Saturday, August 22, 2015


One of the great characters that appeared in countless good films was the great Cecil Kellaway. He was born on this day in 1890 in Cape Town, South Africa, where he gained an early interest in theatre acting, much to the displeasure of his parents. He was educated in South Africa and England, before becoming a touring stock company actor. By the early 1920s, he had settled in Australia, becoming a popular character comedian of the local stage.

Well-known as a comedian in South Africa, Kellaway came to Australia in 1921 under contract to J. C. Williamson Ltd. On 21 January 1922 he appeared as the comic father of four daughters in A Night Out at Melbourne's Theatre Royal. He made a hit and performed in revivals in 1924, 1926 and 1931. For sixteen years he played character roles in musical comedies with Williamson's New Musical Comedy Company and became a favourite with audiences in such roles as Count Orpitch in Katja (1925), the polite lunatic in The Belle of New York and the British major in Sons o' Guns (1931).

In 1932 he played in Blue Roses and Hold my Hand with Madge Elliott and Cyril Ritchard and in 1936-37 in The Gipsy Princess, A Southern Maid and The Merry Widow with Gladys Moncrieff; in the last as Baron Popoff he gave 'the audience a mild attack of convulsions with his gait, and his red boots and yellow pants'. Whatever his part, Kellaway played it with 'aplomb and careless grace'. Sometimes an inferior piece was partly redeemed by his acting — the Bulletin claimed that in a revival of Florodora (1931) Kellaway gave 'a depth and humanity to Tweedlepunch that even the author could not suspect was there'.

Though a native of South Africa, Cecil Kellaway spent many years as an actor, author and director in the Australian film industry until he tried his luck in Hollywood in the 1930s. Finding he could get only gangster bit parts, he got discouraged and returned to Australia. Then William Wyler called and offered him a part in Wuthering Heights (1939). From then on Kellaway was always in demand when the part called for a twinkling, silver-haired leprechaun.

After receiving acclaim for his main role in the Australian Cinesound film It Isn't Done (1937), for which he also provided the original story, he was screen-tested by RKO Pictures and put under contract. He returned to Australia for a second Cinesound film, Mr. Chedworth Steps Out (1938), before going on to a long career as a Hollywood character actor, with prominent roles in William Wyler's Wuthering Heights (1939), The House of the Seven Gables (1940), The Letter (1940), Kitty (1945), Love Letters (1945), as the husband of Lana Turner's character in The Postman Always Rings Twice (1946), Portrait of Jennie (1948), Harvey (1950), Hush… Hush, Sweet Charlotte (1964), and Guess Who's Coming to Dinner (1967).

He was twice nominated for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor, for The Luck of the Irish in 1948 and Guess Who's Coming to Dinner in 1967.

In 1959 Kellaway made a guest appearance on Perry Mason as chemist and murderer Darrell Metcalf in "The Case of the Glittering Goldfish". In 1961, Kellaway guest starred as MacKay in the episode "Incident In The Middle of Nowhere" on CBS's Rawhide. In 1967, Kellaway played the part of a wealthy older suitor in one episode of "That Girl".

Cecil Kellaway died after a long illness at West Los Angeles convalescent home on February 28, 1973. He was survived by his wife of 54 years Doreen, his two sons, and his four grandchildren. His interment was at Westwood Village Memorial Park Cemetery. His cousins were fellow actors Edmund Gwenn and Arthur Chesney...

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