John Carradine (1906-88)

John Carradine
John Carradine
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John Carradine was a gifted and versatile character actor who appeared in over 300 films during his long career. He became a frequent member of John Ford's "stock company", making notable appearances in such classic movies as 'Stagecoach' and 'Drums Along the Mohawk' in 1939 and 'The Grapes of Wrath' in 1940. Later in his career he specialised in the horror genre before starting a fruitful career in television.


John Carradine was born Peter Richmond Carradine in New York City on February 5, 1906, into a rich, well-connected family. His father was a respected journalist and his mother a surgeon. When the boy was two his father died from tuberculosis and his mother married again to a Philadelphia businessman.

Young Peter was educated privately at Christ Church High School, Kingston, New York and the Episcopal Academy in Pennsylvania. He was a self-willed boy and was punished for misbehaviour by having to memorize parts of the Book of Common Prayer. This discipline later proved invaluable in his acting career.

When he was eleven years old he was taken to see a production of Shakespeare's 'The Merchant of Venice' which decided him on a stage career. He had an artistic gift and on leaving school he studied sculpture and art at the Graphic Arts Institute in Philadelphia, later making a living travelling the country and selling sketches and portraits.

His first acting experience was for a New Orleans Shakespearean company when he was 19 and he eked a living during the mid-1920s, appearing on stage for a series of stock companies and continuing to work as a quick-sketch portrait painter.

Los Angeles 1927

In 1927 his travels took him to Los Angeles where he was befriended by John Barrymore and for a short time was taken on by Cecil B. DeMille first as a set designer and then as a voice-over actor. He made his official screen debut in 1930 in 'Tol'able David' under the name Peter Richmond, although he later claimed to have worked as an extra in many films before this.

Hollywood Career

His movie career continued and prospered with an enormous variety of minor roles, both credited as Peter Richmond as in 'Heaven on Earth' in 1931, and uncredited, as in 'Forgotten Commandments' in 1932 and 'Morning Glory' in 1933.

As he became better known, the quality of his roles gradually improved as in 'Les Misérables' and 'Cardinal Richelieu' in 1935 and in that year he began to use the stage name "John Carradine".

Carradine's fortunes improved dramatically in 1936 when he was signed up to a contract with 20th Century Fox and he appeared in 'The Prisoner of Shark Island', his first film with John Ford. He developed a warm relationship with Ford and appeared in ten further films for the demanding director, including his first major role, as the dissolute gambler in 'Stagecoach' in 1939 and as Casy, the Preacher, in 'The Grapes of Wrath' in 1940.

Throughout the 1940's Carradine continued to appear in movie after movie, many of them very ordinary. During World War II he served in the navy, and then continued his movie career but in almost exclusively 'B' movies with leads in horror films,such as 'The Mummy's Ghost' and 'House of Frankenstein' in 1944, 'House of Dracula' in 1945, 'The Unearthly' in 1957 and 'Billy the Kid versus Dracula' in 1966. As well as the dross, Carradine appeared in some very good films such as 'Johnny Guitar' in 1954 and 'The Ten Commandments' and 'Around the World in Eighty Days', both in 1956.


He appeared for the first time on the new medium of television in 1948 in 'The Chevrolet Tele-Theatre' and the following year in two Shakespeare plays, 'Twelfth Night' and 'Macbeth'.

He embraced the medium with enthusiasm and for the next four decades he continued to appear in many series including 'Lights Out' from 1950-52, 'Climax!' from 1955-6, 'The Rebel' from 1959-60, 'The Red Skelton Hour' from 1956-62 and many more.

Theatrical Career

Carradine used his considerable movie and television earnings to finance his first love, the stage, and throughout his life he made frequent appearances in live theater. During the 1940's he formed his own touring company performing Shakespeare and he appeared many times on Broadway including a long run as Lycus in 'A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum'. He also spent time on the road touring with companies putting on 'Tobacco Road' and 'Cat on a Hot Tin Roof'.

Later Years

Carradine's tendency to accept any role, no matter how poor the script, intensified as he got older and he appeared in many ultra-low-budget movies, many in the horror genre. He had no qualms about taking the low quality fare as it funded his ongoing theatrical appearances. He stayed extremely busy up to his death with his movie, stage and television work.


Carradine was married four times and sired an acting dynasty.

His first marriage was to Ardanelle McCool in 1935. She already had one son, Bruce, whom Carradine adopted and they had another son, David, together. Ardanelle filed for divorce in 1938 although the marriage was not dissolved until 1944. In that year Carradine married his second wife, Sonia Sorel, an actress whom he met on the set of 'Bluebeard'.

He and Sonia had three sons, Christopher, Keith and Robert. They divorced in 1957 and Caradine won custody of the children after an acrimonious divorce.

Carradine's third marriage was to Doris Rich and lasted from 1957 to 1964. He was married a fourth time, in 1975, to Emily Cisneros, the marriage ending in his death.

John Carradine died from a heart attack on November 27, 1988 in hospital in Milan, Italy after climbing the 338 steps of Milan's cathedral. After a Requiem Mass in St. Thomas Episcopal Church in Hollywood he was buried at sea off the Californian coast. He was aged 82 years.

John Carradine Academy Awards

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John Carradine Filmography

Bright Lights
Tol'able David (as Peter Richmond)
Heaven on Earth (as Peter Richmond)
The Sign of the Cross(uncredited)
Forgotten Commandments (uncredited)
The Story of Temple Drake
Morning Glory(uncredited)
This Day and Age (as John Peter Richmond)
To the Last Man (uncredited)
The Invisible Man (uncredited)
The Meanest Gal in Town
The Black Cat (uncredited)
Clive of India
Transient Lady (uncredited)
Les Misérables
Cardinal Richelieu
The Bride of Frankenstein(uncredited)
Alias Mary Dow (uncredited)
She Gets Her Man(uncredited)
The Crusades (voice, uncredited)
Bad Boy(uncredited)
The Man Who Broke the Bank at Monte Carlo (uncredited)
Anything Goes
The Prisoner of Shark Island
A Message to Garcia voice, uncredited)
Under Two Flags
Half Angel(uncredited)
White Fang
Mary of Scotland
The Garden of Allah
Daniel Boone
Laughing at Trouble
Nancy Steele Is Missing!
Captains Courageous
This Is My Affair
Love Under Fire
Danger - Love at Work
Ali Baba Goes to Town
The Hurricane
The Last Gangster
Thank You, Mr. Moto
International Settlement
Of Human Hearts
Four Men and a Prayer
Kentucky Moonshine
Alexander's Ragtime Band
I'll Give a Million
Submarine Patrol
Jesse James
Mr. Moto's Last Warning
The Three Musketeers
The Hound of the Baskervilles
Captain Fury
Five Came Back
Frontier Marshal
Drums Along the Mohawk
The Grapes Of Wrath
Brigham Young
The Return of Frank James
Chad Hanna
Western Union
Blood and Sand
Man Hunt
Swamp Water
Son of Fury: The Story of Benjamin Blake
Whispering Ghosts
Northwest Rangers
Mademoiselle France
No Escape
Captive Wild Woman
Hitler's Madman
Silver Spurs
Isle of Forgotten Sins
The Corpse Vanished
Gangway for Tomorrow
Voodoo Man
The Adventures of Mark Twain
The Black Parachute
The Invisible Man's Revenge
The Mummy's Ghost
Return of the Ape Man
Barbary Coast Gent
House of Frankenstein
It's in the Bag!
Fallen Angel
Captain Kidd
House of Dracula
The Face of Marble
Down Missouri Way
The Private Affairs of Bel Ami
Casanova's Big Night
Johnny Guitar
The Egyptian
Thunder Pass
Stranger on Horseback
The Kentuckian
Desert Sands
The Court Jester
Hidden Guns
The Black Sleep
Female Jungle
The Ten Commandments
Around The World In Eighty Days
Dark Venture
The True Story of Jesse James
The Unearthly
The Story of Mankind
Hell Ship Mutiny
The Incredible Petrified World
Showdown at Boot Hill
The Proud Rebel
The Last Hurrah
Half Human
The Cosmic Man
Invisible Invaders
Invasion of the Animal People
The Oregon Trail