Donald Crisp (1882-1974)

Donald Crisp
Donald Crisp

Donald Crisp Donald Crisp was a skilful and prolific character actor whose career spanned five decades from the 1910s to the 1960s, and who won the Best Supporting Actor Oscar for his performance in 'How Green Was My Valley' in 1941.

His early career was in Silent Movies as assistant to such legendary figures as D.W. Griffith and he became a film director before actor. In addition he became a key figure in the world of motion picture financing, whilst continuing to perform, appearing in such classics as Mutiny on the Bounty" (1935) and "The Charge of the Light Brigade' as well as Lassie Come Home" (1943) and "National Velvet" (1944).


Donald Crisp was born George William Crisp in Bow, East London on 27 July, 1882. He had three brothers and four sisters.

Early Life

After studying at Oxford University he served for three years from 1899 with British Military Intelligence in South Africa during the Boer War. In 1906, aged 24, he made the decision to try his luck in America. He travelled to New York and became involved in the New York opera scene as both director and performer. He appeared on Broadway in 1908 and again in 1911 and, during this time adopted his now familiar stage name of Donald Crisp.

Silent Movies

He worked as stage manager for the internationally famous entertainer and director, George M. Cohan, and he also became acquainted with the film director D.W. Griffith. Crisp accompanied Griffith to Hollywood in 1912 and was cast by Griffith as General Ulysses S. Grant in Griffith's classic film The Birth of a Nation in 1915 He also appeared in Griffiths' films 'Intolerance' in 1916 and 'Broken Blossoms' in 1919. In addition, during the period 1910 to 1917 Crisp appeared in over 80 silent movies, mainly one reelers and often in small or uncredited roles. During this time he became interested in directing movies and for several years from 1913, he directed a number of silent movie shorts.

In 1915 Crisp returned to England and served with army intelligence during the remainder of the First World War. On his return to Hollywood in 1919, he went to work in an administrative role for Adolph Zukor's Famous Players company and he also began a lifetime involvement in the world of banking and finance when he was invited to become a director of the Bank of Italy, which grew to become by 1945 the Bank of America, the world's largest commercial bank.

Influenced very much by Griffiths, and learning from him all the time, Crisp continued to direct movies for the rest of the silent era. He directed about 70 films between his first, 'Little Country Mouse' in 1914 and1930. Most notably, he worked as co-director with Buster Keaton on one of the comedian's finest films, 'The Navigator' in 1924 and the following year he directed Douglas Fairbanks Sr. on the classic 'Son of Zorro', a movie in which Crisp also starred. He continued his directorial successes with 'The Navigator' in 1924, 'Young April' in 1926, 'Vanity' in 1927, 'The Cop' the following year and his final film as director, 'The Runaway Bride' in 1930.


With the advent of Talkies, Crisp's career became even more successful. He stopped directing to concentrate on his acting career and business interests. He was contracted to Warner Brothers for most of the 1930s and he appeared in a supporting role in many high quality productions such as 'Red Dust' in 1932, 'Mutiny on the Bounty' in 1935, 'Mary of Scotland' and 'The Charge of the Light Brigade' in 1936, 'The Life of Emile Zola' in 1937 and ' Wuthering Heights' in 1939.

Towards the end of the 1930s, Crisp made the first of several retirement announcements, most of which he ignored. He was a very rich man, partly from his movie earnings and partly from his high-paying position with the Bank of America.

In 1942 he appeared in his best known and most successful role as the steadfast Welsh family patriarch in John Ford's classic drama 'How Green Was My Valley'.

There followed a series of films for a new studio, MGM, including 'Lassie Come Home' in 1943 and 'The Adventures of Mark Twain' the following year. He also appeared as Elizabeth Taylor's father in 'National Velvet' in 1944 and in three of the Lassie sequels: 'Son of Lassie' in 1945, 'Hills of Home' in 1948, and 'Challenge to Lassie' in 1949.

Later Career

After 3 years away from the screen Crisp resumed his acting career in 1954 in the epic 'Prince Valiant' and the following year he appeared opposite James Stewart in 'The Man from Laramie'.

He did not ignore the new medium of television acting, and he appeared in the 'Crossroads' series in 1956 and the live drama series 'Playhouse 90' in 1959.

In the 1960s he appeared in the Disney films 'Pollyanna' in 1960 and 'Greyfriars Bobby' the following year. His final movie appearance was alongside former film co-stars Henry Fonda and Maureen O'Hara in the 1963 film Spencer's Mountain.


Crisp married three times, firstly in 1912 to actress Helen Pease. The married ended with his wife's death after just one year.

In 1917 he married another actress, Marie Stark, the marriage ending in divorce after three years.

His third and final marriage was in 1935 to screenwriter Jane Murfin, whose career included such highlights as 'Alice Adams' in 1935 and 'The Women' in 1939. The marriage ended in divorce in 1944.

Crisp spent the final years of his life at the Motion Picture Country House and Hospital, which he, himself had helped to establish years before. Following a series of strokes, Donald Crisp died on May 25, 1974, two months short of his 92nd birthday. He was interred at Forest Lawn Memorial Park Cemetery in Glendale, California.

Donald Crisp Academy Awards

One Win:
Best Supporting Actor ... How Green is My Valley (1941)
No Unsuccessful Nominations:

Donald Crisp Filmography

The French Maid (Short)
Through the Breakers (Short)
Sunshine Sue (Short)
A Plain Song (Short)
A Child's Stratagem (Short)
The Golden Supper (Short) (uncredited)
Winning Back His Love (Short)
The Two Paths (Short)
The Italian Barber (Short)
Help Wanted (Short)
Fate's Turning (Short)
The Poor Sick Men (Short)
A Wreath of Orange Blossoms (Short)
Heart Beats of Long Ago (Short)
What Shall We Do with Our Old? (Short) (uncredited)
The Lily of the Tenements (Short)
A Decree of Destiny (Short)
Conscience (Short)
In the Days of '49 (Short)
The White Rose of the Wilds (Short)
The Primal Call (Short)
Out from the Shadow (Short)
The Diving Girl (Short)
Swords and Hearts (Short) (uncredited)
The Squaw's Love (Short) (uncredited)
Her Awakening (Short)
The Making of a Man (Short)
The Adventures of Billy (Short)
The Long Road (Short)
The Battle (Short)
The Miser's Heart (Short)
The Failure (Short)
The Eternal Mother (Short)
The Inner Circle (Short)
The Musketeers of Pig Alley (Short) (uncredited)
Pirate Gold (Short)
Near to Earth (Short)
The Sheriff's Baby (Short)
Olaf-An Atom (Short)
The Mothering Heart (Short) (unconfirmed, uncredited)
Two Men of the Desert (Short) (unconfirmed)
Black and White (Short)
His Secret (Short)
The Bracelet (Short)
By Man's Law (Short)
The Blue or the Gray (Short)
In the Elemental World (Short)
The Mysterious Shot (Short)
The Battle of the Sexes
The Stiletto (Short)
The Great Leap: Until Death Do Us Part
Ashes of the Past (Short)
The Different Man (Short)
The Miniature Portrait (Short)
Home, Sweet Home
The Soul of Honor (Short)
The Mountain Rat (Short)
The Escape
The Newer Woman (Short)
The Birthday Present (Short)
Their First Acquaintance (Short) (unconfirmed)
The Weaker Strain (Short)
The Avenging Conscience: or 'Thou Shalt Not Kill' (unconfirmed, uncredited)
The Idiot (Short) (unconfirmed)
The Tavern of Tragedy (Short)
Her Mother's Necklace (Short)
A Lesson in Mechanics (Short)
Down the Hill to Creditville (Short)
The Great God Fear (Short)
His Mother's Trust (Short)
The Warning (Short)
Another Chance (Short)
The Sisters (Short)
A Question of Courage (Short)
Over the Ledge (Short)
An Old-Fashioned Girl (Short)
The Birth of a Nation
The Love Route
The Commanding Officer
May Blossom
The Foundling (scenes deleted)
A Girl of Yesterday
Intolerance: Love's Struggle Throughout the Ages(uncredited)
Joan the Woman
Broken Blossoms
The Bonnie Brier Bush
Don Q Son of Zorro
The Black Pirate
Stand and Deliver
The River Pirate
The Viking
Trent's Last Case
The Pagan
The Return of Sherlock Holmes
Detective Clive Bart
Kick In
Burnt Offering
Red Dust
Her Reputation
Hamlet, Act I: Scenes IV and V (Short)
The Crime Doctor
The Key
The Life of Vergie Winters
British Agent (scenes deleted)
What Every Woman Knows
The Little Minister
Oil for the Lamps of China
Mutiny on the Bounty
The White Angel
Mary of Scotland
The Charge of the Light Brigade
A Woman Rebels
Beloved Enemy
The Great O'Malley
The Life of Emile Zola
That Certain Woman
Sergeant Murphy
A Dangerous Age
The Amazing Dr. Clitterhouse
Valley of the Giants
The Sisters
Comet Over Broadway
The Dawn Patrol
The Oklahoma Kid
Wuthering Heights
Sons of Liberty (Short)
Daughters Courageous
The Old Maid
The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex