Greenstreet in Casablanca (1942)
|Born||Sydney Hughes Greenstreet
27 December 1879
Sandwich, Kent, England
|Died||18 January 1954
Hollywood, California, U.S.
|Cause of death||Complications from Bright's disease and diabetes|
|Resting place||Forest Lawn Memorial Park, Glendale, California, U.S.|
|Spouse(s)||Dorothy Marie Ogden (1918–1954; his death)|
|Children||John Ogden Greenstreet (1920-2004)|
Sydney Hughes Greenstreet (27 December 1879 – 18 January 1954) was a British-born American actor who did not work in films until the age of 62, but enjoyed a run of notable hits in a Hollywood career lasting just eight years. He is best remembered for his Warner Bros. films with Humphrey Bogart and Peter Lorre, which include The Maltese Falcon (1941), Casablanca (1942), and Passage to Marseille (1944). He became a naturalised United States citizen in 1925. He portrayed Nero Wolfe on radio from 1950 to 1951.
Greenstreet was born in Sandwich, Kent, the son of Ann (née Baker) and John Jarvis Greenstreet, a tanner. He had seven siblings. He left home at the age of 18 to make his fortune as a Ceylon tea planter, but drought forced him out of business. He began managing a brewery and, to escape boredom, took acting lessons.
Greenstreet's stage debut was as a murderer in a 1902 production of a Sherlock Holmes story at the Marina Theatre, Ramsgate, Kent. He toured Britain with Ben Greet's Shakespearean company, and in 1905, he made his New York debut. Thereafter he appeared in such plays as a revival of As You Like It in 1916 with revered actress Margaret Anglin. Greenstreet appeared in numerous plays in Britain and America, working through most of the 1930s with Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontanne at the Theatre Guild. Throughout his stage career, his parts ranged from musical comedy to Shakespeare, and years of such versatile acting on two continents led to many offers to appear in films. He refused until he was 62.
In 1941, Greenstreet began working for Warner Bros. His debut film role was as Kasper Gutman ("The Fat Man") co-starring with Humphrey Bogart in The Maltese Falcon. The film also featured Peter Lorre, as the twitchy Joel Cairo, a pairing that would prove durable. The two men appeared in some nine films altogether, including Casablanca (1942) as crooked club owner Signor Ferrari (for which he received a salary of $3,750 per week for seven weeks), as well as Background to Danger (1943, with George Raft), Passage to Marseille (1944), reteaming him with Casablanca stars Humphrey Bogart, Peter Lorre, and Claude Rains, The Mask of Dimitrios (1944), The Conspirators (1944, with Hedy Lamarr and Paul Henreid), Hollywood Canteen (1944), Three Strangers (1946) and The Verdict (1946). In the last two in the list, and The Mask of Dimitrios, Greenstreet received top billing. The actor played roles in both dramatic films, such as William Makepeace Thackeray in Devotion (1946) and witty performances in screwball comedies, for instance Alexander Yardley in Christmas in Connecticut (1944). Near the end of his film career, Greenstreet played opposite Joan Crawford in Flamingo Road (1949).
After only eight years, Greenstreet's film career ended with Malaya (also 1949), in which he was billed third, after Spencer Tracy and James Stewart. In those eight years, he worked with stars ranging from Clark Gable to Ava Gardner to Joan Crawford. Author Tennessee Williams wrote his one-act play The Last of My Solid Gold Watches with Greenstreet in mind, and dedicated it to him. During 1950-51, Greenstreet played Nero Wolfe on the NBC radio program, The New Adventures of Nero Wolfe, based loosely on the rotund detective genius created by Rex Stout.
Death and legacy
Greenstreet suffered from diabetes and Bright's disease, a kidney disorder. Five years after leaving films, Greenstreet died in 1954 in Hollywood due to complications from both conditions. He is interred at Forest Lawn Memorial Park, Glendale, California in the Utility Columbarium area of the Great Mausoleum, inaccessible to the public. He was survived by his only child, his son, John Ogden Greenstreet (30 September 1920 – 4 March 2004), from his marriage to Dorothy Marie Ogden. Actor Mark Greenstreet is his great-nephew.
|1941||The Maltese Falcon||Kasper Gutman||Nominated – Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor|
|1941||They Died with Their Boots On||Lt. Gen. Winfield Scott|
|1942||Across the Pacific||Dr. Lorenz|
|1943||Background to Danger||Col. Robinson|
|1944||Passage to Marseille||Major Duval|
|1944||Between Two Worlds||Rev. Tim Thompson|
|1944||The Mask of Dimitrios||Mr. Peters|
|1944||The Conspirators||Ricardo Quintanilla|
|1945||Pillow to Post||Col. Michael Otley|
|1945||Conflict||Dr. Mark Hamilton|
|1945||Christmas in Connecticut||Alexander Yardley|
|1946||Three Strangers||Jerome K. Arbutny|
|1946||Devotion||William Makepeace Thackeray|
|1946||The Verdict||Supt. George Edward Grodman|
|1947||That Way with Women||James P. Alden|
|1947||The Hucksters||Evan Llewellyn Evans|
|1948||The Velvet Touch||Capt. Danbury|
|1948||The Woman in White||Count Alessandro Fosco|
|1949||Flamingo Road||Sheriff Titus Semple|
- Youngkin, Stephen D. (2005). The Lost One: A Life of Peter Lorre. University Press of Kentucky. ISBN 0-8131-2360-7. – Contains a chapter on the professional friendship between Greenstreet and Peter Lorre.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Sydney Greenstreet.|
- Sydney Greenstreet at the Internet Movie Database
- Sydney Greenstreet at the TCM Movie Database
- Sydney Greenstreet at the Internet Broadway Database
- Sandwich People & History: Sydney Greenstreet
- FreeOTRShows — The Adventures of Nero Wolfe
- Sydney Greenstreet at Find a Grave
- Literature on Sydney Greenstreet