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Lanchester, Elsa (1902-1986)


Main image of Lanchester, Elsa (1902-1986)

An eccentric character player, long in Hollywood with husband Charles Laughton, Elsa Lanchester is now best remembered, wild-haired and hissing-voiced, as The Bride of Frankenstein (US, d. James Whale, 1935), or of his "monster", and as her creator, Mary Shelley.

Trained as a dancer (as a child she danced with Isadora Duncan's troupe), on stage from 1922, she ran a cabaret in London called 'The Cave of Harmony', frequented by Evelyn Waugh, with whom she appeared in the amateur film, The Scarlet Woman (d. Terence Greenidge, 1924), never screened publicly.

She made about a dozen British films before settling in America, most memorable as Anne of Cleves whose wit enables her to keep her head in The Private Life of Henry VIII (d. Alexander Korda, 1933), as the devoted servant of Rembrandt (d. Korda, 1936), and the missionary in The Vessel of Wrath (d. Erich Pommer, 1938), all opposite Laughton.

Her main career is American and she received an Oscar nomination for Come to the Stable (US, d. Henry Koster, 1949) and Witness for the Prosecution (US, d. Billy Wilder, 1957), again with Laughton, to whom, despite his homosexual leanings, she remained married until his death.

Brian McFarlane, Encyclopedia of British Cinema

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Selected credits

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Experimental slapstick comedy by Ivor Montagu

Thumbnail image of Constant Nymph, The (1928)Constant Nymph, The (1928)

Ivor Novello drama about a composer who leaves his wife for a schoolgirl

Thumbnail image of Ghost Goes West, The (1935)Ghost Goes West, The (1935)

Romantic comedy set in a haunted castle

Thumbnail image of Private Life of Henry VIII, The (1933)Private Life of Henry VIII, The (1933)

Charles Laughton stars as Henry VIII in British cinema's first US smash hit

Thumbnail image of Rembrandt (1936)Rembrandt (1936)

Charles Laughton stars in Korda's biopic of the great Dutch painter

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Thumbnail image of Laughton, Charles (1899-1962)Laughton, Charles (1899-1962)