Ironically the wonderful Elsa Lanchester is best-known for a film in which she barely even appeared and a role in which she didn’t even speak. While her name is synonymous with “Bride of Frankenstein,” the actress has had much richer and rewarding roles.
For example, she nearly steals the entire film, The Big Clock (one of the best film noirs ever made in my opinion), right out from under Charles Laughton and Ray Milland. Nearly.
She was an uncommonly talented actress with a special something that set her apart from her contemporaries. Were there other talented actress? Yes. Were there other talented actresses who also happened to be beautiful? Yes… And yet…. Elsa just had something extra.
Every time she was on the screen, she dared viewers to take their eyes off of her. It’s a dare she surely knew we’d never win. If she’s on the screen, you simply cannot look away.
- Elsa Lanchester was born on October 28, 1902 in London, England.
- She met future husband, the outrageously talented Charles Laughton, while acting in the play “Mr. Prohack” in 1927.
- Appeared in 7 (SEVEN!) Oscar Best Picture nominees: The Private Life of Henry VIII. (1933), David Copperfield (1935), Naughty Marietta (1935), The Razor’s Edge (1946), The Bishop’s Wife (1947), Witness for the Prosecution (1957) and Mary Poppins (1964).
- In her autobiography (Elsa Lanchester Herself), she states that she and Charles Laughton never had children because he was gay. Maureen O’Hara, a very friend and co-star of Laughton (he was her mentor), denied that this was the reason for the couple’s childlessness. Maureen asserts that Charles Laughton had told her that the reason he and his wife never had children was because of a very private issue with Lanchester (I don’t want to go into the details, out of respect to her.). According to Elsa Lanchester’s biographer, Charles Higham, the reason she did not have children was that neither she or her husband wanted any. Maureen O’Hara also disputes this, stating that Charles Laughton very much wanted children.
- (On playing the title part in Bride of Frankenstein) “The most memorable thing I did in that film, I believe, was my screaming. In almost all my movies since, I’ve been called upon to scream. I don’t know if it’s by chance, but I would like to think that I’m not hired for that talent alone.”
- As a child, Elsa had a great desire to become a classical dancer. When she was 10 years old, her mother enrolled her at the famed Isadora Duncan’s Bellevue School in Paris.
- She founded the Children’s Theater in Soho, London around 1920 and even taught there for several years.
- She made her stage debut in 1922 in the West End play Thirty Minutes in a Street.
- Her first film appearance was in 1925 in an amateur movie by friend and author Evelyn Waugh called The Scarlet Woman: An Ecclesiastical Melodrama.
- Her formal film debut was in the British movie One of the Best (1927).
- Charles Laughton appeared with Elsa in three of the four films she made in 1928: Blue Bottles, Day Dreams, and The Tonic. The fourth film was The Constant Nymph.
- Elsa and Charles were married in 1929 and remained married until his death in 1962.
- She came to Hollywood with Laughton in 1932, but not permanently until 1939. MGM offered her a contract in 1932.
- Making the Bride of Frankenstein was no walk in the park – for at least ten days, she was wrapped in yards of bandage and covered in heavy makeup. The iconic hairdo was accomplished by combing it over a wire mesh cage! Her eyes were kept taped wide open for long takes – it had to be agonizing!
- She made ten movies with Laughton, the last of which, Witness for the Prosecution (1957) earned her her second supporting actress nomination.
- Elsa once said of her film career, “…….large parts in lousy pictures and small parts in big pictures.” That quote troubles me because she, honestly, deserved a filmography she could be 100 percent proud of. She was an extraordinary actress.