He was nominated five times for the Best Actor Academy award and won twice, in 1932 for 'Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde' and in 1946 for 'The Best Years of Our Lives'. His brilliant stage work was also critically acclaimed and he won two Tony Awards for Best Actor, the first for his performance in Ruth Gordon's "Years Ago," in 1947, and the second in 1957, for his remarkable performance in the Broadway debut of Eugene O'Neill's "Long Day's Journey Into Night."
BiographyFredric March was born Ernest Frederick McIntyre Bickel in Wisconsin in August, 1897. His father ran a wholesale hardware business and his mother was a schoolteacher. After attending Racine High School Frederick joined up and served as an artillery lieutenant during the First World War, then entered the University of Wisconsin, graduating with a degree in economics. He started his business life as a bank teller for First National City Bank but his dreams were of acting and the stage. After suffering a ruptured appendix which brought him near to death, he made the decision, whilst recuperating, to follow his dreams and he moved to New York to pursue a career as an actor.
He worked with various stock companies around New York, gaining stage experience, at the same time getting walk-on roles in silent movies which were being shot around the city. His first movie acting role although uncredited, was in 'The Great Adventure' in 1921 starring Lionel Barrymore. He had to wait until 1926 for his first leading role on Broadway, in 'The Devil in the Cheese' and he had another wait until 1929 for his first screen credit, in the comedy 'The Dummy' co-starring Ruth Chatterton and he appeared in six other movies in the same year. Throughout his career March would switch between the theater and the cinema. Also in 1929 his excellent performances in the satirical play 'The Royal Family' brought him to the attention of Paramount Pictures who, seeing the potential of the good looking young actor as a leading man, signed him to a five year contract.
In 1930 March appeared in 'The Royal Family of Broadway', the screen version of his stage hit and received his first Oscar nomination for Best Actor. He had huge drawing power and came quickly to be regarded as one of the top leading men in Hollywood, reinforcing his postion over the next few years with a string of quality performances. In 1931 he succeeded Barrymore in a remake of 'Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde', almost too handsome as Henry Jekyll, but showing range as the brutish Hyde, terrifying in intimate scenes with Miriam Hopkins. He won the first of two Acdemy Awards for Best Actor for this role.
Early in March's career, director John Cromwell, persuaded him to change his last name, thinking that "Bickel" did not sound like a Hollywood star. His first wife wanted him to use his middle name and her first name: McIntyre Ellis but he resisted the idea, being too used to his nickname, Fred. Finally, they settled on his own idea, Fredric March, using a shortened version of his mother's maiden name, Marcher.
The newly named star then appeared in a series of classic films based on stage hits and classic novels like 'Design for Living' in 1933, opposite Gary Cooper and Miriam Hopkins, and 'Death Takes a Holiday' and 'The Barretts of Wimpole Street', both in 1934. March continued to get leading roles throughout the remainder of the 1930's with his ability to play both comedies and dramas and after his contract ended with Paramount he was one of the first actors to remain a free agent, able to accept parts to his liking without committing to one studio. He excelled in 'Les Misérables' in 1935, 'Anna Karenina' in 1935 with Greta Garbo, 'Anthony Adverse' the following year, and as the first Norman Maine in 'A Star is Born' in 1937, for which he received his third Oscar nomination.
Moving freely between independent producers and the big, all-powerful studios, March continued to display his impressive acting ability in Cecil B. DeMille's 'The Buccaneer' in 1939, 'Victory' in 1940, 'So Ends Our Night' in 1941, 'I Married a Witch' in 1942, and 'The Adventures of Mark Twain', and 'Tomorrow the World' both in 1944.
March had matured into a top class character actor and 1946 marked the highpoint of his career. He played the returning sergeant Al Stephenson, in 'The Best Years of Our Lives' for which he won his second Best Actor Oscar, and he tied with José Ferrer for the very first Best Actor Tony Award for his role in 'Years Ago', thus becoming the only actor ever to win the highest honors of stage and screen in a single year.
March continued to gain plaudits for his acting ability on both stage and screen. After spending time in the Broadway theater in the late 1940's he played Willy Loman in the film adaptation of 'Death of a Salesman' in 1951. The movie fared badly at the box-office but was critically acclaimed, and March received his fifth Best Actor Oscar nomination and also won the Volpi Cup for Best Actor at the Venice Film Festival.
March appeared in character roles in several more films during the 1950's, playing the householder threatened by Humphrey Bogart in 'The Desperate Hours' in 1955 and appearing with Richard Burton in 'Alexander The Great' in 1956. In the same year he starred with Gregory Peck in 'Man In a Gray Flannel Suit' and in 1957 his stage work was was also recognised with another Tony Award for his brilliant performance as James Tyrone in the original Broadway production of 'Long Day's Journey Into Night'.
PersonalMarch was married twice. His first marriage was to Ellis Baker from 1924 to 1927. In the same year he married his second wife, actress Florence Eldridge whom he met while working in a stock company in Denver. They adopted two children together and remained married until Fredric's death in 1975. Florence appeared with him in many of his movies including 'The Studio Murder Mystery' in 1929, 'Les Misérables' in 1935, 'Christopher Columbus' in 1949, and 'Inherit the Wind' in 1960.
March was one of the first screen actors to venture into the new medium of television appearing in 'The Ford Theatre Hour' in 1949 and 'Nash Airflyte Theatre' the following year. He made regular television appearances during the rest of his career, winning Emmy nominations for 'The Royal Family' in the series 'The Best of Broadway' in 1954 and also for performances as Samuel Dodsworth and Ebenezer Scrooge.
After the 1950's March's film roles became more supporting rather than starring but he continued to give brilliant performances such as playing the fundamentalist Matthew Brady in Stanley Kramer's 'Inherit the Wind' in 1960, which earned him an award at the Berlin Film Festival. In 1964 he gave another memorable performance as an ailing US President in 'Seven Days in May' and he was also impressive in Martin Ritt's Western 'Hombre' in 1967. He gave another unforgettable performance as the frightened mayor in the racial drama 'Tick, Tick, Tick' in 1970 after which he intended to retire. He underwent surgery for prostrate cancer but was persuaded by director John Frankenheimer, to return for one more movie, 'The Iceman Cometh' in 1973. His performance as Harry Hope earned him universal critical acclaim and the role proved a fitting end to a magnificent career.
Fredric March died on 14 April 1975, in Los Angeles, aged 77 years. He was buried on his private estate in New Milford, Connecticut.
SummaryHe was a remarkably gifted actor but his legacy has been less than he deserved, mainly because so many of the movies in which he starred were subject to remakes within 10 to 20 years after he made them. These remakes are the movies we remember and which get repeated on television, and not the original in which March starred. So, his brilliant portrayal of Normain Maine in 'A Star is Born' has been supplanted in popular culture by the James Mason/Judy Garland version. Similarly, his great performances in 'Nothing Sacred', 'The Buccaneer', 'Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde', 'The Barretts of Wimpole Street', 'Les Misérables', and 'Smilin' Through', were all remade in the 1940s and '50s. Fredric March was a great actor and deserved better.
Fredric March Academy AwardsTwo Wins:
Best Actor ... Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1931)
(Tied with Wallace Beery for The Champ (1931))
Best Actor ... The Best Years of Our Lives (1946)
Three Unsuccessful Nominations:
Best Actor ... The Royal Family of Broadway (1930)
Best Actor ... A Star Is Born (1937)
Best Actor ... Death of a Salesman (1951)
Fredric March Filmography
The Great Adventure (uncredited)
Paying the Piper (uncredited)
The Devil (uncredited)
The Education of Elizabeth (uncredited)
The Wild Party
The Studio Murder Mystery
Footlights and Fools
The Marriage Playground
Sarah and Son
Paramount on Parade
True to the Navy
Ladies Love Brutes
The Royal Family of Broadway
Honor Among Lovers
Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde
Strangers in Love
Merrily We Go to ____
Hollywood on Parade No. A-1 (short)
The Sign of the Cross
Tonight Is Ours
The Eagle and the Hawk
Design for Living
All of Me
Death Takes a Holiday
The Affairs of Cellini
The Barretts of Wimpole Street
We Live Again
The Dark Angel
The Road to Glory
Mary of Scotland
A Star Is Born
There Goes My Heart
The Gay Mrs. Trexel
So Ends Our Night
One Foot in Heaven
I Married a Witch
Valley of the Tennessee
The Adventures of Mark Twain
Tomorrow, the World!
Another Part of the Forest
An Act of Murder