Wilfrid Lawson (actor)
|Born||Wilfrid Lawson Worsnop
14 January 1900
Bradford, West Riding of Yorkshire, England
|Died||10 October 1966
Cause of death
|Occupation||Stage and screen actor|
|Spouse(s)||Lillian (née Fenn)|
Life and career
Lawson was born at 18 Harris Street, Bradford, West Riding of Yorkshire, England. He was educated at Hanson Boys' Grammar School, Bradford, and entered the theatre in his late teens, appearing on both the British and American stage throughout his career.
He made his film debut in East Lynne on the Western Front (1931) and appeared in supporting roles until he took the lead in the 1938 version of The Terror. That same year saw arguably his most celebrated film role as dustman Alfred P. Doolittle in the successful film version of George Bernard Shaw's Pygmalion opposite Leslie Howard and Wendy Hiller.
He also had memorable leading roles in Pastor Hall (1940), as a German village clergyman who denounces the new Nazi regime in 1934; Tower of Terror (1941) as the wild-eyed maniacal lighthouse keeper Wolfe Kristen; and the title role in the prestigious The Great Mr. Handel (1942), a biopic of the 18th-century composer, all three showing his broad range. He also made a number of films in America beginning with Ladies in Love (1936) and including John Ford's The Long Voyage Home (1940) alongside John Wayne.
His last leading role came in 1947 with The Turners of Prospect Road. Because of bouts of alcoholism he became difficult to work with, and throughout the 1950s his roles became increasingly small—even uncredited in some cases. Despite this he still gave memorable performances such as Prince Andrei Bolkonsky's father in King Vidor's War and Peace (1956), Ed in Hell Drivers (1957) and Uncle Nat in Room at the Top (1958), filmed in Lawson's hometown of Bradford.
The 1960s saw something of a career resurgence, beginning with his turn as Black George in Tony Richardson's acclaimed Tom Jones (1963) and culminating in two of his most notable latter day performances: The decrepit butler Peacock in The Wrong Box and the Dormouse in Jonathan Miller's television adaptation of Alice in Wonderland (both 1966). The same year saw his death, in London, from a heart attack.
His brother was the supporting player Gerald Lawson and his nephew, actor Bernard Fox.
Selected stage performances
Television & radio
- Tales from Dickens
- BBC Sunday-Night Theatre
- The Stone Faces by J. B. Priestley with Luise Rainer (broadcast 1957)
- ITV Play of the Week
- Armchair Theatre
- Hancock (ATV, 1963)
- Z Cars
- Theatre 625
- Danger Man - Not So Jolly Roger, 1966
- The Hunchback of Notre Dame
- The Likely Lads
- The Wednesday Play (Alice in Wonderland)
- Three Sisters (Chekhov) BBC Home Service Radio 1965. Directed by John Tyneman. Cast included Paul Scofield, Ian McKellen, Lynn Redgrave and Jill Bennett.
- Stage performances by Wilfred Lawson listed in the Theatre Archive, University of Bristol
- Wilfrid Lawson at the Internet Movie Database