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Williams in 1974, portrait by Allan Warren
George Emlyn Williams|
26 November 1905
Mostyn, Flintshire, Wales, UK
25 September 1987 (aged 81)|
London, England, UK
|Occupation||Writer, dramatist, actor|
Williams was born into a Welsh-speaking, working class family at 1 Jones Terrace, Penyffordd, Ffynnongroyw, Flintshire. He spoke only Welsh until the age of eight and was barely literate. Later said he would probably have begun working in the mines at age 12 if he had not caught the attention of a London social worker named Sarah Grace Cooke, the model for Miss Moffat in The Corn is Green. She established a school in Holywell Grammar School in 1915, and, recognising Williams's aptitude for languages, granted him a scholarship. Over the next seven years she worked with him on his English and helped him prepare to be a teacher. She obtained a scholarship for him to visit Switzerland, to study French, and when he was 17 she helped him win a scholarship to Christ Church, Oxford, where he read French and Italian.
In 1926, during his studies at Oxford, Williams had a nervous breakdown, which was blamed largely on a failed emotional friendship with another undergraduate, but Miss Cooke encouraged him to write as a way to recover. But Williams intended to enter the theatrical world on the front line too, and joined the Oxford University Dramatic Society (OUDS).
He performed with the OUDS in his first full-length play, Full Moon, at the original Oxford Playhouse in 1927, and later that year he joined a London-based repertory company and began his stage career. By 1930, he had expanded his writing with works such as A Murder Has Been Arranged and The Late Christopher Bean.
Over the next few years, Williams took on roles on stage and on film, including the first celluloid version of the Edgar Wallace mystery, The Frightened Lady. He became an overnight star, however, with his thriller Night Must Fall (1935), in which he also played the lead role of a psychopathic murderer. The play was noted for its exploration of the killer's complex psychological state, a step forward for its genre. It was made into a film in 1937 with Robert Montgomery, and again in 1964 with Albert Finney. It has been frequently revived, most recently in the West End with Jason Donovan, and on Broadway in 1999 with Matthew Broderick.
His other great play was very different: The Corn Is Green (1938), partly based on his own childhood in Wales. He starred as a Welsh schoolboy in the play's London premiere. The play came to Broadway in 1940 with Ethel Barrymore as the schoolteacher Miss Moffat. A 1950 Broadway revival starred Eva La Gallienne. The play was turned into a film starring Bette Davis, and again into a made-for-television film starring Katharine Hepburn, under the direction of Williams's close friend George Cukor. An attempt to turn the play into a musical in the 1970s, with Davis again in the role of the schoolteacher with lyrics by Williams, failed. So did a Broadway revival in 1983 starring Cicely Tyson and Peter Gallagher. But a 1985 London revival at the Old Vic with Deborah Kerr was successful, as was a 2007 production at the Williamstown Theatre Festival in Massachusetts. That production starred Kate Burton. Williams was a close friend of Kate's parents, Richard Burton and Burton's first wife, Sybil. In the Williamstown production, the schoolboy — the role created by and modeled on Williams himself — was played by Kate Burton's son, Morgan Ritchie.
His autobiographical light comedy, The Druid's Rest was first performed at the St Martin's Theatre, London, in 1944. It saw the stage debut of Richard Burton whom Williams had spotted at an audition in Cardiff. The play has been revived at Clwyd Theatr Cymru in both 1976 and 2005, and received its first London revival in sixty years at London's Finborough Theatre in 2009.
In addition to stage plays, Williams wrote a number of film screenplays, working with Alfred Hitchcock (on The Man Who Knew Too Much), Carol Reed and other directors. He acted in and contributed dialogue to various films based on the novels of A. J. Cronin, including The Citadel (1938), The Stars Look Down (1939), Hatter's Castle (1942) and Web of Evidence (1959). He played the mad Roman emperor Caligula in an uncompleted 1937 film version of Robert Graves's novel I, Claudius (with Charles Laughton); a kindly veterinarian who accidentally causes the death of a murderess (played by Bette Davis) in the 1952 suspense drama Another Man's Poison; and the fool Wamba in the 1952 Ivanhoe (with Robert Taylor and Elizabeth Taylor).
Other screen credits include Hitchcock's adaptation of Daphne du Maurier's Jamaica Inn (with Charles Laughton), Gabriel Pascal's film version of George Bernard Shaw's Major Barbara (with Wendy Hiller and Rex Harrison), José Ferrer's I Accuse! (playing Émile Zola), The Wreck of the Mary Deare (with Gary Cooper), The L-Shaped Room (with Leslie Caron), and a made-for-TV adaptation of Charles Dickens's David Copperfield (with an all-star cast including Laurence Olivier, Michael Redgrave, Ralph Richardson and Edith Evans). In 1941 Williams starred in the film You Will Remember, directed by Jack Raymond and written by Sewell Stokes and Lydia Hayward. The film is based on the life of the popular late Victorian songwriter Leslie Stuart, played here by Robert Morley, with Williams as Stuart's best friend. Also in 1941, he had a principal supporting part (as Snobby Price) in Gabriel Pascal's filming of George Bernard Shaw's Major Barbara.
His only film as a director, The Last Days of Dolwyn (1949), which he also wrote and starred in, marked the screen debut of his fellow Welshman, Richard Burton. Williams often appeared in his own plays, and was famous for his one-man-shows, with which he toured the world, playing Charles Dickens in an evening of excerpts from Dickens' novels. This "one man show" was the start of a whole new theatrical genre. He followed up his Dickens performance with one man shows based on the works of Dylan Thomas, Dylan Thomas Growing Up, and H.H. Munro better known under his pseudonym Saki. His post-war acting credits included The Winslow Boy by Terence Rattigan and The Deputy aka The Representative by Rolf Hochhuth on Broadway. He also was the "voice" of Lloyd George in the seminal BBC documentary The Great War (1964).
Among Williams' other books was the best seller Beyond Belief: A Chronicle of Murder and its Detection (1968), a semi-fictionalised account of the Moors murderers, Ian Brady and Myra Hindley. His 1980 novel Headlong, the fictional story of the unexpected death of the entire British royal family in a freak accident in 1930, and the ascension of a most unlikely heir to the British throne as a result, was the loose basis of the 1991 motion picture King Ralph.
On Monday 17 February 1975 Williams was Roy Plomley's guest on Desert Island Discs on BBC Radio 4. The author's book choice was a dictionary with a typewriter, pen and paper combined as his luxury.
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Williams was married in 1935 to actress Mary Marjorie O'Shann (Molly Shan), who died in 1970. They had two sons, Alan, a writer, and Brook, an actor. Brook Williams became a close friend of Richard Burton's, working as Burton's personal assistant and appearing in many of Burton's films.
But both during his marriage and following his wife's death, Williams was actively bisexual throughout his adult life. He maintained a relationship from 1981 to 1986 with American theatre journalist Albert N. Williams (no relation), whom Emlyn Williams met while appearing at the Northlight Theatre in the Chicago area with his one-man Charles Dickens show. (Albert Williams served as Emlyn Williams' personal assistant during a 1982 tour of England, Wales and Ireland with the Charles Dickens and Dylan Thomas solo shows.)
- Full Moon
- A Murder has been Arranged
- Spring 1600
- Night Must Fall
- He was Born Gay
- The Corn Is Green
- The Light of Heart
- The Morning Star
- A Month in the Country (Adapted from the play by Turgenev)
- The Druid's Rest
- The Wind of Heaven
- Someone Waiting
- Beth, later revised under the title Cuckoo
- Night Must Fall, directed by Richard Thorpe (1937, based on the play Night Must Fall)
- Life Begins at Eight-Thirty, directed by Irving Pichel (1942, based on the play The Light of Heart)
- The Corn Is Green, directed by Irving Rapper (1945, based on the play The Corn Is Green)
- Time Without Pity, directed by Joseph Losey (UK, 1957, based on the play Someone Waiting)
- Das Leben beginnt um acht, directed by Michael Kehlmann (West Germany, 1962, based on the play The Light of Heart)
- Night Must Fall, directed by Karel Reisz (UK, 1964, based on the play Night Must Fall)
- The Corn Is Green, directed by George Cukor (TV film, 1979, based on the play The Corn Is Green)
- King Ralph, directed by David S. Ward (1991, based on the novel Headlong)
- Friday the Thirteenth (1933)
- Evergreen (1934)
- The Divine Spark (1935)
- Broken Blossoms (1936)
- The Last Days of Dolwyn (1949)
- The Last Days of Dolwyn (1949)
- The Frightened Lady (1932), as Lord Lebanon
- Men of Tomorrow (1932), as Horners
- Sally Bishop (1932), as Arthur Montague
- Friday the Thirteenth (1933), as William Blake
- My Song for You (1934), as Theodore Bruckner
- Evensong (1934), as George Leary
- Road House (1934), as Chester
- The Iron Duke (1934), as Bates
- The Dictator (1935), as King Christian VII of Denmark
- City of Beautiful Nonsense (1935), as Jack Grey
- Broken Blossoms (1936), as Chen
- I, Claudius (1937), as Caligula (the film was never completed, but footage is preserved)
- They Drive by Night (1938), as Shorty Matthews
- Night Alone (1938), as Charles Seaton
- The Citadel (1938), as Owen
- Dead Men Tell No Tales (1939), as Dr. Headlam
- Jamaica Inn (1939), as Harry the Peddler
- Girl in the News (1940), as Tracy
- The Stars Look Down (1940), as Joe Gowlan
- You Will Remember (1941), as Bob Slater
- Major Barbara (1941), as Snobby Price
- This England (1941), as Appleyard
- Hatter's Castle (1942), as Dennis
- The Last Days of Dolwyn (1949), as Rob
- Three Husbands (1951), as Maxwell Bard
- The Scarf (1951), as Dr. David Dunbar
- Another Man's Poison (1951), as Dr. Henderson
- The Magic Box (1951), as Bank Manager
- Ivanhoe (1952), as Wamba
- The Deep Blue Sea (1955), as Sir William Collyer
- I Accuse! (1958), as Émile Zola
- Beyond This Place (1959), as Enoch Oswald
- The Wreck of the Mary Deare (1959), as Sir Wilfred Falcett
- The L-Shaped Room (1962), as Dr. Weaver
- Eye of the Devil (1966), as Alain de Montfaucon
- The Walking Stick (1970), as Jack Foil
- Deadly Game (1982), as Bernard Laroque
- Krebs, Albin (September 26, 1987). "Emlyn Williams, Welsh Actor and Writer, Dies". The New York Times. Retrieved 2016-10-18.
- Folkart, Burt A. (September 26, 1987). "Welsh Dramatist and Actor Emlyn Williams Dies at 81". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2016-10-18.
- Carpenter, Humphrey, O.U.D.S.: A Centenary History of the Oxford University Dramatic Society 1885–1985, Oxford University Press, 1985 (ISBN 0-19-212241-X)
- "Night Must Fall". Internet Broadway Database. Retrieved 2015-08-01.
- Isherwood, Charles. "Rescuing a Student From a Life in the Mines", nytimes.com, 7 August 2007.
- Ward, David S. (1991-02-15), King Ralph, John Goodman, Peter O'Toole, John Hurt, retrieved 2017-11-13
- Wilson, Scott. Resting Places: The Burial Sites of More Than 14,000 Famous Persons, 3d ed.: 2 (Kindle Location 51034). McFarland & Company, Inc., Publishers. Kindle Edition.
- Bibliographic detail taken from a copy of George, Williams autobiography published by Random House New York in 1961
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Emlyn Williams.|
|Wikiquote has quotations related to: Emlyn Williams|
- Works by Emlyn Williams at Project Gutenberg
- Works by or about Emlyn Williams at Internet Archive
- Emlyn Williams on IMDb
- The collection of Emlyn Williams Correspondence is held by the Victoria and Albert Museum Theatre and Performance Department.
- Emlyn Williams papers, 1941-1986, held by the Billy Rose Theatre Division, New York Public Library for the Performing Arts