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Sydney Greenstreet

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Sydney Greenstreet
Greenstreet in NBC radio's The New Adventures of Nero Wolfe (1950)
Sydney Hughes Greenstreet

(1879-12-27)December 27, 1879
Eastry, Kent, England
DiedJanuary 18, 1954(1954-01-18) (aged 74)
Hollywood, California, U.S.
Resting placeForest Lawn Memorial Park, Glendale
Years active1902–1951
Dorothy Marie Ogden
(m. 1918)

Sydney Hughes Greenstreet (December 27, 1879 – January 18, 1954)[1] was a British and American actor. While he did not begin his career in films until the age of 61, he had a run of significant motion pictures in a Hollywood career lasting through the 1940s. He is best remembered for the three Warner Bros. films - The Maltese Falcon (1941), Casablanca (1942), and Passage to Marseille (1944) - with both Humphrey Bogart (5 films total with Greenstreet) and Peter Lorre (9 films with Greenstreet, 3 of which were also with Bogart). He portrayed Nero Wolfe on radio during 1950 and 1951. He became an American citizen in 1925.[2]

Early life[edit]

Sydney Hughes Greenstreet was born on December 27, 1879, in Eastry, Kent,[1] 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.[3]


Greenstreet's stage debut was as a murderer in a 1902 production of a Sherlock Holmes story at the Marina Theatre, Ramsgate, Kent.[citation needed] He toured Britain with Ben Greet's Shakespearean company, and in 1905 made his New York City debut in Everyman.[4] He appeared in such plays as a revival of As You Like It (1914).[5] He appeared in numerous plays in Britain and America, working through most of the 1930s with Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontanne at the Theatre Guild. His stage roles 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 61.

Greenstreet and Peter Lorre in The Maltese Falcon (1941)
Greenstreet in Across the Pacific (1942)
Greenstreet and Humphrey Bogart in Casablanca (1942)
Greenstreet in Casablanca (1942)

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.[1] In Casablanca (1942), Greenstreet played crooked club owner Signor Ferrari (for which he received a salary of $3,750 per week—equivalent to $60,179.91 in 2020 dollars—for seven weeks' work). He also appeared in Background to Danger (1943), with George Raft; Passage to Marseille (1944), reuniting with Casablanca stars Bogart, Peter Lorre and Claude Rains; The Mask of Dimitrios (1944); The Conspirators (1944) with Hedy Lamarr and Paul Henreid; Hollywood Canteen (1944); Conflict (1945), again with Bogart; Three Strangers (1946); and The Verdict (1946). In the last two, and The Mask of Dimitrios, he received top billing. He had dramatic roles, such as William Makepeace Thackeray in Devotion (1946), and witty performances in screwball comedies, such as Alexander Yardley in Christmas in Connecticut (1944). Near the end of his film career, he played opposite Joan Crawford in Flamingo Road (1949).

After little more than eight years, Greenstreet's film career ended with Malaya (also 1949), in which he was billed fourth, after Spencer Tracy, James Stewart and Valentina Cortese. In those 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 1950–1951, Greenstreet played Nero Wolfe on the radio program The New Adventures of Nero Wolfe, based loosely on the rotund detective genius created by Rex Stout.

Death and legacy[edit]

Greenstreet suffered from diabetes and Bright's disease, a kidney disorder.[1] Five years after retiring from film acting, he died on January 18, 1954, in Hollywood. His death was caused by complications from both conditions.[6] 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, John Ogden Greenstreet (1920–2004), from his marriage to Dorothy Marie Ogden. Actor Mark Greenstreet is his great-nephew. His other relatives who are still living include Gregory Greenstreet and his children, Tamar Greenstreet and Elan Greenstreet. [citation needed]

Academy Award nomination[edit]

Year Film Category Result
1941[7] The Maltese Falcon Best Supporting Actor Nominated


Year Title Role Notes
1941 The Maltese Falcon Kasper Gutman Nominated – Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor
They Died with Their Boots On Lt. Gen. Winfield Scott
1942 Across the Pacific Dr. Lorenz
Casablanca Signor Ferrari
1943 Background to Danger Col. Robinson
1944 Passage to Marseille Major Duval
Between Two Worlds Rev. Tim Thompson
The Mask of Dimitrios Mr. Peters
The Conspirators Ricardo Quintanilla
Hollywood Canteen Himself
1945 Pillow to Post Col. Michael Otley
Conflict Dr. Mark Hamilton
Christmas in Connecticut Alexander Yardley
1946 Three Strangers Jerome K. Arbutny
Devotion William Makepeace Thackeray
The Verdict Supt. George Edward Grodman
1947 That Way with Women James P. Alden
The Hucksters Evan Llewellyn Evans
1948 Ruthless Buck Mansfield
The Woman in White Count Alessandro Fosco
The Velvet Touch Capt. Danbury
1949 Flamingo Road Sheriff Titus Semple
It's a Great Feeling Himself Uncredited
Malaya The Dutchman


  1. ^ a b c d Donnelley, Paul (2003). Fade to Black: A Book of Movie Obituaries. Omnibus. p. 295. ISBN 978-0-7119-9512-3. Retrieved November 24, 2021.
  2. ^ "Sydney Greenstreet's Petition for Naturalization". Ancestry.com. Retrieved October 6, 2015.
  3. ^ "Sydney Greenstreet Born". Focus Features. December 27, 2008. Archived from the original on December 8, 2015. Retrieved November 24, 2021.
  4. ^ "Film Actor Sydney Greenstreet Dies". Los Angeles Times. January 20, 1954. p. 1, Sec 2. Retrieved November 24, 2021 – via Newspapers.com.
  5. ^ "Sydney Greenstreet". Internet Broadway Database. Archived from the original on March 10, 2018. Retrieved September 2, 2018.
  6. ^ "Obituaries: Sydney Greenstreet". Variety. January 27, 1954. p. 71. Retrieved November 24, 2021.
  7. ^ "Sydney Greenstreet". Academy Awards Database. Retrieved November 24, 2021.

Further reading[edit]

  • Alistair, Rupert (2018). "Sydney Greenstreet". The Name Below the Title : 65 Classic Movie Character Actors from Hollywood's Golden Age (softcover) (First ed.). Great Britain: Independently published. pp. 107–110. ISBN 978-1-7200-3837-5.
  • Sculthorpe, Derek (2018). The Life and Times of Sydney Greenstreet. Bear Manor Media. ISBN 978-1-62933-308-3.
  • 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.

External links[edit]