Ronald Colman

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Ronald Colman
Ronald Colman - publicity.jpg
Colman in 1940
Ronald Charles Colman

(1891-02-09)9 February 1891
Died19 May 1958(1958-05-19) (aged 67)
Years active1914–57
Thelma Raye
(m. 1920; div. 1934)

(m. 1938)

Ronald Charles Colman (9 February 1891 – 19 May 1958) was an English-born actor, starting his career in theatre and silent film in his native country, then immigrating to the United States and having a successful Hollywood film career. He was most popular during the 1920s, 1930s and 1940s.[1] He received Oscar nominations for Bulldog Drummond (1929), Condemned (1929) and Random Harvest (1942). Colman starred in several classic films, including A Tale of Two Cities (1935), Lost Horizon (1937) and The Prisoner of Zenda (1937). He also played the starring role in the Technicolor classic Kismet (1944), with Marlene Dietrich, which was nominated for four Academy Awards. In 1947, he won an Academy Award for Best Actor and Golden Globe Award for Best Actor for the film A Double Life.

Colman was an inaugural recipient of a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame for his work in motion pictures. He was awarded a second star for his television work.

Early years[edit]

Ronald Charles Colman was born in Richmond, Surrey, England, the third son (his eldest brother died in infancy in 1882)[2] and fifth child of Charles Colman, a silk merchant, and his wife Marjory Read Fraser.[3][2] His surviving siblings were Gladys, Edith, Eric and Freda.[4]

He was educated at boarding school in Littlehampton, where he discovered that he enjoyed acting, despite his shyness.[5] He intended to study engineering at Cambridge, but his father's sudden death from pneumonia in 1907 made it financially impossible.[6][5]

He became a well-known amateur actor, and was a member of the West Middlesex Dramatic Society in 1908–09. He made his first appearance on the professional stage in 1914.

First World War[edit]

While working as a clerk at the British Steamship Company in the City of London,[3] he joined the London Scottish Regiment[7][8] in 1909 as a Territorial Army soldier. At the outbreak of the First World War, he was mobilised, and sent to France in September 1914. On 31 October 1914, at the Battle of Messines,[7] Colman was seriously wounded by shrapnel in his ankle, which gave him a limp that he would attempt to hide throughout his acting career. As a consequence, he was mustered out as invalid in 1915.[9] His fellow Hollywood actors Claude Rains, Herbert Marshall, Cedric Hardwicke, and Basil Rathbone all saw service with the London Scottish in the war.



Colman had sufficiently recovered from his wartime injuries to appear at the London Coliseum on 19 June 1916 as Rahmat Sheikh in The Maharani of Arakan, with Lena Ashwell, at the Playhouse in December that year as Stephen Weatherbee in the Charles Goddard/Paul Dickey play The Misleading Lady, and at the Court Theatre in March 1917 as Webber in Partnership. At the same theatre, the following year he appeared in Eugène Brieux's Damaged Goods. At the Ambassadors Theatre in February 1918, he played George Lubin in The Little Brother. In 1918, he toured the UK as David Goldsmith in The Bubble.[10]

In 1920, Colman went to America and toured with Robert Warwick in The Dauntless Three and subsequently toured with Fay Bainter in East Is West. He married his first wife, Thelma Raye, in 1920; they divorced in 1934. At the Booth Theatre in New York City in January 1921, he played the Temple Priest in William Archer's play The Green Goddess. With George Arliss at the 39th Street Theatre in August 1921, he appeared as Charles in The Nightcap.[11] In September 1922, he had great success as Alain Sergyll at the Empire Theatre (New York City) in La Tendresse,[12] which was to be his final stage work.[13]


With Jean Arthur in The Talk of the Town (1942)

Colman had first appeared in films in Britain in 1917 and 1919 for director Cecil Hepworth. He subsequently acted for the old Broadwest Film Company in Snow in the Desert. While he was on stage in New York City in La Tendresse, director Henry King saw him and engaged him as the leading man in the 1923 film The White Sister, opposite Lillian Gish. He was an immediate success. Thereafter, Colman virtually abandoned the stage for film.

He became a very popular silent film star in both romantic and adventure films, among them The Dark Angel (1925), Stella Dallas (1926), Beau Geste (1926), and The Winning of Barbara Worth (1926). His dark hair and eyes and his athletic and riding ability (he did most of his own stunts until late in his career[citation needed]) led reviewers to describe him as a "Valentino type". He was often cast in similar, exotic roles.[14] Towards the end of the silent era, Colman was teamed with Hungarian actress Vilma Bánky under Samuel Goldwyn; the two were a popular film team, rivalling Greta Garbo and John Gilbert.

Although he was a huge success in silent films, he was unable to capitalise on one of his chief assets until the advent of the talking picture – "his beautifully modulated and cultured voice"[15] also described as "a bewitching, finely modulated, resonant voice". Colman was often viewed as a suave English gentleman, whose voice embodied chivalry and mirrored the image of a "stereotypical English gentleman".[16][17] Commenting on Colman's appeal, English film critic David Shipman stated that Colman was "the dream lover – calm, dignified, trustworthy. Although he was a lithe figure in adventure stories, his glamour – which was genuine – came from his respectability; he was an aristocratic figure, without being aloof."[18]

His first major talkie success was in 1930, when he was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actor for two roles – Condemned and Bulldog Drummond. He thereafter appeared in a number of notable films: Raffles in 1930, Clive of India and A Tale of Two Cities in 1935, Under Two Flags in 1936, The Prisoner of Zenda and Lost Horizon in 1937, If I Were King in 1938, and Random Harvest and The Talk of the Town in 1942. He won the Best Actor Oscar in 1948 for A Double Life. He next starred in a screwball comedy, 1950's Champagne for Caesar.

At the time of his death, Colman was contracted by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer for the lead role in Village of the Damned. After Colman's death, however, the film became a British production starring George Sanders, who married Colman's widow, Benita Hume.


Colman has been mentioned in many novels, but he is specifically mentioned in Ralph Ellison's Invisible Man because of his charming, well-known voice. The main character of this novel says that he wishes he could have a voice like Colman's because it is charming, and relates the voice to that of a gentleman or a man from Esquire magazine.[19] Colman was indeed very well known for his voice. Encyclopædia Britannica says that Colman had a "resonant, mellifluous speaking voice with a unique, pleasing timbre".[20] Along with his charming voice, Colman had a very confident performing manner that helped make him a major star of sound films.[21]

Radio and television[edit]

As early as 1942, Colman joined forces with several other Hollywood luminaries to inaugurate international broadcasts by the CBS radio network over La Cadena de las Americas (The Network of the Americas) under the supervision of the Office of the Coordinator of Inter-American Affairs chaired by Nelson Rockefeller.[22] In the process, he contributed substantially to the implementation of President Franklin Roosevelt's cultural diplomacy initiatives throughout South America during World War II.[23][24][25]

Colman's vocal talents contributed to National Broadcasting Company programming on D-Day, 6 June 1944. On that day, Colman read "Poem and Prayer for an Invading Army" written by Edna St. Vincent Millay for exclusive radio use by NBC.[26][27]

Beginning in 1945, Colman made many guest appearances on The Jack Benny Program on radio, alongside his second wife, stage and screen actress Benita Hume, whom he married in 1938. Their comedy work as Benny's perpetually exasperated next-door neighbors led to their own radio comedy The Halls of Ivy from 1950 to 1952, created by Fibber McGee & Molly mastermind Don Quinn, on which the Colmans played the literate, charming president of a middle American college and his former-actress wife. Listeners were surprised to discover that the episode of 24 January 1951, "The Goya Bequest" – a story examining the bequest of a Goya painting that was suspected of being a fraud hyped by its late owner to avoid paying customs duties when bringing it to the United States – was written by Colman himself, who poked fun at his accomplishment while taking a rare turn giving the evening's credits at the show's conclusion.

The Halls of Ivy ran on NBC radio from 1950 to 1952, then moved to CBS television for the 1954–55 season.[28]

Colman was also the host and occasional star of the syndicated anthology Favorite Story (1946–49).[29] Of note was his narration and portrayal of Scrooge in a 1948 adaptation of A Christmas Carol.


Colman had an operation in 1957 for a lung infection, and suffered from ill health afterwards.[1] He died on 19 May 1958, aged 67, from acute emphysema in Santa Barbara, California, and was interred in the Santa Barbara Cemetery. He had a daughter, Juliet Benita (born 1944), with his second wife, Benita Hume.[30]

Awards, honours and legacy[edit]

Colman was nominated three times for the Academy Award for Best Actor. At the 3rd Academy Awards ceremony he received a single nomination for his work in two films; Bulldog Drummond (1929) and Condemned (1929). He was nominated again for Random Harvest (1942), before winning for A Double Life (1947), in which he played the role of Anthony John, an actor playing Othello who comes to identify with the character. He also won the Golden Globe Award for Best Actor in 1947 for A Double Life. In 2002, Colman's Oscar statuette was sold at auction by Christie's for US$174,500.[31]

Colman was a recipient of the George Eastman Award,[32] given by George Eastman House for distinguished contribution to the art of film.

Colman has two stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in Los Angeles, one for motion pictures at 6801 Hollywood Boulevard and one for television at 1623 Vine Street.

He is the subject of a biography written by his daughter Juliet Benita Colman in 1975: Ronald Colman: A Very Private Person.[33]

The Dublin slang term "ronnie", referring to a moustache, derives from Colman's thin moustache.[34][35]


Radio programmes
Year Program Episode/source
1945 Suspense "August Heat"[36]
1945 Suspense "The Dunwich Horror"[37]
1946 Academy Award Lost Horizon[38]
1946 Encore Theatre Yellowjack[39]
1952 Lux Radio Theatre Les Misérables[40]
1953 Suspense Vision of Death[41]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b "Obituaries". Variety. 21 May 1958. p. 79. Retrieved 23 January 2021 – via
  2. ^ a b Frank, Sam (1997). Ronald Colman: A Bio-Bibliography. Greenwood Press. p. 1; ISBN 0-313-26433-3
  3. ^ a b Morley, Sheridan (2004). "Colman, Ronald Charles (1891â€"1958), actor". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (online ed.). Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/37304. (Subscription or UK public library membership required.)
  4. ^ Colman, Juliet Benita (1975). Ronald Colman: A Very Private Person. W.H Allen. p. 2; ISBN 0-491-01785-5
  5. ^ a b "Shelley Winters." Britannica Book of the Year, 2007. Encyclopædia Britannica Online Academic Edition. Encyclopædia Britannica Inc., 2013. Web. 16 September 2013
  6. ^ Smith, R. Dixon (1991). Ronald Colman, Gentleman of the Cinema. McFarland & Company. pp. 2-3; ISBN 0-7864-1212-7
  7. ^ a b "Famous London Scottish". The London Scottish Regimental Trust. Archived from the original on 11 February 2016.
  8. ^ "Medal card of Colman, Ronald C, Soldier Number: 2148, Rank: Private, Corps: 14th London Regiment". The National Archives. Retrieved 20 January 2016.
  9. ^ Morley, Sheridan. (1983) Tales from the Hollywood Raj: The British, the Movies and Tinseltown. The Viking Press, p. 66.
  10. ^ Frank, Sam (1997). Ronald Colman: A Bio-Bibliography. Greenwood Press. p. 52; ISBN 0-313-26433-3
  11. ^ "The Nightcap – Broadway Play – Original | IBDB".
  12. ^ "La Tendresse – Broadway Play – Original | IBDB".
  13. ^ Frank, Sam (1997). Ronald Colman: A Bio-Bibliography. Greenwood Press. p. 58; ISBN 0-313-26433-3
  14. ^ Quirk, Lawrence J., The Films of Ronald Colman, Secaucus, New Jersey, 1977.
  15. ^ Franklin, Joe, Classics of the Silent Screen, p. 148, 1959 The Citadel Press
  16. ^ Franklin, Joe. Classics of the Silent Screen: A Pictorial Treasury. New York: Bramhall House, 1959. Print
  17. ^ Zito, Stephen F., American Film Institute and the Library of Congress, Cinema Club 9 Program Notes, April, 1973 Post Newsweek Stations, Washington, DC
  18. ^ Morley, p. 65.
  19. ^ Ralph Ellison (1952). The Invisible Man. Random House.
  20. ^ "Ronald Colman | British-American actor | Britannica".
  21. ^ William K. Everson (1978). American Silent Film. Oxford University Press.
  22. ^ Time - Radio: La Cadena, June 1, 1942 Ronald Colman, La Cadena de las Americas on
  23. ^ Roosevelt, Franklin D., "Executive Order 8840 Establishing the Office of Coordinator of Inter-American Affairs", July 30, 1941. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project, University of California, Santa Barbara
  24. ^ In All His Glory: The Life and Times of William S. Paley and the Birth of Modern Broadcasting. Salley Bedell Smith. Random House Trade Publications, New York, USA, 2002, Chapter 18 ISBN 978-0-307-78671--5 William S. Paley and La Cadena de las Americas and Franklin Roosevelt on See Chapter 18
  25. ^ Time - Radio: La Cadena, June 1, 1942 William S. Paley, La Cadena de las Americas on
  26. ^ Millay, Edna St. Vincent; National Broadcasting Company (1944). Poem and prayer for an invading army. New York: National Broadcasting Company. OCLC 1105316.
  27. ^ "Audio recording of "Poem and Prayer for an Invading Army" by Edna St. Vincent Millay, read by Ronald Colman". Internet Archive. 6 June 1944. Retrieved 5 June 2019.
  28. ^ Becker, Christine (1 October 2005). "Televising Film Stardom in the 1950s". Framework.[dead link]
  29. ^ Dunning, John (1998). On the Air: The Encyclopedia of Old-Time Radio (Revised ed.). New York, NY: Oxford University Press. p. 244. ISBN 978-0-19-507678-3. Retrieved 19 September 2019. Favorite Story, transcribed dramatic anthology.
  30. ^ "The Guardian 20 May 1958, page 3".
  31. ^ Dave Kehr, "Objection Quashes Sale of Welles's 'Kane' Oscar", The New York Times (22 July 2003)
  32. ^ "Eastman House award recipients · George Eastman House". 15 April 2012. Archived from the original on 15 April 2012.
  33. ^ Colman, Juliet Benita (1975). Ronald Colman, a Very Private Person: A Biography. Morrow. ISBN 9780688002749. julia benita coleman.
  34. ^ McArdle, Joseph (16 October 2007). Irish Rogues and Rascals – From Francis Shackleton to Charlie Haughey: The Hilarious Stories of Ireland's Most Notorious Chancers. Gill & Macmillan Ltd. ISBN 9780717168057 – via Google Books.
  35. ^ Munro, Michael (9 December 2007). Chambers Pardon My English!: An Exploration of Slang and Informal Language. Chambers. ISBN 9780550102867 – via Google Books.
  36. ^ "Escape and Suspense!: Suspense - August Heat". Retrieved 2 June 2017.
  37. ^ "Escape and Suspense!: Suspense - The Dunwich Horror". Retrieved 2 June 2017.
  38. ^ "'Horizon' Star". Harrisburg Telegraph. Harrisburg Telegraph. 23 November 1946. p. 19. Retrieved 13 September 2015 – via open access
  39. ^ "Those Were the Days". Nostalgia Digest. Vol. 41, no. 3. Summer 2015. pp. 32–39.
  40. ^ Kirby, Walter (21 December 1952). "Better Radio Programs for the Week". The Decatur Daily Review. The Decatur Daily Review. p. 44. Retrieved 8 June 2015 – via open access
  41. ^ Kirby, Walter (31 May 1953). "Better Radio Programs for the Week". The Decatur Daily Review. The Decatur Daily Review. p. 40. Retrieved 30 June 2015 – via open access


  • Parker, John, editor, Who's Who in the Theatre, 10th edition revised, London, 1947, p. 437.

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