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PORTRAIT OF THE WEEK

May 30, 2014

LAIRD CREGAR

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Only the most devoted film fan knows the name Laird Cregar. He was a screen character actor who rivaled Karloff and Lugosi for creepy cinematic portrayals.

Samuel Laird Cregar was born July 28, 1913 in Philadelphia.  He was sent to school in England, where he  became infatuated with the theater and determined to become an actor. He staged his own production of the play, ‘Oscar Wilde,’ in which he was a big sensation. 20th-Fox studio chief Darryl Zanuck signed him up to a long-term contract.

Cregar was Fox’s resident ‘heavy’, both literally and figuratively. His 6’3″ 300-pound frame made him an imposing figure on screen.

Zanuck threw Cregar into one flamboyant role after another. His screen debut was in 1941’s Hudson’s Bay. He was featured in Tyrone Power’s Blood and Sand, Rings on Her Fingers with Gene Tierney, and the Jack Benny starrer,  Charley’s Aunt. He was a deranged police detective in Betty Grable’s lone non-musical film, I Wake Up Screaming.

He hit his profesional stride playing a trio of malevolent characters. Laird was the Devil himself in the Ernst Lubitsch comedy Heaven Can Wait (1943). He was the definite Jack the Ripper in The Lodger (1943). Cregar pulled out the stops as a mad piano virtuoso in Hangover Square (1945).

The actor longed for more romatic parts and embarked on a crash diet that took him from 300 to 200 pounds in a short time. The strain was too much for his heart and he died on December 9, 1944 at the young age of 31.

 






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