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Richard Cromwell (actor)

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This article is about the American actor Richard Cromwell. For the British ruler of the 17th century of the same name, see Richard Cromwell.

Template:Infobox actor Richard Cromwell (January 8, 1910 - October 11, 1960) was an American actor, born LeRoy Melvin Radabaugh. His family and friends called him Roy, though he was also professionally known and signed autographs as Dick Cromwell. Cromwell was best known for his work in Jezebel (1938) with Bette Davis and Henry Fonda and in The Lives of a Bengal Lancer (1935) where he shared top billing with Gary Cooper and Franchot Tone. That film was the first major effort directed by Henry Hathaway and it was based upon the popular novel by Francis Yeats-Brown. The Lives of a Bengal Lancer earned Paramount Studios a nomination for Best Picture in 1935, though Mutiny on the Bounty instead took the top award at The Oscars that year.

Leslie Halliwell in The Filmgoer's Companion, summed up Cromwell's enduring appeal when he described him as "a leading man, [the] gentle hero of early sound films."

BiographyEdit

Early lifeEdit

Cromwell was born in Long Beach, California on January 8, 1910, the second-born in a family of five children. His father Ralph R. Radabaugh, an inventor, died suddenly from influenza during the Spanish flu pandemic in 1918, when Cromwell was still in grade school. While helping his young widowed mother, Fay B. Stocking Radabaugh, to support the family with odd-jobs, Cromwell enrolled as a teenager in the Chouinard Art Institute in Los Angeles on a scholarship. As Cromwell developed his talents for lifelike mask-making and oil-painting, he curried friendships in the late 1920s with various then-starlets who posed for him and collected his works including Tallulah Bankhead, Joan Crawford, Anna Q. Nilsson, Greta Garbo, Claire Dubrey, Ann Sothern, and even Marie Dressler (whom he would later share top-billing with in 1932's Emma). Other patrons of Cromwell's life masks included Broadway actresses Lilyan Tashman, Katharine Cornell, and Beatrice Lillie.

Overnight stardom and early film careerEdit

The young Roy Radabaugh, as he was then known, had dabbled in film extra work on the side, and can be seen in King of Jazz (1930), along with Paul Whiteman and his band. On a whim, friends encouraged Roy to audition in 1930 for the remake of the Richard Barthelmess silent: Tol'able David (1930). (Note: the UCLA Film and Television Archive today contains one of the few remaining restored prints, donated by the Radabaugh-Putnam family). Radabaugh won the role over thousands of hopefuls, and in storybook fashion, Harry Cohn gave him his screen name and launched his career. Cromwell earned $75 per week for his work on Tol'able David. Noah Beery, Sr. and John Carradine co-starred in the film. Later, Cohn signed Cromwell to a multi-year contract based on the strength of his performance and success in his first venture at the box-office. Amidst the flurry of publicity during this period, Cromwell toured the country, even meeting President Herbert Hoover in Washington, D.C.

Cromwell by then had maintained a deep friendship with Marie Dressler, which continued until her death from cancer in 1934. Dressler was nominated for a second Best Actress award for her 1932 portrayal of the title role in Emma. With that film, Dressler demonstrated her profound generosity to other performers: Dressler personally insisted that her studio bosses cast Cromwell on a loan-out in the lead opposite her—it was another break that helped firm up his rising status in Tinseltown. Emma also starred Myrna Loy in one of her earliest screen performances. After production on Emma was completed, Director Clarence Brown tested Cromwell for the male lead in his next feature: The Son-Daughter, which was set to star Helen Hayes. However, the part of the oriental prince ultimately went to Ramon Novarro, and Cromwell never again worked at MGM.

Cromwell's next role in 1932 was on loan-out to RKO and was as Mike in Gregory La Cava's, The Age of Consent co-starring Eric Linden and Dorothy Wilson. Cromwell is also remembered during this period in Hoop-La (1933), where he is seduced by Clara Bow. This film is considered the swan song of Bow's career. The much in demand Cromwell starred in Tom Brown of Culver that year, as well. Around this period in his career in the early to mid-30s, Cromwell also did some print ads and promotional work for Lucky Strike brand cigarettes, though it is doubtful if he was a regular smoker.

Next up, was an early standout performance by Cromwell in the role as the leader of the youth gang in Cecil B. Demille's now cult-favorite, This Day and Age (1933). While again on loan from Columbia, Cromwell's by then salary of $200 per week was paid by Paramount Pictures, Demille's studio. Diana Serra Cary, in her biography of Jackie Coogan, relates an episode on the set wherein Cromwell came to the aid of actress Judith Allen: "I watched as he (DeMille) systematically reduced ingenue...Allen to screaming hysterics by calling her every insulting name in the book in front of company and crew simply to bring on tears...Cromwell was the only man on the set who dared confront the tryannical DeMille. White with rage, Cromwell stopped the scene and threatened to deck him if he didn't let up on the devastated girl. He (Cromwell) then drove her home himself. After that courageous act the chivalric "...Cromwell was unanimously praised as a veritable dragon slayer by everyone who had witnessed that scene."

After a promising start, Cromwell's many early pictures at Columbia Pictures and elsewhere were mostly inconsequential and are largely forgotten today. For example, Cromwell starred with Will Rogers in Life Begins at 40 for Fox Film Corporation in 1935, and while it was one of Rogers' last roles, nary a video directory can be found including it. The same goes for Poppy from Paramount in 1936 wherein Cromwell played the suitor of W.C. Fields' daughter, Rochelle Hudson. In 1937, he was the young bank-robber in love with Helen Mack and on the lam from Lionel Atwill in the rarely-screened but still interesting, The Wrong Road for RKO.

Broadway and network radio performancesEdit

In 1936, Cromwell took a detour in his career to Broadway for the chance to star as an evil cadet in an original play by Joseph Viertel, entitled, So Proudly We Hail. The military drama was directed by future film director Charles Walters, co-starred Eddie Bracken, and opened to much fanfare. The reviews of the play at the time called Cromwell's acting "a striking portrayal"(The Herald Tribune) and his performance an "astonishing characterization"(New York World Telegram). The New York Times said that in the play, Cromwell "ran the gamut of emotions." Nevertheless, the play only enjoyed a brief run, and it closed after 14 performances at the 46th Street Theater.

By now, Cromwell had shed his restrictive Columbia contract, with its handsome $500 per week salary, and pursued acting work as a free-lancer in other media to boot. On July 15, 1937 Cromwell guest-starred on "The Royal Gelatin Hour directed by Rudy Vallee", in a dramatic skit opposite Fay Wray. Enjoying the experience, Cromwell had his agent secure for him an audition for the role of Kit Marshall, on first the NBC and then the CBS Radio network's long-running soap opera, entitled: Those We Love. As a regular on the Monday night program which ran from 1938 until 1942, Cromwell played opposite Nan Grey who was Kit's twin sister Kathy. Cromwell as Kit was later replaced by Bill Henry. Other members of the drama series ensemble included Helen Wood in the role of Elaine, Kit's girlfriend, and Francis X. Bushman, as John Marshall the father of the twins. Rounding out the cast, long before their own respective film and television stardom, was Robert Cummings of Dial M for Murder ; and even Gale Gordon, who later became a fixture on The Lucy Show.

Later film and theatrical careerEdit

In the late 1930s, Cromwell appeared in Storm Over Bengal, for Republic Pictures, in order to capitalize on the success of The Lives of a Bengal Lancer. Aside from the aforementioned standout roles in Jezebel and The Lives of a Bengal Lancer, Cromwell did another notable turn as defendant Matt Clay to Henry Fonda's title-performance in Young Mr. Lincoln (1939).

During this period, Cromwell was continuing to enjoy the various invitations becoming him as a member of the A-list Hollywood social circuit. According to Bob Thomas, in his biography of Joan Crawford, Cromwell was a regular at the Saturday Night dinner parties of his former co-star Franchot Tone and then-wife Crawford. Other guests whom Cromwell dined with there included Barbara Stanwyck and then-husband Frank Fay, and William Haines and Jimmy Rogers. During the freewheeling heydey of West L.A. nightlife in the late 30s, Cromwell is said by author Charles Higham to have carried on a sometime, though obviously very discreet, affair with aviator and businessman Howard Hughes.

In 1939, Cromwell again tried his luck on the stage in a regional production of Sutton Vance's Outward Bound featuring Dorothy Jordan as his co-star. The cast of the production at the Los Angeles Biltmore Theater included Cora Witherspoon and Reginald Denny.

U.S. military serviceEdit

Cromwell served admirably during the last two years of World War II with the United States Coast Guard, alongside fellow actor and enlistee Cesar Romero. According to Kim King, of Carlsbad, California, whose Coast Guard-enlisted father (and mother) counted Cromwell as a lifelong friend, another Hollywood luminary, actor Gig Young, was also a member of this branch of the Service during the War.

During this period, popular composer/lyricist Cole Porter rented Cromwell's home in the Hollywood Hills, where Porter worked at length on Panama Hattie. Director James Whale was a personal friend, for whom Cromwell had starred in The Road Back (1937), the ill-fated remake to All Quiet on the Western Front. With the war's end, and upon returning to California from the Pacific after nearly three years of service with the Coast Guard, Cromwell continued his foray into acting in local theater productions. He also signed on for live performances in Summer Stock back East during this period.

When in town, Cromwell was a fixture within the Hollywood social scene. Like many young, good-looking male screen favorites of the era, Cromwell had experimented with an alternative lifestyle. According to the book "Cut! Hollywood Murders, Accidents and Other Tragedies" (by the editors at Barron's Press, Hauppauge, N.Y., 2006), Cromwell was a regular at George Cukor's notorious "boys nights". Whatever his true sexual preference, Cromwell felt compelled to settle down for awhile, at least publically, and he married actress Angela Lansbury.

Marriage to Angela LansburyEdit

Back in California for good, Cromwell was married once, briefly from 1945-1946, to the British-born actress Angela Lansbury, when she was 19 and Cromwell was 35. Cromwell and Lansbury eloped and were married in a small civil ceremony on September 27, 1945 in Independence, California. It was nearly 50 years later that Lansbury would candidly discuss her first marriage to Cromwell, and its demise due to Cromwell's bisexuality (though other sources list him as being gay).

In her authorized biography, Balancing Act, Lansbury recounts her life at the time with Cromwell, as well as the couple's close friendship with Zachary Scott and his first wife, Elaine. Today, by coincidence, both Lansbury and Cromwell have stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame that are each within walking distance of the other on Vine Street, near the old Huntington Hartford (now "Henry Fonda") Theater.

Cromwell made just one statement to the press regarding his wife of nine months and one of her habits: "All over the house, tea bags. In the middle of the night she'd get up and start drinking tea. It nearly drove me crazy." (Source: Liza Wilson, The American Weekly). Some accounts of the couple's union suggest that Cromwell was even more infatuated with Lansbury's theatrical mother, actress Moyna MacGill, than he was with his young bride.

According to the biography: Angela Lansbury, A Life on Stage and Screen, Lansbury stated in a 1966 interview that regarding her first marriage, "it was a mistake" and that she learned from it. She stated: "I wouldn't have not done it." Also, "I was too young at nineteen. [The marriage] shouldn't have happened." Lansbury only began to admit publicly the real reason of the failure of the marriage when the National Enquirer did a story in the '90s about Lansbury and "the secret of her first husband." Whatever the true circumstances of their union, Cromwell and Lansbury did remain friends until his death in 1960.

Film career ends; Artistic career begins anewEdit

Prior to World War II, in the early 1940s, Universal Pictures released Enemy Agent starring Cromwell as a draftsman who thwarts the Nazis. The film co-starred Helen Vinson, Robert Armstrong, and Jack La Rue. Cromwell enjoyed a career boost, if not a critically-acclaimed performance, in the film adaptation of the hit radio serial: Cosmo Jones, Crime Smasher, opposite Gale Storm. Next at Monogram Studios he was cast as a doctor working covertly for the police department to catch the mobsters in the very forgettable, though endearing Riot Squad, wherein his fiance, Rita Quigley, breaks their engagement. In 1942 he then went on to appear in marginal but still watchable fare such as Baby Face Morgan, which co-starred Mary Carlisle and was produced by Producers Releasing Corporation, one of the "Poverty Row" studios. Cromwell's break from films due to his stint in the Service meant that he was not much in demand after the War's end. Cromwell finally retired from films after his comeback fizzled: his last role was in a noir flick of 1948, entitled Bungalow 13. In fact, it was the second feature in which he starred with Margaret Hamilton, though the film did not help her star to re-shine brightly either. All told, Cromwell's film career spanned 39 films.

In the 1950s, Cromwell went back to his given name and studied ceramics. He built a pottery studio at his home. The home still stands today and is located in the hills above Sunset Boulevard on North Miller Drive. There, Radabaugh successfully designed coveted decorative tiles for himself and for his industry-friends, which, according to his niece, Joan Radabaugh, he marketed under both his own and his stage names. Around this time, Baby Peggy Montgomery, aka Diana Serra Cary, whom had appeared in This Day and Age with Cromwell many years earlier, recalls visiting Cromwell at his home along with her late husband during this period to see his "beautiful ceramic screen which had won him a prize at the L.A. County Fair." Radabaugh's original tiles as well as his large decorative art deco-style wall paintings of Adam and Eve can still be seen today in the mezzanine off the balcony of the restored Pantages Theatre in Hollywood, which is today considered a noted architectural landmark.

As Radabaugh, he also wrote extensively, producing several published stories and an unfinished novel in the 1950s. Cromwell was an early participant and supporter of Alcoholics Anonymous in the Los Angeles Area. Cromwell continued with his ceramics production business, with noted corporate clients during this period including The Beverly Hilton Hotel, where many of his Aztec-styled objects d'art were displayed.

Death and legacyEdit

In July 1960, Cromwell planned another comeback of sorts, when he signed on with producer Maury Dexter for 20th Century Fox's planned production of The Little Shepard of Kingdom Come co-starring Jimmie Rodgers (and ultimately Neil Hamilton as well whom had to replace Cromwell). Unfortunately, Cromwell took sick and he died on October 11, 1960 in Hollywood of complications from liver cancer. He was just 50 years old. He is interred in Santa Ana, California. Cromwell was survived at the time by his four siblings, including Opal Radabaugh Putnam.

Cromwell's legacy is preserved today by his nephew Dan Putnam, and his cousin Bill Keane IV, both of the Conejo Valley in Southern California, as well as by his niece, Joan Radabaugh of the Central Coast. In 2005, Keane donated materials relating to Cromwell's radio performances to the Thousand Oaks Library's Special Collection, "The American Radio Archive". Cromwell is immortalized forever in pop culture in Gore Vidal's satirical novel Myra Breckinridge (1968) as 'the late Richard Cromwell, so satisfyingly tortured in Lives of a Bengal Lancer.'

Selected filmographyEdit

Year Movie Role Other notes
1930 King of Jazz cowboy (walk-on) Cromwell can be seen in the Song of the Dawn number.
1930 Tol'able David David Directed by John Blystone, starred opposite Noah Beery Sr. Silent star Richard Barthelmess, who gave his blessing to Cromwell's portrayal, was the original David in the 1921 classic directed by Henry King. Gary Cooper was also originally offered this role and very interested but Adolph Zukor at Paramount Pictures refused to loan out his top star to Columbia, then perceived as a "lower-class" studio (according to Larry Swindell's Cooper bio: "The Last Hero", Doubleday, 1980).
1931 Fifty Fathoms Deep x First of several pairings with Jack Holt for Columbia.
1931 Shanghaied Love x Third feature for Columbia, co-starred Sally Blane and again, Noah Beery Sr.
1931 Maker of Men x Jack Holt co-starred and a very young Marion Morrison aka John Wayne appeared with his Trojan Football teammates; Gridiron scenes filmed at USC.
1932 The Age of Consent Mike Cromwell's first loanout to RKO; this film was directed by Gregory LaCava and was the screen debut for Mildred Shay.
1932 Emma Ronnie Cromwell was on loan out to MGM for director Clarence Brown; this production's cast also included Jean Hersholt.
1932 Tom Brown of Culver x Universal's William Wyler directed Cromwell here along with H.B. Warner, Slim Summerville, Tom Brown, Ben Alexander, and Sidney Toler. Also, Tyrone Power's first onscreen appearance is as a bit player in a scene opposite Cromwell in this film.
1932 The Strange Love of Molly Louvain James "Jimmy" Cook, the bellhop Director: Michael Curtiz for Warner Bros. , with Ann Dvorak, Lee Tracy, Guy Kibbee, and Charles Middleton.
1932 That's My Boy x Another football flick wherein Cromwell plays opposite Mae Marsh, Dorothy Jordan, and Douglass Dumbrille.
1933 This Day and Age Steve Smith For DeMille at Paramount Pictures, Cromwell stars with Charles Bickford and Judith Allen.
1933 Hoop-La x Directed by Frank Lloyd for Fox pictures. Final major starring role for Clara Bow. Cromwell co-starred with Preston Foster and James Gleason.
1934 Carolina drugstore clerk opposite Janet Gaynor, originally entitled: "The House of Connelly."
1935 Lives of a Bengal Lancer Lt. Stone Cromwell's favorite role.
1935 Star Night at The Cocoanut Grove as himself MGM Technicolor Short showing celebs at play in Hollywood.
1936 Poppy Billy Farnsworth One of many pairings for Cromwell opposite Rochelle Hudson.
1937 The Road Back Ludwig Very large cast including Noah Beery, Jr.—Cromwell was one of the few actors to work with both Beery, the father and Beery, the son. Fine camera work was done here by cinematographer John J. Mescall.
1937 The Wrong Road Jimmy Cromwell's director here was James Cruze. Other members of the cast were Marjorie Main , Joseph Crehan, Arthur Horst, and Rex Evans. Costumes were by Eloise.
1938 Jezebel Ted Dillard Cromwell's second role in a William Wyler-directed film. In 2006, Criterion released a new DVD version of the film with an extensively researched commentary by film historian Jeanine Basinger.
1939 Young Mr. Lincoln Matt Clay

Henry Fonda, who played Lincoln, was quoted in an interview that he had a professional admiration for the "always dependable Richard Cromwell." In 2006,Criterion released a two-disc set of a newly-restored print and a documentary feature of this John Ford classic.

1940 Enemy Agent x Exactly one hour in length, this film has Cromwell in the role of an undercover Draftsman who saves the day when he foils the Nazis.
1940 The Villain Still Pursued Her Edward Middleton Co-starring Buster Keaton in one of his few "talking" pictures, this take-off of the long-running L.A. stage hit, "The Drunkard," also co-starred Margaret Hamilton. It was recently re-released on DVD.
1942 Baby Face Morgan Baby Face Morgan This is the best of the several of Cromwell's "B" efforts for PRC (Producers Releasing Corporation). Cromwell's co-star here was Robert Armstrong, of King Kong fame. Cromwell and Armstrong had also worked together in Enemy Agent.
1948 Bungalow 13 x Cromwell's comeback that never was.

TriviaEdit

  • Cromwell's height was 5 feet, 10 inches, according to 1932's Picture Show Annual (Amalgamated Press, London).
  • Cromwell was a gourmet cook. According to Kim King, of Carlsbad, California, many a wonderful dinner party was enjoyed by her parents Mr. and Mrs. King in the 1950s at Cromwell's home. For example, once in particular, The Kings enjoyed Roy's specially prepared delicacy of Frogs' Legs in the French-style.
  • According to his niece, Joan Radabaugh, Cromwell was a very heavy smoker, which may have contributed to his early demise. Nevertheless, he was always the gracious host and as such he took great care to empty the ashtrays in his home regularly, almost to the point of obsession.
  • Cromwell's father Ralph R. Radabaugh's claim to fame was his patented invention of the "amusement park swing" ride, called the "Monoflyer," of which a variation can still be seen in use at most carnivals today.
  • Cromwell was always extremely generous to his mother and siblings and their spouses with the sudden wealth he enjoyed from his career ascendancy. Cromwell bought, or helped to buy, many of them a home of their own during the worst of the Great Depression and later. For example, his older sister Opal and her husband, a studio-craftsman, bought their first home in Long Beach thanks in part to bother Roy's help. Opal later lived in North Hollywood for more than 45 years until her passing in 1998.
  • Cromwell's maternal ancestors, The Stockings, originally hailed from England in the late 1600s and helped settle the town of Hartford, CT. Years ago, a statue purportedly stood in Hartford of one of the Stockings astride a horse with a sword held high, though its whereabouts today is unknown.
  • Cromwell's mother, Fay B. Stocking Radabaugh, was raised by his grandparents, Frank and Eugenie Stocking, on a farm in Oshkosh, WI. The farm was co-owned by Cromwell's great uncle Ellsworth Stocking, who raised his own large family there too. Cromwell remained close with his Stocking cousins throughout his life. Most of these family members also moved to Southern California in the '1920s and '1930s. The large, close-knit clan held many a family reunion during this period, with photographs of the occasions attesting to both Cromwell's participation and enjoyment.

BibliographyEdit

  • Blum, Daniel. Screen World, 1961, Chilton Company, Philadelphia, New York, 1961.
  • Cary, Diana Serra. Jackie Coogan--The World's Boy King, Scarecrow Press, Lanham, MD, 2003.
  • Crivello, Kirk. Richard Cromwell--A Memoir and A Filmography, article in Filmograph, Vol. IV, No. 4, Orlean, VA, (likely mid-1970s).
  • Edelman, Rob and Audrey Kupferberg. Angela Lansbury, A Life on Stage and Screen, Birch Lane Press, New York, 1996.
  • [Editors, various]. Cut! Hollywood Murders, Accidents and Other Tragedies, Barron's Press, Hauppauge, N.Y., 2006.
  • [Editors, various]. Picture Show Annual for 1932, Amalgamated Press LTD., The Fleetway House, London, 1932.
  • Higham, Charles. Cecil B. DeMille: A Biography . . ., Charles Scribner's Sons, New York, 1973.
  • Lamparski, Richard. Hollywood Diary--Twelve Untold Tales . . ., BearManor Media, Albany, GA, 2006.
  • Lee, Betty. Marie Dressler: The Unlikeliest Star, The University Press of Kentucky, Lexington, 1997.
  • Morino, Marianne. The Hollywood Walk of Fame, Ten Speed Press, Berkeley, 1987.
  • Palmer, Paul R. Richard Cromwell, article in Film Fan Monthly, No. 167 (Leonard Maltin, Editor), Teaneck, NJ, May, 1975.
  • Vermilye, Jerry. The Films of the Thirties, Citadel Press, Secaucus, New Jersey, 1982.
  • Vidal, Gore. Myra Breckinridge, Little, Brown, & Co., Boston, Toronto, 1968.

External linksEdit


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