Dwight Frye

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Dwight Frye
Dwight Frye.png
in A Strange Adventure (1932)
Born Dwight Iliff Fry
(1899-02-22)February 22, 1899
Salina, Kansas, U.S.
Died November 7, 1943(1943-11-07) (aged 44)
Hollywood, CA, U.S.
Years active 1922-43
Spouse(s) Laura Mae Bullivant (1928-1943) his death

Dwight Iliff Frye (February 22, 1899 – November 7, 1943) was an American stage and screen actor, remembered for his appearance as the tormented Renfield in the classic horror film Dracula (1931).

Early life and career[edit]

Frye was born in Salina, Kansas. In the 1920s he made his name as a versatile stage actor, often in comedies. In 1924 he played the Son in a translation of Luigi Pirandello's Six Characters in Search of an Author.[1]

He had a few minor roles in silent pictures, but with the coming of sound he soon became known for playing unsavory characters. Nicknamed "The Man with the Thousand-Watt Stare" and "The Man of a Thousand Deaths", he specialized in the portrayal of mentally unbalanced characters, including his signature role, the madman Renfield in Tod Browning's 1931 version of Dracula. Later that same year he played the hunchbacked assistant Fritz in the film Frankenstein.

Also in 1931, Frye portrayed Wilmer Cook (the "gunsel") in the original film version of Dashiell Hammett's The Maltese Falcon. (It was the role played by Elisha Cook, Jr. in the remake a decade later.)

Though he never made a secret of wanting better roles in more prestigious films, Frye continued to be typecast as a sinister individual, mostly in horror movies, throughout his career.

Frye had a featured role in the horror film The Vampire Bat (1933), starring Lionel Atwill, Melvyn Douglas, and Fay Wray, in which he played Herman, a half-wit suspected of being a killer. He also had memorable roles in The Invisible Man (1933) as a reporter, and in The Crime of Dr. Crespi (1935).

In Bride of Frankenstein (1935), he played Karl. The part was originally much more substantive, and many additional scenes of Frye were shot as a subplot but were edited out of the final version to shorten the running time and appease the censors. One of these deleted scenes was that of Karl killing the Burgomaster, portrayed by E. E. Clive.[citation needed] No known prints of these scenes survive today, but photographs of the scene were used to illustrate the scene's synopsis and are included in the recent Universal Studios DVD release of the film.

During the early 1940s, Frye alternated between film roles and appearing on stage in a variety of productions ranging from comedies to musicals, as well as appearing in a stage version of Dracula. He also made a contribution to the war effort by working nights as a tool designer for Lockheed Aircraft.


Frye's strong resemblance to former Secretary of War Newton D. Baker helped land a role in the biopic Wilson (1944), based on the life of U.S. President Woodrow Wilson, but he died of a heart attack while riding on a bus in Hollywood a few days before filming was to have begun.

Frye was interred in Glendale's Forest Lawn Memorial Park Cemetery.

Cultural references[edit]

  • There was a Dwight Frye Fan Club at one time,[2] but it is currently dormant.
  • Alice Cooper included a song titled "Ballad of Dwight Fry" (without the final "e") on their 1971 album Love It to Death. It is sung from the point of view of a character such as the actor might have played. The 2012 Tim Burton film Dark Shadows features a cameo by Cooper performing the song.
  • The music company Wind-Up Entertainment Inc. houses one music publishing concern called Renfield Music Publishing, and another called Dwight Frye Music, which publishes artists such as Evanescence and Creed.


  • Gregory W. Mank, Dwight D. Frye, James Coughlin (1997). Dwight Frye’s Last Laugh. Midnight Marquee. ISBN 1-887664-11-4. 

External links[edit]