At the age of 13 Fredric March was producing his own plays, but on leaving high school he worked in a bank before World War I disrupted his life.
It was while recovering from an appendicitis operation some years later that March suddenly decided to follow his instinct and go on stage. His debut was in David Belasco’s Deburau. after which he took minor parts in many films during the Twenties. He worked his way up to starring in the talkies, and for several years played romantic leads in dramas and comedies after his portrayal of John Barrymore in the stage play The Royal Family won him a Paramount contract.
In 1935 he played the Russian count who sweeps Garbo off her feet in Anna Karenina and went on to give a marvellous performance as the fading screen idol in A Star is Born. From 1937 he chose his roles carefully, and was one of the few American male stars to carry off costume drama with panache. In the latter years of his career he became a character actor of some standing. March died in 1975. Here is our pick for five of his best movies.
Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1932)
Robert Louis Stevenson’s spine-chilling tale of a doctor who becomes tormented by his success in separating man’s good and evil natures was filmed several times. With spooky gas-lit scenes of London and an excellent cast led by March, this is still the most cinematically satisfying version. Academy Award Nominations: 3, including Best Adapted Screenplay.
Director: Rouben Mamoulian
Cast: Fredric March, Holmes Herbert, Miriam Hopkins,
Les Miserables (1935)
This is the first of many versions of Victor Hugo’s famous story about moral thievery and immoral justice. March steals bread, March repents and becomes a respectable public figure, Laughton pursues him with a frightening vengeance. The cinematography by Toland is beautiful, the pacing is perfect, and the details are wonderful. Les Miserables was the second of seven films Frederic March (Jean Valjean) made with his wife Florence Eldridge. The couple also appeared on TV and the stage together during their nearly 50-year marriage. Academy Award Nominations: 4, including Best Picture.
Director: Richard Boleslawski
Cast: Fredric March, Jessie Ralph, John Beal, Cedric Hardwicke, Rochelle Hudson, Charles Laughton,
Anthony Adverse (1936)
The intriguing story of a young man’s globe-trotting adventures during the time of Napoleon and his struggle for personal and financial success. An excellent cast, wonderful music, and great cinematography helped make this a blockbuster of its time. Based on Hervey Allen’s novel. Academy Award Nominations: 7, including Best Picture.
Director: Mervyn Le Roy
Cast: Fredric March, Claude Rains, Steffi Duna, Edmund Gwenn, Louis Hayward, Anita Louise, Gale Sondergaard, Akim Tamiroff, Donald Woods, Olivia de Havilland
The Best Years of Our Lives (1946)
Perhaps the most memorable film about the aftermath of WWII, it unfolds with the homecoming of three veterans to the same small town. The leads all touch emotional truths: Loy seems able to express longing, joy, fear, and surprise, even with her back turned, in a particularly poignant welcome home. The movie never glosses over the reality of altered lives and the inability to communicate the experience of war on the front lines or the home front. A landmark achievement. WWII vet Russell, who lost his hands in the war, is the only person to win two Oscars for the same role, Best Supporting Actor and a special Oscar “for bringing hope and courage to his fellow veterans through his appearance.” Among its many awards are a British Academy BAFTA for Best Film, Any Source; Golden Globes for Special Achievements: Harold Russell; Best Motion Picture, Drama.
Director: William Wyler
Cast: Fredric March, Virginia Mayo, Dana Andrews, Roman Bohnen, Hoagy Carmichael, Gladys George, Myrna Loy, Cathy O’Donnell, Harold Russell, Teresa Wright
Death of a Salesman (1951)
March won an Oscar nomination for best actor playing the tragic Willie Loman in this Pulitzer Prize-winning play. Willie Loman spent his entire life reaching for fortune. Now, middle aged and weary, he has little to show for it. Willie, devastated by this realization, begins to experience flashbacks of the past in an attempt to make sense of it all. But the more his mind travels, the more he seems to lose touch with reality. Kevin McCarthy costars as Biff, Willie’s oldest son, who clashes horribly with his father. This heartbreaking tragedy also raked in Oscar nominations for best supporting actor, male and female, best cinematography and best music.
Director: Laslo Benedek
Cast: Fredric March, Kevin McCarthy, Beverly Aadland, David Alpert, Jeanne Bates, Royal Beal, Mildred Dunnock, Cameron Mitchell, Howard Smith, Jesse White
Kick-Ass TV Heroines: Xena – Warrior Princess
What was not to love about Xena? As Lucy Lawless says: “Xena is a bad-ass, kick-ass, pre-Mycenaean girl.” Evildoers, clearly, must stand down, but not only bad guys (and girls) have Xena-phobia. Even heroes quake when she swings her broadsword.
Originally created as a syndicated complement to Kevin Sorbo’s Hercules: The Legendary Journeys, Xena pretty much kicked Herc to the curb. It was like when the Bionic Woman made us lose interest in the Six Million Dollar Man–only more so.
Unlike Lindsay Wagner’s early half-woman, half-machine, Xena wasn’t prone to frailty. Nor did she need robot parts. In fact, the Warrior Princess never lost. If she’s down, it’s not for long.
Plus, she was in touch with the dark side: This big-boned bruiser had definite moments of blood lust, as well as lust of some other varieties. Garbed in a leather miniskirt and armed with her trademark razor-edged, boomerang-action chakram, we watched Xena single-leggedly kick down entire platoons of Roman soldiers.
Sure, there were murmurings about Xena and her softer female sidekick, Gabrielle (actress Renée O’Connor). So what if they liked to conserve bathwater by doubling up? And what’s wrong with close friends frenching once in a while?
Then again, maybe it was true–and there’s anything wrong with that.
Actress: Lucy Lawless
Show: Xena: Warrior Princess
Classic TV Revisited: McMillan And Wife
Starring Rock Hudson and Susan Saint James, McMillan and Wife was a super cute crime-solving saga from the 1970s made for the NBC’s Mystery Movie series.
Who were they?
Hubby was the debonair San Francisco police commissioner Stewart McMillan.
Sally was a foxy, rather scatterbrained dame with a knack for finding corpses.
Worked down the morgue did she?
Hardly. Sally’s finds were usually in some glitzy mansion which the couple were frequenting for a weekend cocktail party. She also had a habit of getting her life threatened or being kidnapped.
Who was in it?
Tragic Hollywood star Rock Hudson no less. He took on Stewart McMillan in his first TV role, after years as a matinee idol with movies such as Giant.
Fans of the lantern-jawed star were dismayed when he went public about having Aids. He had long kept his homosexuality secret. He carried on working in ’80s glam drama Dynasty, but make-up could not disguise the deterioration of this once-statuesque man. He died in 1985, aged 59.
What about Sally?
That role fell to raven-locked Susan Saint James. The Ali MacGraw lookalike was previously in shows such as Alias Smith And Jones and The Name of the Game.
A vital ingredient to McMillan And Wife was sharp-tongued housekeeper Mildred, played by Nancy Walker. Somebody needed to keep the place tidy while they gallivanted about solving crime.
Famous guest stars?
The couple’s conception?
Like Hart To Hart, the idea was borrowed from Dashiell Hammett’s Thin Man books of the ’30s.
Gritty crime drama?
Hardly. These were cosy whodunnit cases, where the brutality of murder was never portrayed. The show was more about the interplay between McMillan and Sally.
Had viewers arrested?
Certainly in the US. It was the fifth highest-rated show in 1972 and 1973.
Fate of the golden couple?
Susan Saint James quit in 1976 over a contractual dispute. Nancy Walker also packed away her duster as housekeeper Mildred.
The dame’s exit was a fatal blow?
Certainly for the character of Sally – she was killed off in a plane crash. But Rock soldiered on with new assistant Sgt Steve DiMaggio (Richard Gilliland). The show became McMillan.
Audiences dwindled and the plug was pulled.
Cosy pillow talk, cocktail parties, Rock Hudson, pyjamas and numerous corpses.
Let’s go to bed. Turn the light out, darling.
Must you eat toast in bed, darling. Apologies, but I’ve got terrible flatulence. Separate bedrooms.
Not to be confused with
My Wife Next Door, Harold Macmillan, The Merry Wives Of Windsor and Mr And Mrs.
Classic TV Revisited: The Royal
The Royal was an ITV drama commission and was inspired by its sister programme Heartbeat.
The lowdown: This nostalgic family drama is set in the swinging 1960s and centres on the staff of a cottage hospital in Yorkshire. Newly qualified doctor David Cheriton (Julian Ovenden) is determined to make a difference to the world and arrives at St Aidan’s Royal Free Hospital in Elinsby full of big ideas. But he clashes with the hospital’s secretary TJ Middleditch (Ian Carmichael) who is determined to run things his way. Then there is the Matron (Wendy Craig) who rules her nurses with a rod of iron and tries in vain to stop them being distracted by the handsome arrival.
Memorable moments: Watch out for former Heartbeat favourite Bill Maynard who crosses dramas and continents as Claude Jeremiah Greengrass. Greengrass has returned from a Caribbean holiday with a mystery illness but that doesn’t stop him trying to earn a fast buck. It doesn’t take long before Claude attracts Matron’s ire.
Trivia: The Royal is a family affair for real life husband and wife Robert Daws (Ormerod) and Amy Robbins (Weatherill). No fewer than seven members of their clan have appeared in the series including their daughters and stepson.
Michelle Hardwick, who played receptionist Lizzie, says her favourite moment in the whole series didn’t come on screen but in the actors’ green room. She says: “I was sitting in there with Wendy Craig and Honor Blackman and we were having a lovely conversation. I sat back and thought ‘Wow, this is great, I can’t wait to tell my gran’.”
A modern day set version called The Royal Today aired 7 January – 14 March 2008.
First broadcast: 2003
Starred: Wendy Craig, Ian Carmichael, Michael Starke, Robert Daws and Julian Ovenden
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