Friday, July 27, 2012

Donald Crisp, 1882-1974

Donald Crisp in How Green Was My Valley (1941)

Today marks the birth anniversary of actor Donald Crisp, who won a Best Supporting Actor Oscar for his performance as the patriarch of the Morgan family in How Green Was My Valley. Crisp had a long career in the movies, one that predates Hollywood. Although Crisp was born in the UK, the reason his career predates Hollywood is not because he started in British cinema. Crisp had emigrated to the US around 1906 and in 1910, he met DW Griffith, who was still in the New York City area with Biograph; it wouldn't be until a couple of years later that Griffith took Biograph west. Crisp started out not only as an actor in dozens of silent films playing bit parts, but did a lot of directing until the advent of the sound era. The one Crisp-directed movie you're most likely to recognize would probably be The Navigator, where Crisp handled the directorial duties along with star Buster Keaton.

Crisp ketp acting for another 30 years after he finally gave up directing, and played supporting roles in a lot of movies that you would recognize for the lead actors -- and probably, unless you're specifically a fan of Crisp, you'd likely think, "He was in that?" Not so much because it's a shock; it's more because of the roles being smaller and so numerous. Crisp was in the 1935 version of Mutiny on the Bounty; played small roles in films like Jezebel (one of eight in 1938) and The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex (one of seven in 1939) or even a crime film like Brother Orchid. And then there are the Lassie movies.

Crisp's film career slowed down considerably after the start of World War II. His final role was in Spencer's Mountain, which is based on the same source material which became the long-running TV series The Waltons. A few years earlier Crisp had played the grandfather role in the 1959 version of A Dog of Flanders. One thing I didn't know about Crisp is that he also worked closely with the money men to help obtain financing from the banks, to the point that he wound up in a fairly high position with Bank of America.

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