13 July, 2008

Stanley Holloway

Stanley Augustus Holloway was an English actor and entertainer famous for his comic and character roles on stage and screen, especially that of Alfred Doolittle in My Fair Lady. He was also renowned for his recordings of comic monologues.

He was born on the 1 October 1890 in Manor Park, East Ham, Essex, England, and attended The Worshipful School of Carpenters in Stratford nearby. His first job was as a clerk in Billingsgate fish market, but from 1907 he was performing in end of pier concert parties at English east coast seaside resorts, including Walton-on-the-Naze and Clacton-on-Sea where he appeared for three years in Bert Graham and Will Bentley's concert party at the West Cliff Theatre, 1911 - 1913. He was then recruited by established comedian Leslie Henson to feature as a support in Henson’s own more prestigious concert-party. He planned a career as a singer and went to Milan to train his voice, but the outbreak of war in 1914 changed his plans.

In World War I, he enlisted in the Connaught Rangers infantry regiment. After the war he joined the Royal Irish Constabulary in 1920 as a Temporary Constable but left by the beginning of 1921.

After the war, he found his first big success in the show The Co-Optimists which ran from 1921 until 1927 and was then filmed. A second run of the show from 1929 developed his comic song and monologue repertoire, which launched his recording career with records of his own created character, "Sam Small," and Marriott Edgar's "The Ramsbottoms" selling world wide.

He spent the 1930s appearing in a series of cheaply made movies, but which included some notable work in Squibs (1935) and The Vicar of Bray (1937). He also recorded "With Her Head Tucked Underneath Her Arm", a ditty by R. P. Weston and Bert Lee about the ghost of Anne Boleyn haunting the Tower of London, seeking revenge on Henry VIII for having her beheaded.

His career changed again in 1941 when he played in a major film production of George Bernard Shaw’s Major Barbara. He then took patriotic, morale boosting, light comic roles in The Way Ahead (1944), This Happy Breed (1944) and The Way to the Stars (1945).

After World War Two he had notable roles in the smash hit Brief Encounter, as Mr. Crummles in Nicholas Nickleby, and a cameo role as the grave digger in Laurence Olivier's Hamlet. He then became a mainstay of the Ealing Comedies productions, making classics like Passport to Pimlico, The Lavender Hill Mob and The Titfield Thunderbolt.

His film output had made him enough of a public name in the United States to land him the part of Alfred P. Doolittle in the Broadway stage smash hit My Fair Lady, after Jimmy Cagney turned it down. He had a long association with the show appearing in the original 1956 Broadway production, the 1958 London version and the film version of 1964. He entitled his autobiography Wiv a Little Bit of Luck after the song he performed in these productions. He received his only Academy Award nomination for the performance, but lost to Peter Ustinov.

He was still performing English character parts into his eighties. He died in a Littlehampton nursing home on 30 January 1982, aged 91.

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