Elsa Lanchester Information

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Elsa Lanchester Biography

    Elsa Sullivan Lanchester was born into an unconventional a family at the turn of the 20th century. Her parents, James "Shamus" Sullivan and Edith "Biddy" Lanchester, were socialists - very active members of the Social Democratic Federation (SDF) in a rather broad sense and did not believe in the institution of marriage and being tied to any conventions of legality for that matter. Her mother had actually been committed to an asylum in 1895 by her father and older brothers because of her unmarried state with James. The incident received worldwide press as the "Lanchester Kidnapping Case." Elsa had a great desire to become a classical dancer and to that end at age 10 her mother enrolled her at the famed Isadora Duncan s Bellevue School in Paris in 1912. But the uncertainties of WW1 brought her home after only two years. At age 12, she was sent to a co-educational boarding school in Kings Langley, Hertfordshire, England, to teach dance classes in exchange for her education and board. In 1918, she was hired as a dance teacher at Margaret Morriss school on the Isle of Wight. Next to dance, she loved the music halls of the period, so in 1920 she debuted in a music hall act as an Egyptian dancer. About the same time she founded the Childrens Theater in Soho, London and taught there for several years. She made her stage debut in 1922 in the West End play Thirty Minutes in a Street. In 1924 she and her partner, Harold Scott, opened a London nightclub called the Cave of Harmony. They performed one-act plays by Pirandello and Chekhov and sang cabaret songs. She would later collect and record these and many others. The spot was frequented by literati like Aldous Huxley, H.G. Wells and also James Whale , working in London theater and soon to be directing on Broadway and Hollywoods most famous horror films. Lanchester kept busy including, on her own admission, posing nude for artists. During a 1926 comic performance in the Midnight Follies at Londons Metropole, a member of the British Royal family walked out as she sang, "Please Sell No More Drink to My Father". She closed her nightclub in 1928 as her film career began in earnest. Perhaps not beautiful in the more conventional sense, Lanchester was certainly pretty as a young woman with a turned-up nose that gave her a pert, impish expression, all the more striking with her large, expressive dark eyes and full lips. She had a lithe figure that she carried with the assuredness of her dancing background. Her voice was bright and distinctive, and had a delightful rush and trill that had an almost Scottish burr quality. What clicked on stage would do the same in the movies. Her first film appearance was actually in an amateur movie by friend and author Evelyn Waugh called The Scarlet Woman: An Ecclesiastical Melodrama (1925). Her formal film debut was in the British movie One of the Best (1927). She continued stage work and became associated in 1927 with a rather self-possessed but keenly dedicated actor, Charles Laughton. He appeared with her in three of four films Lanchester did in 1928. Three of these were written for her by H.G. Wells). They did a few plays as well and wed in 1929. According to Lancester, after two years, she discovered he was homosexual but they remained married until his death in 1962. Lanchester declared in a 1958 interview that she kept to a separate career path from her husband. They were never an on-screen team but appeared together on occasion -- moving through 1931 with several smart play-like films including Potiphars Wife (1931) with Laurence Olivier. She had done the play Payment Deferred in London in 1930 and followed it to Broadway in 1931. MGM offered her a contract in 1932. In 1933 Alexander Korda was casting his The Private Life of Henry VIII. (1933) and decided that Laughton was the perfect choice - and his wife would be just as perfect as one of Henrys six wives. Elsas versatility pointed to a part with some comedic elements and fitting more into a caricature. She looked most like Hans Holbeins famous portrait of Anne of Cleves (Henrys fourth wife who was actually somewhat more homely than the painter depicted). In costume Lanchester was charming if not striking. Her interpretation of Anne was a perfect integration with herself, and her scene with Laughton informally playing cards on the marriage bed and deciding on annulment is a highpoint of the movie. Of course, it would be hard to mention her film career of the 1930s without mentioning the one role that would forever dog her, Bride of Frankenstein (1935). Having come to Hollywood with Laughton in 1932 (but not permanently until 1939), Lanchester did only a few films up to 1935 and was disappointed enough with Hollywoods reception to return to London for a respite. She was quickly called back by old friend from London, stage and film associate James Whale , now the noted director of Frankenstein (1931) and The Invisible Man (1933). He wanted her for two parts in Bride: author Mary Shelley and the bride. A central joke of the movie build-up was the tag lines: "WHO will be The Bride of Frankenstein? WHO will dare?" Indeed, it was no honeymoon for her. For some ten days, Lanchester was wrapped in yards of bandage and covered in heavy makeup. The stand-on-end hairdo was accomplished by combing it over a wire mesh cage. Lanchester was in real agony with her eyes kept taped wide open for long takes - and it showed in her looks of horror. Her monsters screaming and hissing sounds (based on the sounds of Regents Park swans in London) were taped and then run backward to spook-up the effect. She was delightfully melodramatic and picturesque as Wollstonecraft, and her bride would become iconic. Many have considered Bride of Frankenstein (1935) the best of the golden age horror movies. Lanchester stood out in her next movie with Laughton the next year, Kordas dark Rembrandt (1936), but she only did a few more films for the remainder of the decade. Through the 1940s she was doubly busy - a couple of films per year while regenerating her beloved musical revue sketches. She performed for 10 years at the Turnabout Theater in Hollywood, using old London music hall/cabaret songs and others written for her. Later she would have to split her time further doing a similar act at a supper club called The Bar of Music. By the later 1940s she had become rather matronly, and the roles would settle appropriately. But she always lent her sparkle, as with her charming maid Matilda in The Bishops Wife (1947). She would be nominated for best supporting actress in Come to the Stable (1949). She entered the 1950s busy with road touring of her nightclub act with pianist J. Raymond Henderson (who went by "Ray" and who is sometimes confused with popular songwriter Ray Henderson ). There was a series of tours to complement Laughtons famous reading tours, called Elsa Lanchesters Private Music Hall which ended in 1952; Elsa Lanchester--Herself which ended in 1961; and once more in 1964 at the Ivar Theater. She was equally busy with a stock of film roles and a large share of TV playhouse theater. She had made ten movies with Laughton, the last of which, Witness for the Prosecution (1957) garnered her second supporting actress nomination. But her dizzy Aunt Queenie Holroyd of Bell Book and Candle (1958) is a fond remembrance of that time. With the two decades from the 1960s to early 1980s, Lanchester was a fixture on episodic TV and an institution in Disney and G-rated fare -- perhaps a bit ironic for the unconventional Lanchester. She wrote two autobiographies: Charles Laughton and I (1938) and Elsa Lanchester: Herself (1983), both recalling nearly 100 roles before the camera. Elsa Lanchester remained humorously reflective in regard to her film career: "...large parts in lousy pictures and small parts in big pictures." It was the mix of silly, bawdy, and outrageous in her revues that was her great joy: "I was content because I was fully aware that I did not like straight acting but preferred performing direct to an audience. You might call what I do vaudeville. Making a joke, especially impromptu, and getting a big laugh is just plain heaven."

Elsa Lanchester Filmography

  • (2010) A History of Horror with Mark Gatiss as Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley/The Bride (archive footage) (uncredited)
  • (2008) The Age of Believing: The Disney Live Action Classics as (archive footage)
  • (2002) Silenci? as Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley/The Monster's Mate (archive footage)
  • (2000) The American Nightmare as Herself (archive footage)
  • (1998) Bride of Chucky as Clips from 'Bride of Frankenstein' (archive footage) (uncredited)
  • (1998) Universal Horror as (archive footage)
  • (1994) It's Alive: The True Story of Frankenstein as (archive footage)
  • (1993) Turnabout: The Story of the Yale Puppeteers as Herself
  • (1992) Commercial Entertainment Product as The Monster's Mate (archive footage) (uncredited)
  • (1991) Frankenstein: A Cinematic Scrapbook as Mary Shelley/The Bride (archive footage)
  • (1990) The Wonderful Wizard of Oz: 50 Years of Magic as Herself (archive footage)
  • (1985) Moonlighting as Monster's Mate (archive footage) (uncredited)
  • (1984) Terror in the Aisles as
  • (1983) Hollywood Out-takes and Rare Footage as Herself (archive footage) (uncredited)
  • (1980) Die Laughing as Sophie
  • (1979) Where's Poppa? as Momma Hocheiser
  • (1977) The Hollywood Greats as Herself
  • (1976) Murder by Death as Jessica Marbles
  • (1973) Arnold as Hester
  • (1973) Terror in the Wax Museum as Julia Hawthorn
  • (1971) Willard as Henrietta Stiles
  • (1970) Nanny and the Professor as Aunt Henrietta
  • (1969) In Name Only as Gertrude Caruso
  • (1969) Me, Natalie as Miss Dennison
  • (1969) Night Gallery as Lydia Bowen
  • (1969) Rascal as Mrs. Satterfield
  • (1969) The Bill Cosby Show as Mrs. Wochuk
  • (1969) The David Frost Show as Herself
  • (1969) Then Came Bronson as Hattie Calter
  • (1968) Blackbeard's Ghost as Emily Stowecroft
  • (1968) Here's Lucy as Mumsie Westcott
  • (1968) It Takes a Thief as Miss Mollie Taylor
  • (1968) The Dick Cavett Show as Herself
  • (1967) Easy Come, Easy Go as Madame Neherina
  • (1967) Mannix as Edna Barrington
  • (1967) Mannix as Portia Penhaven
  • (1967) Off to See the Wizard as Widow Sonder
  • (1967) The Joey Bishop Show as Herself
  • (1967) The Woody Woodbury Show as Herself
  • (1965) That Darn Cat! as Mrs. William MacDougall
  • (1965) The John Forsythe Show as Margaret Culver
  • (1965) The John Forsythe Show as Miss Culver
  • (1965) The John Forsythe Show as Miss Margaret Culver
  • (1964) Honeymoon Hotel as Chambermaid
  • (1964) Mary Poppins as Katie Nanna
  • (1964) Pajama Party as Aunt Wendy
  • (1964) Slattery's People as Louella Woodward
  • (1964) That Regis Philbin Show as Herself
  • (1964) The Man from U.N.C.L.E. as Dr. Agnes Dabree
  • (1963) Burke's Law as Bessie Mopes
  • (1963) Burke's Law as Mrs. Ormsby
  • (1962) The Alfred Hitchcock Hour as Aggie McGregor
  • (1962) The Eleventh Hour as Mrs. Dalrymple
  • (1962) The Flood as Noah's Wife (voice)
  • (1962) The Merv Griffin Show as Herself
  • (1962) The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson as Herself
  • (1961) Ben Casey as Mrs. Miriam Crain
  • (1961) Follow the Sun as Lilli St. John
  • (1961) The Dick Powell Show as Naomi Griswald
  • (1961) The Mike Douglas Show as
  • (1960) Academy Award Songs as Herself - Actress
  • (1959) Adventures in Paradise as Miss Creshaw
  • (1959) Startime as Herself
  • (1958) Bell Book and Candle as Aunt Queenie Holroyd
  • (1958) Shirley Temple's Storybook as Mother Goose
  • (1957) Tonight Starring Jack Paar as Herself
  • (1957) Witness for the Prosecution as Miss Plimsoll
  • (1956) The Dinah Shore Chevy Show as Herself
  • (1956) The Tennessee Ernie Ford Show as Herself
  • (1955) Alice in Wonderland as Red Queen
  • (1955) The 20th Century-Fox Hour as Ida Perkins
  • (1955) The Glass Slipper as Widow Sonder
  • (1954) 3 Ring Circus as The Bearded Lady
  • (1954) Disneyland as Emily Stowecroft (archive footage)
  • (1954) Disneyland as Kipp MacDougall (archive footage)
  • (1954) Disneyland as Mrs. Formby
  • (1954) Disneyland as Mrs. Satterfield (archive footage)
  • (1954) Hell's Half Acre as Lida O'Reilly
  • (1954) Shower of Stars as Mrs. Zooker
  • (1954) The Best of Broadway as Mrs. Orcutt
  • (1954) The George Gobel Show as Herself
  • (1953) General Electric Theater as Hanna Winters
  • (1953) The Girls of Pleasure Island as Thelma
  • (1952) Androcles and the Lion as Megaera
  • (1952) Dreamboat as Dr. Mathilda Coffey
  • (1952) Les Miserables as Madame Magloire
  • (1952) The Ford Television Theatre as Rosie Bowker
  • (1952) Today as Herself
  • (1951) I Love Lucy as Mrs. Edna Grundy
  • (1951) Schlitz Playhouse of Stars as Betsey Monk, the Widow
  • (1950) Buccaneer's Girl as Mme. Brizar
  • (1950) Frenchie as Countess
  • (1950) Lux Video Theatre as Emily
  • (1950) Lux Video Theatre as Miss Mabel
  • (1950) Mystery Street as Mrs. Smerrling
  • (1950) Robert Montgomery Presents as
  • (1950) The Petty Girl as Dr. Crutcher
  • (1949) Come to the Stable as Amelia Potts
  • (1949) The Ed Wynn Show as Herself - Actress
  • (1949) The Inspector General as Maria
  • (1949) The Secret Garden as Martha
  • (1948) Studio One as
  • (1948) The Big Clock as Louise Patterson
  • (1948) Toast of the Town as Herself
  • (1948) Toast of the Town as Herself - Audience Bow
  • (1947) Northwest Outpost as Princess 'Tanya' Tatiana
  • (1947) The Bishop's Wife as Matilda
  • (1946) The Razor's Edge as Miss Keith
  • (1945) The Spiral Staircase as Mrs. Oates
  • (1944) Passport to Destiny as Ella Muggins
  • (1943) Forever and a Day as Mamie
  • (1943) Lassie Come Home as Mrs. Carraclough
  • (1943) Thumbs Up as Emma Finch
  • (1942) Son of Fury: The Story of Benjamin Blake as Bristol Isabel
  • (1942) Tales of Manhattan as Elsa (Mrs Charles) Smith
  • (1941) Ladies in Retirement as Emily Creed
  • (1940) Cavalcade of the Academy Awards as Herself
  • (1938) Vessel of Wrath as Martha Jones
  • (1936) Miss Bracegirdle Does Her Duty as Millicent Bracegirdle
  • (1936) Rembrandt as Hendrickje Stoffels
  • (1935) Bride of Frankenstein as Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley/The Monster's Bride (as ?)
  • (1935) Naughty Marietta as Madame d'Annard
  • (1935) The Ghost Goes West as Miss Shepperton
  • (1935) The Personal History, Adventures, Experience, & Observation of David Copperfield the Younger as Clickett
  • (1934) The Private Life of Don Juan as Maid (uncredited)
  • (1933) The Private Life of Henry VIII. as Anne of Cleves The Fourth Wife
  • (1931) Potiphar's Wife as Therese
  • (1931) The Love Habit as Mathilde
  • (1931) The Officers' Mess as Cora Melville
  • (1931) The Stronger Sex as Thompson
  • (1930) Ashes as Girl
  • (1930) Comets as Herself
  • (1929) Mr. Smith Wakes Up as
  • (1928) Blue Bottles as Elsa
  • (1928) Daydreams as Elsa/Heroine in Dream Sequence
  • (1928) The Constant Nymph as Lady
  • (1928) The Tonic as Elsa
  • (1927) One of the Best as Kitty
  • (1925) The Scarlet Woman: An Ecclesiastical Melodrama as Beatrice de Carolle

Elsa Lanchester Trivia and Facts

  • Sharp-tongued Hollywood commentator, who was denied top billing for Bride of Frankenstein (1935) , even though she played the title role.
  • As a child she studied dance under Isadora Duncan and later taught dancing to neighborhood children and schoolmates.
  • Biography in: "The Scribner Encyclopedia of American Lives". Volume Two, 1986-1990, pages 505-506. New York: Charles Scribners Sons, 1999.

Elsa Lanchester Quotes

  • Facts like that make one feel blue-eyed and normal.
  • Stardom is all hard work, aspirins and purgatives.
  • My parents were always a bit arty. They were advanced. They supported pacifism, vegetarianism, socialism, atheism, and all that.
  • There is no such thing as a person that nothing has happened to, and each persons story is as different as his fingerprints.
  • "The most memorable thing I did in that film, I believe, was my screaming. In almost all my movies since, Ive been called upon to scream. I dont know if its by chance, but I would like to think that Im not hired for that talent alone" (On playing the title part in Bride of Frankenstein (1935) .
  • It annoys me when mothers drag the poor dears to me and demand the children say something to Frankensteins bride. Can you imagine an actress being overexposed by a picture she made 40 years ago?
  • [on her "open marriage" to Charles Laughton ] We both needed other company. I met his young men, and I had a young man around and Charles didnt even argue.

Elsa Lanchester Photoshoots

  • "Celebrity Sleuth" (USA), 1994, Vol. 7, Iss. 4, pg. 16-17, by: staff, "A 'Bolt' From the Blue: Elsa Lanchester"

Elsa Lanchester Other Works

  • Television: Appeared on "The Gisele MacKenzie Show" (1957) . Also appearing was 'Doug McClure (I)' ("Gentle on My Mind").
  • (1933-1934) Stage: Appeared (as "Ariel") in 'William Shakespeare (I)' 's play, "The Tempest", at the Old Vic Theatre and Sadler's Wells Theatre in London, England, with 'Marius Goring' (as "Alonso"), 'James Mason (I)' (as "Francisco"), 'Evan John' (as "Gonzalo"), 'Desmond Walter-Ellis' (as "Adrian"), 'Dennis Arundell (I)' (as "Antonio"), 'Ernest Hare' (as "Sebastian"), 'Charles Laughton' , 'Ursula Jeans' , 'Flora Robson' , 'Roger Livesey' , 'Peter Copley' and 'Thorley Walters' in the cast. 'Tyrone Guthrie' was the director and producer.
  • (1933-1934) Stage: Appeared (as "Charlotta Ivanovna") in 'Anton Chekhov' 's "The Cherry Orchard", at the Old Vic Theatre in London, England, with 'Marius Goring' (as "Epihodov"), Barbara Wilcox (as "Dunyasha"), 'James Mason (I)' (as "Yasha"), 'Athene Seyler' , 'Charles Laughton' , 'Ursula Jeans' , 'Flora Robson' , 'Roger Livesey' and 'Leon Quartermaine' in the cast. 'Tyrone Guthrie' was the director and producer.
  • (1933-1934) Stage: Appeared in "Love for Love", at the Sadler's Wells Theatre in London, England, with 'Charles Laughton' , 'Flora Robson' , 'Ursula Jeans' , 'Roger Livesey' , 'James Mason (I)' , 'Athene Seyler' and 'Marius Goring' in the cast. 'Tyrone Guthrie' was the director.
  • (1933-1934) Stage: Appeared in 'William Shakespeare (I)' 's "Henry VIII", at the Old Vic Theatre and Sadler's Wells Theatre in London, England, with 'Charles Laughton' , 'Flora Robson' , 'Robert Farquarson' , 'Nicholas Hannen' , 'Ursula Jeans' , 'Roger Livesey' , 'James Mason (I)' , 'Athene Seyler' , 'Marius Goring' and 'Leon Quartermaine' in the cast. 'Tyrone Guthrie' was the director.
  • (1933-1934) Stage: Appeared in 'William Shakespeare (I)' 's "Measure for Measure", at the Old Vic Theatre in London, England, with 'Charles Laughton' , 'Flora Robson' , 'Ursula Jeans' , 'Roger Livesey' , 'James Mason (I)' , 'Athene Seyler' and 'Marius Goring' in the cast. 'Tyrone Guthrie' was the director.
  • (1933-1934) Stage: Appeared in 'Oscar Wilde' 's "The Importance of Being Earnest", at the Old Vic Theatre and Sadler's Wells Theatre in London, England, with 'Charles Laughton' , 'Flora Robson' , 'Ursula Jeans' , 'Roger Livesey' , 'James Mason (I)' and 'Athene Seyler' in the cast. 'Tyrone Guthrie' was the director.
  • (1925) Stage: Appeared in 'Richard B. Sheridan' 's "The Duenna", at the Lyric Theatre in Hammersmith, London, England, with 'Nigel Playfair' , Sydney Russell and 'Beatrix Lehmann' in the cast.

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Elsa Lanchester Frequently Asked Questions

  • When is Elsa Lanchester's birthday?

      October 28, 1902

  • How tall is Elsa Lanchester?

      5' 4 1/2"

  • How much does Elsa Lanchester weigh?

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  • Where was Elsa Lanchester born?

      28 October 1902, Lewisham, London, England, UK

  • What is Elsa Lanchester's nickname?

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