Elsa Lanchester

Elsa Lanchester

Infobox actor
name = Elsa Lanchester

imagesize =
caption =
birthname = Elsa Sullivan Lanchester
birthdate = birth date|1902|10|28
location = Lewisham, London, England
deathdate = death date and age|1986|12|26|1902|10|28
deathplace = Woodland Hills, Los Angeles, California
othername =
homepage =
academyawards =
emmyawards =
spouse = Charles Laughton (1929 - 1962)

Elsa Sullivan Lanchester (born October 28, 1902 - December 26, 1986) was an Oscar-nominated English character actress who became a naturalized American citizen in 1950 along with her husband, actor Charles Laughton. She is best remembered for her role as the title character in "Bride of Frankenstein" (1935).

Early life

Lanchester was born in Lewisham, London, England. [GRO Register of Births: MAR 1903 1d 1194 LEWISHAM - Elsa Sullivan Lanchester] Her parents, James Sullivan and Edith Lanchester, were considered Bohemian, and refused to legalize their union in any conventional way to satisfy the era's conservative society. Edith's parents even successfully sent her to an asylum for a while, as she refused to wed James even if she wanted to live with him. An older brother, Waldo (b. 1898), completed the family.

As a child, Elsa studied dance in Paris under Isadora Duncan, whom she disliked. When the school was discontinued due to the start of First World War she returned to England. At that point (she was about twelve years of age) she considered herself capable to teach dancing in the Isadora Duncan style (despite her own scathing remarks about her former teacher's style) and, very enterprisingly, started to give classes to children of her South London neighbourhood, with which she earned a welcome bit of extra income in her household.

Film career

Lanchester married actor Charles Laughton in 1929. [GRO Register of Marriages: MAR 1929 1a 986 ST MARTIN - Charles Laughton = Elsa Sullivan or Lanchester] In 1928 she had appeared in three 'silent shorts' written for her by H.G. Wells- "Bluebottles", "Daydreams" and "The Tonic" - in which Laughton made brief appearances. They also appeared together in a 1930 'film revue' entitled "Comets", featuring British variety acts, in which they duetted in 'The Ballad of Frankie and Johnnie.' Lanchester appeared in several other early British talkies, including "Potiphar's Wife", starring Laurence Olivier (1931). She acted with Laughton again in 1933 in one of her best-known early screen appearances, as a highly comical Anne of Cleves in "The Private Life of Henry VIII". Laughton was by now making films in Hollywood so Lanchester joined him there and made small appearances in "David Copperfield" (1935) and "Naughty Marietta" (1935). These and her appearances in British films helped her gain the title role in "Bride of Frankenstein" (1935), the film for which she is now best remembered. She and Laughton returned to England in 1936 to appear together again in "Rembrandt" and two years later in "Vessel of Wrath".

They both returned to Hollywood in 1939 where he made "The Hunchback of Notre Dame" though Elsa didn't appear in another movie until 1941 with "Ladies in Retirement". She and Laughton played husband and wife (their characters were named Charles and Elsa Smith) in "Tales of Manhattan" (1942) and they both appeared again in the all-star mostly British cast of "Forever and a Day" (1943). Elsa received top billing in "Passport to Destiny" (1944) for the only time in any of her Hollywood movies. In this, she played a cockney charlady who scrubs her way across Occupied Europe in order to try and assassinate Hitler. Elsa played a comical role in the otherwise gripping 1948 thriller, "The Big Clock" in which Laughton also starred as a murderous, megalomaniac press tycoon.

During the late 1940s and 1950s she appeared in small but highly varied supporting roles in a number of films while simultaneously appearing on stage at the Turnabout Theatre in Hollywood. [Citation
title = Elsa's Gazebo
journal = Time
date = May 24, 1948
url = http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,794401,00.html
] Here she performed her solo vaudeville act, singing somewhat off-colour songs which she later recorded for a couple of LPs. [Citation
title = New Pop Records
journal = Time
date = November 6, 1950
url = http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,813718,00.html
] [] On screen, she had a substantial part when she appeared again with her husband in the screen version of Agatha Christie's play "Witness for the Prosecution" (1957), for which both received Academy Award nominations - she for Best Supporting Actress, and Laughton for Best Actor. Neither won. However, Lanchester did win the Golden Globe for Best Supporting Actress for the film. Lanchester was previously nominated for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress, for "Come to the Stable", in 1950.

Lanchester had another big part, as a witch, in "Bell, Book and Candle" and sang a duet with Elvis Presley in "Easy Come, Easy Go". She is also known for her appearances in a few Walt Disney films including: "Mary Poppins", "That Darn Cat!" and "Blackbeard's Ghost". She also appeared in two episodes of the 1960s show, "The Wonderful World of Disney". Additionally, she had memorable guest roles in a classic "I Love Lucy" episode in 1956 and in an early episode of "The Man From U.N.C.L.E." (1965). She continued television work into the early 1970s, appearing as a recurring character in "Nanny and the Professor." [imdb name|0006471]

Lanchester continued to act in films, making occasional appearances such as the departing nanny, Katie Nanna, in the opening scenes of "Mary Poppins", the mother in the original version of "Willard" and a sleuth based on Agatha Christie's Jane Marple in the 1976 murder mystery spoof, "Murder by Death".

Private life

Following Laughton's death in 1962, she wrote a book alleging that they never had children because Laughton was actually homosexual. [Houseman, John. [http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=9D05E3DF1638F934A25757C0A965948260 "The Bride of Frankenstein".] The New York Times. 17 April 1983. Access date: 12 August 2007.] Actress Maureen O'Hara, a friend and co-star of Laughton, firmly denied this. She claimed that Laughton had told her that his biggest regret was never having had children of his own. Laughton also told O'Hara that the reason he and his wife never had children was because of a botched abortion Lanchester had early in her career while performing burlesque. Elsa Lanchester mentioned in her own biography "Elsa Lanchester Herself" having had two abortions in her youth (one of them, a child from Charles) [Lanchester, Elsa "Elsa Lanchester Herself" 1983] , though she doesn't mention whether this left her incapable of becoming pregnant again or not.

Lanchester once said of O'Hara, "She looks as though butter wouldn't melt in her mouth, or anywhere else."

Lanchester died in Woodland Hills, California on December 26, 1986 from pneumonia. She was cremated. Her ashes were scattered at sea.


* "" (1925)
* "One of the Best" (1927)
* "The Constant Nymph" (1928)
* "Bluebottles" (1928)
* "The Tonic" (1928)
* "Daydreams" (1928)
* "Mr Smith Wakes Up" (1929)
* "Comets" (1930)
* "Ashes" (1930)
* "The Love Habit" (1931)
* "The Stronger Sex" (1931)
* "Potiphar's Wife" (1931)
* "The Officer's Mess" (1931)
* "The Private Life of Henry VIII" (1933)
* "The Private Life of Don Juan" (1934: uncredited)
* "David Copperfield" (1935)
* "Naughty Marietta" (1935)
* "Bride of Frankenstein" (1935)
* "The Ghost Goes West" (1935)
* "Miss Bracegirdle Does Her Duty" (1936: unreleased)
* "Rembrandt" (1936)
* "Vessel of Wrath" (1938: also titled "The Beachcomber")
* "Ladies in Retirement" (1941)
* "Son of Fury" (1942)
* "Tales of Manhattan" (1942)
* "Forever and a Day" (1943)
* "Thumbs Up" (1943)
* "Lassie Come Home" (1943)
* "Passport to Destiny" (1944: also titled "Passport to Adventure")
* "The Spiral Staircase" (1946)
* "The Razor's Edge" (1946)
* "Northwest Outpost" (1947: also titled "End of the Rainbow")
* "The Bishop's Wife" (1947)
* "The Big Clock" (1948)
* "Come to the Stable" (1949)
* "The Secret Garden" (1949)
* "The Inspector General" (1949)
* "Buccaneer's Girl" (1949)
* "Mystery Street" (1950)
* "Girl of the Year" (1950: also titled "The Petty Girl")
* "Frenchie" (1950)
* "Dreamboat" (1952)
* "Les Misérables" (1952)
* "Androcles and the Lion" (1952)
* "Girls of Pleasure Island" (1953)
* "3 Ring Circus" (1954)
* "Hell's Half Acre" (1954)
* "The Glass Slipper" (1955)
* "Witness for the Prosecution" (1957)
* "Bell, Book and Candle" (1958)
* "Honeymoon Hotel" (1964)
* "Mary Poppins" (1964)
* "Pajama Party" (1964)
* "That Darn Cat!" (1965)
* "Easy Come, Easy Go" (1967)
* "Blackbeard's Ghost" (1968)
* "Rascal" (1969)
* "Me Natalie" (1969)
* "My Dog, the Thief" (TV) (1969)
* "Willard" (1971)
* "Terror in the Wax Museum" (1973)
* "Arnold" (1974)
* "Murder by Death" (1976)
* "Die Laughing" (1980)

###@@@KEY@@@###succession box
title=Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actress - Motion Picture
for "Witness for the Prosecution"
before=Eileen Heckart
for "The Bad Seed"
after=Hermione Gingold
for "Gigi"


External links

*imdb name|id=0006471|name=Elsa Lanchester
*tcmdb name|id=107841|name=Elsa Lanchester
*ibdb name|id=12020|name=Elsa Lanchester
*Screenonline name|id=486033|name=Elsa Lanchester
* [http://www.cultsirens.com/lanchester/lanchester.htm Cult Sirens: Elsa Lanchester]
* [http://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GRid=5588 Obituary]

NAME = Lanchester, Elsa
ALTERNATIVE NAMES = Sullivan, Elsa Lanchester
DATE OF BIRTH = 1902-10-25
PLACE OF BIRTH = Lewisham, London, England
DATE OF DEATH = 1986-12-26
PLACE OF DEATH = Woodland Hills, Los Angeles, California, USA

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