Richard Cromwell (actor)

Richard Cromwell (actor)

Infobox actor
name = Richard Cromwell

imagesize = 200px
caption = Dick Cromwell, aka Roy Radabaugh, circa 1933
birthdate = birth date|1910|1|8|df=y
birthplace = Long Beach, California, USA
deathdate = death date and age|1960|10|11|1910|1|8|df=y
deathplace = Hollywood, California, USA
birthname = LeRoy Melvin Radabaugh
yearsactive = 1930 - 1948
spouse = Angela Lansbury (1945-1946)

Richard Cromwell, born LeRoy Melvin Radabaugh (birth date|1910|1|8|df=y - death date|1960|10|11|df=y), was an American actor. His family and friends called him Roy, though he was also professionally known and signed autographs as Dick Cromwell. Cromwell was best known for his work in "Jezebel" (1938) with Bette Davis and Henry Fonda and in "The Lives of a Bengal Lancer" (1935) where he shared top billing with Gary Cooper and Franchot Tone. That film was the first major effort directed by Henry Hathaway and it was based upon the popular novel by Francis Yeats-Brown. "The Lives of a Bengal Lancer" earned Paramount Studios a nomination for Best Picture in 1935, though "Mutiny on the Bounty" instead took the top award at the Oscars that year.

Leslie Halliwell in "The Filmgoer's Companion", summed up Cromwell's enduring appeal when he described him as "a leading man, [the] gentle hero of early sound films."


Early life

Cromwell was born in Long Beach, California on birth date|1910|1|8|df=y, the second-born in a family of five children. His father Ralph R. Radabaugh, an inventor. Cromwell's father Ralph R. Radabaugh's claim to fame was his patented invention of the "amusement park swing" ride, called the "Monoflyer", of which a variation can still be seen in use at most carnivals today. Ralph unfortunately died suddenly from influenza during the Spanish flu pandemic in 1918, when Cromwell was still in grade school.

While helping his young widowed mother, Fay B. Stocking Radabaugh, to support the family with odd-jobs, Cromwell enrolled as a teenager in the Chouinard Art Institute in Los Angeles on a scholarship. The Institute was the precursor of what later became California Institute of the Arts, and one of Cromwell's then-classmates would also eventually rise to fame as costume designer Edith Head. As Cromwell developed his talents for lifelike mask-making and oil-painting, he curried friendships in the late 1920s with various then-starlets who posed for him and collected his works including Tallulah Bankhead, Joan Crawford, Anna Q. Nilsson, Greta Garbo, Claire Dubrey, Ann Sothern, and even Marie Dressler (whom he would later share top-billing with in 1932's "Emma"). Other patrons of Cromwell's life masks included Broadway actresses Lilyan Tashman, Katharine Cornell, and Beatrice Lillie.

Overnight stardom and early film career

The young Roy Radabaugh, as he washad dabbled in film extra work on the side, and can be seen in "King of Jazz" (1930), along with Paul Whiteman and his band. On a whim, friends encouraged Roy to audition in 1930 for the remake of the Richard Barthelmess silent: "Tol'able David" (1930). (Note: the UCLA Film and Television Archive today contains one of the few remaining restored prints, donated by the Radabaugh-Putnam family). Radabaugh won the role over thousands of hopefuls, and in storybook fashion, Harry Cohn gave him his screen name and launched his career. Cromwell earned $75 per week for his work on "Tol'able David". Noah Beery, Sr. and John Carradine co-starred in the film. Later, Cohn signed Cromwell to a multi-year contract based on the strength of his performance and success in his first venture at the box-office. Amidst the flurry of publicity during this period, Cromwell toured the country, even meeting President Herbert Hoover in Washington, D.C.

Cromwell by then had maintained a deep friendship with Marie Dressler, which continued until her death from cancer in 1934. Dressler was nominated for a second Best Actress award for her 1932 portrayal of the title role in "Emma". With that film, Dressler demonstrated her profound generosity to other performers: Dressler personally insisted that her studio bosses cast Cromwell on a loan-out in the lead opposite her — it was another break that helped firm up his rising status in Tinseltown. "Emma" also starred Myrna Loy in one of her earliest screen performances. After production on Emma was completed, Director Clarence Brown tested Cromwell for the male lead in his next feature: "The Son-Daughter", which was set to star Helen Hayes. However, the part of the oriental prince ultimately went to Ramon Novarro, and Cromwell never again worked at MGM.

Cromwell's next role in 1932 was on loan-out to RKO and was as Mike in Gregory La Cava's, "The Age of Consent" co-starring Eric Linden and Dorothy Wilson. Cromwell is also remembered during this period in "Hoop-La" (1933), where he is seduced by Clara Bow. This film is considered the swan song of Bow's career. Around this time, it was reported that Cromwell's height was 5 feet, 10 inches, according to a London-based book for fans the world over, specifically 1932's "Picture Show Annual" (Amalgamated Press, London). Next, the much in demand Cromwell starred in "Tom Brown of Culver" that year, as well.

Around this period in his career in the early to mid-30s, Cromwell also did some print ads and promotional work for Lucky Strike brand cigarettes. According to his niece, Joan Radabaugh, Cromwell was a very heavy smoker, which may have contributed to his early demise. Nevertheless, at his home he was always the gracious host, as his niece related, and as such he took great care to empty the ashtrays regularly, almost to the point of obsession (Interview with Joan Radabaugh by Bill Keane, June 2007).

Next up, was an early standout performance by Cromwell in the role as the leader of the youth gang in Cecil B. Demille's now cult-favorite, "This Day and Age" (1933). While again on loan from Columbia, Cromwell's by then salary of $200 per week was paid by Paramount Pictures, Demille's studio. Diana Serra Cary, in her biography of Jackie Coogan, relates an episode on the set wherein Cromwell came to the aid of actress Judith Allen: "I watched as he (DeMille) systematically reduced ingenue...Allen to screaming hysterics by calling her every insulting name in the book in front of company and crew simply to bring on tears...Cromwell was the only man on the set who dared confront the tryannical DeMille. White with rage, Cromwell stopped the scene and threatened to deck him if he didn't let up on the devastated girl. He (Cromwell) then drove her home himself. After that courageous act the chivalric "...Cromwell was unanimously praised as a veritable dragon slayer by everyone who had witnessed that scene."

After a promising start, Cromwell's many early pictures at Columbia Pictures and elsewhere were mostly inconsequential and are largely forgotten today. For example, Cromwell starred with Will Rogers in "Life Begins at 40" for Fox Film Corporation in 1935, and while it was one of Rogers' last roles, nary a video directory can be found including it. The same goes for "Poppy" from Paramount in 1936 wherein Cromwell played the suitor of W.C. Fields' daughter, Rochelle Hudson. In 1937, he was the young bank-robber in love with Helen Mack and on the lam from Lionel Atwill in the rarely-screened but still interesting, "The Wrong Road" for RKO.

Broadway and network radio performances

In 1936, Cromwell took a detour in his career to Broadway for the chance to star as an evil cadet in an original play by Joseph Viertel, entitled, "So Proudly We Hail". The military drama was directed by future film director Charles Walters, co-starred Eddie Bracken, and opened to much fanfare. The reviews of the play at the time called Cromwell's acting "a striking portrayal" ("Herald Tribune") and his performance an "astonishing characterization" ("New York World Telegram"). The "New York Times" said that in the play, Cromwell "ran the gamut of emotions". Nevertheless, the play only enjoyed a brief run, and it closed after 14 performances at the 46th Street Theater.

By now, Cromwell had shed his restrictive Columbia contract, with its handsome $500 per week salary, and pursued acting work as a free-lancer in other media to boot. On July 15, 1937 Cromwell guest-starred on "The Royal Gelatin Hour directed by Rudy Vallee", in a dramatic skit opposite Fay Wray. Enjoying the experience, Cromwell had his agent secure for him an audition for the role of Kit Marshall, on first the NBC and then the CBS Radio network's long-running soap opera, entitled: "Those We Love." As a regular on the Monday night program which ran from 1938 until 1942, Cromwell played opposite Nan Grey who was Kit's twin sister Kathy. Cromwell as Kit was later replaced by Bill Henry. Other members of the drama series ensemble included Helen Wood in the role of Elaine, Kit's girlfriend, and Francis X. Bushman, as John Marshall the father of the twins. Rounding out the cast, long before their own respective film and television stardom, was Robert Cummings of "Dial M for Murder"; and even Gale Gordon, who later became a fixture on "The Lucy Show".

Later film and theatrical career

In the late 1930s, Cromwell appeared in "Storm Over Bengal," for Republic Pictures, in order to capitalize on the success of "The Lives of a Bengal Lancer." Aside from the aforementioned standout roles in "Jezebel" and "The Lives of a Bengal Lancer", Cromwell did another notable turn as defendant Matt Clay to Henry Fonda's title-performance in "Young Mr. Lincoln" (1939).

During this period, Cromwell was continuing to enjoy the various invitations coming his way as a member of the A-list Hollywood social circuit. According to Bob Thomas, in his biography of Joan Crawford, Cromwell was a regular at the Saturday Night dinner parties of his former co-star Franchot Tone and then-wife Crawford. Other guests whom Cromwell dined with there included Barbara Stanwyck and then-husband Frank Fay, and William Haines and Jimmy Rogers. During the freewheeling heyday of West L.A. nightlife in the late 30s, Cromwell is said by author Charles Higham to have carried on a sometime, though obviously very discreet, affair with aviator and businessman Howard Hughes.

In 1939, Cromwell again tried his luck on the stage in a regional production of Sutton Vance's "Outward Bound" featuring Dorothy Jordan as his co-star. The cast of the production at the Los Angeles Biltmore Theater included Cora Witherspoon and Reginald Denny.

U.S. military service

Cromwell served admirably during the last two years of World War II with the United States Coast Guard, alongside fellow actor and enlistee Cesar Romero. According to Kim King, of Carlsbad, California, whose Coast Guard-enlisted father (and mother) counted Cromwell as a lifelong friend, another Hollywood luminary, actor Gig Young, was also a member of this branch of the Service during the War.

During this period, popular composer/lyricist Cole Porter rented Cromwell's home in the Hollywood Hills, where Porter worked at length on "Panama Hattie". Director James Whale was a personal friend, for whom Cromwell had starred in "The Road Back" (1937), the ill-fated remake to "All Quiet on the Western Front". With the war's end, and upon returning to California from the Pacific after nearly three years of service with the Coast Guard, Cromwell continued his foray into acting in local theater productions. He also signed on for live performances in Summer Stock back East during this period.

When in town, Cromwell was a fixture within the Hollywood social scene. Like many young, good-looking male screen favorites of the era, Cromwell had experimented with an alternative lifestyle. According to the book "Cut! Hollywood Murders, Accidents and Other Tragedies" (by the editors at Barron's Press, Hauppauge, N.Y., 2006), Cromwell was a regular at George Cukor's notorious "boys nights". Whatever his true sexual preference, Cromwell felt compelled to settle down for a while, at least publicly, and he married actress Angela Lansbury.

Marriage to Angela Lansbury

Back in California for good, Cromwell was married once, briefly from 1945-1946, to the British-born actress Angela Lansbury, when she was 19 and Cromwell was 35. Cromwell and Lansbury eloped and were married in a small civil ceremony on September 27, 1945 in Independence, California. It was nearly 50 years later that Lansbury would candidly discuss her first marriage to Cromwell, and its demise due to Cromwell's bisexuality (though other sourcesFact|date=July 2008 list him as being gay).

In her authorized biography, "Balancing Act", Lansbury recounts her life at the time with Cromwell, as well as the couple's close friendship with Zachary Scott and his first wife, Elaine. Today, by coincidence, both Lansbury and Cromwell have stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame that are each within walking distance of the other on Vine Street, near the old Huntington Hartford (for a time "The Doolittle" and now "Ricardo Montalban") Theatre.

Cromwell made just one statement to the press regarding his wife of nine months and one of her habits: "All over the house, tea bags. In the middle of the night she'd get up and start drinking tea. It nearly drove me crazy." (Source: Liza Wilson, The American Weekly).Some accounts of the couple's union suggest that Cromwell was even more infatuated with Lansbury's theatrical mother, actress Moyna MacGill, than he was with his young bride.

According to the biography: "Angela Lansbury, A Life on Stage and Screen," Lansbury stated in a 1966 interview that regarding her first marriage, "it was a mistake" and that she learned from it. She stated: "I wouldn't have "not" done it." Also, "I was too young at nineteen. [The marriage] shouldn't have happened." Lansbury only began to admit publicly the real reason of the failure of the marriage when the "National Enquirer" did a story in the '90s about Lansbury and "the secret of her first husband". Whatever the true circumstances of their union, Cromwell and Lansbury did remain friends until his death in 1960.

Film career ends; Artistic career begins anew

Prior to World War II, in the early 1940s, Universal Pictures released "Enemy Agent" starring Cromwell as a draftsman who thwarts the Nazis. The film co-starred Helen Vinson, Robert Armstrong, and Jack La Rue. In 1942 he then went on to appear in marginal but still watchable fare such as "Baby Face Morgan," which co-starred Mary Carlisle and was produced by Producers Releasing Corporation, one of the "Poverty Row" studios. Cromwell enjoyed a career boost, if not a critically-acclaimed performance, in the film adaptation of the hit radio serial: "Cosmo Jones, Crime Smasher" (1943), opposite Gale Storm. Next up at Monogram Pictures he was cast as a doctor working covertly for the police department to catch the mobsters in the very forgettable, though endearing "Riot Squad," wherein his "fiance," Rita Quigley, breaks their engagement. Cromwell's break from films due to his stint in the Service meant that he was not much in demand after the War's end. Cromwell finally retired from films after his comeback fizzled: his last role was in a noir flick of 1948, entitled "Bungalow 13." In fact, it was the second feature in which he starred with Margaret Hamilton, though the film did not help her star to re-shine brightly either. All told, Cromwell's film career spanned 39 films.

In the 1950s, Richard Cromwell went back to artistic roots and studied ceramics. He built a pottery studio at his home. The home still stands today and is located in the hills above Sunset Boulevard on North Miller Drive. There, he successfully designed coveted decorative tiles for himself and for his industry-friends, which, according to his niece, Joan Radabaugh, he marketed under his stage name. Around this time, Baby Peggy Montgomery, aka Diana Serra Cary, who had appeared in "This Day and Age" with Cromwell many years earlier, recalls visiting Cromwell at his home along with her late husband during this period to see his "beautiful ceramic screen which had won him a prize at the L.A. County Fair." Radabaugh's original tiles as well as his large decorative art deco-style wall paintings of Adam and Eve can still be seen today in the mezzanine off the balcony of the restored Pantages Theatre in Hollywood, which is today considered a noted architectural landmark.

During this period, Cromwell entertained regularly. Cromwell was a gourmet cook. According to Kim King, of Carlsbad, California, many a wonderful dinner party was enjoyed by her parents Mr. and Mrs. King in the 1950s at Cromwell's home. For example, once in particular, The Kings enjoyed Roy's specially prepared delicacy of Frogs' Legs in the French-style. (King interviewed by Bill Keane in Spring of 2006 re: her father's friendship with Cromwell. Mr. King served in the Coast Guard with R.C.)

As Radabaugh, he also wrote extensively, producing several published stories and an unfinished novel in the 1950s. After years of heavy drinking with a social circle of friends that included the likes of Christopher Isherwood, Cromwell ultimately changed his ways and became an early participant and supporter of Alcoholics Anonymous in the Los Angeles Area. Cromwell continued with his ceramics production business, with noted corporate clients during this period including The Beverly Hilton Hotel, where many of his Aztec-styled objects d'art were displayed.

Death and legacy

In July 1960, Cromwell planned another comeback of sorts, when he signed on with producer Maury Dexter for 20th Century Fox's planned production of "The Little Shepherd of Kingdom Come" co-starring Jimmie Rodgers, Bob Dix (son of Richard Dix), and Neil Hamilton who replaced Cromwell in the film. Cromwell became ill and died on October 11, 1960 in Hollywood of complications from liver cancer. He was just 50 years old. He is interred in Santa Ana, California. Cromwell was survived at the time by his four siblings, including Opal Radabaugh Putnam.

Cromwell's legacy is preserved today by his nephew Dan Putnam, and his cousin Bill Keane IV, both of the Conejo Valley in Southern California, as well as by his niece, Joan Radabaugh of the Central Coast. In 2005, Keane donated materials relating to Cromwell's radio performances to the Thousand Oaks Library's Special Collection, "The American Radio Archive". In 2007, Keane has further donated memorabilia relating to Cromwell's film career and ceramics work to the AMPAS Margaret Herrick Library in Beverly Hills.

Cromwell was mentioned in Gore Vidal's satirical novel "Myra Breckinridge" (1968) as "the late Richard Cromwell, so satisfyingly tortured in "Lives of a Bengal Lancer".

elected filmography


* Blum, Daniel. "Screen World, 1961", Chilton Company, Philadelphia, New York, 1961.
* Cary, Diana Serra. "Jackie Coogan--The World's Boy King", Scarecrow Press, Lanham, MD, 2003.
* Crivello, Kirk. "Richard Cromwell--A Memoir and A Filmography", article in "Filmograph", Vol. IV, No. 4, Orlean, VA, (likely mid-1970s).
* Edelman, Rob and Audrey Kupferberg. "Angela Lansbury, A Life on Stage and Screen," Birch Lane Press, New York, 1996.
* [Editors, various] . "Cut! Hollywood Murders, Accidents and Other Tragedies", Barron's Press, Hauppauge, N.Y., 2006.
* [Editors, various] . "Picture Show Annual for 1932", Amalgamated Press LTD., The Fleetway House, London, 1932.
* Higham, Charles. "Cecil B. DeMille: A Biography . . .", Charles Scribner's Sons, New York, 1973.
* Isherwood, Christopher. "Lost Years, A Memoir 1945-1951", Vintage Books, Division of Random House, London (Copyright Don Bachardy), 2000.
* Lamparski, Richard. "Hollywood Diary--Twelve Untold Tales . . .", BearManor Media, Albany, GA, 2006.
* Lee, Betty. "Marie Dressler: The Unlikeliest Star", The University Press of Kentucky, Lexington, 1997.
* Morino, Marianne. "The Hollywood Walk of Fame", Ten Speed Press, Berkeley, 1987.
* Palmer, Paul R. "Richard Cromwell", article in "Film Fan Monthly", No. 167 (Leonard Maltin, Editor), Teaneck, NJ, May, 1975.
* Vermilye, Jerry. "The Films of the Thirties", Citadel Press, Secaucus, New Jersey, 1982.
* Vidal, Gore. "Myra Breckinridge", Little, Brown, & Co., Boston, Toronto, 1968.

External links

*imdb|0188673 Retrieved on 2008-01-26
*ibdb|36733 Retrieved on 2008-01-26
*Find A Grave|1910 Retrieved on 2008-01-26
* [ N.Y.Times biography entry on Cromwell, as per All Movie Guide]

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