|Born||Eric Harold Portman
13 July 1901
Halifax, Yorkshire, England
|Died||7 December 1969
St Veep, Cornwall, England
Eric Harold Portman (13 July 1901 – 7 December 1969) was an English stage and film actor. He is probably best remembered for his roles in several films for Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger during the 1940s.
In 1924 Robert Courtneidge's Shakespearian company arrived in Halifax. Portman joined the company as a 'passenger' and appeared in their production of Richard II at the Victoria Hall, Sunderland which led to Courtneidge giving him a contract.
In the 1930s, he began appearing in films, starting with an uncredited bit in The Girl from Maxim's (1933) directed by Alexander Korda. In 1935, he appeared in four films, including Maria Marten or Murder in the Red Barn with Tod Slaughter. He also made Hyde Park Corner with Gordon Harker and directed by Sinclair Hill; Old Roses and Abdul the Damned.
In 1936 Portman had a stage hit playing Lord Byron in Bitter Harvest. After Hearts of Humanity (1936) he played Giuliano de' Medici in Hill's The Cardinal (1936). Portman did another with Tod Slaughter, The Crimes of Stephen Hawke (1936), and was in Moonlight Sonata (1937).
He came to the US and played in Madame Bovary on Broadway for the Theatre Guild of America. He also had a small role in The Prince and the Pauper but disliked Hollywood and did not stay long. He was back on Broadway in I Have Been Here Before by JB Priestly.
Portman's last London stage show was Jeannie.
In the semi-autobiographical play Dinner with Ribbentrop by screenwriter Norman Hudis, a former personal assistant to Portman, Hudis relates a claim made often by Portman. According to Portman, in 1937, before the start of the Second World War, he had had a dinner in London with Joachim von Ribbentrop (then the Nazi Ambassador to Britain). Portman claimed that Ribbentrop had told him that "when Germany wins the war, Portman would be installed as the greatest English star in the New Europe" at a purpose-built film studio in Berlin.
In 1941 he had his first important film role playing Nazi on the run Herth in Powell and Pressburger's 49th Parallel, which was a big hit in the US and Britain. Portman was established as a star and signed a long term contract with Gainsborough Pictures.
Portman was in Powell and Pressburger's follow up, One of Our Aircraft Is Missing (1942), which reworked the story of The 49th Parallel to be about Allied pilots in occupied Holland. He played a Belgian resistance leader in Uncensored (1942) from director Anthony Asquith, and a German pilot in Squadron Leader X (1943) with director Lance Comfort. Portman was a submarine commander in Asquith's We Dive at Dawn (1943) and a factory supervisor in Millions Like Us (1943) from Launder and Gilliat.
Portman had the lead in Great Day (1945) with Flora Robson and in the expensive colonial epic Men of Two Worlds (1946).In 1945, exhibitors voted him the 10th most popular star at the British box office. He maintained that ranking the following year.
He made some thrillers - Wanted for Murder (1947), Dear Murderer (1947) and The Mark of Cain (1947). He was a hangman in Daybreak (1948), then made Corridor of Mirrors (1948) and The Blind Goddess (1948).
He made two films for the new producing team of Maxwell Setton and Aubrey Baring, The Spider and the Fly (1949) and Cairo Road (1950). Portman was one of many names in The Magic Box (1951) and then made an Ealing comedy, His Excellency (1952), playing a trade unionist who becomes Governor of a British colony.
In 1952 he was announced for a Hollywood film Pleasure Island but it was never made.
He played the bogus Major in Terence Rattigan's play Separate Tables in 1956-57 on Broadway. For this performance, he was nominated for a Tony Award (Best Actor (Dramatic)). In 1958 he appeared on Broadway in a short-lived production of Jane Eyre as Rochester.
Portman had better luck the following year in a production of Eugene O'Neill's A Touch of the Poet, which had a long run. In contract, Flowering Cherry by Robert Bolt, with Portman in the title role only lasted five performances on Broadway.
In 1962 Portman was in a stage adaptation of A Passage to India that ran for 109 performances on Broadway.
Near the end of his life he played character roles including Number Two in the TV series The Prisoner, appearing in the episode "Free For All" (1967), as well as films including The Whisperers (1967) and Deadfall (1968), both for director Bryan Forbes. His final film was Assignment to Kill (1968).
Portman was homosexual, although newspapers never reported this during the mid-1950s when homosexuality was illegal in the UK. Newspapers refrained from identifying his sexuality throughout the 1960s when it could still have damaged his career. His partner was actor Knox Laing.
- The Girl from Maxims (1933)
- Maria Marten or Murder in the Red Barn (1935)
- Hyde Park Corner (1935)
- Old Roses (1935)
- Abdul the Damned (1935)
- Hearts of Humanity (1936)
- The Cardinal (1936)
- The Crimes of Stephen Hawke (1936)
- Moonlight Sonata (1937)
- The Prince and the Pauper (1937)
- 49th Parallel (1941)
- One of Our Aircraft Is Missing (1942)
- Uncensored (1942)
- Squadron Leader X (1943)
- We Dive at Dawn (1943)
- Millions Like Us (1943)
- Escape to Danger (1943)
- A Canterbury Tale (1944)
- Great Day (1945)
- Men of Two Worlds (1946)
- Wanted for Murder (1946)
- Dear Murderer (1947)
- The Mark of Cain (1947)
- Daybreak (1948)
- Corridor of Mirrors (1948)
- The Blind Goddess (1948)
- The Spider and the Fly (1949)
- Cairo Road (1950)
- The Magic Box (1951)
- His Excellency (1952)
- South of Algiers (1953)
- The Golden Mask (1954)
- The Colditz Story (1955)
- The Deep Blue Sea (1955)
- Child in the House (1956)
- The Good Companions (1957)
- Naked City, episode The Pedigree Sheet, (1960)
- The Naked Edge (1961)
- Freud (1962)
- West 11 (1963)
- The Man Who Finally Died (1963)
- The Bedford Incident (1965)
- The Spy with a Cold Nose (1966)
- The Whisperers (1967)
- Deadfall (1968)
- Assignment to Kill (1968)
- "Malcolm Bull's Calderdale Companion : Foldout". Freepages.history.rootsweb.ancestry.com. Retrieved 2016-07-19.
- "ABOUT ERIC PORTMAN.". Morwell Advertiser (2911). Victoria, Australia. 3 September 1942. p. 7 (morning.). Retrieved 29 August 2017 – via National Library of Australia.
- "Dinner with Ribbentrop". Rudeguerrilla.org. 2004-05-06. Retrieved 2012-06-11.
- "Dinner with Ribbentrop". Retrieved 25 September 2014.
- "Eric Portman's New Yorkshire Role". Glen Innes Examiner. 18, (2376). New South Wales, Australia. 10 May 1945. p. 4. Retrieved 29 August 2017 – via National Library of Australia.
- "CROSBY and HOPE try their luck in Alaska.". The Mercury (Hobart, Tas.: 1860-1954). Hobart, Tas.: National Library of Australia. 2 March 1946. p. 3 Supplement: The Mercury Magazine. Retrieved 24 April 2012.
- "FILM WORLD.". The West Australian. Perth, WA: National Library of Australia. 28 February 1947. p. 20 (2nd edition). Retrieved 27 April 2012.
- "BRITONS FOR HOLLYWOOD". The Sydney Morning Herald (35,711). New South Wales, Australia. 5 June 1952. p. 12. Retrieved 29 August 2017 – via National Library of Australia.
- Rattigan, Terence (1999). Separate Tables. Nick Hern Books. p. xxx. ISBN 978-1-85459-424-2.
- "Biography". Retrieved 3 May 2010.
- Owens, Andy. Our Eric: A Portrait of Eric Portman. England, Sigma Press, October 2013. ISBN 1-850-5898-1-X