Dwight Frye

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Dwight Frye
Dwight Frye.png
in A Strange Adventure (1932)
Dwight Iliff Fry

(1899-02-22)February 22, 1899
DiedNovember 7, 1943(1943-11-07) (aged 44)
Resting placeForest Lawn Memorial Park (Glendale)
Years active1917–1943
SpouseLaura Mae Bullivant (1928-43)

Dwight Iliff Frye (born Fry; February 22, 1899 – November 7, 1943) was an American character actor of stage and screen. He is best known for his portrayals of neurotic, murderous villains in several classic Universal horror films, such as Renfield in Dracula (1931) and Fritz in Frankenstein (1931).[1]


Early life and career[edit]

As Renfield in Dracula (1931)
Boris Karloff, Colin Clive, Edward Van Sloan and Frye in Frankenstein (1931)
Video of re-release trailer for Dracula (1931)

Frye was born in Salina, Kansas, and studied for a career in music and first appeared as a concert pianist.[1] In the 1920s, he made his name as a stage actor, often in comedies. In 1924, he played the Son in a production of Luigi Pirandello's Six Characters in Search of an Author.[2]

While he had a few minor comedic roles in silent pictures, with the coming of sound Frye soon became known for playing villains. Frye 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 Frankenstein and Wilmer Cook (the "gunsel") in the first film version of Dashiell Hammett's The Maltese Falcon. He had a featured role in the horror film The Vampire Bat (1933) in which he played Herman, a half-wit suspected of being a killer. He 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; many of Frye's additional scenes were part of a subplot but were cut to shorten the running time and appease the censors. One of the deleted scenes was that of Karl killing a Burgomaster, portrayed by E. E. Clive. Nothing remains of those scenes except still photographs included in a Universal Studios DVD release of the film. He played similar characters in The Ghost of Frankenstein (1942) and Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man (1943); another appearance in Son of Frankenstein (1939) was deleted prior to release. Also in the 1930s, he appeared in two films starring James Cagney: The Doorway to Hell (1930), as a hit man, and Something to Sing About (1937), as a fussy hairdresser.

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. During World War II, he made a contribution to the war effort by working nights as a tool designer for Lockheed Aircraft.[1]


On November 7, 1943, Frye died of a heart attack at the age of 44 while travelling by bus in Hollywood, a few days before he was scheduled to begin filming the biopic Wilson. He is interred in Glendale's Forest Lawn Memorial Park.[3]

Musical tribute[edit]

American rock band Alice Cooper wrote and recorded a tribute track to Dwight Frye entitled "The Ballad of Dwight Fry" (intentionally dropping the last "e") that was included on their 1971 LP Love It to Death. On stage, this song would be portrayed with Cooper in a straitjacket trying to escape, and finally breaking free at the end of the song to strangle the nurse with the ties.

Devil Doll's 1990 album, Eliogabalus, features the photographed likeness of Dwight Frye in one of its booths.

SNFU's 1991 compilation album The Last of the Big Time Suspenders features artwork of Dwight Frye as his "Renfield" character on the front cover.


Year Title Role Notes
1926 Exit Smiling Balcony Heckler Uncredited
1927 Upstream Theatre Audience Spectator Uncredited
1928 The Night Bird Party Guest Uncredited
1930 The Doorway to Hell Gangster
Man to Man Vint Glade
1931 Dracula R. M. Renfield
The Maltese Falcon Wilmer Cook
The Black Camel Jessup, the butler Uncredited
Frankenstein Fritz
1932 Attorney for the Defense James Wallace
By Whose Hand? Chick
The Western Code Dick Loomis
A Strange Adventure Robert Wayne
1933 The Vampire Bat Herman Gleib
The Circus Queen Murder Flandrin
The Invisible Man Reporter Uncredited
1935 Bride of Frankenstein Karl
Atlantic Adventure Spike Jonas
The Crime of Dr. Crespi Dr. Thomas
The Great Impersonation Roger Unthank Uncredited
1936 Tough Guy Mack Uncredited
Florida Special Jenkins
Alibi for Murder McBride
Beware of Ladies Swanson
Great Guy Minor Role Uncredited
1937 Sea Devils SS Paradise Radio Operator Uncredited
The Man Who Found Himself Hysterical Patient
The Road Back Small Man at Rally Uncredited
Renfrew of the Royal Mounted Desk Clerk Uncredited
Something to Sing About Mr. Easton
Danger Patrol Man on Telephone Uncredited
The Shadow Vindecco
1938 Who Killed Gail Preston? Mr. Owen
Invisible Enemy Alex
Sinners in Paradise Marshall Uncredited
Fast Company Sidney Z. Wheeler
The Night Hawk John Colley
Adventure in Sahara Gravet - 'The Jackal' Uncredited
1939 Son of Frankenstein Villager Unconfirmed
The Man in the Iron Mask Fouquet's Valet Uncredited
Mickey the Kid Henchman Bruno Uncredited
Conspiracy Lt. Keller Uncredited
1940 I Take This Woman Gus (scenes deleted)
Drums of Fu Manchu Prof. Anderson Serial, [Ch.5]
Gangs of Chicago Pinky
Phantom Raiders Eddie Anders
Sky Bandits Speavy
The Son of Monte Cristo Pavlov's Secretary Uncredited
1941 The People vs. Dr. Kildare Jury Foreman Uncredited
Mystery Ship Rader
Flying Blind Leo Qualen
The Blonde from Singapore Barber Uncredited
The Devil Pays Off Radio Operator Uncredited
1942 Sleepytime Gal Second Mug Uncredited
The Ghost of Frankenstein Villager Uncredited
Danger in the Pacific Desk Clerk Uncredited
1943 Dead Men Walk Zolarr
Submarine Alert Haldine - Fifth Columnist Uncredited
Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man Rudi
Hangmen Also Die! Hostage Uncredited
Dangerous Blondes Hoodlum Uncredited, (final film role)


  1. ^ a b c Erickson, Hal. "Dwight Frye - Biography". AllMovie. Retrieved October 30, 2021.
  2. ^ "Six Characters in Search of an Author". Internet Broadway Database. Retrieved August 5, 2010.
  3. ^ Mank, Gregory William (March 8, 2010). Bela Lugosi and Boris Karloff: The Expanded Story of a Haunting Collaboration, with a Complete Filmography of Their Films Together. McFarland. ISBN 978-0-7864-5472-3. Retrieved October 30, 2021.


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

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