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Crisp, Donald

CRISP, Donald



Nationality: British. Born: Aberfeldy, Perthshire, Scotland, 27 July 1880. Education: Eton College and Oxford University. Military Service: 1899–1902—trooper in Boer War; wounded; during World War I—served as British Intelligence Officer, providing information on conditions in Russia. Family: Married 1) Marie Stark (divorced 1919); 2) the screenwriter Jane Murfin, 1932 (divorced 1944). Career: 1906—moved to U.S.; hired for musical Floradora; also sang for Fisher-Reilly Opera Company; 1906–09—produced and appeared in some Mutascopes in New York; c. 1909—joined Biograph as actor; 1910s—became part of D. W. Griffith's stock company and later served as Griffith's assistant director on several films. 1914–30—worked as both director and actor; 1922—supervised Famous-Lasky studios in Bombay, India; 1920s-1950s—served as loan adviser to film companies for Bank of Italy. Awards: Best Supporting Actor Academy Award for How Green Was My Valley, 1941. Died: In Van Nuys, California, 25 May 1974.



Films as Actor:

1907

The French Maid

1910

Sunshine Sue (Griffith); Winning Back His Love (Griffith)

1911

The Two Paths (Griffith); Fate's Turning (Griffith); A Wreath of Orange Blossoms (Griffith); What Shall We Do with OurOld (Griffith); The Primal Call (Griffith); Out from the Shadow (Griffith); The Diving Girl; The Adventures of Billy (Griffith); The Battle (Griffith); The Failure (Griffith)

1912

When Kings Were the Law (Griffith)

1913

The Best Man Wins (Cabanne); Drink's Lure (Cabanne); The Daylight Burglar (Cabanne); Two Men of the Desert (Griffith); Intolerance (Griffith)

1914

The Battle of the Sexes (Griffith); The Avenging Conscience; The Escape (Griffith); Home, Sweet Home (Griffith); The Great Leap (Cabanne); The Different Man; The Mountain Rat (Kirkwood); The Sisters (Davis); A Question of Courage (Cabanne)

1915

The Birth of a Nation (Griffith); Bred in the Bone (Powell); Such a Little Queen (Hugh Ford); The Love Route (Dwan); The Commanding Officer (Dwan); May Blossom (Dwan); A Girl of Yesterday (Dwan); The Foundling (Dwan); Joan the Woman (DeMille) (+ uncredited 2nd unit d)

1918

One More American (DeMille)

1919

Broken Blossoms (Griffith)

1926

The Black Pirate (Parker)

1928

The River Pirate (Howard)

1929

Trent's Last Case (Hawks); The Pagan (W. S. Van Dyke); The Viking (Neill); The Return of Sherlock Holmes (Dean)

1930

Scotland Yard (Detective Clive, Bart) (Howard)

1931

Svengali (Mayo); Kick In (Wallace)

1932

A Passport to Hell (Burnt Offering) (Lloyd); Red Dust (Fleming)

1933

Broadway Bad (Her Reputation) (Lanfield)

1934

The Crime Doctor (Robertson); The Key (Curtiz); The Life of Vergie Winters (Santell); What Every Woman Knows (La Cava); The Little Minister (Wallace)

1935

Vanessa, Her Love Story (Howard); Laddie (Stevens); Oil for the Lamps of China (LeRoy); Mutiny on the Bounty (Lloyd)

1936

The White Angel (Dieterle); Mary of Scotland (John Ford); A Woman Rebels (Sandrich); The Charge of the Light Brigade (Curtiz); The Great O'Malley (Dieterle); Beloved Enemy (Potter)

1937

Parnell (Stahl); The Life of Emile Zola (Dieterle); That Certain Woman (Goulding); Confession (May); Sergeant Murphy (Eason)

1938

Jezebel (Wyler); The Beloved Brat (A Dangerous Age) (Lubin); The Amazing Dr. Clitterhouse (Litvak); Valley of the Giants (Keighley); The Sisters (Litvak); The Dawn Patrol (Goulding); Comet over Broadway (Berkeley)

1939

The Oklahoma Kid (Bacon); Wuthering Heights (Wyler); Juarez (Dieterle); Daughters Courageous (Curtiz); The Old Maid (Goulding); The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex (Curtiz)

1940

The Story of Dr. Ehrlich's Magic Bullet (Dr. Ehrlich's Magic Bullet) (Dieterle); Brother Orchid (Bacon); City for Conquest (Litvak); The Sea Hawk (Curtiz); Knute Rockne—All American (Bacon)

1941

Shining Victory (Rapper); Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (Fleming); How Green Was My Valley (John Ford)

1942

The Battle of Midway (John Ford—short) (as narrator); The Gay Sisters (Rapper)

1943

Forever and a Day (Clair and others); Lassie Come Home (Wilcox)

1944

The Uninvited (Allen); The Adventure of Mark Twain (Rapper); National Velvet (Brown)

1945

Son of Lassie (Simon); The Valley of Decision (Garnett)

1947

Ramrod (De Toth)

1948

Hills of Home (Master of Lassie) (Wilcox); Whispering Smith (Fenton)

1949

Challenge to Lassie (Thorpe)

1950

Bright Leaf (Curtiz)

1951

Home Town Story (Pierson)

1954

Prince Valiant (Hathaway); The Long Gray Line (John Ford)

1955

The Man from Laramie (Anthony Mann)

1957

Drango (Bartlett)

1958

Saddle the Wind (Parrish); The Last Hurrah (John Ford)

1959

A Dog of Flanders (Clark)

1960

Pollyanna (Swift)

1961

Greyfriar's Bobby (Chaffey)

1963

Spencer's Mountain (Daves)



Films as Director:

1914

Her Father's Silent Partner; The Dawn; The Mysterious Shot (+ ro); The Newer Woman (+ ro); Her Birthday Present; Their First Acquaintance; The Idiot; The Tavern of Tragedy; Her Mother's Necklace; Frenchy; The Milkfed Boy; Down the Hill to Creditville; The Warning (+ ro); His Mother's Trust; Sands of Fate; The Availing Prayer; His Lesson

1915

An Old Fashioned Girl; How Hazel Got Even (uncredited direction)

1916

Ramona (+ ro under pseudonym James Needham)

1917

His Sweetheart; The Bond Between; The Marcellini Millions; The Cook of Canyon Camp (+ co-sc); Lost in Transit; The Countess Charming (+ ro); The Clever Mrs. Carfax; A Roadside Impressario

1918

Jules of the Strong Heart; Rimrock Jones; The House of Silence; Believe Me Xant(h)ippe; The Firefly of France; Less Than Kin; The Goat; The Way of a Man with a Maid; Under the Top; Venus in the East

1919

Johnny Get Your Gun; Poor Boob; Something to Do; Putting It Over; A Very Good Young Man; Love Insurance; Why Smith Left Home; It Pays to Advertise; Too Much Johnson

1920

The Six Best Cellars; Miss Hobbs; Held by the Enemy

1921

The Barbarian; Appearances; The Princess of New York; Beside the Bonnie Brier Bush (The Bonnie Brier Bush) (+ ro)

1923

Ponjola

1924

The Navigator (co-d only, with Buster Keaton); Tell Your Children

1925

Don Q of Zorro (+ ro)

1926

Sunny Side Up (Footlights); Young April; Man Bait

1927

Nobody's Widow; Vanity; The Fighting Eagle (Brigadier Gerard); Dress Parade

1928

Stand and Deliver; The Cop

1930

The Runaway Bride



Publications


By CRISP: article—

"We Lost So Much Dignity as We Came of Age," interview in Films and Filming (London), December 1960.


On CRISP: articles—

Moret, H., "D'autres . . . ," in Ecran (Paris), July 1974.

Slide, Anthony, "The Other Griffith Actors," in Films in Review (New York), October 1975.


* * *

One of the unassuming pillars of the industry, Donald Crisp had a very long and successful career in motion pictures. A Scot who was educated at Oxford and served as a soldier in the Boer War, he emigrated to New York and appeared in opera as a leading tenor in 1906. He also acted in stage plays before joining the Biograph Company as an extra in 1909. He moved with D. W. Griffith to Majestic as a director, and made 35 one- and two-reelers in a little over one year. He never stopped working; he also acted in several of these films and served as assistant director to Griffith on The Birth of a Nation and Broken Blossoms. His performance as Lillian Gish's brutal father in the latter brought him much acclaim.

Throughout the 1920s, Crisp continued his hectic schedule, directing a few films in Britain; serving on the board of directors of the Bank of Italy (later Bank of America) which approved loans for film productions; acting in several dozen more films opposite Vilma Banky, Douglas Fairbanks, and other major stars; and serving as Buster Keaton's co-director.

Because of his sonorous voice and long experience in film, Crisp adapted easily to sound and became one of the favorite character actors of the 1930s and 1940s. For a while he was under contract to Warner Brothers, appearing in Jezebel, playing Francis Bacon in The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex, and playing the kindly doctor in The Old Maid. He was equally good in adventure stories such as Mutiny on the Bounty and action films such as The Dawn Patrol and Juarez, but his personal amiability, to which everyone attested, communicated itself superbly on-screen, and he evolved as the character actor perfectly suited to play wise doctors, good friends, and loyal confidants. He is especially remembered as the kindly, benevolent father in the Lassie films of the 1940s and in National Velvet.

Although the type remained the same, Crisp brought a freshness to each role, never falling into repetitive portrayals and always inventing original gestures. Perhaps the best example is his performance in How Green Was My Valley for which he received the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor at the age of 61. Retirement was far from his mind, and he continued to act in a few dozen more films in the 1950s and 1960s. He was lovable and understanding in Pollyanna, in a minor role, and gave a performance full of pathos as the leading role of the old man in Greyfriar's Bobby. He died in California at the age of 93, a respected and well-liked veteran of more than 400 productions spanning 55 years in the film industry.

—Elaine Mancini

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