HGA

Clifton Webb (1889-1962)


Clifton Webb
Clifton Webb

Clifton Webb was a remarkably gifted man who had many careers.. He was a talented dancer, stage actor, opera singer and movie star. He was an opera singer at 17, then became a dancer in nightclubs. He later was a dance school proprietor and instructor, turned to vaudeville, then became a stage star. He was 51 years old, when he was cast in the film 'Laura' in 1944 and became the Hollywood star that he is primarily known as today.

He went on to star in the original version of The Razor’s Edge (1946), the popular “Mr. Belvedere” series (1948-51), Stars and Stripes Forever (1952,) the original Titanic (1953) and many other movies, into the 1960s. Webb was nominated for the best Actor Academy Award for his performance in 'Sitting Pretty' in 1948. He also received two nominaions for Best Supporting Actor, for 'Laura' in 1944 and 'The Razor's Edge' in 1946.

His elegant taste kept him on Hollywood's best-dressed lists for decades. His scrupulously private gay life remained free of scandal.

Biography

He was born Webb Parmelee Hollenbeck on November 19, 1889, in Indianapolis, Indiana. He was an only child and his parents separated soon after his birth. Webb seldom spoke of his father, a railroad ticket clerk, but remained very close to his mother, Mabelle, with whom he lived until her death at 91, six years before his own death.

A precocious early developer, he took dancing lessons as a boy and he made his professional debut in 1896, aged 7 at Carnegie Hall in a children’s play called 'The Brownies'. He followed this with the lead in 'Oliver Twist', and a play called 'The Master of Carlton Hall'. He graduated from high school at age 13 in 1902, then spent several years studying painting and opera. In 1911, he sang with the Aborn Opera Company in Boston. Parts in La Boheme, Madame Butterfly, and Hansel and Gretel followed.

Dance Master

By 1912, dance teachers Vernon and Irene Castle had popularised and led the craze for the foxtrot and new ragtime dances such as the Turkey Trot and the Grizzly Bear. "Castle Mania" was sweeping the land and as a trained dancer, Webb was in a position to take advantage of the craze.

He teamed up with Bonnie Glass, and then Mae Murray, performing on the circuit established by vaudeville managers Keith and Albee. He also performed often in nightclubs, and taught private classes at the Webb Dance Studio. After this, he would add eccentric dances to his more traditional ballroom repertoire.

Broadway Star

Webb debuted on Broadway at age 20 in 1913 in an operetta about Napoleon's court entitled "The Purple Road". He was an avid learner and a brilliant performer and from 1913 until 1947,he appeared in 23 Broadway shows, starting with major supporting roles and quickly progressing to leads. He introduced Irving Berlin's "Easter Parade" and George and Ira Gershwin's "I've Got a Crush on You" in 'Treasure Girl' in 1928 and "Louisiana Hayride" in 'Flying Colors' in 1932. Most of his Broadway shows were musicals, but he also starred in Oscar Wilde's 'The Importance of Being Earnest', and his longtime friend Noël Coward's plays 'Blithe Spirit' and 'Present Laughter'.

Movie Star

Webb's movie career began in a very small way in 1925. In that year he appeared on stage in a dance act with vaudeville star and silent film actress Mary Hay. Later the same year, when she and her husband, film star Richard Barthelmess, decided to produce and star in their own film vehicle 'New Toys', they chose Webb to be second lead. The movie proved to be financially successful, but nineteen more years would pass before Webb appeared in another feature film.

Laura 1944

Webb's main movie career started in the 1944 film noir 'Laura' when he was fifty-one. He was chosen by director Otto Preminger to play Waldo Lydecker, the dapper but wicked radio columnist, who is obsessed with the Gene Tierney character. His superb performance was widely praised, and he received on merit an Academy Award nomination for Best Actor in a Supporting Role. He was also signed to a long term contract with Fox for whom he worked solely for the rest of his career.

After making 'The Dark Corner' in 1946, Webb partnered Gene Tierney again in 'The Razor's Edge' in 1946. He received another Oscar nomination for Best Actor in a Supporting Role.

In 1948 Webb played a starring role in the film 'Sitting Pretty' in which he played Mr Belvedere. It was a huge hit and Webb received an Oscar nomination for Best Actor. The character of Belvedere proved so popular, Webb reprised his role in two more movies: 'Mr. Belvedere Goes to College' in 1949 and 'Mr. Belvedere Rings the Bell' two years later.

After co-starring in 'Three Coins in the Fountain' in 1954 and “Boy on a Dolphin,' in 1957, both well received by the public, Webb made the less well known 'The Remarkable Mr. Pennypacker' and 'Holiday for Lovers' in 1959.

Personal

Webb remained very close to his mother and lived with her all his adult life until her death at age 91 in 1960. A confirmed bachelor and a homosexual, he lived a life scrupulously free from scandal. He never recovered from his mother's death and made just one last film, the disappointing 'Satan Never Sleeps' in 1961. He then spent the remainder of his life in ill health and seclusion at his home in Beverly Hills, California.

Clifton Webb died on October 13, 1966, aged 76, after suffering a fatal heart attack at his home. He is interred in Hollywood Forever Cemetery, alongside his mother.

Clifton Webb Academy Awards

No Wins:
Three Unsuccessful Nominations:
Best Actor ... Sitting Pretty (1948)
Best Supporting Actor ... Laura (1944)
Best Supporting Actor ... The Razor's Edge (1946)


Clifton Webb Filmography

1920
Polly with a Past
1921
1922
1923
1924
Let Not Man Put Asunder
1925
New Toys
The Heart of a Siren
1926
1927
National Red Cross Pageant
1928
1929
1930
The Still Alarm (Short)
1931
1932
1933
1934
1935
1936
1937
1938
1939
1940
1941
1942
1943
1944
Laura
1945
1946
The Dark Corner
The Razor's Edge
1947
1948
Sitting Pretty
1949
Mr. Belvedere Goes to College