Denholm Elliott

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Denholm Elliott
Elliot as Marcus Brody in
Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)
Born Denholm Mitchell Elliott
(1922-05-31)31 May 1922
Ealing, Middlesex, England
Died 6 October 1992(1992-10-06) (aged 70)
Santa Eulària des Riu, Ibiza, Spain
Cause of death Tuberculosis caused by AIDS
Resting place Cremated, ashes scattered in Ibiza
Nationality British
Education Malvern College
Alma mater Royal Academy of Dramatic Art
Occupation Actor
Years active 1949–1992
Spouse(s) Virginia McKenna (1954; divorced)
Susan Robinson (1962–92; his death)

Denholm Mitchell Elliott, CBE (31 May 1922 – 6 October 1992) was an English film, television and theatre actor with more than 120 film and television credits.[1] He trained at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art in London. In the 1980s, he won the BAFTA Award for Best Actor in a Supporting Role in three consecutive years (his first for Coleman in Trading Places), the only actor ever to have achieved this. He is perhaps best known for portraying Dr Marcus Brody in Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981) and Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989) and as "Coleman" in Trading Places (1983).

Early life[edit]

Elliott was born in London, the son of Nina (née Mitchell) and Myles Laymen Farr Elliott, a barrister. He attended Malvern College and trained at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art in London. He was asked to leave RADA after one term. As Elliott later recalled: "They wrote to my mother and said, 'Much as we like the little fellow, he's wasting your money and our time. Take him away!'"[2]

In World War II, he joined the Royal Air Force, training as a sergeant radio operator and gunner and serving with No. 76 Squadron RAF under the command of Leonard Cheshire.[3]

On the night of 23/24 September 1942, his Handley Page Halifax DT508[4] bomber took part in an air raid on the U-boat pens at Flensburg, Germany. The aircraft was hit by flak and subsequently ditched in the North Sea near Sylt, Germany. Elliott and two other crew members survived and he spent the rest of the war in a prisoner of war camp in Silesia. While imprisoned he became involved in amateur dramatics.[5]


After making his film debut in Dear Mr. Prohack (1949), he went on to play a wide range of parts, often ineffectual and occasionally seedy characters, such as the drunken journalist Bayliss in Defence of the Realm, the criminal abortionist in Alfie, and the washed-up film director in The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz. Elliott and Natasha Parry played the main roles in the 1955 television play, The Apollo of Bellac.[6]

Elliott made many television appearances, notably in plays by Dennis Potter, including Follow the Yellow Brick Road (1972), Brimstone and Treacle (1976), and Blade on the Feather (1980). He took over for an ill Michael Aldridge for one season of The Man in Room 17 (1966) and appeared in the series Thriller (1975).

In the 1980s, he won three consecutive British Academy of Film and Television Arts (BAFTA) awards – Best Supporting Actor for Trading Places as Dan Aykroyd's kindly butler, A Private Function, and Defence of the Realm – as well as an Academy Award nomination for A Room with a View. He also became familiar to a wider audience as the well-meaning but addlepated Dr. Marcus Brody in Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981) and Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. A photograph of his character appears in Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull and a reference is made to Brody's death. There is also a statue dedicated to Marcus outside of Marshall College, the school Indy teaches. In 1988, Elliott was the Russian mole Povin, around whom the entire plot revolves, in the television miniseries Codename: Kyril.

Having filmed Michael Winner's The Wicked Lady (1983), Elliott was quoted in a BBC Radio interview as saying that he and Marc Sinden "are the only two British actors I am aware of who have ever worked with Winner more than once and it certainly wasn't for love. But curiously, I never, ever saw any of the same crew twice." (Elliott in You Must Be Joking! (1965) and The Wicked Lady and Sinden in The Wicked Lady and Decadence). Elliott had worked with Sinden's father, Sir Donald Sinden, in the film The Cruel Sea (1953).[7] He co-starred with Katharine Hepburn and Harold Gould in the television film, Mrs. Delafield Wants to Marry (1986) and with Nicole Kidman in Bangkok Hilton (1989).

In 1988, Elliott was appointed a Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) for his services to acting. His career included many stage performances, including with the Royal Shakespeare Company, and a well acclaimed turn as the twin brothers in Jean Anouilh's Ring Round the Moon. His scene-stealing abilities led Gabriel Byrne, his co-star in Defence of the Realm, to say: "Never act with children, dogs, or Denholm Elliott."[8]

Despite being described by Screenonline as an actor of "versatile understanding and immaculate technique",[1] Elliott described himself as an instinctive actor and was a critic of Stanislavski's system of acting, saying: "I mistrust and am rather bored with actors who are of the Stanislavski school who think about detail."[9]

Personal life[edit]

Privately bisexual,[10] Elliott was married twice; first to actress Virginia McKenna for a few months in 1954, and later, in an open marriage, to American actress Susan Robinson (7 March 1942–12 April 2007), with whom he had two children, Mark and Jennifer. Jennifer committed suicide by hanging in 2003.[10]


Elliott was diagnosed with HIV in 1987[10] and died of AIDS-related tuberculosis at his home in Santa Eulària des Riu on Ibiza, Spain, on 6 October 1992 at the age of 70. Tributes were paid by actors Sir Donald Sinden and Sir Peter Ustinov, playwright Dennis Potter and former wife Virginia McKenna. Sinden said: "He was one of the finest screen actors and a very special actor at that. He was one of the last stars who was a real gentleman. It is a very sad loss." Ustinov said: "He was a wonderful actor and a very good friend on the occasions that life brought us together." Potter commented: "He was a complicated, sensitive and slightly disturbing actor. Not only was he a very accomplished actor, he was a dry, witty and slightly menacing individual. As a man, I always found him very open, very straightforward and very much to the point." McKenna added: "It is absolutely dreadful, but the person I am thinking of at the moment more than anybody is his wife. It must be terrible for her."[11] Ismail Merchant described Elliott as "an all-giving person, full of life ... He had an affection and feeling for other actors, which is very unusual in our business."[12]

His widow set up a charity, The Denholm Elliott Project, and collaborated on his biography.[13] She worked closely with the UK Coalition of People Living with HIV and AIDS. Susan Robinson Elliott died on 12 April 2007, aged 65, following a fire in her flat in London.[10]



Year Title Role Notes
1949 Dear Mr. Prohack Oswald Morfrey
1952 The Ringer John Lemley
1952 The Sound Barrier Christopher Ridgefield Released as Breaking the Sound Barrier in USA
1952 The Holly and the Ivy Michael Gregory
1953 The Cruel Sea Morell
1953 The Heart of the Matter Wilson
1954 They Who Dare Sergeant Corcoran
1954 Lease of Life Martin Blake
1955 The Man Who Loved Redheads Denis
1955 The Night My Number Came Up Fl. Lt. Mckenzie
1956 Pacific Destiny Arthur Grimble
1960 Scent of Mystery Oliver Larker
1962 Station Six-Sahara Macey
1964 Nothing But the Best Charlie Prince
1964 The High Bright Sun Baker
1965 You Must Be Joking! Captain Tabasco
1965 King Rat Larkin
1966 Alfie The Abortionist
1966 The Spy with a Cold Nose Pond-Jones
1967 The Night They Raided Minsky's Vance Fowler
1967 Here We Go Round the Mulberry Bush Mr Beauchamp
1968 The Sea Gull Dorn, a doctor
1970 Too Late the Hero Captain Hornsby
1970 The Rise and Rise of Michael Rimmer Peter Niss
1971 Quest for Love Tom Lewis
1971 Percy Emmanuel Whitbread
1971 The House That Dripped Blood Charles Hillyer
1972 Madame Sin Malcolm De Vere
1973 A Doll's House Krogstad
1973 The Vault of Horror Diltant
1974 The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz Friar
1976 A Ghost Story for Christmas: The Signalman The Signalman Television series, 6 episodes
1976 Robin and Marian Will Scarlet
1976 To the Devil a Daughter Henry Beddows
1976 Voyage of the Damned Admiral Canaris
1977 A Bridge Too Far R.A.F. Met. Officer
1978 Sweeney 2 Jupp
1978 The Hound of the Baskervilles Stapleton
1978 La petite fille en velours bleu (Little Girl in Blue Velvet) Mike
1978 The Boys from Brazil Sidney Beynon
1978 Watership Down Cowslip Voice
1979 Cuba Donald Skinner
1979 Zulu Dawn Colonel Pulleine
1979 Saint Jack William Leigh
1979 A Game for Vultures Ragan Thistle
1980 Bad Timing Stefan Vognic
1980 Blade on the Feather Jack Hill TV movie
1980 Sunday Lovers Parker
1980 Rising Damp Charles Seymour
1981 Raiders of the Lost Ark Dr. Marcus Brody
1982 Brimstone and Treacle Tom Bates
1982 The Missionary The Bishop
1983 Trading Places Coleman
1983 The Wicked Lady Sir Ralph Skelton
1984 The Razor's Edge Elliott Templeton
1984 Camille Count de Noilly TV movie
1984 A Private Function Dr Charles Swaby
1985 A Room with a View Mr Emerson
1985 Defence of the Realm Vernon Bayliss
1986 The Whoopee Boys Col. Phelps
1987 Maurice Doctor Barry
1987 September Howard
1988 Stealing Heaven Fulbert
1989 Killing Dad Nathy
1989 Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade Marcus Brody
1989 Return from the River Kwai Colonel Grayson
1991 Toy Soldiers Headmaster
1991 A Murder of Quality George Smiley TV movie
1992 Noises Off Selsdon Mowbray


See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b "British Film Institute Biography". Retrieved 24 September 2007. 
  2. ^ BBC Radio. Desert Island Discs, 14 September 1974.
  3. ^ "Encyclopaedia Britannica". Retrieved 24 September 2007. 
  4. ^ Record for Halifax DT508 on
  5. ^ Falconer, Jonathon (1998). The Bomber Command Handbook 1939–1945. Stroud: Sutton Publishing. ISBN 0-7509-1819-5. 
  6. ^ "Giraudoux Play On Television 'The Apollo Of Bellac'". The Times, 13 August 1955.
  7. ^ Woods, Judith (8 February 2011). "Michael Winner: 'The Life I've Lived, the Girls I've Had... Ht's Been Incredible'". The Daily Telegraph. 
  8. ^ "Obituary: Denholm Elliott". The Independent. 7 October 1992. 
  9. ^ Oliver, Myrna (7 October 1992). "Denholm Elliott; Veteran Character Actor". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 22 July 2014. 
  10. ^ a b c d "Susan Robinson Elliott obituary". The Daily Telegraph. 24 April 2007. 
  11. ^ "Denholm Elliott dies from Aids-related TB, aged 70". The Independent. 7 October 1992. 
  12. ^ "Oscar nominee Elliott dies of AIDS problems". Variety. 7 October 1992. 
  13. ^ Elliott, Susan; Turner, Barry (1994). Denholm Elliott: Quest for Love.

External links[edit]