briefly part of the regular cast of the family comedy Family Affair (1967). He appeared as well on Night Gallery in the series' episode "The Doll" (1971). One of Williams' last performances was in 1979, playing alongside fellow actor Lorne Greene in a two-part episode of Battlestar Galactica titled "War of the Gods".

Williams gained notice too as the star of a frequently telecast commercial for 120 Music Masterpieces, a four-LP set of classical music excerpts from Columbia House.[6] This became the longest-running nationally seen commercial in U.S. television history, for 13 years from 1971 to 1984. The commercial began with a brief selection of orchestral music being played. Williams then began the sales promotion with the following:

I'm sure you recognise this lovely melody as 'Stranger in Paradise'. But did you know that the original theme is from the Polovetsian Dance No. 2 by Borodin? So many of the tunes of our well-known popular songs were actually written by the great masters—like these familiar themes...[6]


Williams died at the age of 80 on 5 May 1983, in La Jolla, California. It was reported at the time of his death that he had been suffering from a heart condition.[7] He was cremated and there was no funeral.[7]

Selected filmography



  1. Several primary sources suggest his birth name was Hugh Ernest Leo Williams.[1]


  1. "New York, New York Passenger and Crew Lists, 1909, 1925–1957". FamilySearch. Retrieved 2 July 2016.
  2. "John Williams Is Dead at 80; Stage, Screen and TV Actor". The New York Times. 8 May 1983. Retrieved 2 July 2016.
  3. "John Williams Is Dead at 80; Stage, Screen and TV Actor", New York Times, 8 May 1983. Retrieved 3 August 2017.
  4. "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 30 October 2005. Retrieved 2 March 2005.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  5. Episode "Bub's Butler", My Three Sons, originally broadcast 4 April 1963. TV Guide, a subsidiary of CBS Interactive, Inc., New York, New York. Retrieved 4 August 2017.
  6. "120 Music Masterpieces" on YouTube
  7. Los Angeles Times (7 May 1983), p. A28
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