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Thomas, Jameson (1888-1939)


Main image of Thomas, Jameson (1888-1939)

A curiously overlooked star of 1920s British cinema, Jameson Thomas worked with most of the eminent directors of the day. Though he proved adept at character parts, he was at his best when playing suave English gentlemen with an air of rakish savoir-faire (just the right side of spiv-like), as in his defining role opposite Anna May Wong and Gilda Gray in E.A. Dupont's Piccadilly (1929).

Born Thomas Jameson in London on 24th March 1888, he spent many years as a stage actor before making his screen debut aged 35 with Chu Chin Chow (d.Herbert Wilcox, 1923). Quickly graduating to leading roles, Thomas' key performances include the loyal chauffeur Marshall in Adrian Brunel's WWI drama Blighty (1927), widowed Farmer Sweetland in Hitchcock's romantic comedy The Farmer's Wife (1928), and Major Deane in modernist war fable High Treason (d. Maurice Elvey, 1929).

In Dupont's technically virtuosic Piccadilly, Thomas plays world-weary nightclub owner Valentine Wilmot, caught in a fatal love triangle. This performance, and Thomas himself, have been attacked by film academic Kenton Bamford as exemplifying the '"lack of charisma and inadequate film technique" of British leading men in the 1920s, a view at odds with contemporary opinion and wholly unmerited in the light of Thomas' contribution to a nascent British star system.

As the sound era dawned, Thomas moved to California for the benefit of his wife Dorothy Dix, who was suffering from tuberculosis. Though rewarded with a steady stream of work, his US legacy is one of long-forgotten 'B' pictures and supporting roles in vehicles for stars such as Jean Harlow. The haughty suitor King Westley in the Clark Gable-Claudette Colbert classic It Happened One Night (US, 1934) remains his most enduring Hollywood appearance.

After contracting TB himself, Jameson Thomas died on 10th January 1939, aged just 50.

Simon McCallum

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Thumbnail image of Blighty (1927)Blighty (1927)

Melodrama about the impact of WWI on a wealthy English family

Thumbnail image of Farmer's Wife, The (1928)Farmer's Wife, The (1928)

Uncharacteristically warm-hearted Hitchcock rural comedy

Thumbnail image of Piccadilly (1929)Piccadilly (1929)

Late silent classic of envy, desire and murder in a London nightclub

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