|Born||Eric Harold Portman
13 July 1901
Akroydon, Halifax, West Yorkshire, England
|Died||7 December 1969
St Veep, Cornwall, England
Eric 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.
He started work in 1922 as a salesman in the menswear department at Marshall and Snelgrove's department store in Leeds and acted in the amateur Halifax Light Opera Society. He made his professional stage debut in 1924 with Henry Baynton's company, before he was engaged by Lilian Baylis for the Old Vic Company. In 1928, he starred as Romeo in the rebuilt Old Vic and forged a reputation as a noted Shakespearian actor. In the 1930s, he began appearing in films. In 1935, he appeared in four films, including Maria Marten or Murder in the Red Barn.
In 1941 he had his first important film role playing Nazi on the run Herth in Powell and Pressburger's 49th Parallel, which led to leading roles in the British cinema of the 1940s and 1950s, including One of Our Aircraft Is Missing (1942) and A Canterbury Tale (1944) for Powell and Pressburger, as well as We Dive at Dawn (1943), Millions Like Us (1943), Dear Murderer (1947), The Spider and the Fly (1949), Cairo Road (1950) and The Colditz Story (1955). In 1945, exhibitors voted him the 10th most popular star at the British box office. He maintained that ranking the following year.
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.
Portman was probably 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.
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.
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