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from the trailer for The Picture of Dorian Gray (1945)
|Born||William Rukard Hurd Hatfield
December 7, 1917
New York City, New York, United States
|Died||December 26, 1998
Rathcormac, County Cork, Ireland
|Resting place||Abbeystrowry Cemetery, Skibbereen, Ireland|
Hatfield was born in New York City to William Henry Hatfield (died 1954), an attorney who served as deputy attorney general for New York, and his wife, Adele (née Steele). He was educated at Columbia University before traveling to London, England where he studied drama and began acting in theater.
He returned to America for his film debut in Dragon Seed (1944), in which he and his co-stars (Katharine Hepburn, Akim Tamiroff, Aline MacMahon, Turhan Bey) portrayed Chinese peasants. It was Hatfield's second film, The Picture of Dorian Gray (1945), that made him a star. As Oscar Wilde's ageless anti-hero, Hatfield received widespread acclaim for his good looks as much as for his acting ability. However, the actor was ambivalent about the role and his performance. "The film didn't make me popular in Hollywood," he commented later. "It was too odd, too avant-garde, too ahead of its time. The decadence, the hints of bisexuality and so on, made me a leper! Nobody knew I had a sense of humour, and people wouldn't even have lunch with me."
His subsequent films, The Diary of a Chambermaid (1946), The Beginning or the End (1947), and The Unsuspected (1947) were successful, but Hatfield's career began to lose momentum very quickly. Other films include Tarzan and the Slave Girl (1950), King of Kings (as Pontius Pilate) (1961), El Cid (1961), Harlow (1965), The Boston Strangler (1968), King David (1985), Crimes of the Heart (1986), and Her Alibi (1989).
He appeared frequently on television and received an Emmy Award nomination for the Hallmark Hall of Fame videotaped play The Invincible Mr. Disraeli (1963). In 1957, he appeared in Beyond This Place which was directed by Sidney Lumet. Among Hatfield's many other television credits are three guest appearances on Murder, She Wrote opposite his Picture of Dorian Gray costar, Angela Lansbury, who had become a lifelong friend, and who also had a home in County Cork. He also appeared as the villain in the second episode of Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, entitled "The City Beneath the Sea".
In 1952, Hatfield appeared as Joseph in Westinghouse Studio One 's The Nativity, with a full supporting cast and singing provided by the Robert Shaw Chorale. This was, in some ways, a true television event, a rare commercial network staging of a 14th-century mystery play, adapted from the York and Chester plays. The program has since been issued on a made-to-order DVD.
In 1966, he appeared on the television series The Wild Wild West in an episode entitled "The Night of the Man-Eating House". In a twist on his Dorian role, his character starts as an old man who, upon entering a house inhabited by the ghost of his mother, is turned back into a youthful Confederate soldier. A second appearance in the third season episode "The Night of the Undead" had him portray the vengeful and mad Dr. Articulus. According to the magazine Films in Review, Hatfield was ambivalent about Dorian Gray, feeling that it had typecast him. "You know, I was never a great beauty in Gray," he is reported to have said, "and I never understood why I got the part and have spent my career regretting it."
Private life and death
Having been introduced to Ireland by his friend Angela Lansbury, Hatfield lived at Ballinterry House, Rathcormac, County Cork from the early 1970s. A keen collector of antiques and art, he referred to Ballinterry House as a painting which he would never quite finish. He died peacefully in his sleep of a heart attack at the country home he loved so much, aged 81, after having had Christmas dinner with friends. Both Ballinterry House and his collection were inherited by his long-time close friend and colleague Maggie Williams, who maintained the historic Irish country home exactly as it was at the time of Hatfield's death. The house was sold in late 2006, and the entire contents of the 'Hurd Hatfield Collection' was sold at an auction on the premises 'Country House Antique & Fine Art Auction' in March 2007.
At the time of his death, Hatfield was writing his autobiography.
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