Elwood Dager Cromwell, known as John Cromwell, was an American film actor, director and producer.
Born in Toledo, Ohio, Cromwell made his New York City stage debut in Marian De Forest's adaptation of Little Women (1912) on Broadway. It was a hit and ran for 184 performances. He then directed the play The Painted Woman (1913), which failed. Next, he acted in and co-directed with Frank Craven the hit show Too Many Cooks (1914), which ran for 223 performances.
Cromwell played Charles Lomax in the original Broadway production of George Bernard Shaw's play Major Barbara (1915), about a woman of The Salvation Army, and he played the role as Capt. Kearney in the revival of Shaw's Captain Brassbound's Conversion (1916). Among others, he also had a role in The Racket (1927), which ran for 119 performances. The following year while the Broadway company was playing The Racket in Los Angeles, Cromwell was signed to a Paramount Pictures contract as an actor and student director.
He made his motion picture debut playing Walter Babbing in the comedy The Dummy (1929), a talkie starring Ruth Chatterton and Fredric March, with Jack Oakie, and Zasu Pitts. His work as co-director with Edward Sutherland on the musical/romance Close Harmony starring Buddy Rogers, Nancy Carroll, Harry Green, and Jack Oakie, and the musical/drama The Dance of Life (both released in 1929), was so skillful he was allowed to begin directing without collaboration, beginning with The Mighty that same year starring George Bancroft, in which he also played the part of Mr. Jamieson.
He directed Tom Sawyer (1930) starring Jackie Coogan in the title role; Sinclair Lewis's Ann Vickers (1933) starring Irene Dunne, Walter Huston, Conrad Nagel, Bruce Cabot, and Edna May Oliver; and Somerset Maugham's Of Human Bondage (1934) starring Leslie Howard, Bette Davis, and Frances Dee.
The latter two movies were at RKO and both had censorship trouble. In the novel by Lewis, Ann Vickers is a birth control advocate and reformer who has an extramarital affair. The screenplay was finally approved by the Production Code when the studio agreed to make Vickers an unmarried woman at the time of her affair, thus eliminating the issue of adultery. The screenplay for Maugham's Of Human Bondage was unacceptable because the prostitute, Mildred Rogers (played by Davis), whom the club-footed medical student, Philip Carey (played by Howard), falls in love with, comes down with syphilis. Will Hays's office demanded that Mildred be made a waitress who comes down with TB, and that she be married to Carey's friend she cheats on him with. RKO agreed to everything to keep from having to pay a $25,000 fine.
Cromwell won the 1952 Tony for Best Featured Actor in a Play for his performance as John Gray in Point of No Return (1951) starring Henry Fonda. Of his Shakespearean roles on Broadway, Cromwell played Paris, kinsman to the prince, in Romeo and Juliet (1935) starring Katharine Cornell, who also produced the play, and Maurice Evans, in the title roles; Rosencrantz in Hamlet (1936), which was staged and produced by Guthrie McClintic (Cornell's husband, who had been married to Estelle Winwood), starring John Gielgud in the title role, Judith Anderson as Gertrude, and Lillian Gish as Ophelia; and Lennox in the revival of Macbeth (1948) starring Michael Redgrave in the title role and Flora Robson as Lady Macbeth, with Julie Harris as a witch, Martin Balsam as one of the three murderers, and Beatrice Straight as Lady MacDuff.
Cromwell also appeared on Broadway in the role of Brother Martin Ladvenu in Katharine Cornell's revival of Saint Joan (1936), which was directed by Guthrie McClintic; and as Freddy Eynsford Hill in Cedric Hardwicke's revival of Pygmalion (1945) starring Gertrude Lawrence as Eliza Doolittle and Raymond Massey as Henry Higgins.
Among the movies Cromwell directed are Little Lord Fauntleroy (1936) starring Freddie Bartholomew and Dolores Costello; The Prisoner of Zenda (1937) starring Ronald Colman and Madeleine Carroll, with Raymond Massey, Mary Astor, David Niven, and Douglas Fairbanks, Jr.; Algiers (1938) starring Charles Boyer and Hedy Lamarr; Abe Lincoln in Illinois (1940) starring Raymond Massey, Gene Lockhart, and Ruth Gordon; Son of Fury: The Story of Benjamin Blake (1942) starring Tyrone Power, Gene Tierney; Since You Went Away (1944) starring Claudette Colbert, Jennifer Jones, Joseph Cotten, Shirley Temple, Robert Walker, and Monty Woolley, with Hattie McDaniel, Agnes Moorehead, Alla Nazimova, Lionel Barrymore and Keenan Wynn; Anna and the King of Siam (1946) starring Irene Dunne, Rex Harrison, Linda Darnell, Lee J. Cobb, and Gale Sondergaard; Dead Reckoning (1947) starring Humphrey Bogart and Lizabeth Scott; the women's prison drama Caged (1950) and the noir crime/drama The Racket (1951) starring Robert Mitchum, Lizabeth Scott, and Robert Ryan, which Cromwell had appeared in onstage in New York and on tour.
Cromwell was cast by Robert Altman in the role as Mr. Rose in the movie 3 Women (1977) starring Shelley Duvall and Sissy Spacek, and as Bishop Martin in A Wedding (1978) starring Desi Arnaz, Jr., Carol Burnett, Geraldine Chaplin, Mia Farrow, Vittorio Gassman and Lillian Gish.
He died at age 91 in Santa Barbara, California. His remains were cremated.