Charles Laughton

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Charles Laughton, photograph by Carl van Vechten , 1940

Charles Laughton [ ˈlɔtn ] (born July 1, 1899 in Scarborough , England , † December 15, 1962 in Hollywood , California ) was an initially British , from 1950 American actor and director in theater and film.

Charles Laughton was one of the world's leading character actors for decades and was awarded the Oscar for Best Actor for The Private Life of Henry VIII (1933). This was followed by leading roles in classic films such as Mutiny on the Bounty , The Hunchback of Notre Dame , Witness for the Prosecution and Spartacus . Laughton's only work as a film director was Die Nacht des Jäger (1955), which was a box office flop at the time , but is now considered by many critics to be one of the best films of all time.


Charles Laughton was born the son of the hotelier couple Eliza (1869-1953) and Robert Laughton (1869-1924) in the English county of Yorkshire. He had a brief deployment in the First World War . Although he initially worked as a hotelier for his parents, he became interested in acting at an early age and was a member of a group of amateur actors. After his training at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art in London, he first appeared professionally on stage in London's Barnes Theater in 1926. The young actor quickly caught the attention of critics with his appearances in the plays The Cherry Orchard and The Three Sisters . In 1928 he played the role of the detective Hercule Poirot by Agatha Christie in the play Alibi as the first actor . He also made his film debut in 1928 in Daydreams (based on HG Wells ), in which his future wife Elsa Lanchester also played. Both were to appear together in a total of eleven films by 1957, the last one directed by Billy Wilder in Witness for the Prosecution , where Lanchester played the overprotective, annoying caretaker of Laughton's character.

His first collaboration with the director Alexander Korda was The Private Life of Henry VIII (1933). For this role he was awarded an Oscar for best actor in absentia in 1934 . This was followed by Der Tyrann (1934), Mutiny on the Bounty (1935) and Rembrandt (1936) , among others . These films established the character actor as a movie star, who had a corpulent figure at an early age and often played roles that were significantly older than himself. In 1935 he received the New York Film Critics Circle Award for his services as British Captain Bligh in the adventure film Mutiny on the Bounty and as Butler Ruggles in the comedy A Butler in America . In 1936 he was nominated for an Oscar for "Best Actor" for his performance as an antagonist in Mutiny on the Bounty . However, after a few days of shooting, he gave the role of Mr. Micawber in the MGM production of Charles Dickens ' David Copperfield (1935) to comedian WC Fields because he didn't think he was funny enough. In 1937 he founded his own film company, the Mayflower Pictures Corporation , with former UFA boss Erich Pommer , which produced three films - each with him in a leading role: Vessel of Wrath (1938) with Elsa Lanchester, based on the novella by William Somerset Maugham (and Pommer's only directorial work), St. Martin's Lane (1938) with Vivien Leigh and Reef Pirates (1939) directed by Alfred Hitchcock based on the novel by Daphne du Maurier .

In William Dieterle's film The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1939) based on Victor Hugo , he delivered the best representation of the bell ringer to date - according to broad critical consensus. The film was released on condition that no poster or billboard was allowed to show Laughton's mask. This was followed by the thriller Unter Verdacht (1944), in which he murdered his wife as a long-suffering husband, and Das Gespenst von Canterville (1944), where he took on the title role. Laughton worked with Alfred Hitchcock twice, albeit in Riff Piraten (1939) and Der Fall Paradin (1947), two of the director's less successful works. In both Hitchcock films he played a judge each, whereby the judge from reef pirates makes common cause with the criminals. Laughton had other appearances as a National Socialist in the remarque film Triumphal Arch (1948), as a kind widower in The Heart of a Mother (1951) and a repetition of his parade role as King Henry VIII in The Heir apparent (1953).

Despite his film success, Laughton was still regularly seen as a stage actor, mostly commuting between London's West End and American Broadway . In 1947 he worked on Broadway with Bertolt Brecht on his play Galileo , which is about the life of Galileo Galilei . In the late 1940s, he made a highly successful American book tour with producer Paul Gregory . In the 1950s, Laughton staged several successful plays as a theater director for Gregory, including the world premiere of the drama The Caine Mutiny Court-Martial in 1954 , based on the bestseller of the same name The Caine Was Her Fate by Herman Wouk . 1955 turned Laughton as a director - again under Gregory's production - the literary film The Night of the Hunter with Robert Mitchum as a psychopathic murderer. It became the only film that Laughton directed. A failure at the time, the thriller was not rediscovered by film lovers and critics until years after Laughton's death. Today it is considered a stylistically unique masterpiece. The French film magazine Cahiers du cinéma listed The Night of the Hunter 2008 as the second place for best films of all time behind Orson Welles ' Citizen Kane .

In 1958 he was nominated for an Oscar for "Best Actor" for his leading role in Witness for the Prosecution . The court drama is one of the best court drama in film history among critics. The acting performance of Laughton as an experienced, tricky star lawyer with health problems found director Billy Wilder so outstanding that he said he would "like to shoot the film a second time, and all roles exclusively with Laughton". This opinion was shared by many film critics, who saw Laughton as a brilliant character actor. Even decades after his death, actor Daniel Day-Lewis cited Laughton as a major influence on him: “He was perhaps the greatest film actor of his generation. There was something remarkable about him. In his generosity as an actor, he practically fed himself into his work. As an actor, you can't take your eyes off him. ”Laughton played his last film roles in Spartacus (1960) directed by Stanley Kubrick as the tribune of the people Sempronius Gracchus and as an old and experienced US senator in Otto Preminger's political drama Sturm über Washington (1962) .

In the films released in Germany, Laughton was dubbed by OE Hasse , Paul Dahlke , Bum Krüger , Alexander Golling , Josef Dahmen , Kurt Seifert , Leonard Steckel and Eduard Wandrey .

Private life

Laughton was married to British - American actress Elsa Lanchester from 1929 until his death in 1962 . The marriage remained childless. In her autobiography , Lanchester mentions that the reason for this is that Laughton was homosexual and therefore their relationship was platonic .

In 1950 the Briton Laughton took American citizenship. Shortly before his death, he was still in negotiations with Billy Wilder . The director planned to cast him for the role of Mustache in his new film The Girl Irma la Douce . Laughton wanted to play the part, but Wilder realized on his last visit that his friend was already very ill. In his memoirs, Wilder impressively described how Laughton tried to hide his cancer. Shortly after Wilder's visit, Laughton died at the age of 63.

Charles Laughton was buried in Forest Lawn Cemetery in Hollywood .



Academy Awards (Oscars)

Further awards


  • Andreas Missler: Charles Laughton. His films - his life. Heyne, Munich 1990, ISBN 3-453-00119-2 .
  • James Todey: Charles Laughton - a portrait from four decades. Fischer Cinema, Frankfurt am Main 1982, ISBN 3-596-23680-0 .
  • Elsa Lanchester: Elsa Lanchester. Herself. St. Martin's Press, New York 1983, ISBN 0-312-24377-4 .
  • Marc Hairapetian: The Abundance of Life. On the 100th birthday of Charles Laughton. In: film service. 52nd year No. 14/1999, pp. 13-15, ISSN  0720-0781 .

Web links

Commons : Charles Laughton  - Collection of Images, Videos and Audio Files

Individual evidence

  1. Interview with Daniel Day-Lewis (2005)
  2. Charles Laughton, Gay Influence