as Natalio Curro in the trailer for Blood and Sand (1941)
Samuel Laird Cregar
July 28, 1913
|Died||December 9, 1944 (aged 31)|
Los Angeles, California, U.S.
|Resting place||Forest Lawn Memorial Park, Glendale|
Samuel Laird Cregar (July 28, 1913 – December 9, 1944) was an American stage and film actor. Cregar was best known for his villainous performances in films such as I Wake Up Screaming (1941) and The Lodger (1944).
Cregar's screen career began in 1940 working as an extra in films. By 1941, he had signed a film contract with 20th Century Fox. Cregar quickly rose to stardom, appearing in a variety of genres from screwball comedy to horror. He was a popular actor until his death in 1944 at the age of 31.
Cregar was born in Philadelphia, the youngest of six sons of Edward Matthews Cregar, a cricketer and member of a team called the Gentlemen of Philadelphia. They toured internationally in the late 1890s and early 1900s. Laird's mother was the former Elizabeth Smith.
When Cregar was eight he was sent to England to be educated at Winchester College, where he developed his abilities with British accents. He first appeared on stage when he was eight, when he played a page boy with the Stratford-upon-Avon theatrical troupe, and he acted in several other productions at Stratford. "From that time on, all I've ever wanted to do is go on stage," he said later.
Cregar's father died and his family returned to the United States. He graduated from the Episcopal Academy in Philadelphia when he was 14. He wanted to act but he was too young to go to college, so he convinced the Hedgerow Players, an amateur company in Germantown, Pennsylvania, that he was an actor, and he spent several years with them. He also acted with other stock companies in Philadelphia and wrote some plays that were performed by amateur groups.
In 1936, Cregar won a scholarship to California's Pasadena Playhouse. He spent two years there, acting and studying; he said Thomas Browne Henry of the Playhouse gave him the worst advice he possibly could, telling him "not to lose a pound of weight, but instead to develop a thin man's personality."
He returned to Pennsylvania to appear in Federal Theatre projects. He went back to the Pasadena Playhouse for several months, then made his professional debut with the West Coast production of The Great American Family. When that ended he was unable to find a job for six months, and was forced to sleep in a friend's car in their garden.
Cregar read a copy of the play Oscar Wilde by Leslie and Sewell Stokes, which had been a great triumph for English actor Robert Morley. Cregar felt the lead role would be ideal for him and pitched the project to a number of producers; it was eventually picked up by Arthur Hutchinson, who mounted the play in Los Angeles in April 1940 with Cregar. The production was a triumph for Cregar, the Los Angeles Times saying he "scored a sensational success." John Barrymore saw him and said he was one of the most gifted young stage actors in the past ten years.
Cregar's performance immediately attracted the interest of Hollywood studios: Cregar was tested for the second lead in The Letter (1940) and made screen tests for MGM and Paramount. The producer and director of Oscar Wilde were reported as preparing an independent company to star Cregar in William Muir's The Life of Mohammed. He was then tested by 20th Century Fox, who considered him as a replacement for Tyrone Power in a film called The Great Commandment (1939).
Cregar performed Oscar Wilde in San Francisco then eventually signed with 20th Century Fox. They announced him for The Californian, which was not made, but Cregar was then cast in the big-budget historical movie Hudson's Bay (1941), opposite Paul Muni. He followed this up supporting Tyrone Power in Blood and Sand (also 1941), although he came down with measles during production, forcing filming to shut down for a week. Cregar made a major impression in both films—the latter in particular was a big success.
He was then cast as Francis Chesney in Charley's Aunt (1941), the first of several showcases for the actor's comic flair. After his sinister portrayal of the obsessed detective in I Wake Up Screaming (also 1941), he was borrowed for RKO to make Joan of Paris (1942). Cregar briefly returned to the stage to appear in the title role of The Man Who Came to Dinner; it was at the El Capitan, the site of his Oscar Wilde triumph, and was well received. Paramount borrowed him for This Gun for Hire (1942), a film noir. Cregar played the film's antagonist, Willard Gates, opposite Veronica Lake and Alan Ladd.
Cregar had become one of filmdom's top "heavies"—both figuratively and literally. Seldom weighing less than 300 pounds (136 kg) throughout his adult life, Cregar became obsessed with his weight. Nonetheless John Chapman of the Chicago Daily Tribune predicted he would become one of the "stars of 1942".
In 1943, David Bacon, a young actor with whom Cregar had been having an affair, was knifed to death, according to accounts in the press, which also published pictures of Cregar, calling him "such a good friend" of the victim. This prompted studio executive Darryl F. Zanuck to arrange for an article in Silver Screen magazine to link Cregar romantically with Dorothy McGuire, among others, and to report that, despite his weight, the actor was considered sexy by many women.
In March 1943, Fox announced plans to cast Cregar in the starring role in The Lodger (1944), as a character who may or may not be Jack the Ripper. Cregar began crash dieting to lose weight, desiring to give the character a "romantic veneer".
The film was a big hit, but the increasingly sensitive Cregar was growing tired of being thought of as merely a hulking villain. He was announced to play Javert in a production of Les Misérables, but this was postponed, and Fox wanted him to play demented pianist George Bone in Hangover Square (1945). Cregar refused the role, was put on suspension, then changed his mind. Fame soon brought radio roles on Lux Radio Theater in 1943 and a guest spot on The Eddie Cantor Show in April 1944.
The crash diet that Cregar followed for his roles in The Lodger and Hangover Square (which included prescribed amphetamines) placed a strain on his system, resulting in severe abdominal problems. He underwent surgery in December 1944. It was intended that Cregar's next film would be an adaptation of Les Misérables directed by John Brahm, and Billy Rose wanted to star him on Broadway in Henry VIII. A few days after surgery, Cregar had a heart attack and was rushed to the hospital. He rallied briefly when put in an oxygen tent, but died on December 9, aged 31 years. His mother was at his bedside. Hangover Square was released two months after his death.
The funeral was held on December 13, 1944. Vincent Price, Cregar's co-star in Hudson's Bay (1941), delivered the eulogy. Cregar is interred in Forest Lawn Memorial Park in Glendale, California. His estate was valued at $10,000 ($145,236 today).
|1940||Oh Johnny, How You Can Love||Sam, Mechanic||Film debut, Uncredited|
|Granny Get Your Gun||Court Clerk||Uncredited|
|Blood and Sand||Natalio Curro|
|Charley's Aunt||Sir Francis Chesney||Alternative title: Charley's American Aunt|
|I Wake Up Screaming||Police Insp. Ed Cornell||Alternative title: Hot Spot|
|1942||Joan of Paris||Herr Funk|
|Rings on Her Fingers||Warren Worthington|
|This Gun for Hire||Willard Gates|
|Ten Gentlemen from West Point||Maj. Sam Carter|
|The Black Swan||Capt. Sir Henry Morgan||Alternative title: Rafael Sabatini's The Black Swan|
|1943||Hello, Frisco, Hello||Sam Weaver|
|Heaven Can Wait||His Excellency|
|Holy Matrimony||Clive Oxford|
|1944||The Lodger||Mr. Slade|
|1945||Hangover Square||George Harvey Bone||Final film|
Select theatre credits
- Brother Rat – Pasadena Community Playhouse – March 1939
- To Quito and Back by Ben Hecht – Pasadena Community Playhouse – April 1939 – co-starring with Victor Mature
- The Wingless Victory by Maxwell Anderson – Pasadena Community Playhouse – July 1939
- The Great American Family – Pasadena Playhouse – August 1939
- Oscar Wilde by Leslie and Sewell Stokes – El Capitan Theatre, Los Angeles – April 22 – May 19, 1940 – toured San Francisco in June
- The Man Who Came to Dinner – El Capitan Theatre, Los Angeles – September 1941 – revived in Samford in 1944
Cregar also reportedly wrote a number of plays.
- 1920 U.S. Census, State of Pennsylvania, County of Philadelphia, enumeration district 621, p. 5-B, family 115.
- 1930 U.S. Census, State of Pennsylvania, County of Philadelphia, enumeration district 636, p. 1-A, family 9.
- Brettell, Andrew; King, Noel; Kennedy, Damien; Imwold, Denise (2005). Cut!: Hollywood Murders, Accidents, and Other Tragedies. Leonard, Warren Hsu; von Rohr, Heather. Barrons Educational Series. p. 64. ISBN 0-7641-5858-9.
- Obituary Variety, December 13, 1944.
- "Late Great Laird: Late Great Laird". Chicago Daily Tribune. December 2, 1945. p. F2.
- Alexander Kahn (August 23, 1940). "Single Stage Role Opens Film Career to a Jobless Thespian". The Washington Post. p. 19.
- "Larger Than Life". New York Times. January 5, 1941. p. X4.
- "Laird Cregar, 28, Film Actor, Dead: 300-Lb..Star for Fox Played Character Roles -- Scored on the Stage in 'Oscar Wilde'". New York Times. December 10, 1944. p. 54.
- Schallert, Edwin (April 23, 1940). "Laird Cregar's Portrayal of 'Oscar Wilde' Hailed". Los Angeles Times. p. 14.
- Schallert, Edwin (May 7, 1940). "'Hail and Farewell' Will Be Stevens Film". Los Angeles Times. p. 13.
- Douglas W. Churchill Special to The New York Times. (June 25, 1940). "Screen News Here and in Hollywood: Robert Preston Will Appear Opposite Paulette Goddard in 'Reap the Wild Wind' Rialto Program Change Two Horror Films to Replace 'The Fugitive' on Thursday --3 Other New Pictures Warmers Buy New Story Linda Hayes Gets Role". New York Times. p. 28.
- Special to The New York Times. (July 3, 1940). "Screen News Here and in Hollywood: 'Kiss Me Again' Purchased by Ernst Lubitsch, Producer for United Artists 'Ghost Breakers' Opening Paramount Attraction Starts Today--'Spies in the Air' Is Rialto Offering". New York Times. p. 15.
- Schallert, Edwin (July 25, 1940). "Eddie Bracken Gets Big Build-up at Paramount". Los Angeles Times. p. 12.
- Douglas W. Churchill Special to The New York Times. (March 24, 1941). "Paramount to Make 'Amateur Admirals' Based on Navy's College Training Plan: 6 Films Open This Week 'I Wanted Wings' Scheduled for World Premiere at the Astor on Wednesday". New York Times. p. 13.
- Scheuer, Philip K (September 20, 1941). "Laird Cregar Has Fling as 'Rudest Man'". Los Angeles Times. p. A8.
- Chapman, John (December 28, 1941). "The Stars of 1942!: John Chapman Picks Movies' Best Bets Chapman Picks Stars for 1942! The Movie Stars of 1942!". Chicago Daily Tribune. p. c1.
- Mann, William J. (2001). Behind the Screen: How Gays and Lesbians Shaped Hollywood, 1910-1969. New York: Viking. p. 265. ISBN 0670030171.
- "Screen News Here and in Hollywood: Fox to Feature Laird Cregar in 'The Lodger' -- Barre Lyndon Will Do the Screenplay Five New Films Due Here Saroyan's 'Human Comedy' and 'They Got Me Covered,' With Hope, Lamour Among Them". The New York Times. March 1, 1943. p. 15.
- "Not Ill, But Wasting!". The Washington Post. March 3, 1943. p. B6.
- Special to The New York Times. (August 12, 1944). "Alexis Smith Gets Role of Nora in 'Human Bondage' -- Two New Films to Arrive Today". New York Times. p. 16.
- "Looking at Hollywood". Los Angeles Times. October 19, 1944. p. A7.
- Hopper, Hedda (October 20, 1944). "Looking at Hollywood". Chicago Daily Tribune. p. 22.
- "Telephone Firm's Request to Renew Notes Approved". The Washington Post. December 10, 1944. p. M3.
- Laird Cregar at AllMovie
- "Obituary 2 -- No Title". Los Angeles Times. December 13, 1944. p. 10.
- Celebrities in Los Angeles Cemeteries
- Variety December 1944
- "Laird Cregar | Hollywood Walk of Fame". www.walkoffame.com. Retrieved June 19, 2016.
- "Laird Cregar". latimes.com. Retrieved June 19, 2016.
- von Blon, Katherine T (March 11, 1939). "'Brother Rat' Presented on Stage in Pasadena". Los Angeles Times. p. A7.
- von Blon, Katherine T (April 22, 1939). "Hecht Opus Well Played". Los Angeles Times. p. A7.
- Katherine Von Blon (July 11, 1939). "'Wingless Victory' Given". Los Angeles Times. p. 12.
- Millier, Arthur (August 10, 1939). "Restaged Comedy by Shippey Hit". Los Angeles Times. p. 8.
- "'Abe Lincoln' Due Tonight at Biltmore". Los Angeles Times. April 15, 1940. p. A10.
- "Paul Muni Will Make Local Stage Debut". Los Angeles Times. May 19, 1940. p. C2.
- "Louella O. Parsons: Close-Ups and Long-Shots Of the Motion Picture Scene". The Washington Post. June 20, 1940. p. 8.
- Scheuer, Philip K (September 8, 1941). "Greasepaint's Lure Too Strong for Jane Bryan?: Hope Gets 'Dream Girl' Nancy Coleman Debuts Laird Cregar Borrowed Trio Take to 'Highway' Lucille Ball Saves Day". Los Angeles Times. p. 22.
- Sam Zolotow (July 3, 1944). "Kaufman Doubling on 'George Apley': He Will Direct and Help Adapt Marquand's Pulitzer Prize Novel as Stage Vehicle". New York Times. p. 8.
- Theodore Strauss (April 5, 1942). "From The Ground Up". New York Times. p. X3.
- Alistair, Rupert (2018). "Laird Cregar". The Name Below the Title : 65 Classic Movie Character Actors from Hollywood's Golden Age (softcover) (First ed.). Great Britain: Independently published. pp. 79–83. ISBN 978-1-7200-3837-5.
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