as Natalio Curro in the trailer for Blood and Sand (1941)
|Born||Samuel Laird Cregar
July 28, 1913
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, United States
|Died||December 9, 1944
Los Angeles, United States
|Cause of death||heart attack|
Cregar's screen career began in 1940, in which year he began 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.
Samuel Laird 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. 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 US. He graduated from the Episcopal Academy in Philadelphia when he was 14. He wanted to act and decided 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 which 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 told 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 some 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 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 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 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.
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, opposite Paul Muni. He followed this up supporting Tyrone Power in Blood and Sand, 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 the middle-aged Francis Chesney (at the age of only 24) in Charley's Aunt (1941), the first of several showcases for the actor's delightful comic flair. After his sinister portrayal of the psychopathic detective in I Wake Up Screaming (1941), he was borrowed for RKO to make Joan of Paris.
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, a hugely successful 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 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 Zanuck to arrange for an article in Silver Screen to link Cregar romantically with Dorothy McGuire, among others, and to report that, despite his weight, the actor was considered sexy by many women.
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.
Cregar decided to give the character a "romantic" veneer, and, to that end, lost more than a hundred pounds on a crash diet which included prescribed amphetamines. The strain on his system resulted in severe abdominal problems; he underwent surgery in December, 1944. It was intended that Cregar's next film would be Les Misérables, directed by John Brahm and Billy Rose wanted to star him on Broadway in Henry VIII. However 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 9 December, aged 31 years; his mother was at his bedside. Hangover Square was released two months after his death.
The funeral was held on 13 December 1944. Vincent Price, Cregar's co-star in his first film Hudson's Bay (1941), delivered the eulogy. Cregar is interred in Eventide Section, lot 37, space 2 of Forest Lawn Memorial Park in Glendale, California.
|1940||Oh Johnny, How You Can Love||Mechanic|
|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|
|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|
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 – 22 April – 19 May 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.
- The Californian
- Western Union (1941) – part taken by Gabby Hayes
- Sioux City (1941) – with Randolph Scott
- Swamp Water (1941) – announced to star Cregar
- The Man Who Came to Dinner (1941)
- Coney Island (1943)
- a proposed version of Les Misérables as Jean Valjean and later Javert – meant to start July 1944
- War Story (1942) – never made
- Laura (1944) – in the part Clifton Webb eventually played
- Dragonwyck (1946) – Cregar was originally cast as the lead role but after his death was replaced by Vincent Price
- 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. 2 December 1945. p. F2.
- Alexander Kahn (23 Aug 1940). "Single Stage Role Opens Film Career to a Jobless Thespian". The Washington Post. p. 19.
- "LARGER THAN LIFE". New York Times. 5 Jan 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. 10 Dec 1944. p. 54.
- Schallert, Edwin (23 April 1940). "LAIRD CREGAR'S PORTRAYAL OF 'OSCAR WILDE' HAILED". Los Angeles Times. p. 14.
- Schallert, Edwin (7 May 1940). "'Hail and Farewell' Will Be Stevens Film". Los Angeles Times. p. 13.
- DOUGLAS W. CHURCHILL Special to THE NEW YORK TIMES. (25 June 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. (3 July 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 (25 July 1940). "Eddie Bracken Gets Big Build-up at Paramount". Los Angeles Times. p. 12.
- DOUGLAS W. CHURCHILL Special to THE NEW YORK TIMES. (24 Mar 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 (20 Sep 1941). "Laird Cregar Has Fling as 'Rudest Man'". Los Angeles Times. p. A8.
- Chapman, John (28 Dec 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.
- Special to THE NEW YORK TIMES. (1 Mar 1943). "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". New York Times. p. 15.
- "Not Ill, But Wasting!". The Washington Post. 3 Mar 1943. p. B6.
- Special to THE NEW YORK TIMES. (12 Aug 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. 19 Oct 1944. p. A7.
- Hopper, Hedda (20 Oct 1944). "Looking at Hollywood". Chicago Daily Tribune. p. 22.
- "Telephone Firm's Request to Renew Notes Approved". The Washington Post. 10 Dec 1944. p. M3.
- Laird Cregar at AllMovie
- "Obituary 2 -- No Title". Los Angeles Times. 13 Dec 1944. p. 10.
- von Blon, Katherine T (11 Mar 1939). "'BROTHER RAT' PRESENTED ON STAGE IN PASADENA". Los Angeles Times. p. A7.
- von Blon, Katherine T (22 Apr 1939). "Hecht Opus Well Played". Los Angeles Times. p. A7.
- KATHERINE VON BLON (11 July 1939). "'Wingless Victory' Given". Los Angeles Times. p. 12.
- Millier, Arthur (10 Aug 1939). "Restaged Comedy by Shippey Hit". Los Angeles Times. p. 8.
- "'Abe Lincoln' Due Tonight at Biltmore". Los Angeles Times. 15 Apr 1940. p. A10.
- "Paul Muni Will Make Local Stage Debut". Los Angeles Times. 19 May 1940. p. C2.
- "Louella O. Parsons: Close-Ups and Long-Shots Of the Motion Picture Scene". The Washington Post. 20 June 1940. p. 8.
- Scheuer, Philip K (8 Sep 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 (3 July 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 (5 Apr 1942). "FROM THE GROUND UP". New York Times. p. X3.
- DOUGLAS W. CHURCHILL Special to THE NEW YORK TIMES. (21 Oct 1940). "Article 1 -- No Title: James Roosevelt and Bronston End Association Four New Films Open in City This Week Of Local Origin". New York Times. p. 20.
- DOUGLAS W. CHURCHILL Special to THE NEW YORK TIMES. (17 Dec 1940). "SCREEN NEWS HERE AND IN HOLLYWOOD: Robert Sherwood to Produce Two Pictures With Elisabeth Bergner and Paul Czinner PREMIERE AT PARAMOUNT Jack Benny and Fred Allen in 'Love Thy Neighbor,' Film Opening Tonight Buys "Every Man for Himself" George Sanders Borrowed Of Local Origin". New York Times. p. 33.
- DOUGLAS W. CHURCHILL Special to THE NEW YORK TIMES. (31 Dec 1940). "SCREEN NEWS HERE AND IN HOLLYWOOD: Merle Oberon to Play the Lead in 'Affectionately Yours'-- Frances Dee Signed HARRY BRANDT 'RECANTS' Retracts 'Box-Office Poison' Claim About Miss Hepburn After Critics' Awards Of Local Origin". New York Times. p. 19.
- "Louella O. Parsons': Close-Ups and Long-Shots Of the Motion Picture Scene". The Washington Post. 15 Apr 1941. p. 26.
- DOUGLAS W. CHURCHILL Special to THE NEW YORK TIMES. (22 May 1941). "'Powers Models' Is Bought by Warners as Vehicle for Ann Sheridan and Others: 'BLOOD AND SAND' IS HERE Opens Today Along With 'Penny Serenade' and 'The Voice in the Night'". New York Times. p. 25.
- DOUGLAS W. CHURCHILL Special to THE NEW YORK TIMES. (24 May 1941). "Frances Farmer and Foster Signed for Leads in 'Prison Widows' at Paramount: TWO FILMS OPEN TODAY 'Washington Melodrama' Is at Rialto and 'The Bride Wore Crutches' at Central". New York Times. p. 18.
- Special to THE NEW YORK TIMES. (12 May 1944). "SCREEN NEWS HERE AND IN HOLLYWOOD: Paulette Goddard to Co-Star in 'Masquerade in Mexico' – 'Bermuda Mystery' Due". New York Times. p. 15.
- Schallert, Edwin (27 Feb 1942). "DRAMA: Cregar Fast Becoming No. 1 War Film 'Heavy'". Los Angeles Times. p. 10.
- Special to THE NEW YORK TIMES. (11 June 1943). "SCREEN NEWS HERE AND IN HOLLYWOOD: Fox Buys Rights to 'Laura,' a Mystery, for Laird Cregar and George Sanders 'GUADALAJARA' AT WORLD Mexican Film Will Open Today -- 'The Russian Story' Sets Record at the Stanley". New York Times. p. 23.
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