Thursday, December 14, 2017

Reginald Denny: What a Character!

This is my entry in the What a Character! Blogathon hosted by the enchanting trio of Aurora at Once Upon a Screen, Kellee at Outspoken and Freckled, and Paula at Paula's Cinema Club. Click here to check out more of the characters who make movies great.

Frank Crawley will not get the girl - ever
Who doesn't love "Rebecca"? (all right, maybe not everybody, but let's just go with it). Anyway, here is dashing Laurence Olivier as the mysterious Maxim De Winter - so handsome, so haunted. And there is Her, played by the she's-not-supposed-to-be-pretty-but-really-is Joan Fontaine. Enter Frank Crawley, the manager of Manderley. He's so steady, so boring, so veddy British. We know he'd be better for Her, but he's so boring, so Reginald Denny-ish. Wait a minute - that is Reginald Denny!

As that proper and boring English gentleman other man is how most movie fans know Reginald Denny. He's usually the well-meaning and steady friend, the one who might not make it to the final scene, but always seems to have good intentions. He's usually loyal, too. 

Reginald Denny helps Mr. Blandings build that dream house
In addition to his portrayal of the steady Frank Crawley (who admitted he succumbed to Rebecca's charms with sweaty guilt appropriate for  a regretful bestie), Denny was Bulldog Drummond's best pal Algy Longworth in a series of Bulldog films from 1937 through 1939, Mr. Simms in "Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House" (1948) and The Voice of Terror in "Sherlock Holmes and the Voice of Terror" (1942). I'll bet you've seen Mr. Denny, that steady Englishman, more times than you can count (or even remember). Maybe it was in prestigious films like "Anna Karenina" (1935 - where he was a steady Russian), or "Of Human Bondage" (1935), or even "My Favorite Brunette" (1947) and "Batman" (1966). His name was rarely at the top of the cast, but never, ever at the bottom. There was a cinematic respect for Mr. Denny that would never, ever, put his name in a not-so-prominent place in the cast. 

You see, Reginald Denny, in the silent days, was a pretty big deal. His was the name at the top of the cast. 

Reginald Denny was quite an interesting character. The son of a famous baritone known for his roles on the English stage, Denny followed in his father's footsteps and began his professional life as a baritone on the stage. After touring in India, he landed in Hollywood in 1915 and began long and successful career in front of the cameras. He also dabbled in successful stage performances, notably appearing on Broadway with John Barrymore in his 1920 production of Richard III.

Dashing airman
Before achieving stardom, Denny served in the First World War as a gunner in the Royal Flying Corps, and later went on to appear as a stunt pilot in the 1920s (in addition to becoming a movie star). When back in Hollywood, he managed to open a popular model airplane shop (General MacArthur was a customer) and, with a partner, was a pioneer in drone technology (Jeff Bezos says "thanks"). This guy was talented!

Getting cute with Laura La Plante
But, back to the movies. He was the star of the very popular "Leather Pushers" series (did I mention Denny was also the amateur boxing champ of Great Britain?) as well as star of some A-list Universal comedies such as "Skinner's Dress Suit" (1926), "Oh Doctor" (1925) and "Out All Night" (1927). See, before the world heard the clipped and proper British accent of Mr. Denny, he was known to his audience as a light comedian, an all American kind of go-getter - a blue collar Douglas Fairbanks, if you will. Once talkies revealed his origins, his fate was sealed. He was British - dependable, reliable, getting older and distinguished. Not Clark Gable. As the years went on, his name fell from the top of A-list films, topping some B-list films and them firmly settling into the role of prestigious British supporting actor. 

Like so many character actors, Reginald Denny was a real pro. His career lasted until the 1960s (that Batman film was his swan song) and included some memorable stage roles (notable as Colonel Pickering in "My Fair Lady"). He died in 1967, hopefully satisfied that he had lead a jam-packed, satisfying and distinguished life.